Tag Archives: Human Child

“Human Child” – Fiction by Brendan Byrne

By SJNikon - Sam Roberts [CC-BY-2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons
Worship – Sam Roberts, 2010

There’s a vague but undeniable dread stalking the reader from the margins of “Human Child,” Brendan Byrne‘s story from our Fall 2014 Issue.

{ X }

IT HAS BEEN AN ACHING DAY. The sky heals like a scab, but nothing has split it, and it has never bled an ounce of fluid. Light the first of the evening. My hands ache. Fluxing bone pain which doesn’t dissipate. Rest my elbows on the black metal railing adjacent to the basement stairs. A Japanese guy with coiffed hair and a model’s blank face brushes by, street-level. I think I hear him say, sotto voce, into a phone curled against the side of his skull,  “…other territories… how does it feel there?”

The door jerks towards me: I catch it.  The last of the maggots file out, pawing at coats, extracting packs of cigarettes, demanding lights off each other, howling about the stupidity of associates and lovers. I wait till they’re halfway down the block, then go back inside. Clear the scrap-wood tables of barely begun drinks, kick the chairs and jerk the tables back into some kind of order. I have my head down, starting the wash, when the door heaves and wheezes.

Kid. Small and thin. White-stained hoodie draped, obscuring features. He’s looking at my face in the way people who know you look at you. I straighten up and move down the bar towards him. Just from the way he’s standing, I know I don’t know him.

“Gonna have to see ID, man.”

As I approach, the candle throws up yellow globe light, and I can see the shorn sides of his head. Scraped unclean with cheap razors. I tighten, keep a good deal of the bar between the two of us. I think of the metal bar under the wash.

“Not looking for a drink.” His voice is a slurry of broken things. His hands jammed into the hoodie’s pockets. He hasn’t looked anywhere except right at me. There’s a bunch of things I could say. None of them would ease the situation in the necessary direction.

His eyes are somewhere I’ve never been. “Knowa girl named Kimmie?”

“Don’t know anyone named that, no.”


“No idea.”

The kid leans slightly over the bar. I can see the beginning of lazy slashes of tribal tattooing on his wrists. There is what looks like at first a severe case of eczema on his neck, but as he comes closer, I can see it’s scar-art, created through glass laceration. Thought it was out of style.

And I can smell him. Old puke and new trash. Like one of the gutter punks who camps out in Tompkins Square Park and adjoining streets, but they don’t come in here, they know better than that.

“Said she knew you.”

“No idea, man. Sorry.”

“You’re Aaron.”

“No, that’s not my name.”

His single, simple grin. “Kimmie said.”

“Not me.”



“Aaron.” It’s a statement. He places both his hands on the bar like they’re dead birds he’s been carrying around too long in his pockets. “She said you knew how to get back.”

“Get back where?”

He thinks this is funny: his face begins to convulse around the slit of a smile. His body is impossibly still, like a caryatid of an unseen palace. Then his neck begins to spasm, and something happens to his eyes. His shoulder twitches, and his head drops as if he’s mid-seizure. I step back, place the base of my spine against the counter behind me. A middle age couple comes through the door bubbling and laughing, talking about the never-removed Christmas lights, calling for two Stella. In the second I look away from the kid, he was out the door, quick-lurching up the stairs. The couple brightly ignores his transit, settling. I pour the beer, take money, give change. Stymie attempted dialogue, “How long has this place been here…” Curve around the bar. Outside. Up the concrete stairs.

There is nothing on the sidewalk except for dog shit, menthols smoked down to the nub, and chip bags, inside-out, gleaming. The sky is wet and swirled with grays, refusing to rain.


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