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Recent midwest Stories

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Charles McLeod

Charles McLeod’s fiction has appeared in publications including Alaska Quarterly Review, Conjunctions, CutBank, DOSSIER, The Gettysburg Review, The Iowa Review, Michigan Quarterly Review, Post Road, The Pushcart Prize: Best of the Small Presses, Third Coast and ZYZZYVA. His debut collection, National Treasures, and debut novel, American Weather, are forthcoming from Random House UK. He lives in Macomb, Illinois, and teaches creative writing at Western Illinois University.

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Sunday, November 21st, 2010

The light glistened on the pane of broken glass when I woke up that morning. I hurried out of bed to jerk the blinds closed in hopes they would hold up against the gusting wind. The chill of January air bit at my skin as I looked for something to put on. I stooped down and dug through a pile of dirty clothes for some forgotten pair of underwear. I walked out of the bedroom door and into the living room of our apartment. It wasn’t really our apartment, actually. It was abandoned when we stumbled across it. But it was ours now.

We had been out on the streets for two days and the cold November weather was starting to wear us down. I had to find us a place to go; we were tired of living in gas station bathrooms and I was tired of hiding from the cops while we tried to shoot up in alleyways. I carried our infant son, Thomas, in my arms as I climbed up the front steps of the abandoned Harbinger Estate Building almost two months ago. I scouted the building out for a couple days to see if anyone came in or out. It had closed down earlier in the week, but it looked like it should have been closed years ago. The building was in bad shape, even for Detroit. We walked in the front door and looked around. The elevator doors were wide open, but the lift was gone and the shaft went all the way down to the basement. I put Thomas on my shoulder and we began to walk up the stairs in search of a new home. Graffiti covered the walls of the stairwell, spelling out “You’ll never leave Detroit alive” in bright red paint. When we reached the fifth

floor I handed Thomas to my girlfriend Amanda and got to work on getting us a place to stay. The fifth floor would be high enough for us. We wouldn’t be bothered by the occasional police officer that might want to check on the building or by the junkies trying to steal what was left of the copper wiring. I emptied Amanda’s purse to look for something I could use to slip the lock. I found an old cooking spoon and jammed the back end into the space between the lock and the door. I worked my magic on the door while Amanda covered Thomas’ mouth to keep him from making any noise. After a few minutes of jiggling I got the door open. I put the spoon back in her purse and slowly cracked the door open. A blast of cold, rancid air hit me in the face. Thomas began to cry immediately and Amanda covered his mouth again to stifle the noise. The place was already occupied; when I stepped inside, a family of rats scattered away from a cat carcass. The windows were cracked and broken, letting the air slip through like a sieve. After a few hours of cleaning, some garbage picked mattresses, and some plastic bags for the windows, we had a home.

I found my jeans in the living room and slowly pulled them on. I went back into the bedroom to wake up Amanda; it was time for us to go out and make some money. She lay in the bed naked with dirty old sheets covering her leathery body. Her shoulder stuck out under the sheet and I gently shook her. She was always a heavy sleeper, especially after the long night we had. She opened her eyes and stared blankly at the wall. Her blue eyes had large dark circles around them. Her face wasn’t as attractive as it used to be; the cold Detroit winters had weathered her skin and cracked her lips. I shook her shoulder once more and rubbed my hand down her back and over her bony rib cage.