No Small Thing

By Tom Shay

  • 2 Pages

The ebb and flow of pedestrians made Sascha seasick. Schools of cars passed down the road, staring at the throng. No bird is as free as me, she mused. With ruddy hand she cleared her eyes. In the distance construction continued, but the creation only added to the dead weight pulling on her heart. Never before had Sascha seen so much death.

Nothing will grow there for generations, she observed, and the thousand thousand consumers who venture there won’t find the peace they crave. Reading the signs, billboards and advertising posters strung piecemeal throughout the landscape, Sascha was reminded of Hamlet’s warning to Ophelia, “Believe none of us, all are knaves here. Get thee to a nunnery.”

But Sascha was there to record, so she aimed her camera and shot all she saw. The old, toothless bum who had told her about the good old days. CLICK. Those businessmen with their animatronic glow. CLICK. The young woman with two half-starved children and dead eyes. CLICK. Those college kids out to conquer the world. Visionaries. CLICK.

Sascha wondered why anyone was in such a hurry to get to places where they’d be lied to and manipulated. They needed to slow down and take a look at themselves, she ruminated. Consumerism is cancer to the soul, like a black hole it threatens all existence. If this is progress, what’s the goal?

In the alley, Sascha counted the names of the dead. A gang’s burial ground. The dead were honored by having their names X’d out. HOUNDOG, PUG, CHARLIE H, the list continued down the block. Sascha knew something had to be done about all this.

The red light soothed Sascha’s troubled soul. Under deft fingertips, the film was transferred onto its large, poster-board backing. The radio guided Sascha’s humming, but could not dim her focus. After hanging the pictures to dry, Sascha left the darkroom and stared through the windows at the night sky. A large sign across the street blared, JESUS SAVES. Sascha turned to scan her small room. The old couch scented the room with fresh mold and something scurried in the far corner. Clothing littered the area. On the lone shelf, all of Sascha’s portfolio works sat: pristine in the wreckage.

Sascha checked her supplies. Beside her bed (in the next room), the wallpaper glue lay stacked. The drop cloths made for sheets, and the jumpsuit bore witness. Sascha, drowsy, went to sleep. She slept until late the next afternoon.

By midnight, Sascha’s nerves were nearly shot. A pile of cigarette butts smoldered beside her on the bed, but the brandy kept her warm and strong. Caffeine pills generated focus, but reliance on so many drugs for mental clarity hurt Sascha’s pride. I’ve got to do this became Sascha’s mantra, and she meditated fiercely. At two, she took her supplies and left.

At the edge of town, a large billboard straddles the freeway. Welcoming visitors to the city, it has seen a thousand dreams and horrors, and stoically withstood all. The city spent thousands of dollars to keep the sign in good condition, despite the vandals. The first lie becomes the first truth, Sascha stared. With her supplies tucked safely into the large gym bag slung across her back, the coveralled Sascha had only her large portfolio case to occupy her hands as she started up the steel rungs to the sign.

Near the top, a passing siren made Sascha start. She watched, terrified, as the portfolio fell to the pavement, scattering its contents. Sascha flung her gym bag onto the catwalk before the sign and rushed to gather her eyesores. Luckily, nothing was damaged in the fall, and Sascha, now laughing at the whole affair, climbed onto the ladder.

The first drop cloth draped the sign. It was unusual for night-workmen to go to that much effort to hide their work, but the city prided itself on its excellent pro-growth PR work, so eccentricities were overlooked. Sascha pasted her signs furiously. She knew where each piece of the collage fit without having to look at the picture itself. The work moved smoothly, and soon the masterpiece was complete. This should make them pause, Sascha hoped. She tied the rope to the corner of the drop cloth and descended.

Back to earth, Sascha thought about jail. It was inevitable that she’d get caught, but her zeal accepted any sacrifice. She removed the cloth, unveiling the splendor of her masterpiece. In bright letters, visitors were still welcomed to the city, but the sign no longer bore silent witness to a thousand horrors and dreams. A collage of all the photos Sascha had taken of the splendor and squalor of the city blended together in the outline of a graveyard below the city’s name.

Sascha named her work: Cityscape.

More Strange Stories…

Original post 01/25/2004

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