by Matt Herzberg
Somewhere Once, In A City That Forgot To Stay Clean...
This is what happens on Iestyn street, when no one else is around. Not Iestyn avenue, or Iestyn circle, not Iestyn drive or Iestyn parkway. Iestyn street, I-E S-T Y-N ST-R-eet. In olde foote town, across from the warehouse, where apples are drawn and delivered and peeled by strange mechanical devices. By the thousands each day, thats the place where they can make a city’s worth of sweet, warm applecrisp. Where tall chimney stacks thrust upwards, and trails of thick white smoke lazily ﬁlls the sky. Thats why Iestyn street smells of old gym socks and wholesome baked cinnamon. Why the men who live there grow long black mustaches, and the women have cold feet.
There are several unexplained occurrences on Iestyn street. On old maps it was shown to run parallel to itself for one and three miles, heading in opposite directions. There was also a time when the addresses repeated themselves on either side. Not to mention that the residents of Iestyn street, once upon a time, called each other ‘greater’ and ‘lesser’ to avoid confusion, from similar sounding and similarly spelled last names.
It’s actually a matter of historical record, whats happened there amongst four story ﬂats and pitch-work fences around old family houses. Amongst gaudy street side shops with suggestive street side signs. And a native profession of fruit dealers, who spend long hours at night, in front of their computer screens.
From the hour of four one zero to the hour of ﬁve ﬁfteen. Thats when all trafﬁc seems to stop on Iestyn street. This being the most peculiar and foremost event to speak of lately. No cars on smooth black pavement and no shoes on broken concrete. It’s as if the business day disappears, suddenly, and the residents take a break from busy lives. Taking time instead to relax, to cut out coupons, complete chores, or get in touch with old friends in far off places.
No one knows what happens on Iestyn street during this time, because no one who lives there is around to see it. Thats when other such unexplained occurrences begin to happen there. Thats when full ﬁshbone skeletons appear seemingly out of thin air on some people’s doors steps. Thats when puddles of orange soda can be found trailing back and forth down the sidewalk for no apparent rhyme or reason. Thats when the shadows of the more corpulent trash cans stretch their farthest from long dark alleyways. Thats when that one thing becomes you know what at such and such...
And, thats also when soft black boot-tips begin to clickity-clack, as they make their spring-heeled way down the very middle of Iestyn street. There is a man on the street when nobody else is around, a man in a very large disguise. Today it starts with an oversized, featureless, black baseball cap and a brittle blonde wig, like dirty straw. On his face is a set of fake eyebrows, like the thick bristles of an old brush. On his chin is a soul patch of long black beard that drops down to his toes. Braided over a massive fake belly covered in a polkadot shirt, vest, and tie.
It’s more effort then an outﬁt and much more elaborate then a costume. So large and rotund that the man who wears it must walk by his haunches. One mustering step forward turns his entire body to one side, and then the other step, just to keep up his lethargic pace. Like a turtle standing upright, holding it’s own shell like a dainty woman courtesies with an elegant dress...
The man whistles and bounces up and down to an inaudible rhythm, with a large grin from one circle painted cheek to the other. Stopping only when he ﬁnally gets to two twenty one ﬁve letter A, because two twenty one ﬁve letter B is the wrong place. There he rings a buzzer and waits patiently for an over due answer. The voice of an equally oversized woman, all sing-song and throaty, and deep.
“It’s like a sirens call.”, he says, to nobody in particular, thats what he calls the sweet music she makes. And she, the siren, waits patiently for him at the doorway to the room that gets rented for just this occasion. The very top ﬂoor, at the end of of a full ﬂight of stairs. Her own smile never breaks, as her visitor huffs and wheezes with each step towards her. Wiping at his brow with a handkerchief, to keep the perspiration from spoiling the facade of his carefully applied makeup.
“We met on the internet”, she would tell her friends, “on one of those dating sites. This one seems completely different from those others...and he’s nothing like Mr. Youknow-who. Nothing at all”, she claims all matter of fact. But thats what she doesn’t realize at that time, as the gentleman caller is invited into her home. With his carefully placed smile and well practiced bow. It is, in fact, mister Hugh No Hoo, closing the door behind him with the ﬂat of his shoe. Sitting across the ﬂowered table cloth from her, with antique tea cups of orange soda, raising them with extended pinkies, before taking short sips.
