While Galileo Preys
The bum wore pink. A prom dress, really. Torso to kneecaps swathed in bubble-gum taffeta. His spidery limbs, black with grime and hair, jutted out in wrong angles. The bum was facedown in the basin of a puddle in the middle of MLK Drive, and lay undiscovered until 3:16 a.m.
Andre Banks (age twenty-eight) and his pug Moira (age three) were out for a stroll. Andre was walking off his insomnia. His parents were coming to visit and that never ever boded well. Andre and Moira normally kept only to Lincoln Street, the dimly-lit cul-de-sac in which they lived, but the young man had a lot more anxiety than usual to walk off. Moira made sure to baptize every hydrant on their path, and was christening her eleventh when Andre spotted the bum in the road.
Even in Atlanta, January meant freezing temperatures. The city’s homeless did not nap out in the middle of MLK Drive in January, certainly not in brand-new prom dresses. The bum was almost perfectly centered inside the milky oval of a nearby streetlight’s humming glow. Andre stared through the fog of his breath at the man in the road and then Moira, finished with her ritual, saw him too, and barked.
Prodded by his loud little dog, Andre left the sidewalk and approached the facedown man. He didn’t bother checking for traffic because A. It was 3:16 in the morning. B. This stretch of MLK Drive was cordoned at either end by wooden barricades due to (unapparent) DOT construction.
Moira skittered a few feet ahead of him, tensing at her leash, impatient to reach the mysterious pink shape. She barked again, and hopped up, giddy. The shape didn’t budge. As they entered the circle of electric-powered light, Andre wondered what circumstances led the bum to end up here, (and dressed like that!). Had the man once been successful? Did he have a family? Had his family kicked him out? Maybe the prom dress was his daughter’s and she was dead and wearing it helped the man remember her. Maybe the bum was a transvestite, and that’s why his family had kicked him out. The sins of a stubborn family, mused Andre, never forgetting that his own parents, bastions of disappointment, would be landing at Hartsfield-Jackson in ten hours and—
Moira pounced on top of the bum’s taffeta back and licked at his neck.
“Hey!” Andre tugged on the leather leash. “Bad dog.”
With a petulant whine, Moira fought back. She lapped again at the bum’s neck, savoring the salt mine she’d discovered. Andre yanked his pug off the man, and then realized the bum in the road hadn’t reacted, hadn’t even groaned, hadn’t even breathed.
“Fuck,” Andre concluded, and at 3:18 a.m. (according to his cell phone) he dialed the police.
They didn’t arrive for twenty minutes. This cordoned-off stretch of MLK Drive was not popular. The strip malls and chain stores which populated MLK down by the Georgia Dome tapered off west of Techwood, and Andre’s neighborhood was far, far west of Techwood. The grass in the local park, fifty feet from the bum’s corpse, was rusted, as if neglect had soured it to old metal. One hundred feet away, bordering the park, loomed a three-story mortar slab called Hosea Williams Elementary School. Its windows were shingled with iron bars. Andre taught physical education at Hosea Williams. His parents didn’t approve of the job, and they certainly didn’t approve of the area. No one did.
Since the police didn’t arrive for twenty minutes, Andre finished walking his dog. He knew he’d have time, and Moira was restless. He led her down the block, past the