By Joseph S. Pete
Gary had changed a lot since Charlie grew up there.
As he cruised down Broadway, he saw a boarded-up storefront, a check-cashing place, another boarded-up storefront, a package liquor store where a small line had queued behind the bulletproof glass, a boarded-up movie palace from the 1920s, a block-wide newsroom that was now home to a small non-profit. There was a mostly empty mall, a boarded-up chop-suey restaurant and a White Castle where the cashiers were ensconced behind bulletproof glass.
His parents were both dead, and he had no family or friends left in the area, but he shacked up with his bandmates there because Gary still felt like home. They figured they’d play in the Miller neighborhood on the Lake Michigan shore where there were still clubs and restaurants where people congregated on weekends for music. The rest of the city was now empty, desolate, silent.
Before he knew what happened, the band and his living situation disintegrated. Charlie headed off to a dive bar with a 1950s facade where they sold half-pitchers.Some of the woebegone clientele couldn’t afford a full pitcher of beer. He needed to clear his head, figure out what was next.
After a few, Charlie decided to head to a homeless shelter he had seen on Broadway, the city’s main artery. He had less than $300 in his checking account and couldn’t afford a deposit on an apartment. He could live out of his car, and he’d be safe at a homeless shelter. They were used to transients.
Charlie parked outside after 1 a.m. and rested his head in the passenger seat. His ribs pressed against the gear stick.
Sleep was elusive. His ribs ached like a boxer had been working him. He was so used to the relative softness of a 25-year-old mattress.
A mostly bald, wild-haired guy with bug eyes pounded on his window. Charlie was startled, terrified.
“Hey, hey, why you parked here?” he asked.
“You don’t want to be here. This is all junkies, drunks, thieves, meth heads, stone-cold murderers, man. These people will slash your throat in the middle of the night for some loose change.”
“I got nowhere to go. Where do I go?”
“The police station. It’s safe there. They’re used to homeless folks here.”
Charlie rolled up to the police headquarters downtown and asked the night dispatcher if he could sleep in the parking lot.
“Whatever,” she said, glancing down toward a fistful of paperwork.
As he tried to rest, he thought of what went so wrong in his life, how he had made so many mistakes and whether tomorrow would be darker than today. He wanted to believe this was a setback, a future barroom tale, a blip, but kept thinking of evenings in Gary where the distant sun set over Lake Michigan, enveloping everything in darkness.
Joseph S. Pete is an award-winning journalist and an Iraq War vet. His literary work has appeared in Chicago Literati, Defenestration Magazine, Dogzplot, 365 Tomorrows, McSweeney’s Internet Tendency, Flash Fiction Magazine, Zero Dark Thirty and other publications. He is a tireless advocate of cheese curds.