Fiction: Diversity Fest!

Diversity Fest!

Lark dashed through the double-doors of the kitchen and put the empty platter on the counter. He was in a dark blue suit – the fanciest clothing he had – and he still stuck out among all the other servers at the gala, all of whom were wearing black and white.

He moved toward the back, dodging the other servers and then the cooks. Lark had not quite made it to the back when the wait staff supervisor bellowed, “Hey, Mr. Blue Suit!”

Lark stopped. He took a breath and turned around.

Over at the counter, the supervisor tapped the platter. “Is this yours?”

“No, sir,” Lark said loudly. “I don’t own that thing. But I have been using it.”

The supervisor rolled his eyes. He held the platter up to his nose and sniffed it. “Doesn’t smell like caviar.”

A raven-haired woman busted through the doors. “So where is it?” she said.

“I have no idea,” said the supervisor.

The raven-haired woman stared at the supervisor, wide-eyed. As she began to move between the stoves, a flock of cooks formed around her. “Your people are doing a bang-up job so far.”

The supervisor closed his eyes. Feeling somewhat heavy, Lark took the moment to make his way to the back. There, from the top shelf of a serving cart, he pulled down a platter with caviar and leaned back-first into the emergency exit door. It opened out onto an alleyway where his friends Em and Daisy were waiting.

Daisy looked down at the platter and laughed nervously. “You shouldn’t have.”

Lark scratched the back of his head. “I think the crackers might be the best part. They’re the thick kind.”

Lark used his foot to move a wedge in the doorway, then stepped out into the alleyway. He scanned the length of it on each side, until he spotted a man sitting on the big slab of concrete that divided the alley from a parking lot. The man’s eyes were trained on the ground; otherwise he was motionless. Lark headed over to him.

“Excuse me,” said Lark.

The man looked up, slowly. Throughout the motion, he flinched intermittently.

“I hope you might be able to make use of this. You can share ‘em if you want. Keep the tray, too. Just don’t wave it around. It’s silver … I’m sorry it’s not more.”

The man blinked. “Um …” It took him a moment to find his voice. “Thank you, but I don’t want the tray. Too shiny.”

Lark nodded. After he put the tray down on the ground, he double-up-ed the caviar pieces so that they were sandwiched by crackers; and those he put in the pockets of his jacket. When he finished, he took his jacket off and handed it to the man.

When Lark turned, Em and Daisy were standing behind him. Em waved at the guy, and Daisy smiled politely.

“It looks better on you,” she told the man. Then she patted Lark on the back consolingly.

Lark picked the platter back up, and the three of them went back toward the door.

“So, all right,” said Em, “what are we doing here?”

“It’s some kind of gala for the Diversity Festival sponsors,” said Lark. “They’re unveiling a new statue for that park.”

Em’s eyebrows rose. He and Lark – though Em much more so – were performing at the festival in a day or two.

“Mostly,” Lark said, “I just wanted you guys to see the view from the balcony.”

Daisy came to a quick and sudden halt. “Wait. Aren’t there, like, a lot of people in there?”

Lark nodded. “Not on the balcony, though.”

“What I have is better than a balcony.”

Em closed his eyes. When he opened them again, Daisy was squinting at him.

“What?” said Em. “We don’t have to go inside. It’s cool.”

She looked down. “You obviously want to, and that’s fine. Really. You two can go on without me.”

“It’s just …” Em sighed. “I don’t think those people are anything for you to be nervous about.”

“It’s not ‘them.’ It’s too many people in general.”

Was it? Lark wondered. Daisy didn’t seem to mind crowds in which she wasn’t invisible or a curiosity. Lark thought for the sake of being able to see the sunset again she might close her eyes and trust them; Em would lead her through the small crowd; he’d pop up with a hilarious joke in between dashing around with hors d’oeuvres, and then he would hang out with them a bit longer on the other side, when no more sponsors needed serving. Sometimes, despite himself, he was a bit of an optimist.

He glanced over at the door back to the kitchen.

