Chalk Dust

by Gay Degani

Most hot June days, the artist draws 3-D art pieces on the sidewalk with colored pastels. Staircases are his specialty, winding down-down-down, spiraling into the earth, giving way to charcoal abysses. These stone steps appear so real you have to repress the urge to stoop and lay a finger to the rich ochres, the somber browns, the deep umbers to make certain your eyes are, indeed, deceiving you.

When you slip off a flip-flop and use your toe to smear the crack in the top step that leads down into the first sub-basement of today's carefully wrought masterpiece, you could swear in that instant, before the artist shooed you away, you felt a falling away in the sidewalk, an emptiness beneath your foot, the tongue of dark air against your ankle.

So you retreat and watch the artist on hands and knees, with his shallow tray of crumbling colors, repair the damage you've done, though you can't quite remember feeling the solidity of concrete against your toe, the sensation of powdery chalk.

You lean over to slide on your sandal. You study the clean white bottom of your toe. Glance along the gray concrete toward the artist who is standing now, his t-shirt stained in the dusty hues of his magnificent staircase.

Later, after the night sky becomes a pit of black, when everyone has gone home to their last glasses of red wine, their cool sheets, the warm concaves of their girlfriends' bodies, you return to the staircase that gleams under the lamp light and with only the slightest of second thoughts, place your foot firmly on the uppermost step, and descend.

A maintenance man moves out of the shadows, hosing down the sidewalks, spraying water in a gentle arc over the staircase, watching as the artist's chalk lifts slowly on a liquid tide and flows away.

Gay Degani has been published in mystery anthologies, in THEMA Literary Journal, and Women's Quality Fiction as well as online at Everyday Fiction, Flash Fiction Online, Tattoo Highway, and Salt River Review. "Spring Melt" was a finalist for The 2nd Annual Micro Fiction Award and was nominated by Everyday Fiction for a Pushcart Prize. She recently won 1st place in the Women on Writing Winter 2009 Flash Fiction Contest with "Beyond the Curve."