Sostenuto Avenue

I sit above Sostenuto Avenue at my window in a third-floor walk-up. I’ve been on the avenue nigh on sixty years and at my present observational post for forty of those years. I have witnessed the heyday of the avenue, the low points throughout the decades, and the current grasping for breath the avenue is currently suffering through. I have seen the ebb and flow of life on the avenue, as well as that of its residents, and I record it all in my diary. It is a diary explicitly for me alone; I would never dream of sharing it with anyone, except perhaps this one time, as the final days approach and such strange events evolve on the avenue.

You see, Sostenuto Avenue, the main street running through town, is dying. It is a slow death that a few energetic people have tried to reverse in favor of growth. All attempts in this direction, however, have been in vain. There are more boarded up retail shops and businesses than operating ones. Undependable streetlamps, cracked and broken sidewalks, multiple bullet marks in traffic signs, litter strewn throughout the avenue. One can smell the putrid decay in the street amongst the sparse, lingering selection of shops.

Still surviving is Avenue Source, a typical souvenir shop, selling all things Sostenuto Avenue. But not many people are in the market for a magnet depicting a two-lane road with a yellow line in the middle proclaiming “Sostenuto Avenue.” Likewise, the honeypots with Sostenuto Avenue written across them, seeing as one could not purchase fresh honey on Sostenuto Avenue. And forget about the fifty-dollar flip flops with Sostenuto Avenue written on them; the avenue is 500 miles from the nearest beach. Basically, Sostenuto Avenue produces nothing that can be sold as a souvenir. In the single souvenir shop, Cathy, the owner, orders from a Chinese catalog and has the avenue’s name printed on the generic items she sells.

            Not that there are many tourists on Sostenuto Avenue. There are hardly any residents aside from me. But that doesn’t stop Cathy from doing her best to sell the avenue and make a living at it. Most of her income comes from locals who buy the town paper from her, as well as the local taffy they purchase, which actually comes from Salt Center, thirty miles distant.

            The antique store is active though lacking revenue: locals regularly trade in their antiques for the more glamorous finds at the In-city Furniture Depot located just twenty-five miles west of Sostenuto Avenue. Floral fabrics took over leather and lace, and plastic and pressboard took over oak and mahogany. Eventually, the antique store took on too much inventory, believing they could make a killing on the great deals they were getting, but the few remaining residents of Sostenuto Avenue are now all shopping at IFD and there is little interest in antiques.

            The hardware store is hanging in there as there’s always a window that needs repair or a lock to be replaced. But as the income of the citizens declined, so did the visits to the hardware store. One could get one more year out of the glazing on the windows, and certainly, one could put off the paint job the dining room needed so much. The hardware store was a staple, so they hung in a bit longer than others but the end was not far in sight.

            The Clothing Emporium did a fair trade, although nothing like ten years ago. Locals still came in but even the most devoted traveled to the city to do their clothes shopping. The Emporium keeps fighting, bringing in new styles when they can, but they can’t match the variety found in the city mall.

            Same with the fabric shop and the kite shop. No one makes their own clothes anymore and there is no wind on Sostenuto Avenue so both shops are quickly losing costumers, revenue, and solvency.

            Prior to all these eminent failures, were the failures of the print shop, the fishing store, the sports store, the bridal shop, the knick-knack shop, and several other seemingly unnecessary shops. Same with the library and the cultural center. All had floundered for years and ultimately closed their doors. The empty store fronts attest to the general demise of Sostenuto Avenue and the future of current shops.

            I know that the young Anton watched this decline over his short life and felt his world was declining with the avenue: he needed a drastic change. I’ve seen it before and am well aware of the feelings the disenfranchised harbored. His, however, was one of the most egregious cases I have witnessed.

Anton had to break up the monotony of life on Sostenuto Avenue. He was born twenty-one years ago in a simple house on the northern end of Sostenuto Avenue. His parents had inherited the house from their parents, who spent their entire lives on the avenue before passing away and leaving the house. Anton was the third generation in the house and he didn’t want to pass it on to another generation. He was fatigued with the repetition. He didn’t want another generation inheriting the house and continuing the monotony. When he realized this, he made his current decision.

            The largest part of the decision was to wait, as he was now doing. But the more he waited the quieter the avenue got, the more isolated he felt by the antiquated phone booth. He knew, though, that he could not give up his decision at this point. He had waited too long already. But if nothing changed as the early morning hours approached, he might lose his chance. Then, his monumental decision which had taken so long to arrive at, and had led him to such long waiting, would be completely in vain. He could not abide by that. So, he waited.

He stood by the now useless phone booth missing half its glass, and looked up and down the avenue. No one in sight. All the shops were closed, either permanently or for the night. The few street lamps that were working cast an ominous glow on the emptiness of the wide-open pavement and deserted sidewalks.

            He seemed to be always waiting for his big chance. The great job. The right girl. He once waited three hours for a date to show up for coffee. An innocent enough encounter. But she never showed up. Yet he waited. He never heard from her again although he saw her on the avenue frequently. She always ignored him and went her way.

