Short Story Of the Day – Cleveland Arcade by Bill Chance

“There is only one place to write and that is alone at a typewriter. The writer who has to go into the streets is a writer who does not know the streets. . . when you leave your typewriter you leave your machine gun and the rats come pouring through.”
Charles Bukowski, Notes of a Dirty Old Man

Cleveland Arcade


I have been feeling in a deep hopeless rut lately, and I’m sure a lot of you have too. After writing another Sunday Snippet I decided to set an ambitious goal for myself. I’ll write a short piece of fiction every day and put it up here. Obviously, quality will vary – you get what you get. Length too – I’ll have to write something short on busy days. They will be raw first drafts and full of errors.

I’m not sure how long I can keep it up… I do write quickly, but coming up with an idea every day will be a difficult challenge. So far so good. Maybe a hundred in a row might be a good, achievable, and tough goal.

Here’s another one for today (#74) More than two thirds there! What do you think? Any comments, criticism, insults, ideas, prompts, abuse … anything is welcome. Feel free to comment or contact me.

Thanks for reading.

Cleveland Arcade

In Cleveland there is The Arcade… not an arcade, The Arcade. It is a downtown passage between two nine-story buildings – a five story Victorian wonder of steel and glass. It has four levels of balconies opening up into the surprising interstitial space. Built in 1890, it was a breathtaking wonder of its day. I looked it up – the skylight is three hundred feet long and arches one hundred feet up and has one thousand eight hundred panes of glass.

It has since been restored and cut up into hotel and retail space but I like to think of The Arcade as it was when we first saw it, forty years ago. At that time it was getting a little ragged and not all the storefronts were occupied. That only increased the feeling of age, history, and romanticism.

The Arcade was a space out of time. We never tired of turning from the bitter cold Cleveland sidewalk into this overheated ancient world. There were a few shops selling cheap food or caffeine, but we never otherwise found anything to buy… which was a good thing. We didn’t want to shop, we only wanted to be.

At lunch time the place was packed. We didn’t know where all those people came from or where they were going but they poured through The Arcade like water from a summer thunderstorm. In from the streets at both ends, up the stairs, across the floor, down the stairs, along the balconies… the crowd flowed. It was not a collection of individuals, it was a crowd in every sense, a sentient being of its own where all individual joys, worries, desires, fears, fashion, opinion, ideas, and prejudices melded together into a huge communal amoeba coursing through the space.

Except for the couple.

The two of them stood on the Euclid Avenue end on the platform that was at the same level as the street right at the top of the central stairs running down to the bottom floor. They were young, both impossibly handsome, and dressed in perfect fashion – he in a light gray Italian Business Suit and her in a trim jacket and plaid skirt. The both carried their warm coats perfectly folded across their arms.

They were the perfect couple. They were what everyone wants to be – what everyone dreams of becoming. They were so perfect that to see them was to ache with the disappointment that you will never walk in those expensive, perfectly fitting shoes. You will never be that beautiful, that fit, or that well-groomed. Next to these two you are a troll scraping in the mud beneath a crumbling stone bridge.

Their world is open and unlimited. Yours is a long, too long, dreary trudge upslope and into the wind to merciful death. Their world is colorful – shades of fashionable tan accented with that green-blue teal or turquoise color of a shallow tropical sea. All you have to look forward to is grimy gray and shit brown.

Their clothes fit, their feet don’t hurt, their mouths don’t have canker sores, their cuticles don’t bleed, their breath doesn’t smell bad, their joints don’t pop when they move.

They saw all the best movies and read all the best books and never watched television at all.

The perfect couple.

But they were having a tremendous fight. He was not holding his own – he was standing still and quiet with his head bent down and looking at his shoes. And she was really giving him hell. She had a real set of lungs on her and she was using all that breath and projection to pour her anger out and over him. She was yelling so loud that her voice could be heard roaring over the cacophony of the thousands of people at lunch time.

The crowd didn’t look at them but it parted as it approached and joined back together an appropriate distance beyond. The sound of her berating echoed through the overall din though nobody really could hear exactly what she was so angry about.

That was forty years ago and things have changed. If life is a parabola that was the moment at the peak where the trajectory began to curve inexorably down. I am no longer fit and no longer fashionable. I live in a dirty drafty old studio apartment carefully calculating to see if my meager savings will be enough to survive.

I stand in the mirror amazed at the ugliness in the world.

I live on black coffee and insulin.

And what about her? A series of wrong decisions, bad marriages and worse divorces. The decades of struggle took their toll. We haven’t spoken to each other in decades – though people still talk about us as if we were together, reveling in the reflections of the past.

I marvel that we were that couple… once, long ago, for a brief, shining moment. Maybe we flew too close to the sun and the wax melted. Maybe, for all we had, it wasn’t enough. Maybe we simply weren’t all that – even though we thought we were.

The arc… the rise is never as exhilarating as the descent is heartbreaking.

And there it is, you have everything in the palm of your hand… it slips away. You argue. You give in and don’t stand up. You make a mistake. Destiny and despair.

And here you are.