Greetings, fellow indie writers and readers! I am Beem Weeks, author of the historical fiction/coming-of-age novel JAZZ BABY and SLIVERS OF LIFE: A COLLECTION OF SHORT STORIES. My goal in life is to promote the indie movement to the world. I can be found on Twitter @VoiceOfIndie and @BeemWeeks. I enjoy indie films, loud music, and a well told story. Lansing, Michigan, USA.
Slivers Of Life
“Indecent liberties with a minor,” my mother explained, repeating the same words Danny Deagle sprinkled on us kids earlier in the day. “I don’t want you girls trick-or-treating at his house tonight.”
The old man at the end of the street, she meant. A swirl of new words followed him into our neighborhood—words shrouded in secrecy, in a thick fog of mystery. The simple ones I’d commit to memory, intending find them in the dictionary I got for my tenth birthday this past summer—a secret gift that nobody else knew about.
Perv—that’s the one I looked up last night, right before bed. Millicent, my older sister, she used it when telling Grandma Myron about the new neighbor in question. But if there’s such a word as perv, well, old Merriam-Webster hasn’t been told. I couldn’t find it to save my life.
“I ain’t going anywhere near that side of the street,” Millicent announced. “—not as long as he’s lurking down there.”
She’d go over there, though. Millicent thinks she’s hot you-know-what just because she’s thirteen now. Besides, every kid in the neighborhood wants to be the first one to walk up those front steps and ring the doorbell. You have to be seen doing it, though, or it won’t count for anything.
I tossed in a handful of words meant to be my two cents. “Danny Deagle says he got in trouble down in Kentucky before he got in trouble here in Ohio—that old man, I mean.”
Danny Deagle knows about these sorts of things. His stepdad is a cop.
My mother lit a fresh Marlboro and proclaimed, “He’s got no business staying on this street—not with all you kids around.” Thin lazy smoke slithered from her nostrils like twin snakes in search of a meal. “Don’t let me hear that you girls went trick-or-treating at his house.”
* * *
Millicent dressed as a belly dancer again—same as last Halloween and the one before that. She just likes the attention from boys like Danny Deagle and Jeff Brahm. But they like her only because she’s practically naked in her costume.
Me? I got stuck being a hobo again—even though my mother promised me I could be the belly dancer this year.
Millicent grabbed her pillowcase from the kitchen table and said, “Ready, dweeb?”
“You’re the dweeb,” I argued, snatching my own pillowcase.
My mother said, “Don’t stay out all night.”
We’d stay out as long as it took to fill those pillowcases to the full.
Danny Deagle met us in front of his house. Those gray eyes of his drank up Millicent like she’s cool water and he’s been thirsty for days. But he really couldn’t be blamed. Booty shorts and a sports bra, that’s all she wore underneath that sheer white fabric that left her belly bare and exposed.
Our father, before he remarried and moved to Cincinnati, wouldn’t have allowed one of his daughters to go traipsing through the neighborhood wearing only a couple of tissue papers.
But our father doesn’t come around anymore. And our mother, she won’t play the villain—as she likes to say. So Millicent gets away with murder.
Kids of all ages crisscrossed our neighborhood exchanging tricks for treats. Smarties and Sweettarts mingled with fun-sized Snickers and Milky Ways in the bottom of our pillowcases. And later, when we’d finally have to call it a night, Millicent would try to swindle me out of all of my Hershey’s Miniatures, offering junk like jelly beans and peanut butter chews for trade.
Billy Pinsler found us where Delbert Avenue and McCaully Drive cross. Billy’s my age—only shorter. “Anybody going to the perv’s house?” he asked.
Danny fixed me in his sight. “You’ll go up there, won’t you, Melanie?”
My head twisted left and right. “Mom said to stay away from his house,” I told him, knowing full-well he’d poke and prod until I agreed to answer his dare.
Danny’s good like that. He knows how to get kids to do what he’s too scared to do—only he’d never admit to being scared.
Millicent joined the push, said, “Since when do you listen to Mom?”
We were already there, bags half-full, in front of that house on the end of our street. I’d be the one going, as usual.
“Melanie won’t go,” Billy announced. “She’s too scared.”
My eyes found Millicent’s eyes. “You’re the one who’s half naked; why don’t you go up there?”
“Because the guy’s a perv, nimrod!” said Danny. “You want him to try something with her?”
And what about me?
I tossed my gaze toward that house. A lone porch light shined out of the dark.
“If I scream,” I said, walking to my demise, “you better run and call the cops.”
A fall breeze passed through the trees overhead, sending loose leaves gliding to the ground.
My legs went heavy and stiff, unwilling to move without provocation. Somewhere on that street a dog barked warnings at kids in costumes.
My body halted at the bottom step leading to the front door. I tossed a glance over my shoulder. Millicent, Danny, and Billy took refuge behind shrubs at the foot of the driveway.
“Ain’t gotta be scared,” the voice said, suddenly there like a spook in the night. “Just come on up. I won’t bite—except you want I should.”
A bead of sweat raced down my belly, which was stuffed with an old pillow to make me look fat.
Gray hair going thin twisted this way and that, like weeds, atop his head. Skinny, like maybe he’d been sick for a while.
My foot found the first step, brought us closer.
He asked, “You gonna say it?”
I would. It only seemed right. “Trick or treat.”
A laugh just like my father’s slipped past his lips. He kind of resembled him, too, around the eyes and nose.
“You say it with no real conviction, girl,” he said, almost accusing me of something.
The mouth of my pillowcase yawned wide, ready to swallow whatever treats he chose to dispense.
Two Hershey’s miniatures.
Mr. Goodbar and Krackle.
“Where’s your sister?” he wondered aloud, throwing his gaze like a pair of marbles down the driveway.
“Hiding,” I confessed, backing away.
But those eyes of his—cobalt blue, same as my father’s—took hold on me, wandered along my length as if sizing me for a new dress.
“You ’sposed to be a bum?” he asked.
Denim coveralls, a gray T-shirt that used to be white, and worn-out tennis shoes seemed the easiest of Halloween costumes to put together.
I corrected him, said, “A hobo.”
“Hobo, huh?” He waggled his finger, drew me closer to his grasp. “Take the rest of these,” he said, offering me the entire bowl of miniatures.
“What about the other kids?”
“Ain’t no other kids. You the only one come ’round tonight.”
It made my bag heavier and more than satisfied, this extra loot.
My voice came tight, higher-pitched than normal. “Thank you.”
“Polite—just like your daddy at that age.” The weight of his body found relief against the door frame. “Did you get the Merriam-Webster I sent for your birthday?”
My head tipped a nod, my voice said, “Thank you, Granddad.”
* * *
“Did he lose his goo over you?” Danny Deagle asked, acting like a big brother. “I’ll tell my stepdad if he did.”
“He didn’t,” I assured him, not really understanding what goo just might get lost.
Millicent’s gaze took hold on mine, passed words into my head, words demanding my silence on the matter.
Aloud, her words asked, “What’d he give you?”
“Jellybeans,” I told her. “Nothing but jellybeans.”
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