That day, Ezzie didn’t fantasize about leaving her husband the way she did every other day of the week, which when calculated, amounted to five prickly years of wishing. And where this feeling came from didn’t matter to her; what mattered was that she felt good, all over. As she lazily walked and browsed along Market Street, Ezzie reflectively touched herself in the places that she believed that she felt the best: the space above her upper lip, the back of her neck where her dark hairline ended, and the inward curve her thigh made before it joined her hip. The warmth of day breezed through her loose blouse, while her favorite music played on her Walkman, flowing deep into her mind. She unknowingly snapped her gum to the beat.
Halfway down the street, Ezzie bought a pack of Marlboro Lights, some chewing gum for afterward, and a heart-shaped tin full of chocolates. And from a man standing behind the scented-candle booth, she bought a nickel bag of pot, which she discreetly slipped into her purse, her eyes looking up and away from her hands.
Ezzie continued her stroll, and when she reached the end of the street, she stood for a moment and took in all of the commotion. Shoppers moved around her like a school of frenzied fish. She tilted her head back, letting the dry sun spread over the bridge of her nose and cheeks. She thought for a second that she could smell heaven.
“Your man Zero’s in jail!” a gluey voice shouted as two hands shook her shoulders.
Ezzie’s heavily lined eyes blinked open in shock, while her unsteady fingers struggled to press the stop button of her Walkman.
“Jesus Christ, Nestor. You scared the– ”
“What are you doin’ here?” he said. “Are you gonna answer me or what?” Nestor’s angular body jangled with nervousness inside his large flannel shirt and gray work pants. Ezzie shifted one of her hips toward Nestor, making the jeans that covered her pillow-sized thighs brush together in protest. There was a long pause while Nestor stared at her, his eyes widening. Ezzie tugged at the flap on her purse to make sure it was tightly closed.
“Look!” She quickly opened her plastic shopping bag. “Look what I’ve bought.”
Nestor’s lips moved like snakes over sand when he spoke. “What are you doin’ here?”
Ezzie chewed at the inside of her mouth while she thought of something to say. After a moment she uttered, “I bought all this stuff to take to Zero–in jail.”
Nestor peered into the bag, smiled, and then shrugged his shoulders with a gesture of mild approval. “Zero smokes?” he asked, his face folding into confusion.
Trying to conceal a tiny smile, Ezzie’s mouth became crooked. “I gotta go,” she said.
Ezzie turned, let her long hair flip across her face like a curtain closing, and walked away.
Nestor stepped back in surprise, but quickly regained his stance, and flicked his hand into the air for emphasis as he called out to her. “Your man’s in jail, Ezzie.”
“Don’t you think I know that?” she whispered, her answer lost in the crowd as it swirled up into the sky and dissolved over Market Street. Ezzie placed her hand over her stomach to calm the ticklish feeling growing inside of her. She turned the corner of the street and walked toward the apartment that she shared with her husband, who still was referred to in the neighborhood by his childhood nickname: Zero.
Ezzie fell backward onto their bed, letting her purse and shopping bag crash down at her sides. She stretched and scrunched her body against the freshly washed blanket and bleach-scented sheets. She then stacked both pillows under her head and lay there for a moment, letting her ankles dangle from the bed like a child. Turning on her side, Ezzie picked up her shopping bag and dumped the contents out onto the bed. Like a magician, her hand swirled over her purchases until she plucked the pack of cigarettes from the pile and opened them.
She rested there, legs slightly apart, toes wiggling under the straps of her sandals. Never before had Ezzie noticed how a cigarette could be something completely different without fire, or how gracefully a match becomes a flame, or how smoke seems to disappear effortlessly into the air.
Zero stood in his jail cell and rubbed his hand over his face as if to erase it. A heavy breath rushed out of him while he tipped his head down to glance at his chest. Letting his large fingers skim across the numbers on his uniform, he whispered, “Five, four, three, six, and zero.” He glanced up and sighed at the sight of the sun trying to but unable to push its way through the tiny window. “It’s better to be known by more than just a zero,” he said out loud, then swallowed to wet his throat while tucking loose strands of hair behind his ear. He turned, shifting his weight from foot to foot, to face a thin mattress in a wobbly metal frame. He winced at the squeaks it made as he sat down on the bed. His body suddenly became weak and sunk into itself as he thought about yet another night spent without his wife. Zero could find no solace, so he stared endlessly at the cold, gray floor.
“You gotta visitor,” the guard’s voice barked, his keys slamming against one another as he shoved one of them into the keyhole of the cell lock. Zero looked up and noticed a tiny smile twitching at the corners of the guard’s mouth as he slid the cell bars open.
“Who is it?” Zero asked quietly.
The guard squinted at Zero.
“Why would ya care who it is?” the guard said. “Be happy anybody’s come to see ya.”
Zero stood up and let out a little gasp, as if something had pinched him.
The featured image accompanying this piece, entitled ‘Corona Coronas Coronae’, has been used with the permission of artist, Robert Alan, a mixed media artist from New York City.