It was a small Aescalapius’ symbol of healing, miniature snakes twined around a miniature staff, that glimmered like silver to attract a raven that was Evan, who stood above a weight of stone that signalled Julie’s grave. He had scared it up two months ago from his personal belongings after Julie, his girlfriend, had committed suicide. He shifted in his black jeans and white T-shirt, running his hand through his crow black hair and squinting intensely through slit eyes at the small talisman on the granite base of the same rock, trying to find meaning in the minute figure. He stooped and picked it from the less important monument. A last tear leaked from his eye as he turned from it. Evan walked across the stone studded grass, leaving the graveyard as the sun broke from the clouds. He knew in the depths of person that he wouldn’t be back. Everything was finished there. The sharper pain broke into dull sadness and he felt a fear growing in himself. Would he always be alone?

He added a pair of sunglasses on his face, turning onto a narrow street that ran between brick buildings. He traveled the sidewalk next to it quickly for some folks, due to his lanky frame. The brick bound lane opened onto a wider secondary avenue, an arterial where cars passed angrily back and forth, and he turned the corner, contributing another point on a map to his travel. Sun splashed off the cement pavement and created a blank slate after-image before him. He could feel his chest pushing into the cool spring breeze, his first microscopic sense of contributing the world after his loss. The thought was quickly lost, though. He turned another corner and crossed a street to a bus stop. Although he was in his mid twenties, he didn’t own a car and believed in the necessary sacrifice of public transit. He remembered Julie complaining about it, and laughed in an all-too patient way. A blue and white city bus slowed to the stop and the shadowy driver flipped open a pair of doors, which admitted him and then closed.

The next day he pulled the front door closed behind himself and clattered from the screen door onto the porch of the turn of the century residential house. His button-down oxford shirt caught in the air as he dropped down the front steps, wrinkling his blue jeans as he walked. He turned onto a secondary street, louder with car traffic than the residential neighborhood and the sounds of birds and wind in trees. As he travelled toward the everyday bus stop, he caught sight of a woman walking toward him, with bowl cut black hair and shades. Her lips twisted in a wicked smile, a premonition of death itself that needled him. He walked another block to the stop, and the bus, hissed with airbrakes as it slowed and then ceased to move. The same accordian doors popped open, and he climbed several steps to the toll stand to insert a ticket. He walked several rows toward the back of the bus, swinging easily onto a cushioned and backed double seat. He felt a small sharp object in his pocket and realized and reached into it to find the stick pin. The windows on the side of the bus were tinted up to the front of the vehicle, which had glass that was clear to let in the light of the day and make the bus seem a tunnel to the afterlife. His thoughts turned to Julie. Why had she done it? He became angry. Why?

The bus gave to an even larger street, four lanes, that made for the city center. The bus pealed away, free of small businesses and coffee shops and movie theaters for businesses that rose three four stories in the air, that sold insurance and medical care alongside older brick buildings that housed auto garages and parts stores. A bus approached in the opposite lane and then a delivery van along with a myriad traffic of cars. Finally the bus stopped in the shadows of skyscrapers, donating passengers onto the wide and populated sidewalks. Evan also exited the bus, passing tall buildings fronted with tobacco shops and pharmacies. He woke further to the human surrounds of passersby, feeling himself a part of the city instead of its subject. He noticed a man with a three day beard wearing a trenchcoat sitting with back leaned up against a granite ledge that ran the base of a tall portrait window at the entrance to an urban convenience store. The man had a hat at his side and was asking pedestrians for spare change. Evan stopped for a moment, surprising himself as a blank spot free of thought fell over him, and he considered helping the man. The tunnel and the clear window of the bus were left behind along with the anger, allowing him a small birth free of the trappings of grief. He reached for the leather wallet in his back pocket and pulled a five dollar bill from its crease, dropping it in the hat and looking into the face of the man whose features became straightforward and grateful, showing an honest side that Evan hadn’t seen.

