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
When Daddy said, “Don’t look at her, Mattie,” he meant the dirty lady in the park near the ice cream stand. But I didn’t see any harm in a quick peek in her direction. It’s not like she might be a witch, ready to turn me into a flying monkey just because I saw her with my own two eyes.
Problem is, a peek turned into a gawk—a gawk of which she became aware!
“Why are you staring at me, little girl?” the grubby old woman asked, coming closer to me and Daddy, right where we were standing, waiting in line for our ice cream cones.
I tried to play like I hadn’t even noticed her.
She knew better, though. “You got a cigarette for me?” she asked Daddy.
Daddy doesn’t smoke, though. And he said as much.
Her dull gray gaze attached itself to me again. “What about you, Shirley Temple? Can you spare a puff?”
“I don’t smoke,” I told her, trying my hardest not to stare. “Who’s Shirley Temple?”
Daddy interrupted, said, “I’ll tell you all about Shirley Temple when we get home, Mattie.”
The lady didn’t take any of Daddy’s hints—like the way he just practically ignored her. She doubled down and went to talking at me like maybe somehow I owed her that cigarette she so badly wanted. “How is it you don’t smoke, little Mattie?”
Just hearing my name spoken through her lips put a startle inside of my chest—like when Mrs. Dandell calls on me to answer a question in front of the whole class, knowing full-well I was too busy talking to Allison Spitzley and couldn’t possibly know the answer.
“I don’t smoke because I’m only eight years old,” I heard myself tell her.
She made that tisk-tisk sound Mama hates to hear coming from me when I’m having one of my moods.
The lady said, “I smoked my first cigarette when I was just your age. Didn’t do me any harm.”
Her bones rattled in protest against a deep cough that jumped from her mouth.
The man inside the ice cream shop stuck his head through the little window, grabbed at the lady with just his gaze, and said, “Is she bothering you folks?”
Daddy started to register his own complaint, but I jumped in first and told the ice cream man to mind his own business. Well, I didn’t say it exactly that way—I’m not looking to get the paddle.
“She’s not bothering anybody,” is what I actually said to the man.
Dirty looks fell on me from Daddy.
I didn’t care, though. The lady didn’t have anywhere to live—from the looks of it.
Greasy hair that might have been blond—like mine—hung down to her shoulders in a crooked cut. Blue jeans with holes in the knees stayed put only because of a length of rope tied around her waist. The shirt, though, that belonged to a man called Freddie. It even said so on the patch just above her heart. The patch on the other side read Sunoco. Gray as her eyes, that shirt—except for big old oil spots tossed here and there.
“Okay, you don’t have a cigarette,” she said, tugging at those jeans, fighting to keep them from letting her down. “How about a dollar? Can you spare a buck?”
The smell coming off her reminded me of Teddy Kominski’s poodle named Turks—back when he got the mange and stunk up the room whenever he came inside the house.
I didn’t have a dollar. I only carried the five-dollar bill Daddy gave me for my allowance just this morning. And I intended to spend that over to the arcade.
“Who gave you that ring?” I asked, meaning the big sparkly stone on her left hand. I really only meant to make her forget about asking me for money.
Her eyes approached the jewel as if seeing it for the very first time. “This,” she said in a tone as soft as my cat Lucy, “came from my husband Bennie.”
Daddy put in our order—two cones, both cookie dough ice cream—and waited at the window, certain to keep his eyes on the old lady.
“You have a husband?” I asked, looking around like I might actually see him waiting somewhere in that park.
“Not no more, I don’t.” Her hand slipped behind her, as if trying to hide. “He got off to somewhere a long time ago. I ain’t seen him in a coon’s age.”
“Is it a real diamond?” I didn’t mean to be nosy; it just seems she could sell it and get enough money to last for a while.
“Zirconia. Bennie always was a cheapskate.”
“Time to head over to the arcade,” Daddy announced, handing me my ice cream cone.
I waited until he went back for napkins before asking the lady about where she lives.
“I sleep in a mansion, little girl,” she said, spreading her arms wide. “This park is all mine when the sun goes down.”
I don’t know about most people, but the idea of somebody having nobody bothers me even worse than stupid old Jimmy Swayzak bothers me at recess—and Jimmy’s plenty bad enough, let me tell you.
I asked, “You sleep in the park?”
She dropped a nod.
I dug deeper. “All alone?”
Another nod fell to the ground between us.
Daddy took to talking to Mr. Cromartie, the park policeman, like maybe he no longer felt the need to keep an eye on the lady.
My hand slipped inside my dress pocket; crisp paper teased my fingertips. “How’d you come to be all alone in this world?”
Certainly not the sort of question an eight-year-old girl ought to be asking a grown-up.
The lady, she took no offense in the matter. She said, “I don’t really know. It all happened so suddenly.”
Daddy’s attention discovered me all over again. He hollered, “Come on, Mattie girl; let’s go spend your allowance.”
It happened so quickly, the way my hand flew from my pocket, money and all, and landed in the lady’s hand. “Take this,” I said, scrambling toward my father.
“You don’t ever want to talk to people like that,” Daddy said, aiming us toward the arcade. “We know nothing about her.”
Usually, I always trust Daddy, him being a preacher and all. But in this, well—I suspect even preachers can be wrong sometimes!
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