notes from the fourth circle


In the Indian summer, when our children went back to school and the heat was still rising from the ground, the unsightly ones hid among the low palm fronds. But when the cold snapped the ground, they were driven out as if awaking to a bell, their mismatched clothing ill-fitted to their frames. They walked along the busy four and six lane highways squinting into the sun, some of them talking to the traffic, talking to themselves, looking wild-eyed into damaged books and old newspapers which they later shred and make into nesting places.

A messenger once told us: They are loved as much as we are. We called him a fool. We made barbed-wire-encampments for them so they would not break into our homes and shove us out of our beds. Had we listened, each of us might have built a small cottage, a little place in our backyards with warmth and a cot and three squares. Instead, we put them in warehouses where they could slit each other’s throats, take each other’s women, speak silently to their ghosts.

We dropped off cans of food before the detention centers and ran for our cars purring in the lot. We said prayers at our churches, genuflecting to the apse on the way to eat the body, drink the blood. We made the sign of the cross over our lips, shoulders, and head, as if we were helpless.

Come springtime, we gave the unsightly ones back to the authorities whom the city hired to carry out our orders. If someone was passing out food, they were ordered to appear in court. We will starve them out, we said, and we will punish those who do not agree. But the unsightly ones always had enough disappointment to keep them going. How is that? we said. How is it they keep coming back? Are they breeding?

The messenger among us who once wore our clothes and spoke our language was eternally banned from our city of lakes. Here was his message: Their god will save them while the rest of you go straight to hell.

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