On Top

by Roderick T. Long

[Note: this story, written in 2009, is a sequel to my much earlier story “The Patchwork Cap,” written circa 1978. You should probably read that one first.]

Reginald crept along the gutter, whistling tunelessly. His hair was matted and greasy, his clothing a filthy tangle of tatters that hung on his shrunken, malnourished frame. Only the cheerful, brightly coloured cap perched on his head relieved the general impression of squalour.

Since the cap had come into his life, Reginald had lost his job, his house, and his reputation. But to Reginald these things no longer mattered. He rolled ecstatically in the garbage that had collected beside the curb, smearing his face with orange rinds, coffee grounds, discarded cigarette butts, and the wet, rancid, translucent remains of what several weeks ago had been a bag of cheese fries. “What a beautiful world it is!” he whispered through tears of happiness, confiding this secret to the roaches that skittered over his frail, grimy, half-naked body. “Beautiful, beautiful.”

The patchwork cap seemed to swell, as though it were feeding.

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