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July 2013, vol 9, no 2

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Matthew Caretti

The Lion

I smell him before I see him, there in aisle three. He is eying the section of Campbell soups, turning his head this way and that to decipher the accompanying pictures on each label. His body odor permeates the small neighborhood grocery just down the street from my family's home. And though I'd glimpsed him walking down the street from behind the protective gauze of my room's curtains, this is the closest I've ever been to him.

He is a bit of a legend in our backwater town, though his is a reputation born of fear rather than respect. There are the stories of violence against his mother and frequent police visits to their shared house. There was the climbing of the local water tower some summer night long before, the coaxing down by the fire department. Then his profile, that of the Indian on the nickel, a slick ponytail replacing the double braids of the coin.

He smiles down at me in the checkout line, teeth stained with tobacco. But I can't return his gesture. I am petrified by his look and his smell, by the stories of his past and by the most common taunt among my friends—"Leo will get you!" So I accept my change and run. Away from the myths and my fear. Away from a lonely man.

the boy jumps
over shadows
into light