He walked past more shop fronts and crossed a busy street with the light. He walked another half block and was surprised by a gentle green space, a small city park between two skyscrapers. He walked beneath twisted oaks with knots that curved into their trunks and exploded with springtime leaves above. A concrete walk curved beneath them until he found a park bench that was a capsule in a line of neatly trimmed bushes. He watched a stone fountain at the park center that bubbled water, a sound that brought greater peace to the surrounds. Sitting on the bench, he was caught in thought by the figure of a statue across the small park with its back to a tall building. He noticed it was set on a granite pedestal and recognized the same material as Julie’s grave and the rock that the poor man had leaned against. He remembered the honest expression on the man’s face, and after a moment knew the truth, a gentle joy that descended on him so that he knew she was happy. A flood of tears followed the thought.

He removed the sun glasses and wiping the tears from his face, resettled them and stood, having found the truth that the small park had clevered away. He  stumbled from under the trees, drunk on emotion and reigning himself in, stole a spot in the moving and conveyor foot traffic. Glancing down at the double wide sidewalk, he discovered an optic pink flyer on the ground and ducked, using the stick pin to pick it up. He read the thick black print that explained the location of a nearby mission secreted in an older neighborhood two miles from the downtown area. He stood on his toes for a second and caught sight of the correct bus stop, having unearthed a last find.

The bus slowed, reaching the bench and disgorged, landing a multiple of persons on the street. Evan climbed up the two three stairs to float in front of the toll stand and again inserted a transit card under the suspicious eyes of the driver, whose senses were sharpened for the city center. The bus turned a corner and then threaded a line that brought it into an old warehouse district. The human landscape changed also, and there were ancient and defunct cement loading docks where homeless men sat and talked the day. Others stood by the street with cardboard hand-scrawled ‘will work’ signs. He pulled the stop cord on the bus so that it hovered motionless and dropped the multiple stairs though the side door to the street below. He looked up at a two-story building which had a sign printed with ‘Open Door Mission’ above a single dirty glass door. He came to a stop in front of it as time slowed to a stand still. Although cars still passed on the street behind him, he felt himself lifted into a calm light space, recognizing a higher existence.  

He knocked on the dirty glass door several times, so that an older lady with metal frame glases and curly iron hair appeared on the other side. He voiced the word ‘volunteer’ to her and she opened the door.

“Welcome!” she said, smiling up at him, “follow me!” He stepped into pace behind her, and noticing the stick pin still in his hand, he pinned it on the collar of his oxford, an effort to dismiss it rather than to show it. A room came into view with multiples of orange plastic chairs and long fold-down tables. Crossing it she stepped into a doorway next to several kitchen bays, shuttered with sectioned metal doors that could be opened from the inside like garage doors when food was served. “My name is Jane.”

“Evan,” he said, as he caught sight of several kitchen workers looking his way.

“We could use you at the coffee station…the aprons are over on the wall,” she nodded her head toward a set clothes hooks with green aprons. The workers looking at him turned back to their tasks, uninterested with the odd sort of acceptance made him feel at home. Tying the apron in back, he stepped forward to the permanent one hundred gallon tank that had a meter running up its side displaying the fill amount. A short thick-boned and muscular Hispanic man strolled across the tile floor to the center of the kitchen, clapping his hands twice spurring the motion of a greater spirit that seemed to instantly order the action in the kitchen.

“I’ll open up,” A younger woman with braided brown hair said, stepping into the large room with tables and chairs, which she crossed, making for the hallway and the front door. The Hispanic man pulled open the retractable metal shells in the kitchen bays as the other workers brought large rectangular steel pans heaped with a variety of hot and cold foods to a counter next the openings it sidled. As the shell nearest Evan opened, he felt as if daylight had penetrated the kitchen. A long line of men appeared, wearing jeans jackets and long trench coats and dirty clothes underneath. Evan starting pouring thick red plastic cups of coffee, placing them on the trays that the men carried. For several moments he was absorbed in the task, and then a tray stopped in front of him. He looked up to see the man to whom he had given five dollars looking in his face and smiling.

