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Our tourist stood at the street corner. They didn’t know how to get to where they were going and were too scared to ask us for help.
The wind blew their raven black hair sideways under the sun, and then under the stars and moon.
Our tourist stood alone for many days and many nights.
Then came the rain. Soon our tourist’s clothes were wet. Their white t-shirt that exclaimed I Heart This City was see-through. Their fanny pack dripped excess rain onto the sidewalk making a pretty puddle.
We walked past our tourist to our destinations not realizing that our tourist needed help finding direction. We admit it. We didn’t notice them standing there all alone, so sad.
And then there came the snow season. Clinging onto the skin and clothes of our tourist. Covering them with white and cold. In January we mistook our tourist for a snowman. We stuck a carrot in its face and two lumps of coal for eyes. Someone silly, probably a teenage boy, stuck a different much larger carrot into its crotch.
We laughed at our tourist.
In the spring our tourist’s hair was longer, streaks of gray, nearly to their knees. Their clothes were tattered, exposing happy knobby knees and long toenails sticking out of their boots. Sometimes we were known to squeeze their arms. Or slap their back. One little girl was nice enough to braid our tourist’s hair, but instead of feeling good we just laughed some more.
By the summer there was no discussion of torture. We wouldn’t ever use that word. Let’s have fun with our tourist, we said. Why not? A slap here. A tug there. A jab to the gut. Kick to the butt.
One lady slapped our tourist in the face with her purse. A man went up and kicked our tourist in their junk, where the big carrot once stuck out.
In July our tourist finally fell to their knees. Their skin was blistered. Their eyes all bloodshot, but no more tears. Our tourist was totally naked. Hair, completely white. They must have given up on their destination because there was no way they could navigate through our streets all naked and blistered.
Our mayor draped our city’s flag over our tourist. She said it wasn’t good for the city to leave our tourist in that shape. Naked and all blistered. Too ugly. Too depressing for everyone. But with the flag on them, they were more likeable.
When our tourist fell on their face, into a puddle, our barber helped our tourist turn their head so they wouldn’t drown. We were glad they didn’t die so soon. We weren’t ready to dig a grave or host a ceremony.
When fall arrived we were a bit tired of our tourist. All they were doing was laying there, half on the sidewalk, half in the street, where we like to park our cars and our trucks. One less parking spot is not ideal for any city.
So we picked up our tourist and moved them to the shelter on Second Street. Our tourist was very light, so we weren’t that put out. We set them on a cot. Right away a homeless person split their Snickers bar and offered our tourist halfsies. But our tourist was too tired to eat and too weak to chew something so chewy.
Maybe our tourist slept. Maybe they ate. Maybe they participated in homeless activities such as pin the tail on the donkey or church. We wouldn’t know. We only visited them on days we were too bored to think of anything else to do. Bored with our jobs and families and recreational activities. When we get this bored we walk down to the shelter and prod our tourist. We try to rouse them. We try to get a reaction. But lately, tickling doesn’t work. When we kick and punch it’s like kicking or punching a blow up doll. It’s fun, sure, but only for a little while.
JP Vallières is the author of the novel, The Ketchup Factory. Some of his work can be found at Tin House and Passages North. Find out more at jpvallieres.com.