“Shit.”

Lark ran back over to it. The door had closed shut. The wedge was off to the side with a dashed cigarette next to it. He banged on the door, but no one answered.

Em and Daisy joined him. They ran their hands over the surface, but there was nothing to pull.

“Damn,” said Em.

Daisy nodded. “One of those emergency exits that don’t have keyholes.”

Lark managed a faint smile for their joint effort. “Thanks, but I’m going to have to go around to the back. Or … something.” He put the platter down next to the door. “You two should get out of here.”

Em knocked on that door one last time. When there was no response, he sighed. “Ah, well, fliers tomorrow? You may need that job just a little more than usual.”

“Yeah, probably.” Lark leaned his head a bit in Daisy’s direction as he walked away backward. “Also, the best Diversity Fest crowds are very patchy. You can be around them without being part of them.”

Smiling politely, Daisy shrugged.

Lark ran around to the back of the building. The double-doors there were closed tight, but the one on the right had a doorknob and a keyhole. The last locks Lark had picked were on properties where they had been changed, on a few of the places that used to be around Daisy’s shop. The renters had dutifully been in their rundown part of town for an approximation of forever, only to find themselves coming home to new locks — new locks for a new world that, as decreed by new owners, would be in less disrepair. The gala building’s lock was similar. Lark took a breath through his nose, figuring he’d go around to the front.

Overhead a woman yelled, “Look out below!”

Twenty feet behind him, someone started up the motor of a truck. Lark stepped backward as a brown-skinned, frizzy-haired woman repelled down a rope.

The woman landed on the ground without a hop or a step. With some kind of mask over the bottom of her face, she frantically picked up the rope’s generous slack. When she had all of the rope’s length, she turned and bumped into Lark’s shoulder as she ran for the truck.

“Excuse you,” she said.

Lark strained his eyes up at the balcony. He pulled on the rope a little bit, and when it didn’t give way, he tugged on it with all his might. Whatever it was tied to had a lot of weight. He shrugged, then hurried to pull himself up the rope arm by arm.

“Hey!” the woman yelled. “What are you doing? We’re going to take off whether you’re on that thing or not.”

“I’d prefer it if you didn’t,” Lark said, scrambling. When he made it onto the balcony, the rope became incredibly taught. He flicked the soreness from his palms and scanned the area below him.

The rope was tied to some fixture he couldn’t see inside a semitrailer. Sticking her head out of the passenger side of the truck’s cabin, the woman in the mask fumed. The truck itself was no longer in park, even if its driver had not hit the gas. It surged forward by just a tiny bit, then stopped like the statue and rope were an anchor.

Lark held on to the rope as he followed it into a big room with a statue in the middle of its floor – Buddha. Of course, thought Lark. Buddha was increasingly the anchor of many a white collar worker. The statue was made of bronze, capped off with a lovely green beanie hat. From a would-be piercing on the nose of Buddha’s serene face, a gold chain hung connected to the would-be piercing of his ear.

“What could you possibly look so happy about?” Lark mumbled.

And what, he wondered, did the woman want with this statue? He had to figure she didn’t want to steal Buddha so much as ruin the debut of another pointless symbol for a private park. ‘Cause at the moment there was no safe way to get the statue in that truck’s semitrailer and just drive off peacefully.

Lark ran to a side of the room where there was a long table with cutlery laid out – for a private dinner for the most special guests, he figured. As the truck’s revved up outside, the statue glided across the floor toward the balcony. Lark took a knife, and to his dismay, even as he admired the woman’s boldness, he cut the rope.

Beyond another set of double-doors, Lark could hear applause. Someone supposedly important was talking, and they were about to debut the statue. Lark untied the remnants of the rope and tied it to one of the balcony’s legs. The woman and the white truck were nowhere in site. The sun was a few hours away from setting, but there was just enough of a hint of something in the air that reduced it to a bigger, more well-lit version of the moon. It was, indeed, a nice view, he thought.

