The Escape

Tom Shay

  • 9 Pages

While waiting for dinner, I realize my entire life is bullshit. I stare at Denise across the plush table set for four. Our wineglasses are full, and we’d been having a great time. Except that we are still waiting for Mr. Brothers, my boss, to show up and give me the raise and promotion, officially making me the general manager of Cassull-Thomas department store.

Denise is still talking. Waving her long, supple fingers as she speaks, she smiles – waiting for my answer. “I’m sorry, what were you saying, Hon?” She cocks her head and stares at me, “were you not listening?”

“Yeah. I just couldn’t hear you for all the other people around.”

“Well,” she makes her face a caricature of annoyance, “I asked, are you going to buy that Cherokee you’ve been eyeing with the bonus?”

“I don’t know. I could use some more speakers for the entertainment center.” I take another drink of the wine. I’ve gotta get out of here.

“Don’t you have enough? I mean, we already can’t turn it up all the way because it gets too loud.”

Yeah, but when you sit in the recliner you can only hear the speakers to your left, so I thought if I get another speaker on the right, I’ll finally have surround sound for the whole room.”

“If I was going to get as much money as you’ll be making, I would probably use it to move to New York so I can get my career off the ground.” Denise raises her glass in salute; “you’re really lucky, you know. I mean you like your job so much, and you’re so good at it. And I’m just struggling to get by while I wait and see how my future will turn out.”

“I guess,” I reply. “But you’ll do all right. You’ve already got your portfolio sent out to all those companies, and you’ve got resumes out all over the place. Besides, in the mean time you know you’ll always have your job at Cassull-Thomas.”

“Yeah, if Cindy doesn’t fire me.”

Don’t worry about her. Since I finally got you to stop showing up late, she doesn’t have any reason to complain.”

“Except she hates me!”

“It doesn’t matter. The bottom line is that you sell clothes. You’re one of the best in the department, and I know I won’t take her seriously so long as you keep up the good work. Come on, you’ve even got a little slogan for it. That kind of dedication can’t be faked.”

“I don’t know, you’re the only one who likes my slogan, and it’s really for my designs, anyway. When I was modeling, I learned that all the big designers had these sayings they told us, you know, to get us pumped up or whatever, so I thought I’ll make my own before I got famous.”

“Still, I have to admit, ‘If I can make people look better, they’ll feel better, too,’ is pretty good.” I smile. God I hate that slogan.

Denise smiles, too. Two Denises are sitting across the table from me, smiling their ex-models’ smile. Her designs are good, though. She’d managed to get into the Art Academy on a full scholarship because of her painting and quickly got into fashion design. She says that’s all she’s ever wanted to do with herself. I keep telling her that she’s got to have a job to eat on. Without me, she’d let herself starve trying to make it.

Two waiters walk up and ask if we would be ordering soon. I explain that we are still waiting for someone else, but another bottle of wine would be nice, thank you. They leave.

I’m staring at the ceiling. The wood beams and stucco plaster revolve around each other. It’s really very entrancing. My heart is pounding. Hard. Not like it does when I get nervous, or when I’m trying to sell some yokel something he doesn’t want or need but I need the commission for. But like it did that time back in school when I took four caffeine pills with coffee trying to sober up for the astronomy final.

One of the Denises grabs my hand while the other grabs nothingness off the edge of the table.

“Are you okay, Keith?” She looks concerned. “You’re turning green.”

“I don’t know, maybe I got some bad food for lunch or something.”

“I keep telling you you need to lay off the fast food and take a decent lunch break. That reminds me, when you become general manager, you need to give everyone a full hour for lunch so I won’t get in trouble with Cindy anymore.”

“Whatever. Look, I’ve got to go to the restroom real quick. If Mr. Brothers gets here before I get out, show him your portfolio or something ’till I get back,” I wink at her as I stumble off. I think she smiles back, but I’m not sure.