            Anton thought that this time would be different. His waiting would not be in vain. His waiting, this time, would yield the most positive results. He was sure of it. So, he continued to wait.

            Sostenuto Avenue is a waning avenue. To wait for anything to happen on Sostenuto Avenue is a fool’s errand. Especially if one were to wait at the late hour Anton was waiting. One would be considered a newcomer, devoid of any knowledge of the avenue, or just plain stupid.

            Anton was neither. He was more naïve than stupid. More hopeful than naïve. But no one else would wait on Sostenuto Avenue like Anton was waiting.

            At half past four, a shadow fell across Sostenuto Avenue. As dark as the shadow was, it brightened Anton’s spirit. He traced the shadow to its origin to see a lone figure, a man he could not identify, walking south on the avenue. Anton thought his waiting, the long cold night, was not in vain. He knew now that he would see his decision through. He watched the figure progress and when it passed his location on the opposite side of the avenue, Anton finally moved.

            He had never experienced stealth like he displayed that early morning. He didn’t know he could be so quiet, so domineering in spirit. He alone knew what was coming and the figure did not. As Anton got closer to the figure, so close that their shadows overlapped, the figure, startled, turned around. The figure recognized Anton and was about to address him as Anton plunged a knife into the stomach of the figure. The figure’s mouth remained open, if not a bit contorted, and finally fell into Anton. Anton pulled the knife out of the figure and moved away. The figure fell with a hollow thud onto Sostenuto Avenue.

            Anton was done waiting. He went home. I am the observer; I watch life and death on Sostenuto Avenue and report nothing. This murder would be no different.

            The news of the murder, and the name of the victim, spread like a virus. There was not much news on the avenue that did not. Everyone who lived on Sostenuto Avenue knew the deceased, either because they had fought with him or defended him. The figure that Anton did away with was the Community Council Chief, Samuel Reisenthef, another individual willing to wait for something worthwhile to come along. Samuel had been head of the council for going on six years. Although there were others on the council, most came and went, never sticking around more than two years, and no one showing any interest in the chief position. Most just wanted to help out or have a forum for complaining, never intending to make a second career out of the council position. Samuel, however, believed in his community, especially the heart of it, Sostenuto Avenue, so he took the chief position. Samuel had faith that life would soon return to the avenue and improve the lives of the entire community. Hence, he waited in the position in spite of the trouble it brought him and hoped for the rapid return of a blossoming economy.

            He attended conferences in big cities, Minneapolis, Seattle, Portland, amongst others, and listened to their mayors and community councils talk of actions they were taking to improve the lives of their citizens, as well as to promote the growth of the economy. Nothing seemed to really fit the mold of Sostenuto Avenue and its surrounds. Samuel found Sostenuto Avenue to have unique characteristics compared to other communities he studied. To begin with, Sostenuto Avenue citizens were not really hoping for growth; they simply wanted to continue living the way they had been living for decades. They wanted the same hairdressers, the same small shops, the same mom and pop stores. Even though they left Sostenuto Avenue for most of their consumer goods and entertainment, they still wanted nothing to change on the avenue. But Samuel knew this was not possible without growth of industry and people.

            At the time of the murder, Sostenuto Avenue was 125 years old. It grew every year but stopped growing ten years ago. It used to be the hub of a thriving farming village. Every resident traveled to Sostenuto Avenue to trade and to make a living. Slowly, shops took over stalls, and ultimately, global capitalism took hold of the avenue. Those who didn’t have shops went out of business and those who did prospered.

            Samuel watched this as a child and learned to love Sostenuto Avenue. He loved leaving home and running to the hobby shop and then the ice cream shop. He never had a desire to leave; he saw all of the world as he knew it on the avenue. He thought he could get everything his heart desired right around the corner.

            He graduated from the high school located on the northern end of Sostenuto Avenue and then worked at the hardware store stocking shelves. He was there long enough to earn a permanent position and then worked there for 25 years. Along the way, he met most of the residents and business owners of Sostenuto Avenue. At some point, he joined the city council and helped push through many city improvements, such as the installation of street lamps, sidewalks, and flags for displaying on national and state holidays. As he aged, he came to believe that the spirit of Sostenuto Avenue needed to be preserved. It was, he mistakenly thought, a spirit of entrepreneurship, of forward-thinking, mixed with a dose of small town values and community. He did not realize that in the growing marketplace and with the emigration of avenue youth, those characteristics did not bode well for the future of Sostenuto Avenue. And yet, he believed in them enough to accept the Chief City Councilman position. He worked endlessly in that position making his wife extremely proud. She encouraged him to continue in his seemingly futile explorations and activities, and to ignore the naysayers who had nothing but complaints to offer.

            Samuel heeded his wife’s advice and worked tirelessly for the good of Sostenuto Avenue. His dream was to enable the avenue to revive and experience what their great-grandparents had experienced on the avenue. He didn’t have many supporters or well-wishers. On the contrary, in spite of the current downturn in business, or because of it, Samuel collected many enemies, or at least people who were willing to place blame on him for the lack of business. The killing of Chief Samuel, while not the cause of the downfall in business on Sostenuto Avenue, was definitely an end to a concerted effort to enliven the avenue.

