By Marsalis

Two of them went, one black and one brown, and the snow left smooth imprints of their deposhed sneakers.  With each gust of wind, they clutched their coats and blocked their grills, ducking their heads like crude, mythological creatures, and as they brought up their eyes to survey the scene once more, they saw only the stale whiteness which seemed to have lasted for months.

“Where have you taken me?” the black asked.

The brown chuckled.  “I told you to wear something warmer.”

“It’s not that, it’s—”

“It’s what?”

“We’ve been on for quite some time now,” the black explained.

“I told you it wasn’t a walk in the park.  You knew that. But you begged me.”

“I did not—”

“You did too.”

The black clutched their coat.  “Fine, I did. But I had no idea.”

“Nobody ever does.  They always think it’s going to be easier than it is, but it isn’t.  Just the other day, this one left right in the middle. Said she’d rather end it all then go on any longer.”

The black one shook their head and then ducked as another gust arose.  “It may be bad, but it’s not that bad.”

“I’m sayin.  But you know it’s just gonna get worse.  I’m not quite sure how long I’m gonna be able to keep it up.  If they’ll even be anymore.”

“Can’t say that.  I didn’t come all this way to hear you say that.”

“I’m only being honest.  And I can with you because you’re my best friend.”

Up came a street long-since deserted.  Cars with flat or missing tires still stood before storefronts garnished with shattered glass.  It had been one of the danger zones, where the riots had happened, and this was what the black feared but knew was inevitable.  There were stories that the madmen still lingered around to taint another soul, but the brown one just smiled as they hit the jagged sidewalk.

“You’re not scared, are you?” they asked, knowing the answer.

The black one sighed.  “I’m thinking of what matters most.”

“You’ve got nothin’ to fear.  We’re almost there.”

“You have to realize this is for my family.  It’s gotten so dire. We just don’t know how much longer we can go without.”

“Listen: you’ve got nothin’ to fear.”

“And you said they’re cool people?”

“Do you have a choice if they’re not?”

There was silence then and they moved across a street and over to another sidewalk.  There were houses that had been stately now ravaged and the black one thought of those who once tended the gardens and played in the sprinklers.  There were tears once, for these sorts of thoughts of yesteryear, but it all seemed foolish in the now.

The brown one stuffed their hands in their coat.  “I never get used to this. It always surprises me how things fell apart.”

“Nobody saw it coming.”

“No.  But I guess they never do, huh?”

The black ducked their head and felt themselves clean.  “I still have faith. I still think of tomorrow.”

“You’ve grown too philosophical in your old age, chap.  Now follow me down this path.”

And they slipped into what seemed an invisible passageway nestled between two colonials, the outside world disappearing the deeper they burrowed, the paleness of day burning into a dark, candlelit alley.

“Where are we?” the black whispered.

“Where you’ve been dreaming of.”

Ahead was a border of thin, decorative muslin and as if by compulsion, the brown snatched it down and revealed a set of riches that nearly brought tears to the black’s eyes.  They glowed amidst candles of assorted shapes and sizes, filling the gaseous air with a momentary scent of beauty and love.

“How did you get all of these?” the black wondered.

“We have our resources.  But like I said, I’m not sure how long it’ll last.”

“I was expecting others.”

“They’re probably in the back watching the tube.  Look, you better hurry. It’ll be sundown soon and it’ll be even harder to get back then.”

And the black walked slowly over to the small tables which held what once felt to be nothing more than a dream, what once felt to be nothing more than a sick fantasy.  To see it before them made their heart halt, lungs lock, guts grip, as if waking on that most sacred of mornings and knowing that the treasures ahead would nourish one’s soul.

The black picked up a package, daintily, and caressed it as if born minutes prior.  “How much is this?”

“Normally seventy.  But for you, I’ll take it down to fifty.”

“Fifty?  Really? I was hoping…”

“Look, we’re friends, but you know it’s kinda hard.  They’re saying they’re gonna stop making it soon. That we’ll be on our own.  I gotta save, you know?”

The black’s heart dropped, but there was no time to let it sink.  There were no other options, no second chances. This would be it for a while and the family needed it.  Going without simply was not possible.

“I’ll take two then,” they said, reaching in their pocket.  “Here’s a hundred. And here’s an extra twenty for the trip.”

“I told you—” the brown started.

“It’s the least I could do,” the black went, and they looked down at the packages, caressing once more, their hands gliding back and forth with muted cheer, knowing there would be no darker days for a while.

The brown lit a cigarette and blew into the wind.  “You ready then?”

“Sure.”  The black’s voice was hard, toughened.  They stared down once more at that majestic package, enamored by its glory, by the protection it would provide.  In bulky, cursive letters, it read: CLOUD 9, EXTRA SOFT: 24 MEGA ROLLS.  “Sure, I’m ready now.”

And back, through the whiteness, they went.