Luckily the rose-marbled bathroom is empty. It’s Tuesday, so the attendant is off. Alone, I splash my face with water and brush my black hair with one of those combs they have sitting in the jar of blue water. ‘Barbicide.’ I think I am sweating now, but I may have just splashed myself with more water than I thought. I want there to be a window, so I can make a dramatic escape and start my life all over again and all of that romantic bullshit. But; there isn’t. I don’t want to go back out there. I’m having enough trouble dealing with Denise; I really don’t want to have to face Mr. Brothers like this.

I can’t get this damned faucet to turn all the way off! It just sits there – dripping. I’m not ready to go back out there. My face is numb and I’m scared to death. I retreat into one of the stalls and sit on the open toilet seat with my head in my hands.

When it all started, Denise was about to get fired from the young Miss’ department. She sold clothes like wild then, too, but she was always late, and she just didn’t have any heart, you know? Still, people’ll buy clothes from a model just because they say so, so she never had any problems with that end of the job. I was still just the manager of Men’s wear, but my guys were good. There’s a look in your eye when you really want to sell somebody, and I made sure all my people had it. They were hungry, and I made sure they stayed that way. With all the contests and competitions we had to see who was the best, all the guys were ready to go. Always.

I’d heard Denise wanted to be a fashion designer, and the store was having a show coming up in New York, so I asked her to come along. She jumped at the chance – almost literally – green eyes shining like the emeralds we sold in the jewelry department. The company paid for both the flight out there and the hotel room. I never told her that I could’ve gotten two rooms just as easily as I got the one, but I guess everything worked out all right, anyway.

At the meeting before the show, Denise was amazing. All the designers, or at least reps from the companies, were there. Everyone was talking about how great the New Year would be, transforming the face of fashion,” I think they said. They say that every year, of course. But Denise fluttered among them all afternoon, showing her designs and passing out resumes like a
tornado that puts everything back. I have to admit I felt proud, even though I really didn’t know her at all. Still, she came from my store.

I fucked her that night. I figured she’d be reluctant to get into it so early since we’d only just met days ago. But she was so excited from the show that she would’ve probably masturbated all night had I not been there.

It wasn’t bad. I guess it was good, but it’s not like rockets went off or anything. Afterward, all she wanted to do was talk about her future.

“I met soo many people today!” She was sitting up, letting the comforter slide into her lap.

“Yeah, I know. You were really shining out there.”

“I’m gonna be big soon. I can feel it. Do you ever get that feeling, you know, that your life has just changed for the better.”

“Once, when I started my junior year of college. That’s when I started getting heavy into my business classes. I realized for the first time that that’s what I really wanted to do, you now. Before I was just taking the classes because I had to major in something and that left plenty of time for the parties.”

“Cool! That’s how I feel right now!” Denise poked my arm in emphasis.

I sat up, too. “That’s great!” I faked a smile. I was very tired, but she was so energetic it was contagious.

“I’m not sure I’m gonna go back with you. I mean, all the action’s here, and I’m sure I’ll be hired on soon. Everyone said they really loved my designs.”

“That’s because they’re good. Really. But you may not want to quit your job just yet. I mean, I’m sure all of the people we saw today have to talk things over with their bosses and human relations chair people and all that.

And you’ll need money to start out on.”

“Yeah,” Denise stared down at the comforter. “But at least that way I’ll also be able to get to know you better. I’m really glad you took me out here. I was starting to get bored with the job, you now? But I guess I can slug it out for just a little while longer.”

“I’m sure it won’t take longer than a month or so for them to hire you on. And if you don’t just wait at their door, they won’t think you’re desperate. And then they’ll be more likely to cut you a good deal when you do get hired.”

Denise yawned, “I’m sure you’re right. I’m tired all of a sudden. Do you want to go to bed?”

“Sure,” I shrugged.

