Ringing the landlord would solve the lost key issue, but doing so was unthinkable. My stay violated the No Subletting rule, a crime that, if committed once more, would evict my host, Stellan. My dear friend recognized my last-minute desperation, my sudden decision to attend the Iowa City Jazz Festival, and kindly rented his room at a discount. I tried to call him, but as the battery in my cell phone diminished and died, I was forced to wait for his return.
I backtracked to search for the key, trudging through the sticky alley and dodging bits of gum, wristbands, and broken glass. A line of dumpsters exuded the smells of cold pizza, booze, vomit, and piss. A bouncer violently spat, and when I veered, stepping out of a patch of street light, the darkness suddenly blinded me. My ears hummed and the trickle of water from a roof was replaced by a hash of Stellan’s warnings — “Now, be careful. The door locks by itself. Remember, that is the only key.”
As I made my way along College Street, a server stacked chairs that clanked on top of each other. A dance club entrance exhaled a cool mist while thumping EDM. A homeless violinist halted his melody and asked, “Excuse me, sir, can I play you a song?” Helicopters thundered above. Students banged the keys of a piano. Baseballs thumped against the backdrop of a dunk machine. My search over the brick road, however, yielded only leaves, confetti, and a message etched in sidewalk chalk – “Smile and Count Your Blessings.” Amid my frantic pacing, I thought about Stellan. I remembered his hilarious, slapstick humor, our secret handshakes, and the accident that altered everything.
Several blocks away, on the corner of MacLean Hall, the stars beamed in the heavens. The bushes were trimmed in the back, carving out a perfect cave. As I burrowed into the shadows, the pine trees swayed through the holes of my fortress. I could see out, but no one could see in.
The late-night wind cooled me, shooed away the bugs, and gathered the smells of earth, forest, and sawdust from a construction site. I dug a pillow out of the mulch and rolled onto my side, contorting my arms and legs for a little comfort, appreciating my flexibility. Stones poked my hip and ribs, but as I settled into my bed—the lingering soreness on my soles served to deepen my gratitude. Sap and greasy hotdog stuck to my hands, but I felt thankful because I thought of Stellan’s animated stories, of smoke and crackling flames, and of Stellan dancing around the campfire, back in the days when he could, before the train split his spine.