John walked slowly toward his parked car. Sixth Avenue was just another street in the city.
Without thinking, he searched the sidewalk with downcast eyes. Cigarette butts, rotting food, a discarded bottle, a dead cockroach, bits of toilet paper. Disgusting stains, crushed things.
A plume of smoke up ahead caught his attention.
As he neared, John noticed a crowd of people had gathered close to the rising black smoke. Excited faces were staring down at the freeway from an overpass.
A van was on fire below. Traffic on the freeway had been stopped by a police car with flashing lights, and two firemen with a hose were getting ready to put out the flames. The empty van, alone on the concrete, simply burned, nothing more.
At least forty people on the overpass leaned forward to stare down at the freeway. More were arriving, drawn by the smoke, as ants are drawn to sugar. Every person in the crowd held up a phone, carefully framing a photograph. A photograph of an empty van on fire. The people checked their phone, appeared unsatisfied, changed the angle, held it higher. Needing to capture destruction, meaningless and distant. They watched with perfect fascination and took a second and third picture. A hundred identical photographs.
John kept walking. He’d never before felt such a wave of disgust.
That night he couldn’t sleep. He couldn’t purge from his mind that crush of people. Gawking, predictable, animal humanity, eagerly recording flames and black smoke, because flames and black smoke seemed exciting. Why? For what reason?
People were shallow and disgusting.
But what in the world is new?
And so John walked from his parked car up Sixth Avenue the next morning, a remnant of that dark shadow in his mind.
The sun was up. At the overpass there was no smoke. Cars passed in a blur on the concrete below. The incident was erased. Time swallows everything. Just different trash on the sidewalk.
“Good morning,” said an approaching person. The stranger’s eyes were wide, directly meeting John’s own eyes. A sincere, friendly smile was on the stranger’s lips.
“Morning,” John half-smiled.
And the passing person was gone.
The sun rose higher.
A small miracle had saved everything.
This short story originally appeared here!