Arts & Entertainment

CCD Presents: Bliss Street, a Short Story by Dennis Straub

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by Camel City Dispatch

by Dennis Straub, Winston-Salem Writers

Bliss Street

It was a couple of days after Christmas. James caught up with me. “Come on. You’ve got to see this.”

It was another overcast day. It neither felt or had the hush of snow. The temperature was probably somewhere in the twenties. I was glad I had on my my winter coat, a sweater, and a turtleneck. I wished I had on better gloves and socks. I wondered how James could stand it in just jeans and his leather jacket. Then again he could have on long johns and I’d never know.

He lead me past the school to a neighborhood full of used car dealerships, garages and industrial shops I couldn’t identify. There was the smell of metal in the air. It was bitter in my nose and on my tongue. The air was full of the whir of sanders and grinders. In the background there was the higher pitched sound of metal being shaped, and the bang of hammering. As we walked on, I could smell paint that made me slightly light headed.

grey-snowThe sidewalks weren’t shoveled everywhere here, and the snow was grey. Not just the black of car exhaust at the corners and along the curbs. Even on what little grass there was the snow looked dingy.

We passed a body shop. There was an Afro-American man lounging in front of the shop. “City Paint and Body” the sign read. He was tall and I could tell even through the winter clothes that he had lots of muscles.

“Hey, James, who’s the skirt?” He called.

I took a step closer to James.

“Fuck you, Luther.” He called back.

We passed a convenience store and turned a corner. We went through a neighborhood of row houses. They were brick. Most were orange, not red. Some had been painted white. The brickwork was chipped in places and there were missing shingles on a lot of the roofs. Some had empty planters on the porch with an inch or two of snow in them.

There was the bass of rap that overpowered the words. There were children playing and babies crying. Someone was yelling. Further down the block I could smell spices. It reminded me that I’d only had yogurt for breakfast.

I heard the double blast from a train horn. We turned another corner. Here was a single block of houses. They were almost all shades of grey from blue grey to off white. The one at the far end of the block was a faded pink. It seemed that every house we passed had peeling paint or warped boards on their porch. Two had broken windows covered with cardboard. One had all the windows covered in plastic. There was no sound of children playing here; no music, no yelling, only a sullen silence. There was a vague hint of diesel and metal in the air.

peeling_deck_boards_crackedHe led me to a house a little more than half way down the block. The paint was peeling on the porch posts and the porch itself needed painted. It was starting to rot too.

He stepped onto the front porch and motioned for me to be quiet. The door was unlocked. He started to go in. I pulled him back. “We’re not breaking into somebody’s house.” I hissed.

He shook himself free. “This is where I live, dumb ass.” He whispered. “Now come on.”

His house? I’d known James since I’d moved here. He’d never talked about where he lived. I never thought he take me to meet his family. He never talked about them. Now, here I was. I followed him in.

It was quiet. It didn’t smell dirty, though it didn’t look particularly clean. The stairs going up were right in front of us. They were bare, well worn dark wood. The living room was to the right. I could hear a TV playing. James peered around the corner and then headed up the stairs.

The bathroom was to the right. James opened the door to the left.

The room was a mess! The floor was covered with dirty clothes, papers and a few books. The trash can was overflowing. The closet door was open and I could see jeans coming off of hangers. There was already a pair on the closet floor along with a couple of shirts. At least it didn’t smell.

He kicked things aside to find clear spots on the floor. I followed him tip toe over to the bed. There was an X Box sitting on it. It was brand new!

“I’ve wanted one of these.” I told him. “You got this for Christmas?” He nodded. “You know they’re about five hundred bucks.”

“I didn’t know they were that much.” He said. It was almost a whisper.

He had a TV on the desk. It was only a 24”, but it looked new too.

“Did you get that for Christmas too?”

He shook his head. “That was my birthday present.”

I caressed the X Box. “Come on. Let’s play.”

He shook his head. “I haven’t got it hooked up yet.”

“I can help you.”


“Yeah, me. I had one before… Before I had to move. It didn’t survive the trip.” I said with a catch in my throat.

He smiled. “Okay. Let’s do it.”

call-of-dutyThe hard part was finding a place to plug it in. Once I’d found an outlet, it was pretty easy. I guess it took about twenty minutes and we were ready to play.

He put in the latest Call of Duty. He started to play, but he only had the one controller, so I was left watching. He’d died in about fifteen minutes.

“You haven’t played much. Have you?”

He handed me the controller. “Think you can do better?”

I lasted for about twenty. My heart wasn’t in it. I’d never learned to like first person shooter games. “Let’s play something else. What do ya’ got?”

He frowned. “This is all it came with.” He looked disappointed.

“It’s still a great Christmas present. You’ll get more.”

“When?” He mumbled.

“Come on. Try again.”

Where the hell have you been?” We heard a male voice growl from downstairs before he could get started.

“Damn! I thought he’d gone to work.”

“What the hell do you think I’m doing, you bastard. Somebody’s gotta make some money so the kids have something to eat.” Came a female voice.

“Damn you bitch…” The man began in reply. He was cut off by the sound of glass breaking.

I was stunned. I’d heard of arguments like this, but I never thought I’d hear one. Was that James’ parents? And this sounded like an old argument.

James threw the controller down, and nearly kicked it. He opened the window and stepped onto the roof. “Come on.” He said.

I climbed after him. My shoes were slick. I started slipping on the ice. James grabbed me and pushed me in the direction of a waiting tree limb. I caught it and managed to hold on. I looked back and started to thank him.

He cut me off. “You take the stairs. I’ll take the express elevator.”

He walked down to the edge of the roof as if it was something he did all the time. Then again, maybe it was. He grabbed the gutter and swung down. I heard the metal start to protest as it supported his weight. It set my teeth on edge. He grabbed one of the posts and slid down to the porch. Then he jumped to the ground. I stood in amazement. He’d even managed to close his window.

Now that I looked, I saw there was a set of boards that made a ladder on the side of the tree. I climbed down as fast as I could without slipping.

When I reached the ground, James was seething. “Every year, my Dad spends big bucks on Christmas presents for me and my sisters. So, every year after Christmas he gets laid off cause he drives dump truck. See? But while he’s not working, he doesn’t do anything! He just sits in front of the television waiting for the phone to ring. So the bills pile up, and every year mom decides to go to work. So they have this huge fight, and it goes on and on and it doesn’t solve anything.”

He just stood there for a moment, his fists clenched, his eyes blinking and his breath steaming. “I wish…” He began. He stuffed his hands in his pockets. “I don’t know what I wish.” and stalked out of his backyard.

“Come on. I’ll get you home.”

He walked in the opposite direction from the way we’d come in. At the end of the block, the street dead ended and the cross street dead ended at a set of railroad tracks. He headed down the tracks. I stopped and looked at the street sign. It, read “Bliss Street.”


2016-04-30-20-03-32-1Dennis Straub is a transplant to Winston-Salem and has lived in North Carolina since the ’70’s. He has several novels in progress, and is seeking an agent. He is a regular at Winston-Salem Writers Open Mic Night. This is his second piece published since several in college.

Founded in 2005, Winston-Salem Writers is a group of writers who write fiction, non-fiction, plays and poetry, and who care about the art and craft of writing. They offer programs, workshops, critique groups, open mic nights, contests and writers’ nights out for both beginning writers and published authors. For more information, click HERE.



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