Rag and Bone

My suitcase says Daddy's Little Girl. I don't think Daddy ever imagined what I'd have to keep in it, now.

I run my hands along the edge, flip open the flimsy top. One of the items blinds me for a moment and I twist the case into my shadow. It dulls. Car shade, bucket, rack. I form the reflective material into a cone and tear the velcro strips with my teeth to fasten on its side. The faucet near the roof entrance spits grimy, speckled water and it rattles itself in its hole like a spasmed bone. But it gives me liquid, and that's about all I need.

I push my jerry-rigged oven into the light, manuever it at the rising sun. Hopefully the food will be ready by about noon. Hopefully.

I think I like the roof more, anyway. The people in the jungle were worry-faced skeletons, running through their lines on the streets without feeling. Extras on the stage of life.

I flop on the cracked tar paper and kick off my shoes. The roof's warmth seeps up through the musceles, through my clothes, and I sigh.

A quick, tinkling music drifts up from the street below - someone tuning a pressboard guitar. The sound bends among the brick and exposed pipes, the cracked windows. It fingers timidly into the open air and scatters away like so much smoke.

The person begins to sing: "Well can't you hear we're sellin rag and bone? Bring out yer junk and we'll give it a home. A broken trumpet or a telephone?"

The voice chuckles and strums heavy: "If ya don't want it, we'll take it; if you don't want to give it t'us, we keep walkin by. Keep going, we're not tired. Got plenty'a places ta go, lots'a homes we ain't been to yet. West side, southwest side, middle-east, rich house, dog house, outhouse, old folks house. House for unwed mothers, halfway homes, catacombs, twilight zones?

"All a your pretty, your pretty little rags an' bones." He laughs again and the sound echoes in the call of a thousand car horns.

When the musician goes to play again, building something strong with low beats of the palm on the guitar's hips, the sound stops. I blink and roll over, crawl to the edge.

A thick man, bald head gleaming, is talking at the musician. Their words are warped on the way up to the roof, twisting like a melody - interrogation in the round.

"CallS hersElf PupPy... hEr Dad's lOokinG for Her... sEen tHis giRl?"

The musician chuckles, a low rattle vibrating in his instrument's heart: "SurE, I sEen hEr... lEft thE JunGle lAst nigHt... miSsion, shE sAys... duNno WhaT sHe's talKin 'bOut."

I strain to hear, leaning over the edge. The gravel digs into my palms and I brace my knees against the barrier. The bald man squats next to the leg-splayed guitarist.

"The jungle. Where is it?" the thick man forgets the capital letter. He doesn't get it.

The musician rubs the neck of his guitar, "The Jungle's wherever it needs ta be. Wherever it's best and wherever it ken can take root. You ain't gonna find it."

The thick man refolds his paper, rising, and tucks it in an inside pocket. I can't tell if he's upset. Emotions are sort of funny when seen from above, I guess.

He isn't the only one with a paper like that. The paper with my face on it, I mean. People are moving along the sidewalks: People with hands stuffed in pockets and sunglasses that mirror their interrogees' faces, People that stop and talk at the beggars, wave paper in their faces, People that grunt and move along again.

My tummy feels funny. It's all light and twisty, like a balloon, and it keeps growling at me.

Maybe it's scared.

Or maybe it's just hungry.

The People are converging, now. They pass and share words, sending eachother off in new directions. Now one goes West, now one stops him and they head to the North.

Now one shows the others a note scribbled on her paper. Now another nods and compares his own.

They filter into the buildings and spread up like an infestation. Like so many bugs, they search, they overturn, they rediscover the forgotten rot of the city.

I fish my potatoes out of the water in the oven. They are still sort of hard, but I offer them to the People when they finally show up in their tired suits and shiny faces.

I don't think they're hungry.

The End

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