We both had to work next Friday. Denise was great on the floor, borderline magical. She had shown up on time, and had an energy about her. I left my department alone for a while and just stood there, watching. She even managed to sell a Goth Chick a pink tank top. I doubt the girl would ever wear it, but she did buy it. Cindy left her alone, too. After work, Denise walked up to me.

“Are you going to the party tonight?” She beamed.

“Party?”

“You mean they didn’t tell you about it? Mark’s having a party tonight at his place. I’m sure he’d love you to come.”

Mark was one of my employees – one of the best guys we had on the floor in Men’s Wear. I didn’t want to tell Denise that I hadn’t been invited to a party in years.

“Sure, I’d love to go. Do you want me to pick you up?”

“Okay,” she scribbled her address on an old receipt, “come by about eleven or so?”

“Great. I’ll see you then.”

“Great,” she walked away. Turning, she added, “don’t be laaate,” she giggled.

Her place was a wreck. The dishes hadn’t been done in what looked like years, with pizza boxes lying on the table since God knew when. And, of course, she wasn’t quite ready when I got there. I sat on the edge of the couch watching an old TV that didn’t even have cable.

“Nice place.” I hollered toward her room.

“Thanks. Check out the balcony. There’s a great view of the pond.”

I took a look outside. Her design table was out there, and it was the only part of her apartment that was clean. The desk faced out past the line of pines to the misty pond. I’d only seen landscaping that good on golf courses.

“Are you ready?” She was standing right behind me now.

“Yeah.”

We were among the last to arrive. I had always imagined Mark living in almost monkish seclusion; he was so professional at work. I was surprised to see the bar lights flashing neon red and blue across the off-white carpet.

People were gathered in groups around the card table set up in the kitchen and around the keg on the balcony. Some others played video games on the television. Most of the people there I knew from work. But they were all different, looser.

“Hey! Denise!” Mark yelled as he walked up, “Glad you could make it. Who’s thi…. Hey, Mr. Erickson, what are you dong here?”

“I came with Denise. This is a nice party, it’s good to see everyone having a good time,” we shook hands.

“Yeah. I’m sorry this place is such a wreck, but you now how parties are.”

“It’s cool.” I smiled. I unbuttoned the top button of my shirt to relax, “so, how much for the keg?”

“Don’t worry about it. Just have a good time, all right?”

“Yeah. Thanks.” I walked over to the balcony. I’m not sure, but I think Mark was asking Denise why she brought me as I left.

I tried to mingle. I got a lot of “I’m dong fine, sir’s,” and “How’s the store holding up?” but the small talk sucked. So, I stopped trying and just watched everyone. Denise checked back with me every now and again, each time more tipsy. But she was happy. She kept telling everyone about how her career was about to take off, and they were all glad to hear it. There were a few times when I thought the whole lot of them would break into a song. It was unreal.

I stopped drinking after my second while the music pounded my back against the railing. I was surprised the cops never showed up. People started dancing: trying to dance anyway; they were pretty bad off. A girl, Cheryl, think was her name, sauntered over to me at one point. She reached around my waist and ran her fingers through my hair. Her body smelled like the perfume we sold to all the teenagers, but her breath smelled like beer.

“I’ve been watching you, watching me. Do you wanna dance?” She slurred.

I gave my apologies and she stumbled off to the kitchen table, muttering something about asshole. I just wanted to go home. After a while I found Denise talking to a couple of guys on the couch who were waiting their turns for the video game. She looked like she was about ready pass out. I remembered how bad it used to be when I was in school, so I offered her a ride home. She accepted.

“You know, I really don’t think I should be left alone tonight.” Denise said between dry heaves as I helped open her apartment door, “You don’t have to work tomorrow, do you?”

“No, I always give myself Saturdays off.”

“Do you want to stay?”

“Sure.”

The next morning, we slept in until noon. We took a shower and went out to lunch.

“Did you have a good time last night?” I asked over the kitchen table. We had moved the pizza boxes onto the floor.

