Summer 2006




Visual Arts
Challenge Prompt
Author Bios

south of houston
Eric Miklasevics

Once, when I was in New York for no good purpose, I built a house in lower Manhattan, south of Houston Street. It wasn’t much of a house: small, one window, no TV, not even a phone. I built it out of cardboard.
I wish I could tell you exactly where it was, but I can’t. It was late and the entire construction process was completed in less than sixty seconds; I probably only lived there fifteen minutes. But I am sure the house was somewhere between Broadway and Essex and north of Delancey Street. That much is certain. Beyond that all I can say is that I had been joyriding on cocaine for a few hours and needed to come down.

I was negotiating my way across the lower Manhattan landscape towards Alphabet City when I became aware that I was being followed. The street sounds and people around me were somehow different. I pretended not to notice, but I didn’t dare stop to look. Why draw attention to myself? Maybe they were after somebody else. All I could think of was the tiny cell that I would spend the next fifteen years of my life in. I decided to hang a left at the next corner.
That was a mistake.
I had hoped when I made the turn that I would discover, in fact, that no one was following me. I had hoped it was only the cocaine. I was wrong. Soon after I began walking down the deserted street I realized that they were not only behind me: there were more of them waiting at the end of the block.
This was it.
The absence of evidence is not the evidence of absence.
Panicking, I ditched into an alcove and watched the street. No. They would be too smart for that. So I listened, ears ringing, holding my breath. Everything sounded sinister. And that’s when I noticed the pile of cardboard boxes on the sidewalk nearby.
I kept low coming out of the alcove, nearly crawling to avoid being seen. I wedged into a small space between the boxes and the building, squatted down, and began pulling boxes back around and over myself. Before long I was enveloped in almost total darkness and just in time. I could hear footsteps.
I listened intently, eyes fixed on the peephole I had built into my home. I saw something move in a second floor window across the street. My breathing shook the entire cardboard structure. There were voices with the footsteps now. I was being watched from the building across the street. Probably on the rooftops. They were waiting for me to leave my house. They were coming.
I did the most reasonable thing I could think of considering the situation. I attempted to load another syringe full of cocaine in the near total darkness of my house south of Houston Street. It was the best I could do. Now, the footsteps were almost at my doorstep. I was trembling. They passed, perhaps oblivious to my predicament and the terror they had inflicted on me. Perhaps not.
The absence of evidence is not the evidence of absence.
I couldn’t stay in that house any longer.

It’s been a pretty long stretch since the drugs. A lot has changed. 
But the weather seems all screwed up again this year. It’s been raining almost biblically and the slugs in my garden are thriving. Some days, I find as many as a dozen of their invertebrate, beer-soaked corpses in the traps. And every day there’s more of the telltale bubbly slime on the yarrow and the asters. Still, this is better than New York. At least the slugs let you know they’re there. Mostly it’s the weather I worry about.
The weeds don’t care either way; they grow just the same. Coltsfoot, dandelions, others I don’t even have names for, perpetually insinuating themselves amongst the plants I prefer. Clever. But I can still see them. Weeds are easy that way.
Meanwhile secret energy task force meetings are held and my tomato production has been in steady decline and while the deficits keep growing and my attention is drawn to rumors of recovery or massive budget cuts or life support in Florida, my daisies have gone missing and I wonder if I might just find them hiding out in an Alabama duck blind. And the slugs in the machines, I worry about them. And if it were just the weeds I could deal with it—but the slugs…I know they’re in there.
So these days you can find me squatting down in the dirt looking out at my empty street here in Middle America. Cardboard Nation. It’s not the cocaine this time. That much is certain. I’m keeping an eye on the buildings across the street from me.
And the rooftops.
The absence of evidence is not the evidence of absence.
I’m still living here... for at least a little while. But beyond that, not much is certain.

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