A New Family

Dylan worked at a shoe store, then a burrito place, and finally a new age bookstore at the heart of a half-abandoned mall, where practically the only other thing around was the discount theater. At work he read from a dog-eared copy of the Tao Te Ching and lit incense. He changed the ethereal meditation music each time a CD ended. He helped customers pick out ceramic Buddhas and special-order texts on Wiccan magic. In the corner where the tarot cards were displayed, he checked a round mirror suspended from the ceiling every so often to be sure none of the housewives were slipping a deck in their pockets.
At night, off the clock, he walked to the theater on the other side of the fountain and bought a ticket to whatever was playing.
That fall as the wind turned cold he sat alone on the tiny balcony of his apartment, stared into the living room opposite, and dreamed of living with the family there. He learned their name was Stewart. Mr. and Mrs. Stewart. When he met them at the door they seemed at first surprised but then welcomed him inside. He helped them cook dinner, and they laughed together at his old jokes. On a wide couch they sat close together to watch the evening’s television. Late in the night, after Mrs. Stewart had gone up to bed, he told Mr. Stewart of all the great things he would accomplish soon. Mr. Stewart understood, nodded, and brought him a pillow and blanket from the hall closet.
Then Dylan would awake, already awake, and return inside.

Brian Castleberry teaches creative writing at the College of William and Mary. He is co-editor of the anthology Richmond Noir (Akashic Press, 2010), and his recent work has been published in Euphony, Barnstorm, and 100 Word Story.