Lark quickly repelled down the rope, landing clumsily. He picked his self up and with a slight limp made his way around the side of the building. Em and Daisy were gone, as he expected. They were both busy, taking a break from their respective jobs — as was a smoker, a tall man in black-and-white, who had opened the door that led to the kitchen and stood astride it, puffing away. As Lark headed toward the door, the tall man flicked his cigarette out into the alleyway and quickly went back inside, closing the door behind him.

Somewhere inside the gala, Lark had an acquaintance  or two in black-and-white who liked him well enough — but he didn’t have a phone on him. He went around to the front, where the bouncer wouldn’t let him in because he didn’t have his jacket anymore.

“Plus you weren’t limping when you went in there before,” said the man.

“No,” said Lark. “I wasn’t.”

——-

The next day Lark and Will, a co-worker of sorts, were canvassing another street trying to enlist people to join the revolution against cord-cutting. Pay-wise it was a quarter of a job, as Lark was giving Em a quarter of his pay for helping him out with transportation. Em was taking a nap in his van, an old mini-bus-like thing from the sixties that he called the Rust Bucket.

His shoulder bag, full of fliers a few hours ago, was now empty. One of his legs still hurt but only a little. Lark crossed the street and waited by an open gate Will had entered. The pale, dark-haired man looked back at Lark, then quickly dashed his head around and glanced at the cars parked along the curb.

“Why isn’t he closer?” Will said in his English accent. “Is the parking that bad around here?”

Lark had begun wondering if Daisy would show up for his gig with Em at the Diversity Festival, and he looked more perplexed than usual when he shook his head. “I’m not sure,” Lark told his co-worker. “It’s probably a bit better than where you’re used to not parking.”

Will nodded with a faint smile. “Right … right.” After he took a breath, he went up a very short walkway and rang the doorbell of a yellow one-story house.

A man with dark brown skin came to the window. He was only the second person that Lark had seen his co-worker talk to that block, with the first having only given a resounding “Nope.” When the man in the window saw Will, he grimaced and held up an index finger. He closed the curtains and, after a few moments, slowly opened his door.

“Hello, sir,” said Will. “You look like a reasonable man. Tell me, aren’t you tired of the supreme unreasonableness of your cable company?”

The man squinted. “I’m sorry. I can’t understand a word you’re saying, son. You need to learn English. Take care now.”

Will shifted his neck to one side as the man closed the door. He walked over to Lark, wide-eyed and shaking his head.

“In a supremely unreasonable world,” said Lark, “that was just constructive feedback.”

Will’s shoulders slumped. He closed the gate and followed Lark back up the street to the Rust Bucket.

It was a blustery day. Lark noticed a few of the fliers he’d put in the metalwork of gates were on the sidewalk. They passed a small crew of people in front of a three-story apartment building where there had just been none. A car was parked across from them curbside, its speakers blaring.

“Bloody hell,” Will said behind him. “How is anybody supposed to live around this?”

Lark sighed mostly in protest and just a tad bit in commiseration; but he was pretty sure that all of it went the way of the wind. When they got to the Rust Bucket, Em was sleeping with his head on the steering wheel. Lark knocked on the driver-side window, and Em slowly lifted his head. He blinked at Lark, then slapped his face a few times until he was wide-eyed.

Will slid the backdoor open and got in. Lark took the front passenger seat, feeling particularly in sync with the van’s burnished orange-brown color. He most appreciated the Rust Bucket because it lacked the colorful hippie/tech aesthetic of bright happy colors, which for him were a shortcut to an empty kind of positivity. With a spin of the steering wheel, Em drove the Rust Bucket into the sea of traffic.

“So,” said Em, “how’d it go?”

“Friendliest bit was someone taking a piss,” said Will. “This guy says to me he can’t understand a word I say … I mean, I come from the country that originated English.”

Em shook his head. “I don’t know, man. Some folks think it was invented by blue-eyed aliens who came down in spaceships. But you know, things can evolve to be different than their source material. Better, even.”

Lark pulled the sun visor down; the overcast was breaking up a bit more than he was used to.

