Apr/May 2000  •   Fiction

Tips for this Vicinity

by Maureen H. Tobin

First, don't forget:try to blend in. Here we have gray, gray-green, pale black, brown. Reddish-brown, some brownish-yellow. Bottles, windows, whatever breaks, we've got plenty of. Windshields shatter into millions of bluish zirconium or even diamonds if you look at them just right.

Things not yet broken, after enough rain, become their own whole worlds.

There is much sand and gravel. There is dust. Every corner and nook and edge is crammed with and clung to by the lost and discarded (Don't use the word "trash." Its meanings are all too clear yet damningly imprecise. If you crave a single word to describe what gathers in our corners, say "refuse." Its many connotations and inherent confusion are fine. Refuse is more accurate than "flotsam," drier and truer than "garbage." Do not say trash). Nothing grows up between the cracks.


We do not look at each other straight-on here. It is not advisable. If you note someone looking at you, quicken your pace, but keep the radar up. Keep your side-eye on them. Approached, walk on, be cold. Accosted, briskly reject. Touched, and sorry: all bets are off; you must do what you will.

I've considered the advice of the "specialists," the prudent surrender, the "give them what they want," etc., but cannot. No. Perhaps you can. This may be what you have to do, it may be the best course for you. I for one must let the lava in me spill over my offender, off-put in such a way that they can only conclude I am insane. This works because madness scares a coward and look at me, only a coward would insult me.

After a while you get known.

I have other tricks I'd as soon not tell, but you remind me of being young and coming here. As I was when I did. Listen carefully.


Here: go be a brick. Just do it, be a brick. It's the best thing.

Sure, there are other choices, a million choices. You could choose to be a shingle. Maybe that's the way you're leaning, perhaps that's your nature, your personality. I for one could not be a shingle, all flat and lying there, deflecting. No. But I'm not an expert in all things and furthermore am fairly certain that shingles are needed somewhere, though not by me. I'm not that sort of brick.

Which is not to say that I am a rare or particularly special brick, but I have my qualities.

First, I am red (You might now say "Of course, what else?" but not everyone sees things this way. There is a place in the heartland—I have been there, I have seen it—a place of great cheese, and this place is called by its inhabitants Cream City simply because of the harmless cream-colored bricks they are so proud of producing, and nothing to do with dairy products at all. Myself, I'd rather be an old tire at the bottom of the Dead Sea than a cream-colored brick anywhere. But that's just me). I am the right sort of brick, brownish-red, rectangular, a cliché of anonymity. I am not currently of a building, though maybe I once was, or maybe once I was part of a street, worn smooth and nestled in with my many brother bricks. We made for a warm rumbling, once.

I am leaning that way, thinking once I was part of a road. If I can only go by feeling, that's it then. A road brick.

Now I am loose, alone, not in or on a street but rather off to the side a bit, not necessarily visible. I rest in a lot with some grass, or some might say weeds, but don't get me started about weeds. Let's just say we're all entitled and what's the point of calling names?


As a brick, what course of action would I recommend? Just this: Be Yourself. Sometimes that means patient. Sometimes it needs to mean hard and red. Preserve your integrity at all costs.

Be safe. Need be, bash heads, flatten faces. All this you can do and whatever lands on the sidewalk, brains or blood, dropped documents, weapons, it's all the same: leave it lie.

This only when necessary and not otherwise.

Hardness can be a heavy burden and to counteract this, I recommend occasional delicacy. Spider spit is good for this, a lovely medium, as are certain small types of smoke.

Sometimes you can have affection. A thunderstorm can be a very suitable friend—close your eyes, let it wrap around you like an egg. Containing this love will be easy.

At other times, as has been said, you may need to get rough. Often you will need to lie perfectly still. Not making a sound will become easy. Hush now, try it.

See? Easy.


The time has come to crack and bite your way out of that shell. I recommend you leave it hanging in a tree and get away quick. If you ever come face to face with it again, you may be unnerved, but don't be afraid. Blow lightly on it, see that you aren't in it any more. The shell is dry and empty and cannot harm you.