The Big Man

There were no streetlights on as he walked down Harrison, past the old railroad tracks, the backs of restaurants, grease traps, and dogs on chains barking into the night. It was pitch black. Car headlights bounced on the uneven pavement; cigarette butts tossed out windows and stereos blasting hip-hop with strong bass lines. Cop cars cruised the side streets and a siren could always be heard.

He walked this way home every night from the bar among the smells of cinnamon bread baking and beer on his breath. The fat man tasted every last drop two or three times as it rattled in his paunch and came up to the top of his mouth before spitting it out onto someone’s front yard. The sound of him clearing his throat could be heard for blocks. Men getting home from second shift jobs set their clocks to this noise. They knew when they heard the stirring of phlegm it was close to midnight. They’d wash their coffee cups and head off to bed knowing that all was right with the world.

But, one midnight there was not the sound of soul coughing. There wasn’t a drunk stumbling down Harrison. It was quiet. Just quiet. Cars didn’t creep down the street. Squad cars did not turn on their sirens. And, the fat man didn’t walk home that night. It was as if the whole neighborhood knew that something wasn’t right. Like it was on the ten o’clock news. But, it was not.

At midnight the bar closed. The big man made his way to the door and paused for a moment. He mumbled to himself as he always did, then turned the knob and headed out into the night. Except this time, he did not walk down Harrison. He didn’t walk at all. With his first step out the door, a massive moan could be heard coming from him. He was doubled over in pain and then fell to the concrete below; spread out like an old map he lay there, weasing, barely breathing, and spit coming from his thick lips. By the time the bartender came to his side, it was too late. The fat man was gone. Gone for good.

Some say he went on to heaven while others believe his ghost still lingers down on Harrison Street. But, every night you can smell the cinnamon coming from the bakery. Thick bass lines seeping out of cars. And, the sound of the big man clearing his throat at midnight.

Goodnight, Earl.

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