San Francisco
Emil DeAndreis

There’s a street as slick as pure fish scales where an old Chinese woman sifts through trash bins to collect aluminum cans. Midnight pours down a dose strong enough to knock us out into Xanax waltzes, and so we sleep as her calamitous bag clanks along. You cannot escape her beady brown fangs which are the size of lentil beans, and no matter how fast you drive, her laughter is the hiss that fogs the windshield. When you turn your corners, she turns them with you, and her bag of cans drags behind. She drags us down with her.

“I know right?” we say. “I know, right?”

We watch her wear a Detroit Pistons hat from 1984, watch her hock phlegm and rip the can right from your hand without saying “thank you.” Look at her smear leftovers from the trash into her mouth. We are revolted by her every fiber—not even a “thank you.” We wait until she’s gone, and say among each other:

“I know, right?”

Do empty cans pay for the shark guts and bargain bay garbage she feeds her family? Does she sleep on the floor? Is she a criminal? Is her city the same as ours? Is she alive? What is she? Look at her. Her hair is like jet black steel wool, as tight and stiff as old doll hair. She drags her cans through cold San Francisco rain, dragging us down too. She is everywhere, because there is no end to anything, and she lives in a sewer near sea level.

Meticulous observation and discussion reveals that she is beneath sea level. She is the bay garbage that she feeds her children. She is a cannibal. She is the dull gum welded into the asphalt, she is the traffic jam and the smog suspended above it, the power outage, the dormant spider on your ceiling whose venomous bulb and hair you will swallow in your sleep without ever knowing it. She is the ulcer to utopia.

Close her out, pinch your nose and hold it high above the stench, feed her your trash and step on her when she comes out of the cracks. Her laugh is harsh and uncivilized, her language as blunt as murder with a butter knife. Her cans glimmer not the shine of fortune, no, but the reflection of rainwater in a pothole.

Look. Closely. Ignore her. Ignore the voice that says

From pig to man, from man to pig, already it was impossible to tell which was which.

That’s just heresy. That’s just good literature. Well-crafted, poignant fiction. Nothing more.

Through the haze, there is a cancer impregnating the sky like billows from a bonfire of flea-ridden couches. It infects a wispy, plum dusk along the skyline. The process is slow, and hardly detectable, as sweet as hospital cafeteria food. There must be someone to blame for this. She is the origin, the ulcer to utopia, and we are revolted by her. Ignore the voice that says

From pig to man, from man to pig, already it was impossible to tell which was which.

Emil DeAndreis received a degree in Creative Writing from the University of Hawaii at Hilo in 2008. Currently he is a substitute teacher and high school baseball coach in San Francisco. In his free time he plays the drums, listens to music to stay sane and wrestles with big puppies to stay young. He has had short stories and articles published in Apollo’s Lyre, Conte Literary, OCHO Journal, The San Francisco Chronicle, and The Windsor Review, among other publications. He recently received the Editor’s Choice Award for New Writer from Bamboo Ridge Press.