“Thanks for the five,” he said as Evan returned the grin. The man pointed at Evan’s collar and spoke again, “I see you volunteer at the hospital too.” Evan reached up and felt the stick pin at the button down spot on his collar, and shocked at first,he then lied to the man.

“Yeah. A couple…have you seen me over at…?” The man laughed.

“Saint Mary’s! I haven’t seen you, but I know they take a lot of volunteers.” Evan wasn’t certain of what to say. Still dealing with the shock and then the lie, he added another comment.

“I’ll be going over there tomorrow,” warbling another smile, and making up for the untruth. He knew the hospital name well. They had taken her there after she had died. The man continued along the line and Evan returned to the meditation of filling coffee cups. As he did, his thoughts calmed and he recognized a higher voice in the man’s comments, knowing the shared greater spirit that the Hispanic man had signalled when clapping his hands, a same god’s eye that had looked into him when the kitchen bay door opened so that the spirit laid out a path in front of him.The hour wound into the next and then stopped at another half. The poor men filtered from the room, and then suddenly the Hispanic man was standing in front of him and pulling the door down.

“Vamos.” He said as the door closed. Evan saw Jane and then the younger woman with braided hair step toward the aprons hooks as others in the kitchen worked at untying their aprons. Following suit, he walked toward the hook and then standing in front of them, undid his apron, hanging it and making toward the kitchen door.

Stepping onto the sidewalk outside the mission, his eyes hunted the return bus stop across the street and acquiring the route sign in the crosshairs, he carefully dodged the bustle of cars to the opposite walk next to the opposite lane of traffic. He stalked the prey of the stop, still several hundred yards away and reaching it then stood, waiting on the long vehicle. Half an hour later the ever blue and white bus pulled still in front of him. He made his way down the center aisle of the transit and sat, joining other riders who formed a public pack, persuing together any anonymous quarry of a destination.

Evan disboarded at the transfer stop, falling like a teardrop out the side exit of the bus allowing the bus to scare along its route as he waited on a second bus that would take him to his home neighborhood. Half an hour later he arrived at the secondary street he had first encountered when leaving for the day. He noticed the pin still on his shirt, and pulled it free, become a preditor of emotions he settled it in his shirt pocket above his heart. He walked a block and then turned a corner into the same residential neighborhood. The ancient Elm trees formed a vault though which the sun shone, bringing the great clouds of leaves to electric light. Muted, he felt the emotion of the day previous at the graveyard, sad and lonely along with a weightless, barely detectible fear of loneliness. He turned from the sidewalk onto the even more deserted walk that lead to his house, dribbling up the stairs to the deck paint gray wooden porch. Following that progression, he crossed the creaking floorboards and let the door swing shut behind himself, throwing aside the emotions of moments before.

The next morning he stood from his bed after a heavy sleep and stretched, considering the day ahead. He pulled on another pair of jeans and a T-shirt that he found in a wooden dresser drawers. He closed the drawer from which he had pulled the shirt, and it caught his finger, lightly mashing it so that he cursed. Motivated, he noticed the stick pin on his shirt from the previous day, nestled in the laundry pile. He felt for a pocket in the T-shirt and once again left it to sit over his chest. He stepped from the bedroom onto a landing settled on top of a rigid wooden staircase. It squawked in complaint as he stepped its depth into the house below. He walked a hallway and moved into the living room, settling himself in the corner of a wide leather sofa. His thoughts went blank, and for several moments the world seemed frozen, stopped in its orbit. He realized he was staring at a birthday card on the end table on the opposite side of the couch, and recognized the cursive scrawl that was Julie’s hand on it. He became irritated, though maybe not as angry as the day before. She had no right to do it. He remembered to conversation with the homeless man in the mission the day before, and noticed a certain stubborn feeling rising. Why should he go to the hospital, after all? Time once again slowed, and Evan was on the verge of admitting disaster. Something smaller than his feelings niggled at him, and he stood from the couch. Still uncertain of the hospital, he rose from the couch and made his way toward the hallway and the front door. He needed to go shopping.