“We’ve got a few more blocks closer to headquarters,” he said blinking.

“Well, that’s okay,” said Em with a shrug, “but getting over there from this side of town – that’s all steep hills. A lot of work for a bucket transmission.”

Will scoffed. “Screw the bastards who made that it that way.”

Lark turned and squinted at Will through one eye.

“What? We’re a team, aren’t we?”

“Sure,” said Lark. “Now, can you hand me another stack of those fliers in the seat next to you?”

While Will went door to door in the struggle for commission, Lark zipped around him emptying his renewed bag of fliers. He’d been on automatic when he noticed an old-fashioned mailbox – with its horseshoe shape and red lever – in front of a home that was half-brick exterior. The mailbox was, Lark thought, kind of neat – an interesting aberration. Lark nodded at the pale, bald man working in the garden, then put a flier in the mailbox.

The man headed around a fence to the mailbox and promptly snatched the flier. He crumpled it up and threw it past Lark. “Hey!” the man yelled. “Please don’t put this shit on my property.”

Lark went and picked the flier up. He smoothed it out and put it into the fence of the next house. As he did so, the pale guy yelled at him again.

“You shouldn’t put it there either!”

Lark took a moment to stand in the middle of the sidewalk and bow grandly. “Sure thing, your majesty.” After that, he went a bit further up the sidewalk and stood for a while at the edge of the curb as he rifled through his bag. He still had plenty of fliers. Eventually Will also made his way up the street. Whistling, Will patted Lark on the side of his shoulder as he passed him.

“Weather turned out to be beautiful, eh?”

Will turned through the gate of the next house, a three-story brick building with a lot of wooden fixtures. He was about to ring the doorbell when the door opened and couple stepped outside.

“Oh, pardon me,” said Will. “I hope you won’t mind my leaving a flier about how much you can save by dropping cable.” He patted his pockets. “Think I may have forgotten it.”

“The only reason we still have cable is for his sports package,” the woman said, squinting at Will. “But, um, may I ask what part of Britain you’re from? I mean, you are British, right?”

“Ya, that or English.”

“Oh, we love England,” the woman said.

“Yes,” the man said. “Especially the beer. We’ve spent a lot of time in Islington.”

In a way that was almost rhetorical, Will nodded. “Oh, yeah?”

“We’ve got a moment,” the woman said. “Would you like some tea? We can have it right here on the stoop, if you’d like. It’s nice out.”

Lark took out the stack of fliers and held them in both hands. He closed his eyes and wondered, Is this it? No, there was the Diversity Fest. He felt the wind as it rustled the papers and pushed him an inch down the hill. He looked around at the pristine brownstones, and when there was another gust of wind, he held a bunch of the fliers in the air and let them go. When they flew, they mostly stayed together, as if advertising could not exist unless it was part of a swarm.

With a hundred fliers canvassing the lovely street, Lark went back to the Rust Bucket.

Em’s eyes were closed when Lark knocked on the window. Without opening them, he said, “This van is not for sale.”

“It’s me,” said Lark.

“Oh,” said Em. He opened one eye. “I thought you was another collector of awesome vans from the sixties owned by a poor young black man.”

Lark slowly shook his head. “Nope.”

“What’s up?”

“I just tapped out.”

Em opened both eyes. “What about English dude?”

“He’ll be all right. Around here they like him a lot more than me. Plus the office is a ten minute walk from this block.”

Everything that was considered good was, thought Lark. The ridiculous park full of statues, fifty iterations of an overpriced coffee shop, business jobs.

Em nodded ponderously. “Well, I guess it’s not a complete wash – more practice for the festival.”

“They say 10,000 hours is ideal,” said Lark. “We’re probably a little off from that.”

“Hopefully I can get booed in my dreams while I take a nap before my shift at the warehouse tonight.”

“Sounds good,” Lark said with a smile. “While you’re doing that, I’m going to check on Daisy.”

Em’s face contorted with a hint of sadness.

