"City Blocks"

A heavy door slammed shut behind Corey as he left the apartment building. Zipping up his down vest he trotted down the cement front steps and onto the sidewalk. He didn't make it more than five steps from the stoop before coming to a stop. Corey stared blankly ahead, patting his vest pocket. Assured that a set of keys was safely inside, he resumed his walk down the already bustling city street. The sun had barely risen over the canopy of tall buildings, but hadn't touched the pavement below, which remained cold and shadowed. Corey walked casually down the long city block and into a rundown coffee shop squished between an equally rundown laundromat and psychic reading place.

Pushing open the scratched glass door, Corey entered the dumpy little shop. A bell above the door announced his presence. He immediately got in line behind three other people. Corey paid little attention to any of them, more focused on reading the daily specials and fingering through his thin wallet. The woman in front of him did eventually catch his attention. She was nicely dressed in a starched pants suit that was less than flattering on her. Holding open a folder full of papers, she was quietly mumbling to herself. Other than her, the idle chatter of the pea coat clad couple at the counter, and the hum of the fluorescent lights the shop was silent. Tapping his foot impatiently, Corey stood at the back of the small line. He wrestled his iPhone from the pocket of his faded blue jeans, unlocking the cracked screen. He quickly opened Facebook and mindlessly scrolled through it. He sighed, nothing but grainy phone pictures and statuses about things that didn't concern him. His expression indifferent, he slid the phone back into his pocket. Finally, the woman in the suit scooped up her coffee and dashed out the door. Corey stepped up to the counter offering a tired good morning. The balding Filipino man behind the counter gave him a gruff 'morning' back and asked for his order. Corey ordered a small hot chocolate, and after a few minutes of waiting, he got his drink, paid the man, and left the shop. On the street again, Corey walked at a steady pace, and constantly switched the Styrofoam cup from hand to hand as he went. It was three blocks before he could even put his lips to the scalding drink.

He wandered listlessly around finishing his hot chocolate, then tossing it into a metal trashcan. He leaned up against the side of a building, checking his phone once again. Nothing on the little calendar under today's date, and no new messages. Letting out a bored sigh, he checked to see if he had any reminders written down. The moment he opened the Notes app, he was greeted with "ALLERGY MEDS". He cursed under his breath at his own forgetfulness, and then looking around, he took a few deep breaths, listening intently for any hint of a wheeze. Hearing nothing, he nodded and hoped it would stay like that.

Still holding his phone, Corey examined the street around him. Most of the storefronts were still closed, except for a dingy looking deli that had a large red B in the bottom corner of its window, partially hidden by a flowerpot. He cringed at the sight of the letter; most places that got B's from the health department usually made better attempts to hide them. Without much enthusiasm he started walking again. Corey walked another block without any real purpose, evident from his slack posture and slow pace, then his eyes found a few trees growing equally distant from each other along a nearby street. His face brightened as an idea took hold; inspired by the stunted, gnarled city trees, he set off in a new direction. Now he walked with purpose, down the city sidewalk, strutting confidently among his fellow city dwellers, who paid him no mind, only concerned with their own destinations.

With a content smile he continued down the long sidewalk lined with cramped shops and cafés. At one he paused. Looking in the display window, Corey focused on his own mirror like image. He shifted his head back and forth, examining himself, ran a hand through the messy ginger hair, when something inside the shop caught his attention. He looked up and locked eyes with a man sitting behind the counter inside. Corey froze, looking back at the man with an expression of a person caught in the act of crime, eyes wide, and mouth hanging open slightly. After an awkward few seconds of eye contact, Corey turned quickly and sped away from the shop window, his head down, hands in his vest pocket, and face bright red. After about half a block, he slowed down, checking over his shoulder as if to make sure the man hadn't come after him. Exhaling in relief, Corey pressed on. He didn't even bother looking at the street signs; he didn't need to. The route was so familiar to him after living in the city for so many years. All he needed to do was count the blocks. With this attitude, the young man became like an expert mountaineer, looking to his surroundings for landmarks pointing him in the right direction. It was that sort of confidence that let him walk undaunted by the distance.

He came to a busy avenue; cars and taxis streamed by en masse as the rush hour traffic got into full swing. He and a large mish mash of people, all indifferent to one another, stood poised to cross. A tall, slender man next to Corey was talking loudly to himself, and as they waited there, his volume increased. From the way he'd speak, then pause, then speak again; he seemed to being having a conversation, but no one was beside him. Corey quietly examined the man; he was too well dressed to really be crazy, and finally when the light changed and the herd of people started across the street Corey was relieved to see an earpiece on the side of the man's head.

