So I know I said that I would write two shorts per month. That’s still the goal… basically. I have two shorts, but they’re not in a great condition. I’ll post one of them here, but it’s a ways off. And also, it’s Labor Day Weekend, therefore I’m just going to wrap this Monday into the month of August. I’ll post another short tomorrow. Maybe. Anyway, please enjoy despite the ruckus of grammatical issues and bad dialogue strings. This short story is 1,365 words long.
EDIT: It’s Monday… 9pm. I’m tired. I know there are some of you hanging on my every word. Hell, I’m doing the same, but I ain’t turning one in tonight. I’ll do three this month if that’s what it takes. Much love.
Quinn pulled a thin twig from his pocket, jammed one end between his lips and ignited a lighter against the other. He teased the flame back and forth. When the tip finally reached an amber glow, he holstered the lighter.
“What’re you doing?” Mike said.
Quinn pulled the twig, eyed the snaking trail of gray, and smiled.
Mike pulled the cigarette from his mouth, blew out a smoke ring, and nodded. “You look like an idiot.”
They sat on a wood bench at the Misty Glades Plaza in downtown. A bus chugged past. Black exhaust guffawed from its tailpipe. A homeless man pushed a cart full of blankets, garbage bags, and smells. Tins and glass jingled with the metal frame. The black garbage bags shined like chunks of obsidian. The homeless man paused in front of Quinn and Mike. His clothes were smeared with brown, gray, and black. A jaundiced shirt collar stuck over his frayed red sweater that hid beneath a torn leather jacket. On his shoulder, there was an embroidered patch, reading: Not All Who Wander Are Lost.
“Spare some change for a homeless man just looking for a bite to eat and a place to sleep and some human kindness?”
Quinn stared blankly, “Ah, sorry, man, I don’t have any spare change on me.” It was certainly true–to an extent. While Quinn felt the hard coins in his back pocket, and knew he had three extra dollar bills, he didn’t enjoy the idea of giving away money. He would need it for something
. That meant it wasn’t spare, right?
“Yeah, I got some change for you, old timer,” Mike said. Still sitting, he unzipped his coat, pulled aside the corner lip and reached into his pocket. He came up with a few bills and held them between his fingers.
The homeless man stepped forward. A day’s worth of sweat gleamed on his forehead. He looked between ages sixty-five and eighty with a white beard twice as old. He smiled without showing his teeth, the splotchy, cracked lips spreading dangerously against his jaw like worn rubber bands that discolor as they are stretched to their limits.
To Quinn, the three of them seemed in their own bubble of existence. Nothing and no one could interfere. A twister spontaneously breaching the overhead clouds would touch the ground beside them and leave only a small opinion. The laws of physics denied any and all new forces. The generation of free will, through the machinations of the universe, posed zero validity. They were quite stuck.
A mother, pushing a stroller and leading a small girl by the hand, rushed past. The girl stared until they were far away.
“I have a few questions first,” Mike said.
Quinn’s jaw went slack and the smoking twig between his lips rolled into a corner and nearly fell out. Extending a conversation with a homeless person went one of two ways: bad and a bit worse. What was there to gain? To what end could Mike’s questions possibly fulfill?
“You got questions,” the homeless man said. His voice was flat, unimpressed with its master’s rhetoric.
“Sure do,” Mike said. “It could only take but a good minute of your time. I hope that’s not too much to ask.”
“If you’s asking, is that the first question?”
“A fair point, but no, that is not one of my questions. You must definitely answer my questions to earn
the spare money I have in my hands for you. If you are fine with this agreement, then you should have a seat with us.”
A look of surprise flashed through the scraggly beard, bushy eyebrows and wrinkled forehead. The homeless man crossed his arms, as if to say, You think I’m going to walk away from free money? He left his cart in the middle of the park’s road and sat between Mike and Quinn.
The smell of the man nearly knocked Quinn over. He turned to his end of the bench and gasped for air. Vaguely, he heard: “First, it’s a pleasure to meet you. My name is Mike.”
The homeless man grunted. Maybe they were shaking hands.
“The first question is: What is your name?”
“What do you
wanna know my name for?”
“How else would I address you?”
“We’re just talking at each other. You don’t need my name.”
“If you want the money, you know the deal.”
With a sigh, “My name is Jacob.” After a moment, “Grenstler.”
“Jacob Grenstler, it is nice to meet you. My distracted friend behind you is Quinn. We work together. And this is a bench that we come to often. It helps us relax, we think.”
How long had Mike been planning this? Always the diabolical schemer, Mike may have been working on this prank for ages. Quinn felt queasy. He yanked the twig from his lips, rubbed out the ashen tip against the bench rail, and glared around for help. But despite his goosebump-inducing urge to escape this homeless man’s reek, there remained an overwhelming curiosity to hear the rest of Mike’s questions.
“So what’s your second question then?”
“Well, Jacob, I’d like to know how long you’ve been asking for money from strangers.”
There was a rustling of clothing. “I guess something like ten years, give or take a year or so.”
“I see. Thank you for your estimation. Do you mind if I take notes?”
“You’re holding the money.”
“Splendid.” There was more shuffling, then the click of a pen and subsequent scratching against paper.
“Why have you struggled to earn money through working?”
“You think asking for money ain’t work? Man, how do you think a salesman makes money?”
“True, true. I like your thinking Jacob, but a salesman usually has a product. What are you selling?”
, Quinn thought.
“I ain’t selling nothing. (At this, Mike laughed a little, a short cough, but Jacob didn’t notice.)”
“So you could stop asking for money this instant, get a job, and be well on your way?”
“Fair enough. Now, what was your first reason to start asking for money?”
“And you had none from a job.”
“What’re you trying to say?”
“So when you needed money, the first thing you thought to do was to start asking for it, not get a job?”
“Ever since you first started asking for money, has it worked well for you?”
“You don’t ever wish to do better than get by? Don’t you wish you could make money by not asking for it?”
“Hell, Mike, all anyone’s doing is getting by. You all are just getting by, you just might be telling yourself otherwise. You got jobs, but you don’t think you’re not asking for money?”
“I do not, Jacob. I produce things. I create things and knowledge for other people to use. In exchange, I get paid. What is your exchange? What do you give people?”
“Why do I gotta give things to people?”
There was a pause, and Mike scribbled away on a notepad. The homeless man checked one of his pockets. Quinn’s body tensed. Was he going to pull a knife? Quinn scanned their surroundings. The park was full of people. But Quinn got the feeling that Mike was pushing up against the limits of normal interaction that this guy could handle. Anything could happen.
“When you first started asking for money, I asked what your reason was. You said you needed it. What did you need it for?”
Mike’s voice was low and secretive. “Answer the question, Jacob. This is our exchange.” Quinn’s uneasiness doubled.
“I dunno, drugs and stuff. I guess.”
“Only sometimes for drugs. Mostly it’s for food and normal stuff.” The homeless man sniffed. Something big was stuck in his nostrils.
“My second to last question, Jacob. Do you enjoy asking for money?”
“I don’t think I’ve ever met a happy salesman when he knew his product sucked.”
Scratching against paper.
“Thank you, Jacob for answering all my questions. Lastly, when would you wish to stop asking for money?”
“When you live like I do, you don’t get to wish for anything.”