Lark nodded to himself. His friend loved Daisy, but the two of them seemed to continue growing apart — bit by bit. He’d invited them to the gala so they might get to be in the same space for a while.

Em occasionally wrote and performed hip-hop. When he had a show that was block away from her place, Daisy couldn’t bring herself to get through the rush hour crowd to see him. For Em, this was far from the end of the world, but Daisy increasingly wanted to be some place where there were no crowds; and that, Em and Lark both felt, was the world’s edge. Everything else was nice, sure, but luck aside, it only had a few slots for people like them – more so than even the brownstone club.

“She’s just going to end up setting up shop somewhere with a lot less people,” said Em. “It’ll probably be very green and very far away.”

“Maybe,” said Lark, “but maybe not. Either way, our particularly annoying brand of hip hop could be played anywhere.”

Em shook his head. He seemed to smile a little despite himself. “You good here?”

“Yeah,” said Lark.

Em started the Rust Bucket’s engine up. “I’ll see you later,” he said.

Lark watched as the van quickly went downhill and drifted out of his view.

——-

On the way to Daisy’s tattoo shop, Lark absentmindedly walked past a wooden fence plastered with posters for the Diversity Festival. The were all the same – a swirl of colors surrounding a drum. He was supposed to be quite the drummer himself, supposedly, and he began air-drumming the block of posters so carefully lined up next to a bigger graffiti project that was cordoned off.

Lark crouched under the red tape and began air-drumming the beach. He was about to air drum a particularly well-illustrated rock when Aiden, DJ and Diversity Fest-producing extraordinaire, popped up out of nowhere.

“You and Em ready to perform tomorrow?” he said.

Lark threw his imaginary drumsticks away and nodded heavily. He looked at the curb behind Aiden, where some mostly pale men and women were sitting along the curb, wearing masks that filtered the air. They were gathered round several cans of spray-paint nestled on a tarp. Lark thought that the masks looked familiar, as did the hair and build of one woman among the group who had her back to him.

“That’s the Collective Crew,” Aiden said. “They’re some musicians slash artists slash farmers from, well, everywhere really. They’ve done murals in Brooklyn, Sweden, Detroit. Now they’re here, on a break obviously. But that’s okay.”

One or two of them nodded at Lark, and it took him a moment to stop wondering about the woman, but he nodded back.

Aiden nudged him. “Yo, it’s nice, isn’t it?” He looked at the beach mural like there was an actual ocean beyond it.

Yes, Lark supposed. It was sort of nice, though he wondered what a beach had to do with diversity. Was sand some new ideal color? Perhaps some black-and-white penguins had yet to be painted? Over at the illustrated-beach’s edge, Lark noticed an open door. A guy with a build ideal for a bouncer stood under its lintel, staring at him.

“The part of the sidewalk behind the red tape is owned by some folks who are mad territorial,” said Aiden, “but I got you.”

“Thank you, Aiden.” said Lark. “That’s very big of you.”

As Aiden nodded absentmindedly, Lark began walking back up the street again.

“Hey,” said a woman behind him. “Wait up.”

Lark slowed down and glanced in her direction. It was her – the would-be thief.

“You’re performing at the festival tomorrow?” she said through her mask. “I guess that’s why you saved that poor helpless statue, huh? For diversity’s sake?”

Lark made a face. “I did you a favor. And diversity – isn’t that what your group are doing a mural for?”

“Maybe a few of them are,” she said. “Beyond the traveling, it’s just work to most of us.”

Lark walked with her silently for half a block. It was almost nice, but it was on a block he could never imagine himself living on – not in that lucky just-to-live-somewhere partially decent way that was pretty much the only way he had lived anywhere.

“So,” she said, “aside from all the statues, what’s this town like?”

“Statue Park is new. Before that, I guess it was tripping on a lot of broken concrete, if you were lucky.”

The woman laughed. “I’m not sure that’s luck.”

“Yeah?” said Lark. “Maybe not.”