By now Corey noticed that the morning sun had been eclipsed by an ever-increasing amount of clouds. He looked up at the sky and frowned, but shrugged it off. Coming to a part of a quieter block, he walked peacefully along, enjoying the façades of houses. He nodded to himself, taking note of the change in scenery. The homes were all well kept and their doorframes clean, with no grimy or chipping paint. Flowerboxes and shrubs were well cared for, and the doors all had gold knockers varying in size and shape from house to house. Corey gazed at them with a look of desire on his face. Suddenly he felt a tap on his shoulder. Spinning around, he was faced by a pair of well-dressed young women, one with long blonde hair, and the other with short spiky brown; both looked distressed. He stared at them for a moment, then the woman who had tapped him held up a guidebook. It was open to a page displaying the Guggenheim Museum, but something was wrong with the type that made it impossible to read. Still Corey said nothing and awkwardly stood there looking between the blonde and the book. She continued to point to the page then started speaking rapidly in some other language. Corey, a look of confusion on his face, said nothing, but tried to slowly back away from the women, but with each step back they stepped forward. He tried to explain that he couldn't understand, but he stammered hopelessly. Then finally he bolted in the other direction and away from the women. He heard them call after him once, but they didn't pursue him. Coming to another street crossing, he dashed across, only looking up halfway to see if any cars were coming.

After putting a safe distance between him and the women, he slowed to a light jog. As his heart rate came down, he tripped on a piece of the sidewalk, dislodged by the roots of a nearby tree. Managing to recover his balance, Corey walked slowly, panting, his entire face bright red. The confidence gone from his expression, he walked with his head down only lifting it to glance at his location. He stopped suddenly and looked back over his shoulder, biting his lip, and even took a few steps in the other direction, but then shook his head and continued on. As he walked, head still down, he caught sight of little dog, a Pomeranian. Its puffy fur made it look like a walking cotton ball. He smiled at the animal as he approached, but in a split second the dog's amiable appearance disappeared and it viciously lunged at him, yapping and snarling. The dog's sudden transformation startled him and he leapt back from it. The owner, a trashy looking woman with too much make-up, was suddenly stirred from her texting.

"Bad Coco, bad!" she scolded, and tugged on the dog's leash, but the dog continued to squawk at Corey, who hurriedly walked away. The yammering creature tried to follow, but its owner restrained it. Still, Corey glanced over his shoulder two or three more times until he was sure the dog wasn't going to chase after him.

The sky above had darkened considerably, and Corey gazed up at it. He then looked around at passing cars. Moving to the edge of the sidewalk, he almost hailed a cab, but reaching for his wallet he sighed, discouraged, and backed away. A few moments later, large dark spots started to appear on the sidewalk. Seeing them, Corey picked up his pace, but the drops fell faster and harder. People around him moved faster too. Some pulled out umbrellas; other improvised cover with bags, or hoods, or newspapers. Finally he was forced to retreat under the awning of a ritzy apartment building. The stolid doorman glanced at him, but said nothing. Corey stood there and watched the rainfall. He looked at it in surprise. Was it supposed to rain? He muttered to himself. He whipped out his phone and checked the weather application. A little rain graphic hovered over the city name. He frowned, and gestured angrily at it. Oh, now ya tell me, he grumbled under his breath. Something made him turn back to the doorman, who quickly looked in another direction. Taxis passed by and Corey stared enviously at them, he turned and looked back the way he came, then leaning to see past the doorman, he looked off into the distance. Shifting back and forth he bit his lip in indecision, then pulling up the hood of his ratty hoodie, he took off into the rain.

The downpour increased as he ran, the temperature dropped. After just a half block, his hood was soaked through, his hair was plastered to his forehead, and the down in his vest had deflated. Nothing stopped him, not even the crossing signs, which happened to be working in his favor. Halting just before the entrance to his destination, Corey doubled over, soaked and gasping for breath. Then straightened up to find a large sign and some neon barricades blocking his way.

"Montgomery Park Closed for Conservation"

Corey stood and stared dumbstruck at the orange, diamond shaped sign. Still panting he just looked at it, his shoulders slumped his eyebrows raised. Standing in the rain, his body shivering, and his blue eyes like those of a heart broken child. Then without a word he wrapped his arms around his torso, turned, and trudged back the way he'd come.