“I don’t know? I don’t think anyone took me seriously, you know? I mean, everyone was supportive and everything, but I don’t know if they think I’ll really make it.”

“I don’t know, they all seemed serious to me.”

“You’re very sweet, you know that?”

I laughed; “you’ve never seen my apartment, have you?”

“No, why?”

“Well, I’ve got something I’d like you to see, that’s all.”

“Great!” she beamed.

We drove over to my place, listening to “Hot Hits,” my favorite radio station. We rode in silence. In the parking lot, I made sure I opened her door while she blushed a thank you. I led her into the apartment.”

“Okay, now close your eyes.” I smiled.

“All right.”

She stood there nervously while fumbling to unlock the door. I led her past the houseplants I kept on and around the pedestal beside the door.

“Are you ready?”

“I guess,” she smiled.

“Okay. Open your eyes. This is my baby…” I gestured to the home entertainment center I’d been building since right after college. I pointed out that the TV, VCR, and stereo were all wired into the eight speakers I had spread about the room.

“Wow! It’s … really. Nice.” She looked around the room, wide-eyed.

“You really like it?” I asked.

“Yeah.”

“Okay! Now, sit here,” I pointed to the center seat of the couch, “you’ll really love this!”

As she sat, I turned on the radio. “It’s great, isn’t it?”

“Yeah, it’s like sitting in the middle of a concert or something.”

“I’m really glad you like it so much. A lot of the people I show it to aren’t that impressed.”

“No, I mean, you could watch movies and listen to music forever here.”

“Oh, yeah. Oh! Look at this, too.” I showed her all of my old bookcases filled with movies and CDs. “I’ve been putting this collection together since … well, since high school, really.”

She went through all the movies and CDs, telling me which ones she really liked and which ones she wasn’t into. I agreed with her for the most part. I did have a lot of old stuff that I wasn’t into anymore but kept around anyway. We spent the evening eating popcorn and watching the “Die Hard” trilogy. We both ended up falling asleep during the third one. Waking up on the couch the next morning, I drove her home and went to work. She was off, but she promised to call me after I got off of work.

The next two weeks flew by like hours. We were together every night after work. We went to a few parties, but mostly kept to ourselves. Denise still hadn’t heard anything from the designers, and she was starting to get pretty down on herself, so I told her to just focus on the work she was doing at the store, to take her mind off things, you know?

She came over to my apartment that night, I guess it was about a week and a half ago, looking half-dead from work. I gave her a foot massage and asked her how her day was.

“It was okay. I sold almost a thousand dollars worth of clothes to one lady who wanted a whole new wardrobe for her new job. She got so excited when I showed her all the new clothes that had just come in….” Denise looked down as she took a drink from her bottled water.

“There’s something I need to tell you,” Denise continued looking at the floor. “I got a call this afternoon from someone at Marie del Rose. They want me to come work for them. I won’t be designing just yet, mainly I’ll just be drawing other people’s designs, but it’s a start.” Her eyebrows peaked as she stared at me.

“Wow! That’s really great. I’m proud of you!” I lied. “Are you going to take it?” I asked.

“I’m not sure. I mean, it would be a great start, but I’d kind of like to hold out a little longer and maybe get started somewhere actually designing, you know?”

“Yeah, I can see what you’re saying.” I tried to make my smile look consoling. “It really might be better if you stayed just a little while longer, but, I’ll support you either way.”

“I don’t know. I’ve got to call the woman back tomorrow, so I guess I’ll sleep on it and make up my mind in the morning.”

“Let’s go out to eat somewhere,” I pulled Denise from the couch. “I’ve heard of this place that has really great seafood. Does that sound good?”

“Sure.”

After dinner, we went around to the bar, and after a few beers, Denise lightened up a bit. We sat there and played film trivia while she drank her Amstel Light and I my Killian’s Red. We won the trivia game several times and even got a couple of coupons for when we came back. She was staying the night at my place then. She’d hardly ever slept at her place anymore, and we lay there, cramped on the super-single mattress, spooning. Neither of us could sleep. I played with her hair while she laid there in thought. I was feeling scared. I knew there was something I needed to do, but I didn’t know what, so I started talking.