The woman pursed her lips. “It’s always the same blandness on nice streets. And our murals appease the blandness. ”

“Blandness,” Lark said. “So why work for blandness?”

“It’s just a job,” the woman reiterated.

“Lately it seems like blandness is, well, it certainly beats outright hate, doesn’t it?”

“No shit it does, but well, how many friends does someone living on broken concrete really have over here?”

“I don’t know,” said Lark.  “Probably not many, but I’m not sure how many friends someone living on broken concrete has near them, either.”

The woman folded her arms with a sigh. “Is there at least a decent place to get something to eat around here?”

Lark shook his head. “Wouldn’t know.”

“Well, then,” said the woman, “what are you good for, exactly?”

They were approaching the end of a block where Lark had to turn onto a side street. He turned, and walking backward, shrugged.

The woman’s brow furrowed as she stopped at the corner.

Lark waved goodbye, then turned around and went back on his way to seeing his friend not quite on the other side of tracks.

——-

Daisy was finishing up tattooing a broken heart on a man with skin the same dark color as hers. The man, who was on the older side, was getting the tattoo on the back of his forearm. Daisy was using a few shades of blue, which she felt herself to be a queen of – especially when the tattoo machine was on and the world was calmed by its purposeful buzzing.

“It will look just a tad less blue when it heals,” she said, finishing the last bit of a piece of fabric tied in a knot around the heart’s ventricle. Conceptually, it was supposed to be keeping that ventricle together.

“Ain’t that the way,” the man said.

“There,” she said. “All done.” She patted the man on the shoulder, and he went to the mirror and stretched both arms around before he held his forearm up.

He nodded at the heart’s reflection, and Daisy smiled in spite of herself. In the mirror, she and the man could both see someone with green hair peeking through the glass square in the shop’s door. Grinning, the man used his nails to scratch underneath his chin, in a flicking manner, then nodded again.

Daisy walked him to the door, and she waited a moment or two after he left before she locked the door and flipped the “closed” sign in the window.

Daisy’s tattoo shop was on a street that saw increasing foot traffic. When she looked out the glass square in the shop’s door, she would sometimes blink. There were so many people. Was this the same universe where her street had been mostly used by poor stragglers with their heads held high?

She thought she saw green hair across the street, but it was rush hour and there were a lot of people with dyed hair around.

Daisy went upstairs. She walked through her small apartment, getting and then dragging a small, flat TV to the small deck that looked out at an increasing amount of complexes. And the sky, she supposed, hidden in a crowd of buildings.

Daisy had always lived in a place that most would consider lacking in elbow room – perhaps lacking, in general – so her definition of crowd was much bigger than the arbitrary definition of people from places less crowded and hard to be in without some inheritance. The narrow building that she lived and worked from had been her father’s dry cleaning business, and now she supposed that it was her luck.

But around it, crowded was all there was increasingly. It didn’t hurt business, exactly, as this new crowd contained a steady supply of people who lived to accessorize with tattoos, and among them, some were willing to take a chance of her tattooing their lighter skin out of curiosity or some counter-cultural pride, maybe occasionally even just because she was a solid tattoo artist.

A few were nice, but oftentimes it was hard to feel like tattoos were a language-in-common.

Daisy headed upstairs. She made her way through her small apartment to the deck. She was about to sit down and watch her favorite fantasy series when she heard the caw of some strange bird.

She went to the deck’s edge. Two stories below, Lark stood looking up at her on the sidewalk.

“What are you doing?” she said, exasperated.

“Practicing,” Lark said.

Daisy let Lark upstairs, and on the way back to the deck, she offered him something from her fridge.

“I’ve got lots of popcorn,” she said.

Lark smiled politely. “Sure,” he said. “I will take some refrigerated popcorn.”

On the deck, Lark slid his back against one of the brick borders and began tossing popcorn into his mouth. Across from him, Daisy sat cross-legged in front of her TV. She was about to put it on when she hesitated, then let her hand fall back to her side. “How are you?”