            Three weeks after the murder, no evidence was found and no suspects were named. The citizens vacillated between fear of their own murder, suspicions of who the murderer was, and concern over who would take over the Community Council Chief position. Truth be told, it was the latter that most frustrated citizens. Most people begrudgingly felt that Samuel had made some progress in rehabilitating Sostenuto Avenue. And everyone knew nobody would assume his position. So, the greatest fear was what would happen to Sostenuto Avenue now that he was gone.

            The business community began an abusive verbal uprising towards the police concerning the murder. In their minds, unfounded as it was, there was a precipitous drop in revenue since the murder. The police could have pointed out, as could have Chief Samuel, that in fact, the precipitous drop occurred ten years ago, nine and a half years before the murder. They could have pointed out that the community has been in a downturn for that duration of time.

            But they did not point that out. In fact, they admitted to their lax investigation and their failure to identify a suspect and a motive. They caved in to the businesses of Sostenuto Avenue and vowed to make it a priority to solve the case immediately, even after six months of stagnant work. They vowed that by solving the murder case, life would be brought back to Sostenuto Avenue.

            Little did the police know at this time, that Anton was living comfortably in Akron, Ohio with a childhood sweetheart, and they had put the past, and all trace of them, behind them and had entered the adult world of work and housekeeping.

The police were not being lazy or absentminded. Anton did a respectable job of leaving no evidence and raising no attention. Who would suspect a smart, local high school graduate, with no police record, of planning and carrying out a murder? The police investigated the crime scene, the body, presided over an autopsy, questioned almost every avenue resident, and still came up with no clues. No indication of who or why Chief Samuel was killed. Basically, they did a commendable job. It’s just that it did not lead to the case being solved. All they were left with, after all their hard work, was a dead body, a bickering business community, and a cold case.

Samuel’s wife, Beckie, did not hold the business community’s general angst. She was more concerned with who killed her husband. She pleaded with the police investigators but they shrugged their shoulders in response and told her they were doing all in their power to find the murderer. She attended council meetings to try to persuade them to push the police to be more proactive but the council was in an uproar over losing their chief and backbiting in an effort of all to avoid assuming the chief position. They simply had no time to attend to a grieving widow.

And grieve she did. She and Samuel had been married for twenty-seven years. They were high school sweethearts and she had never dated, nor been with, another man. Her whole life was Samuel. She planned on getting old with him, retiring with him, and spending their final days together. When he died without her, her world was thrown into a maelstrom. It had not been part of her plans.

It got to the point where she could not even leave her house. While at first, she pestered the police and the city council, now she holed up in her home and grieved. It was as if a large piece of her body had been taken from her and she was learning how to respond and act without the missing piece. Without a second leg, she couldn’t walk. Without lungs, she couldn’t breathe. Without Samuel, she couldn’t live.

Beckie stopped going out on the avenue; she hadn’t left the house in the past two months. No one visited her, no one invited her to go out, and no one talked to her about her grief. The only solace she found was that it was in her grasp to end her pain. She knew that living without Samuel was not an option. She knew she had to die with him. If only she had walked with him to work that early morning she would have a knife in her as well. She knew she couldn’t put a knife in herself so she went to the garage and picked up one of Samuel’s ropes. She went back in the house and tied one end of the rope to a beam in the kitchen. That was the hardest part. The noose, the chair, the kicking of the chair was easy. Much easier than dealing with the grief.

After several weeks of monitoring Beckie and Samuel’s house for clues, and seeing absolutely no activity, the police decided to enter the house. The three patrols called into the action started by knocking repeatedly at the front door and then the back door. They looked in all the windows but all were covered with drapes or blinds. They entered the house by battering down the door and all were struck by the stench that emanated from the home. It didn’t take them long to find Beckie hanging in the kitchen.

The death of Samuel Reisenthef and the suicide of Beckie Reisenthef were emblematic of the death toll ringing for Sostenuto Avenue. At the time of Beckie’s death, there were hardly any residents left on the avenue to take notice. The police never solved the Chief Samuel case, although they continued to look for clues and suspects. The final demise of the avenue began shortly after Beckie had been found.

First the antique store moved to the big city leaving another tremendous hole on Sostenuto Avenue, followed by the fabric and kite shops. They had tried to consolidate businesses by offering special fabric for trick kites but there were no customers for such products. Eventually even the hardware store had to shut its doors due to lack of customers. Finally, The Clothing Emporium and Avenue Source both closed their doors. Everything was discounted and what did not sell, which was most of their inventories, was donated to a homeless center fifty miles away.

Like Samuel and Beckie, Sostenuto Avenue died a dark and quiet death. The few remaining street lamps finally dimmed to nothingness. An occasional wind tossed old posters and other garbage around the avenue. The decrepit phone booth was one of the last monuments to be seen. One moment the avenue was there, and the next it was gone. Anton was not there to see it happen. But I was.


Projected Letters is a literary magazine dedicated to publishing the best new and established writing from around the world.