Mister Hugh No Hoo...whom was in fact her husband years ago. Now the two were divorced with unreconcilable differences. He was like a lawyer in the courtroom, in the bedroom. She was like the clutterer who sought to keep nothing, when it came to matters of the heart. Theres was an arranged marriage, both of them growing up under over achieving parents on Iestyn street. And both of them making the other utterly miserable, every single day, that they were together. Him with his socks on clothes pins all around their apartment. Her with her loud chainsaw-like snoring, all of the sudden, in the middle of the night.
“I have been looking for a very charming and personable woman”, says Mr. Hugh No Hoo. “Someone who is nothing like my ex-wife”, he assures her. “A beautiful woman, an intellectual, with dark curls and long eyelashes.” He winks at her, and she winks back. “When I ﬁlled out my proﬁle, I was promised a perfect match, and it matched me with just one person, my dear.” It is all he can do to contain a small sly smile underneath the back of his hand.
“I know what you mean”, she replies, “I’ve been sick and tired of dating the same losers over and over again. I wanted to ﬁnd the right person, my soulmate, but you can’t be too careful.” These were the precautions she herself took, to avoid running into a certain kind of man in her life. A fake name each time and a new set of interests, personality traits that were six degrees the opposite of how she really thought of herself...
She winced again and played it off as if she was just winking demurely a second time, but in reality she was having difﬁculty batting her oversized fake eyelashes. Something that was more difﬁcult then she originally anticipated, and more annoying then accidentally eating the ends of her hair. The dark brown curls of her wig, the texture of ﬁne carpet and the color of milk chocolate, but not the same corresponding taste, unfortunately.
“What has this come to?” She whispered to herself, as the man she expected to discover as a fraud, winked a second time in response. It wasn't just the wig and the eyelashes that she found obstructive, but the large, shapely bodysuit she wore under a sickeningly trite ﬂower print dress. So many layers, so many tacky articles of her disguise, that she couldn't help but sweat profusely. And all for what, to expose the jackal whom she had expected all along? The one man, the only man, who ever comes calling to her online proﬁles, even despite the tremendous effort that she put into making each one as varied and different from the last.
“Ill tell you what it’s come to”, answered the gentleman caller, as he wiped again at his brow with the back of his sleeve. “Lets not waste any more time...now that we’ve found each other.” He would have raised an eyebrow suggestively, but he feared that it would come free under the swath of perspiration and ruin his elaborate disguise. For it didn't matter to him, that he knew, she knew, that it was probably him. After all it was the fault of the online dating services that he used. He was meticulous in each and every aspect that he was looking for in a woman. Speciﬁc without error, and down to the most ﬁnite of detail. And yet, when each service was done collating a search through it’s database of potential women, it returned with only one.
A new proﬁle that was a perfect match, one he had never seen before, with a picture slightly blurred and taken from an arbitrary and generalized angle, so that it was reasonably difﬁcult to make out exact features of her face exactly. But it always ended up being the same result, as soon as he arrived and realized it was, once again... his ex-wife, Una Hoo.
It wasn't just that they went into each new meeting with an unhealthy dose of paranoia. Or the amount of time they put into each new disguise. The acting of pleasantness and a warm personality that they begrudgingly plastered across their vapid smiling faces. It was the hopeful optimism and desire that they shared but experienced separately.
Wanting, hoping, wishing desperately that it would be someone else...anybody else, this time. And for that single reason they sought to be the one who caught the other, and expose them for the shameful lengths they had gone to...in order to fool the other.
But each was a ﬂawless performance that met every expectation with such detailed accuracy. And in fact, if it hadent been for the clock and the rapid deterioration of their homemade disguises, they would have kept up the tireless charade. In fact, if it wernt for these two very important details, Hugh and Una would continue fake dating one another, grow re-accustomed to a new fake relationship, and get married all over again to a second life of misery. But thank goodness for poorly made disguises...
So as the hour closely approaches ﬁve ﬁfteen, the two look at their respective watches, wondering how long till their fasteners and clips and fake extensions come unwound. Shaking hands, kissing each other on the cheek, promising to contact each other for a follow up meeting. Knowing all to well that their costumes wont last another ten minutes. That they wont initiate a second contact, but that they will, most certainly, see each other again. For this is just one of those peculiar things that happens on Iestyn street, when no one else is around.