Lark turned and looked out at the landscape. It was all crowded with barely a hint of sky.

“Occasionally the inside of my head feels like it’s on fire,” said Lark. “Other than that I’m cool.”

“You’re using your brain too much,” Daisy said.

Lark tossed a popcorn kernel up and craned his head back with his mouth open, but the kernel did not come back down. He shrugged. “So, you’re going to try to get some fresh air at ye ole Diversity Festival tomorrow, right? I believe there’ll be mead and other various highly diverse things.”

“I’ll try,” said Daisy heavily. “Even though I could obviously get fresh air right here.”

Nodding, Lark closed his eyes. Suddenly, he sprang up as the theme song for the show Daisy was watching came on. She used the remote to mute the TV.

“How was Em today?” Daisy said.

“He’s surviving. He also hasn’t been turned into a statue, like the people in that park, so that’s good.”

“That,” Daisy said, “sounds like it could be in this video game I’d bought for me and him to play together.”

Lark smiled a little.

Daisy made the TV audible again. The sound of swords clashing flooded the roof.

“Hey,” said Lark. “Before I go, if the air up here is fresh, then what does that make the air somewhere that’s very green and less crowded?”

“I don’t know,” Daisy said, blinking. “Like, bottle water, I guess. And yeah, it’s not cool that some water isn’t good enough for everybody. But haven’t we given enough to this place? We would all be so much more. I mean, have you ever been happy here?”

She got lost in the TV show for a few minutes. The battle had given way to a clearing, and a robed figure looked like she had the whole world to herself. When Daisy turned around, Lark was gone. She got up and went to the deck’s edge. He’d taken some chalk and wrote “DIVERSITY FEST!” on the sidewalk. It was the same bright blue color that the bar across the street used when they put drink specials on their promotional board.

——-

On the day of the Diversity Festival, Lark and Em made their way through a crowd that felt like it was mostly composed of people who had staked out spots and clung to them. There was a route to the backstage that, from where they were coming from, would have been the long way ‘round, but since they were both tired, they just walked through the field. The most people were up front, and among them, only a few were nice enough to sway a bit. Lark supposed some days he might not be that nice himself.

When they made their way around the barricade in front of the stage, someone yelled out to them.

“Guys!”

It was Will.

“Oh, hey,” said Lark. He and Em headed over to Will’s spot.

“I’m glad to see you’re okay. I figured, right?” Will pointed at Lark. “You had a heart attack, dropped all those fliers but you still managed to make it all the way up that hill back to the van; and then the both of ya went off to hospital.”

Lark shook his head. “Nah, I just quit.”

“Oh,” said Will. “Blimey. I understand, though, I suppose. More time for music. By the way, I’m sure you guys will be great.”

“Thanks for your support,” Em said. “But don’t expect too much. We’re only human.”

Will rubbed his chin and nodded. “I said as much to the boss about me-self, but he acts like I went to bloody Cambridge or something.”

“Who hasn’t?” Lark said.

The three of them laughed, though it was Will who laughed hardest. Lark nodded at him, and Em lightly hit him on the shoulder as they went backstage.

They were fifth out of eleven, one of the earlier acts. By the time their slot was nearing, evening had come and dusk was just about to fall. Aiden had coughed up some of the spray-paint version of the colors on that beach to some cheers by a few of the bands. He sat in a chair, taking it easy in between occasionally looking over a tablet with some woman who was constantly running back and forth backstage.

Em was absentmindedly scrolling on the screen of his phone when Daisy called. He put her on speaker.

“Em?” she said.

“Yeah,” he said. “You okay?”

“Not really.”

“I’m like a block away. I made it past that bar by me, which was having a – I shit you not – diversity fest of lagers. And yeah, I just don’t think I can make it over there … I’m sorry.”

“That’s fine,” said Em. “Nothing to be sorry about. We’ll be there.”