“I know this probably isn’t the right time, since you’re getting ready to leave, but there’s something I’ve really wanted to tell you for a while now.” Denise rolled over and gazed at me, sleepily.

“I don’t want this to upset you, or make you feel like you need to stay or anything, but I think you should know. I think I might be falling in love with you.” I don’t know why I said that. Sure I really did care about Denise, but “love?” But it was there now, and I couldn’t exactly take it back or anything, so I watched her lay there, rubbing my arm.

“You always know what to say.” She murmured while burying her face in the crook of my shoulder to sleep. I kissed her forehead and pulled the comforter up over our shoulders. The next morning she told me she would stay in town a little while longer. I fixed her breakfast.

That Sunday, Cindy walked up to me right before closing. She had her fiery red hair put up. It bobbed on top of her head while she stormed to me. Her brown power suit stretched with her movements.

“What’s the matter?” I put a couple of new ties onto the rack and watched Sam go to work on a middle-aged man in jeans and a sweatshirt.

“Her sales are down and she never looks like she wants to work anymore.”

“Really?” I cocked an eyebrow, “I saw the figures just last week, and she’s still leading the department.”

“Well, yeah, but she’s slipping, Keith. She’s worse now than when she first started, and she’s starting to drag everyone else down with her. If this keeps up, I’ll have to fire her.”

“Maybe that’s the problem. She’s always said that she feels unappreciated around here.”

“So I guess she thinks all the salesgirls get to fuck the bosses!” She slammed her foot into the thin carpet. “You know that’s against corporate policy. It’s only a matter of time before we get a lawsuit against us.”

“Then don’t fire her, and you won’t have to worry about it.” I smiled.

“And what happens when you two break up, huh? Do you think she’ll want to work here then? Or, maybe if something happens to her after that, because you know she’ll be late all the time again. Don’t you think anything we do or say to her then will seem related to the break up?”

“I don’t know. Look, you’re freaking out over nothing. Everything’s under control. You’re just worried because you don’t have a tight grip on her like you do on all your other girls.” I turned to walk away.

“These things always end badly, Keith. I just want you to know that.” Cindy called after me.

“Whatever.” I walked back into the stockroom to make sure everything was ready to be shelved as soon as we’d closed. Back in my office, I saw a memo sitting on top of my desk that said the higher ups from corporate were coming in and wanted to meet with me on Monday. That bitch, I thought, she’s already told corporate about me and Denise.

That night, while Denise and I were watching “Godzilla,” not the old one with the fake costume and cheesy Japanese soldiers, but the one with Matthew Broderick, I told her about the memo and Cindy talking to me.

“We may have to cool it, at least for a little while,” I said.

Denise started to look a little pale. “No. I don’t know that I can do that. I mean you’re the only real reason I’m staying in town anyway, and if I can’t stay with you, I might as well move up to New York and try to get my career started.”

“You’re right,” I put my arm around her, “we don’t have anything to hide, anyway, so let the bastards know about us, right?”

“Yeah … right.” Denise curled up closer, “do you really like my work? I mean, I know that you’ve always been supportive, but I’m starting to doubt myself.”

“No, Hon, you’re being too hard on yourself. You know I like all your designs. And I’m sure they like them in New York, too. They’re probably all fighting to be the one who hires you first, that’s all. They have all kinds of deals and such that they make between companies, who’s gonna hire who, and so on. It’s kind of like pro ball, I guess. I’m sure it’s only a matter of time before someone gets a hold of you.” I rubbed the back of her neck, trying to ease the tension.

