There weren’t enough dollars for the salesman to get home. Three months he’d been in the city, trudging miles over the cobblestones, down streets wide as the plains at home, city streets that boasted no sunshine, no wild birdsong, no feltwood trees curled up from the bowl of earth—because there was no earth, only concrete on concrete and here and there a little grass. It was many miles between where the salesman slept and the city center, where he sold. The walks were tiring and the city people swooped past him in frigid gusts. Sometimes people tripped and fell on the sidewalk, and in their hurry other people trampled over the fallen bodies. The salesman walked over the bodies too. There was nowhere else to walk; the human traffic was too thick and rapid. Why did these people walk so fast and speak so loudly? The salesman had a quiet voice; perhaps that was why he couldn’t sell many of the trinkets he carried in his briefcase. Unlike the other men who sold knickknacks in the city center, the salesman’s trinkets did not light up or spin or fly. When he tried to explain that his trinkets had been carved by the skilled hands of friends from his home, the city people only said, “Do you have anything cheaper? Something for the children?”
“This is all I can offer,” the salesman replied, his voice lost in the din of the city.
Though he was not a religious man, each night the salesman put his hand to the photo of his mother’s house and said something like a prayer: Please, take me home again soon. Then he’d climb into bed—he had his own bottom bunk, below another salesman — and slept dreamlessly, because the city stole dreams.
As the winter wore on, the city’s public roads became perilously icy, because the city-dwellers refused to pay for salt to grit their streets. “Why should I spend my hard-earned money to save other people from their own clumsiness?” they said. Each day more and more people fell on the street, and the city people walked over larger and larger piles of bodies. The salesman sold fewer and fewer trinkets; the packets of money that he sent home were thinner and thinner; his shoes grew holes in their soles; his coat wore down to threads.
Finally one day the salesman sold nothing at all. On the long walk back to his bunk bed, he slipped and fell down in the street. At once a woman tripped and fell on top of him; and someone fell on top of her; and someone on that person; and so on. The people lying atop the salesman gave off great heat, and before he was crushed completely, he was warmed by their bodies, just as he had been by the gentle breezes of his far-away home.
Emily Dezurick-Badran is writer, librarian, printmaker, and roller derby player living in San Francisco. Her fiction has appeared or is forthcoming in sparkle+blink, Atlas+Alice, the Stockholm Review of Literature, and Tin House Online. Currently she’s working on a short story collection and a novel.