Aiden pocketed his beach-colored handkerchief and got up. “Yo. Is it an emergency? ‘Cause it would cost you more to skip out than you would just getting paid at all. That’s why I’m still here, sick as a dog.” He pointed at Lark. “Why don’t you go? No offense, but you’re just his back-up. He’s someone people want to see. Folks around here love good hip-hop.”

Em blinked a few times, turned toward Lark, and sighed. “Your crappy drumming is not needed here, buddy.”

“It’s not that crappy,” said Lark. “Can you really be on that stage by yourself? Maybe Will can …”

Em shook his head. “When she freaks out about crowds, she feels like she’s the only person in the world. She needs a friend. And Will’s not there yet.”

——-

After jogging the whole way there, Lark found Daisy in the last phone booth in the city. It was near Statue Park, with its bronze statues glowing under the orange street light. Since most people had gone to the Diversity Festival, the street itself was ominously quiet and sparse – this, Lark figured, was why Daisy felt comfortable enough to hold herself as she leaned against the back of the thing. He crouched and rubbed his sore left knee, then went around to the front of the booth.

“Hey,” he said.

Daisy sighed, slowly blinking her teary eyes. “It’s not like I think there’s anyplace better than this one, and I know I’m so lucky with just that little shop building … but I’ve got to get out of here.”

Lark nodded sympathetically. “I couldn’t tell you what’s worth being here for exactly. Not in and of itself.”

Daisy wiped her eyes. She tilted her head and looked around. “Where’s Em?”

That was when they heard it. The loud caw that Lark was supposed to have been joining in with. It was the caw of some annoying bird that was now extinct, not helped in the least by its inability to sing.

Then there was the booing, surging in greater and greater decibels.

Daisy scrunched up her eyes. “Is that ….?”

“Yes,” said Lark. “Those are people booing you leaving. And maybe Em cawing like a bird. He’s not here because they really, really wanted some good conscious rap … Just not an air-drummer.”

Daisy closed her eyes and smiled. She patted Lark on the back consolingly, then walked with him on her way to the festival, and they were passing by Statue Park when Daisy pointed out that its gate was open; and there was a truck with a semitrailer that had been backed up in front of it.

Someone was pulling down the semitrailer’s door. When it sounded like it had shut, a woman in a mask ran toward the truck’s cabin and got in. As the truck began to move forward, the door to the semitrailer snapped up, and a statue in chains came loose and went tumbling out onto the street, where it rolled beneath the rear tires of a gray car.

Lark and Daisy looked at each other. They gave the truck a wide berth as they moved close enough to see into the cabin. The driver was trying to speed off, with the truck slowly dragging both the car and the chained statue wedged beneath it.

It was the woman Lark had talked to earlier again. A man next to her, also in a mask, promptly got out of the truck and left altogether. The driver-side door screeched as the woman shoved it open. She hopped down and ran to the semitrailer.

Lark and Daisy slowly walked over toward her. She was fiddling with a paddle lock that capped off the bulk of the chains around the statue of Buddha. “Come on, come on.”

Daisy looked at Lark. “We can pick that lock, can’t we?”

The woman almost jumped when she realized they were there. She did a double-take at Lark.

“Great. I bet you think this is funny, huh?” She turned her head toward where the booing was coming from. It seemed to be getting closer and closer.

“No,” said Lark a little belatedly.

Daisy reached behind her ears to the nape of her neck, where she kept a hairpin. Then with one eye closed, Daisy used it to pick the lock until the tumblers inside shifted and the latch came loose.

The woman reached out to try pull the statue from beneath the gray car.

“We’ll hold on to that,” said Lark.

The woman blinked at him. She ran over to the semitrailer, pulled the rear door down properly, then was all rapid footsteps before the driver-side door slammed and the truck headed down the street.

Through the empty streets, Lark and Daisy carried the statue back to the lonely tattoo shop. And a crowd, except possibly for one English person, seemed to boo them all the while.

(Like the story? Check out more fiction here.)

“Diversity Fest,” Copyright © 2017 Fennel Steuert

Art: Public domain silhouette and Eugene Boudin’s “On the Beach,” 1866, France, also public domain.

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