Naomi Rochelle Garnice

The bars are lined in a neat row down Fourth Avenue, alive with bright open signs framed by smoky windowpanes. It’s a narrow street, with the buildings standing so close together they almost touch. When the sun is out, the people who have no place to go always end up here. The street kids stand in front of Brooklyn’s Pizza at Fourth and Sixth, asking for leftovers. Some of them I know by name. There’s a gas station down the street where I can buy them sandwiches and lottery tickets. For five dollars and change, I can try to be a hero.

After ten, the restaurants and the tattoo shops have closed, but the bars have their doors open. We stop for a moment at each one to see who looks familiar and who looks drunk. The regulars have known one another for years, but all they really share is the foam at the bottom of their glasses. A man acts differently with an empty glass in his hand; women move differently. I sit at one side of the bar and take it all in: every awkward glance, an arm held around someone’s waist a second too long, the smiles people save for making toasts, and the way the drunks at the other side of the bar treat every drink like it’s their last. Sometimes it’s quiet on the avenue, and the crowds move on down the block toward Congress Street. The music is louder there, the lights are brighter, and there’s room for dance floors. We pass the bars and the dark windows of the Value Village, and there’s a break in the sidewalk where the asphalt turns down to an underpass.

The tunnel curls from Fourth Avenue out to Congress, about half a block. Sometimes a train rattles by above. There’s a concrete walkway on either side of the asphalt, but the sound of your footsteps seems to disappear in there. Chain sweeps from one pillar to another along the walkway. Strangers pass and look at the graffiti on the walls; it’s easier than looking at one another. People look different down there. A man in dirty clothes stands bent over a shopping cart on the other side. I swear he’s been standing there for years, waiting for something. I see him every time I walk up to Congress Street.

When I want to feel alive I walk it alone. I look out at those hot neon signs and the bright marquees from a distance. I lose my footsteps, but I can hear my heart beat even and clear in that empty tunnel with the writings on the walls: testimonies or prayers hidden from the rest of the city. It takes you for miles, and the chains that swing heavy between the arches seem to hold the city together.


Naomi Rochelle Garnice received her BA in creative writing and literature at the University of Arizona. Her work has also appeared in Six Sentences.


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