I was in a good mood on Monday. Roger, one of the salesmen, called in sick, and I had to take his place on the floor. I sold a five hundred-dollar suit to a fifteen-year-old kid trying to get ready for some dance or another. His Dad was warily with him the whole time, but once the boy started getting excited about how great he’d look in the black, double-breasted suit, he went along with it. So, when the bosses came in, I was ready for them.

I took them into the office and passed out sodas. Mr. Brothers, the Regional Director, began.

“Mr. Erickson, we’ve been reviewing your record here and …”

Oh God, here it comes. Five years down the drain.

“We’re very pleased.”

“Wheeler is going to be reassigned to GM one of our stores in Detroit, so we’ll have an opening, and we think you’d be the best man to take over his position here.” He smiled his wolfish smile, it was almost a snarl really, and his eyes always looked at you like he was pulling the wool over your eyes and was proud of it.

While his baldhead stared at me I considered the offer. Being GM would keep me off the floor, since I’d always have mountains of paperwork to do. On the other hand, if I refused, they might pass me up for another promotion when I finally got tired of being in the trenches. “Sounds, great. I’ll take it!” I shook hands with Mr. Brothers.

“Of course you know there’ll be an increase in your salary. And you’ll have to go through another training program, but Wheeler should be able to run you through all the basics before he leaves.” A thin man in the corner added.

“Well, we must be going. We’ve got two more stores to visit before eight, and we’re somewhat pressed for time. If you like, I’d be glad to meet you over dinner tomorrow evening and finalize everything,”

Mr. Brothers smiled again.”Sure, that’d be nice. Would ‘Giorgio’s’ be all right?”

“Certainly, I’ll meet you there at eight. Oh, by the way, feel free to bring a date. I haven’t taken Lucille out in weeks, so I’m sure she’ll come along with me.”

“Sounds good. Well, gentlemen, thank you for coming. I’ve got to get back to work now, but have a pleasant evening.”

We shook hands all around and then I left them in the office. I was glad to get back on the floor. The rest of the evening was slow, and I spent most of the time pacing the aisle between the suits and shoes. Right after closing, Mark walked up with a box of dress shirts that he was stocking.

“Hey, Mr. Erickson, I’m having another party tonight and you’re welcome to come if you like,” He looked a little nervous.

“Thanks, Mark;” I smiled, “I’m sorry though. I’ve got a lot to do back at the house.” Mark tried not to look relieved.

I told Denise what had happened on the way back to the apartment.

“Wow, a promotion! What do you want to do to celebrate?”

“I don’t know. Mark said he was having a party tonight …”

“Do you want to go?” She leaned toward me.

“I don’t know. I was kind of wanting to do something, just the two of us, you know?”
“Oh,” Denise looked out the window, “That’s cool, too. Can we stop by my place though? I want to check my messages real quick.”

“Sure.”

Traffic was pretty light that night, and we got back to my place about an hour after work. Denise was upset that no one had called her, but I reminded her that it takes time for the design companies to make hiring decisions.

She brightened up – a little. Back at the apartment we split champagne, ate a little and watched a movie.

There is a knock on the stall. I see that I’ve thrown up all over the floor and my trousers and shoes.

“Umm … sir. Excuse me, sir,” an embarrassed voice calls from the other side of the stall door, “Are you Mister Keith Erickson, perhaps?”

“Yes,” I answer hoarsely. My nose and throat still burn from the vomit. “What do you need?”

“There’s a … um.. a, lady outside who wants to see you,” the voice responds. The room is starting to spin again, slowly. I see the toilet paper roll slide past the door, past the wall to my right with the phone number etched into it and back again. The room gets brighter and fuzzy. Veins of marbleized stall blend and swirl and separate and come back again as my eyes un-focus and re-focus.

“I’ll be right out!” I yell. I grab the toilet paper and try to clean up the mess on my feet and legs while the voice’s shoes click and echo across the tile floor. There’s not much I can do with this mess, since it’s apparently already set in, so I boldly leave the restroom.

