He had stumbled upon the street corner in a trance, a beautiful cocoon protecting him from the outside world. The curb entered his life, his world as pure chance. Had he taken a right turn here, or veered left there, he would’ve ended up elsewhere. Standing on this particular square slab of gray concrete, all felt right. His personal veil lifted, and a bright sun burst in. Springtime air, warm and breezy, kissed his skin. For him, no thoughts turned over in head, no decisions to be debated. Being here was instinctual as was gazing at the space before him.

How he got here was unimportant. Who he was mattered less. All that concerned him was that the space was empty, and now he filled it. People walked past him. Some ignored him. Others noticed him. And a few stopped and stared. Yet he stood immobile and transfixed on nothing in particular.

A young couple, perhaps tourists, took great interest in him. Both had kindly, whitewashed faces that spoke of small towns, church socials and high school sweethearts. The man, with the face of a boy, gazed at him as if he was a performance artist, perhaps a mime that at any moment would break into his routine. The woman peered at him as if he was something that she had never seen before. An urban oddity so far removed from her rural upbringing as to be a curious combination of fierce fascination and utter mystification. Eventually, each, for their own reason, grew bored and walked away, giggling and shaking their heads with a story that would fascinate generations to come back home.

Not long after, a mother and her very young son, who coveted a blue balloon in his small hand, stopped before him next. He seized the lad’s attention and held it captive. The mother tugged at the boy’s hand, but the child protested loudly and then offered him his balloon. He stood as still as a boulder, his granite-colored eyes cold like the cement beneath his sneakers.

Unnerved by his stock-stillness, the woman pulled her son’s hand, ignored the boy’s angry protestations and dragged the now crying child across the street.

The man had not noticed any of this. His complete focus was still on the space before him, as comforting as an old friend whom he had not seen in year, a friend that didn’t disturb him, nor anger him, nor provoke him as others had in a life long ago. But this was not the time for recriminations, regrets or reminiscences. It wasn’t the time for questions about whether he had any friends. For now, only the rhythm of his breathing mattered. In and out. Slow and steady. In and out. Slow and steady. It was no surprise that he did not perceive the street musician who had stopped next to him.

The musician, a shaggy twenty-something, carried an accoustic guitar strapped over his shoulder. He removed the guitar and then removed the Porkpie hat from his head, placing it at his feet. He strummed a few chords, tuned one string and then began playing and singing an old Beatles’ tune. People stopped and listened. Most assumed that the singer and the man were a duo, a novel team of street artists. These men and women showed their appreciation by dropping money into the hat. Eventually the singer stopped performing, picked up his hat and counted the cash and coins inside. The musician slung the guitar again over his shoulder and extended a hand toward the man. In it was a fistful of coins. When he saw that the man was not accepting his share of the money, the musician stuffed the change into the jeans’ pocket of the man and then ambled off.

Inside his pocket, the coins that the musician had placed there felt heavy. An unnecessary burden that grew and grew with time until it became unbearable. That’s when he methodically, mechanically put his hand into the pocket, pulled out the change and dropped it. The freed coins hit the pavement with metallic clinks, rolling akimbo along the pavement before settling in their own spots. He now felt relieved.

Across the intersection an artist set up an easel and starting painting. A human still life was quite a find and just what he needed to paint. He sketched out the man. Tall, thin, deep-set eyes, high cheekbones, aquiline nose, unkempt black hair, the man was a striking subject. The artist appeared pleased with his materializing work.

On the curb he took no notice of the artist or that his legs were tiring. Or that the air was cooling as the sun was setting. He just peered into the fading daylight.

Night came with a swift breeze. Papers rustled around him. An empty soda can rattled past, jettisoned by the wind. The street had grown deserted. Unlike many places where life didn’t slow down at dark, here it did. The artist was now long gone, maybe finishing his painting in his studio. The musician was probably having a decent meal on the money he made singing away his day, and the little boy was fast asleep, dreaming about the man on the street who didn’t blink or take his balloon.

The darker it grew, the colder it got, and the man shivered. A patrol car parked at the curb and two cops emerged. They approached him. “It’s okay, buddy,” the square-jawed cop said. “Everything’s gonna be fine.” They carefully seated him in the rear of the patrol car. Sitting, he felt disoriented and looked around feverishly. To calm himself, he focused on his breathing. In and out. Slow and steady.

He heard words, but they registered as if spoken in a foreign language. He had spoken English once but not anymore. That was a past life. One, in which he might have been married, had a family, worked nine to five. One that existed before the catatonic schizophrenia took control. When he did dream, he dreamt about these things. But he rarely dreamed any more.

He found himself standing inside a large room, where some people screamed, and others paced wildly. He tottered around until he found a spot near a wall of windows, which were overpowered by their strong steel bars that criss-crossed before them. He stood there. It felt right. He stared at the windows before him. Through them he could make out the faint trace of morning light. Next to him stood another man and next to this man stood another. All three gazed out into the space before them with the concentration of a chess master studying the board. He turned away from the other two men and looked out at the air in front of him and then let his breathing guide him away. Soon he heard nothing. He saw nothing. He felt nothing. Bliss.

Philip Goldberg’s work appears in trampset, Dillydoun Review, Raven’s Perch, Main Street Rag, and Evening Street Review among others. Microfictions have appeared in Blink Ink, 50 Give or Take, and Riding Light Review. Stories have also been included in Best of collections. A finalist for the 2021 James Hurst Award, he also received a Pushcart Prize nomination.