Half an hour later he found himself at the bus stop, waiting for the opposite direction of  transport from the day before, the coulds now threatening the tears of rain. The bus slowed to a stop cleaving to the curb, hugging it so that he could embark. He made his way along the dark hallway length of the machine, shadowed by both the blue tint of the bus windows and the two heavy gray lenses of the blinds he wore. He found a seat and sagged into the upholstery. His feelings fell further toward the floor, and he felt sad, lonely. They were uncomfortable feelings, though they erased the anger of a half an hour before. Two stops down the line the bus again came to a halt and the woman he had seen previously, with the bowl cut black hair and sunglasses climbed aboard finding a seat in front of him. Her presence was an addition that erased the feelings-cataracts from his eyes in the process of a coincidence that also woke him. As the bus continued he remembered the human contribution of the Hispanic man who had clapped twice and had added to the mission room, and though he recognized the contribution of the man was greater than that of the woman who sat in front of him, his reaction to her was stronger. Maybe the hospital wasn’t such a bad idea after all. He decided to make the appropriate changes in his bus route.

The bus continued to trundle through the city, the midtown business distict sorting it onto a second street. Evan yanked the stop cord and the bus deposited him at a transfer bench, where he waited on a second bus. Fifteen minutes later it pulled up to where he sat, the fumes from the exhaust creeping forward from the pipe at the bottom of the transit beast’s tail so that he was quick to find its bus-door mouth. Having devoured him, the bus continued along a cross street. He found a seat at the middle of the bus and settled himself for the ride, remembering the features of buildings collected together as a hospital. He remembered Julie again, and once again knew in the deeps of himself that she was in a better place. Tears ran down his face, which he caught with his fisted hand beneath the sunglasses before they became evident to other passengers.

Evan disboarded from the bus looking up at the ten twelve story buildings across the street. He crossed the four lane street and made for the main entrance with a windmill door that turned, uncertain of where exit became entrance. The motion confused him along with some strange battle that had inhabited him as he crossed the street. He slowed inside the hospital, uncertain of where his love of Julie became the love of other humans. He stopped for a moment, almost tempted to resign the effort. Then he noticed an old woman at a desk across the lobby, a desk that had ‘Volunteer’ written on the wall behind it. He approached the desk.

“May I help you?” the old woman spoke, unidentified except by the pin on her white jacket, which claimed her as ‘Sally.’

“I was curious…do you have psychiatric volunteer activities here?” He ad-libbed the second half of the statement, as if unaware of his own speech.

“Yes we do!” She said, as she shuffled through a set of papers on the desk. “We need a library aid to take them books…do you think you can do that?”

“Sure.” Sally gave him directions to the library, and Evan was soon standing in front of a bank of elevators, waiting on the ‘up’ button. He crowded in with a mix of civilian visitors and white-jacketed doctors. On the seventh floor he stepped from the elevator, and walked a long hallway per the instructions that Sally had given him.

He stood in front of the door, a bomb disposal expert in front of explosives that might have been inside himself, or might have been external to him. He pulled open the wooden door with a narrow glass window above the handle and entered the volumes contents of the library. An older man with a long face and glasses occupied a librarian’s desk across the room, which he bisected. He stepped forward to the desk and proffered his hand, the man surprised by the action taking it and smiling up at Evan.

“Can I help you?” he said, as Evan smiled neutrally in return.

“I hear you need a volunteer for the psychiatric unit?” In return the man showed surprise in his eyes.

“Yes we do!” he said, his grin deepening.

Several hours later, he neard the locked door on the ward stopping the cart and tapping the metal threads glass above the entrance with his knuckles. A woman with a while coat and pants appeared, a technician for the psychiatrists. She opened the door and pulled him in with the empty space between them. He pushed the cart down a hallway and a crowd of patients gathered around it, a middle aged man wearing clothing like to hospital scrubs stumbling forward, a recipient of heavy anti-psychotics. A young woman with short spikey black hair stepped forward to the cart. She had a sad smile on her face, that was loaded with uncertain eyes. Evan smiled his uncertainty, for himself as well the young woman before him. Stepping forward and giving the young woman cat-bath attention, he carefully added the stickpin to her scrubs.

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