“Oh my God! Are you okay?” Denise is standing just outside the bathroom door, staring at my legs. “You were in there for at least twenty minutes! I thought you’d fainted or something,” she leads me by the hand past our table

and the other guests, who have all stopped their conversations to stare at

me in disapproval. I watch all of their faces dance around the room, weaving together into some ultra-face or something. I don’t know, I’m just scared now. I still feel trapped here. I don’t know why, but I just want to get out. It’s not just the embarrassment, my face was red already, I’m sure.

As we walk to the hostess stand beside the stairs, Denise hands the young, petite hostess a fifty and apologizes.

Turning to me, she says, “I don’t know what ever happened to Mr. Brothers, he still hasn’t made it yet.”

While I mutter something about how busy he must be, I see him and his wife, Lucille, coming up the stairs with apologetic faces. Pointing them out to Denise, the four of us stare at each other while their feet pound the red-carpeted steps. Behind me, people have started eating again. I can
almost hear their whispers and polite conversations. Mr. Brothers and Lucille are upon us now.

“Keith’s feeling ill. I’m sorry you’ve come all this way for nothing,” Denise tries to smile, but it looks forced. But I guess that’s what’s expected when this sort of thing happens.

“No problem. Keith, get better quick, well need you to start training on the day after tomorrow.” Mr. Brothers gives me his snarl-smile.

I spit up a loose string of vomit, burning down my chin and dripping to my feet while I smile back. I’m already wobbling, but I wrench my arm free of Denise anyway and tumble down the stairs. I’ve never fallen down a flight of stairs before. It really doesn’t hurt that much, and when the room is spinning anyway, they almost match up. I can hear Denise yelp, distantly, while Mr. Brothers snorts and wishes her luck, saying something about a ‘keeper’ that I don’t catch. Denise and his ugly, old wife walk into the doorway of the restaurant. I’m glad I didn’t ruin his evening, I retort to myself.

“Let go of me!” I pull my hand free from Denise again. This time, I’m much more careful as I hug the wall going down the next flight of steps. “Stay away from me,” I scream.

Denise stumbles back like I hit her, saying, “But …” I stumble out the door into the cement courtyard facing the street. It’s dark out, but I can see several trees planted in the sidewalk across the street in front of the glass wall of the bank. I take a seat on one of the steps and wait for my head to explode. My temples are pounding and my eyes keep going in and out of focus. There’s a group of bums across the courtyard; one of them is walking up to me.

“Hey, buddy. Do you have any spare change?” I stare at him. He notices my pants and adds, “are you all right, man?”

I stare at him. He’s got a shaved head and a full beard. Dressed in jeans and a military jacket, he looks like an ex-white supremacist. He turns away, but I grunt and he turns back around. I reach into my pocket and give him the wad of bills there.

“Are you sure you want to give me all of this?” He asks. He looks about as startled as me that he said that.

“Take it!” I grunt.

“All right,” he murmurs, “hey, do you want to hear what they told us today at the shelter?”

I’m staring at the whirly-girg of cracks in the concrete now, so he continues.

“This guy came in today, some kind of guest speaker, I guess. Anyway, after we get our food he stands up and says, ‘Remember: what you’re doing now is life,’ and then he sits back down again. I think later on he was giving some kind of presentation, but I didn’t stick around. Can you believe that, though?” He pats me on the shoulder, “What you’re doing now is life! God, what a crazy. Well, thanks for the money, brother.” I see him walk off while Denise comes to me from the other side. She’s crying softly.

“Don’t stick around here!” I yell when she tries to help me back up again, “Go to New York!” I scream. Denise blanches and starts to walk off.

I’m sitting here, watching Denise get smaller and smaller in the lamplight. Past her, I can still see the trees. It’s Fall, and the leaves are just starting to change color and fall off. The trees are lit from underneath, so they all just kind of glow, you know? I can’t see Denise at all now, I hope she goes on to New York.

More Strange Stories…

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