I’m Nobody ~ A Short Story by Allen Kopp
It was a city in itself, a city of the dead but also of the living. The dead belonged there but the living did not. Each night, there were as many as a hundred people hiding out and among them was the girl named Vicki-Vicki.
She had been in residence through parts of the summer when she didn’t have anyplace else to go but now summer was over and the nights were getting cold. She looked ahead to the winter with dread and believed she would die. When she was at her sickest and loneliest, she welcomed the thought of dying and believed that only in death would she find escape and surcease of pain.
When she looked back on the time since she left home, she could no longer remember how long was a day or an hour or a minute; those words had lost meaning for her. But now it was October—of that she was certain—and the days were still warm. She stopped by one of the ancient fountains and put her hands down in the murky water and her eyes were drawn upward to the face of the stone angel that formed the top of the fountain. She was not surprised to see the angel turn its head and look at her. It wasn’t the first such thing she had seen in the cemetery.
“Who are you?” the angel asked Vicki-Vicki
“I’m nobody,” she said.
“You must have a name.”
“My name no longer matters. If I was sure I even had a name, I would try to forget it.”
“How long since you’ve eaten?” the angel asked.
“I don’t think I’ve eaten this year.”
“This is a terrible life you’ve chosen for yourself, isn’t it?”
“Why don’t you go back home?”
“I wouldn’t even if I could.”
“Isn’t something better than nothing?”
“It’s going to be a long, hard winter,” the angel said.
“Aren’t they all?”
“They’ve called in extra guards for tonight. You know what that means.”
“They’ll hit me in the head with a stick if they find me,” Vicki-Vicki said.
“And then they’ll most likely throw you in jail for vagrancy.”
“I won’t be the only one.”
“Better to get out now while you can.”
“Tell me where to go,” Vicki-Vicki said, “and I’ll go.”
“If ever a child needed a friend,” the angel said and, as soon as these words were out of its mouth, it went back to being a stone angel and Vicki-Vicki drew her hands from the water.
“I have to hide,” she said, “or they’ll find me.”
She went to a remote part of the cemetery that a forgotten friend had told her about. It had the biggest trees and the oldest graves. A lot of people were afraid to go there because of the ghosts, but she didn’t mind them. If the thought of ghosts had ever scared her, she didn’t remember.
Some of the large old monuments were very close together with only a foot or so of space between them. One cozy niche in particular acted as repository for blown leaves. She burrowed into the leaves, lay on her back and covered herself up. With her face covered, the leaves had a pleasant smell and she was still able to breathe. It was probably as good a hiding place as any she would find. She was surprised that nobody else had thought of it.
She lay very still and breathed deeply. She could see a little patch of sky and she knew that soon it would be dark. She was certain that, no matter how many men combed the place for what they called “vags,” they would somehow not find her. Two different times she heard faraway voices and footsteps that seemed to come closer, but she wasn’t sure if they were real or if she had only imagined them.
At the moment, while she had nothing else to think of, her thoughts turned again to food. The pain of hunger had mostly passed; she no longer thought of food and had almost forgotten what it felt like to have food in her mouth and to chew and swallow it. She knew, though, that people don’t live forever without eating. She would have to get something to eat, and soon, or it was going to be the end of her.
Covered up with leaves as she was, she drifted into a deep sleep that might have lasted for hours or only minutes, and when she awoke it was to the voices of men. They were talking and laughing and she could tell by the sounds they made that they were coming closer. Her heart beat faster but she was certain that if she didn’t make a sound they wouldn’t know she was there. She lay as one of the dead.
Soon the men did pass on, none the wiser. The night was still and she didn’t hear a sound except for a breeze in the tops of the trees and the call of the occasional night bird. She was secure in the knowledge that she was alone and that if there had been any living thing nearby she would hear it.
She would spend the night right there in her bed of leaves, but first she had nature’s duty to perform. She stood up, walked a few feet away and crouched down in the shadow of a giant oak. When she was finished she grabbed at a handful of leaves to clean herself with and that’s when her hand brushed against a soft canvas bag. It was a kind of knapsack with a strap that went all the way around it. Her first thought was that it might have money in it or something valuable, but what was really inside was even better: a sandwich wrapped in paper and a small bottle of milk. It was the stone angel, she knew, that put it there.
Copyright © 2015 by Allen Kopp