At closing time, the Little Caesars on Broad Street cleans house and tosses twenty fresh Hot and Ready pizzas, boxed and stacked, into an industrial dumpster behind the shop. Twice a week, Izzy pedals her ten-speed Schwinn across the city to salvage as many pies as her carrier bag can fit. Tonight, her friends come as back-up, because a member of their rag-tag bicycle club got into a fistfight with a rival gang over some trashed bags of Krispy Kreme apple fritters, resulting in a busted lip, a torn earlobe, and an unspoken war. Their jean jackets beat in the breeze. Puddles slick their spokes which ease to a brake.
While Izzy pops the waste bin’s lid, some swing their U-locks and imagine the curved loops bludgeoning trespassers’ skulls. Some squat and piss on gravel. Some take drags from Lucky Strikes and wait. One mistakes a dog’s shadow for that of his enemy; he chucks a glass bottle. One hums. One prays.
Soon, Izzy calls her crew and orders them to assemble before the dumpster. She slings the spoils, one at a time, down the row. When they’ve stowed the last, leaving behind nothing, she hops to the ground and prepares to saddle. Her head bends.
Not far off, slurred curses and a group chant echo; whiskery voices vow revenge on pastry thieves. Izzy hasn’t packed, her crew’s too famished for a fight, so one among them, a mohawked woman with Pit Bull maws tattooed on her hands, pulls bottle rockets from her bag and offers to cook up distraction in a nearby alley off the route. They fist-bump, and the volunteer glides.
When Izzy and co. lurch into motion, they hear pyrotechnics pop, hollers of confusion, the faded whistle of a freight train. In the starless sky behind them, bursts of golden sparks swell and vanish. Their shadows swoop over storefronts, under bridges, into slums, where their community dwelling—a vacant vinyl house they’ve renovated into a squatter’s paradise—oozes with the strumming of acoustic guitars. In the basement, they unbuckle their bags, crack tall boys, and prepare for a feast.
Izzy sings of a city within the city, where the gates creak open past midnight, where urchins and drifters rule like Pharos, and the law dares not knock. She sings of this other city’s citizens, how they pass lawyers and bankers in daylight, how they live off the excess of tourists and merchants, and erect utopias out of waste. She sings of their backyard garden, overrun with carrots and heirloom tomatoes, how they’ll dine on homegrown salads in summer, how they swindle pizza and apple fritters in spring.
Tom Kelly is a Creative Writing doctoral student at Florida State University. His poems and prose appear in Ninth Letter, Redivider, Passages North, LIT, Barrelhouse, and other journals.