This is an example of Flash Fiction I sometimes use in my classes. I have a couple posts coming up that will refer to this and another piece, so I’m posting it in preparation.
“It’s only a small bit of change,” she said, tugging on her boyfriend’s arm with a sweet smile. Reluctantly, he stooped and dropped a few coins into the man’s cup.
“Bless you,” said the man, who sat cross-legged on the ground. “My daughter will really appreciate it.” He was middle-aged and looked convincingly deplorable. Before him was propped a tattered cardboard sign bearing the words: “Will work for food.”
It was getting toward dark so the man gathered his few possessions and headed for a private spot in a nearby alley. “Not a bad day,” he chuckled to himself as he finished counting his money. He tied the strings of his moneybag together with his dirty fingers. “It should be just enough.”
He put the moneybag in an old backpack and then donned the pack for travel. Walking slowly, he looked around the streets that he’d called home for nearly a year. He said good night to some familiar faces as he continued his reminiscent journey. He looked up at the tall buildings and apartments. He stopped to look in a shop window at a train set that ran its course endlessly. His heart ached as he recalled a similar set he had bought his daughter when she was young. They’d both laughed for hours as they took turns putting various toys on the train only for them to be knocked off at the bridge. An ache gripped his gut as he thought of the loss of her mother.
“What would you do, Tilly?” he mumbled, staring at the train, his filthy reflection superimposed in the glass. “I know you’d scold me, but our little girl’s in trouble and I don’t know what else to do.”
He took a deep breath and returned to current time; reality. Horns honking. People talking. Arguing. Vendors trying to sell their wares, though they never bothered the man with the tattered backpack. They waved but did not solicit; knowing from experience the man would buy nothing.
The shop was well known and respected, but it was the back door he used to make his purchase. He had thirty-seven cents left as he walked down the alley with his new prize; a gift for his daughter.
His walk led up to the steps of a shambles called “The Ritz Apartments”. He pushed the button and his daughter called down.
“It’s just me, Mandy,” he replied. “Can your old man come up for a minute?”
“Jack’s here,” she said timidly.
“Who are you talking to, moron?”
“It’s Dad, Jack,” she answered.
“It’s okay, Mandy,” said her dad. “I’d like to come up, if it’s okay. I brought you a present. It won’t take long.”
“Probably road kill,” said Jack mockingly in the background. “Useless old goat. Let him come up I guess. For a minute. Worthless fool. Why can’t he get a job?”
“Come on up, Daddy,” she said, and a buzzing sound declared that the building could now be entered.
Mandy said nothing and barely made eye contact as she opened the door for her dad. He could see that her eye was black and she was severely underweight; gaunt. She was thinner every time he saw her. Before he could say anything, Jack showed up at the door, irritated.
“A pan fell out of the cupboard and hit her in the eye,” he explained. “You’re daughter’s a grade-A klutz.”
Mandy stared at the floor as her dad stepped past her. A haze of stale, cheap cigarette smoke filled the small apartment, mingled with what smelled like tacos and old coffee.
“She’s got a lot to do, Roger,” Jack snapped. “The lazy cow didn’t do a thing today. So make it quick, old man. I’m sure you’ve got more pan handling to do.”
Jack stood waiting and an awkward silence filled the air. As usual, there was no offer to enter the apartment further than just inside the front door, which remained open.
“I got you something, Mandy,” Roger said with a soft smile. He pulled out a candy bar; her favorite. He held it out to her and she reached to take it.
SMACK! The sound of Jack slapping the candy bar out of her hand jolted Roger.
“Don’t give her that garbage. She’s fat enough! Get out of here, old man!”
“Just one more thing,” said Roger. Stepping in, he closed the door.
Sirens filled the streets as they always did on a Friday night. Roger could see his daughter, Mandy, staring blankly out the window, tears dripping past a subdued smile. She had her arms crossed over the front of a baggy flannel coat with a broken zipper as she rocked back and forth. Roger’s backpack sat at her feet. Roger couldn’t help but smile to himself.
“When did you purchase this firearm, Mr. Calvin?” The detective demanded.
“Just today, sir.” Roger was timid but truthful.
“In an alley.”
The officer looked at him in disbelief for a moment before removing his glasses.
“Why’d you do it?”
Roger looked over at his daughter.
“Do you have children, Detective Brooks?”
“Answer the question, Mr. Calvin.”
“The devil had my daughter,” he said, looking the detective in the eye with a decisive, strong gaze. “Now he’s in hell where he belongs.”
“So, you became police, judge and executioner. There are laws in place, Mr. Calvin. There are proper ways of dealing with men like Jack Bolton.”
“You mean, like the restraining orders that don’t work or the calls to the police that only got the man more fired up and violent?” Roger spat out.
“Mind who you’re speaking with or you’ll make things a whole lot worse,” Detective Brooks said.
“Yes, sir,” Roger said, lowering his voice and returning his gaze to his daughter. She looked so peaceful. She didn’t stare at the floor as she usually did, but rather out the window. It felt to Roger as if she was looking into a hopeful future.
“Well, you’ll have your time before the judge. You’ll probably never hug your daughter again. Was it worth it?” The officer was sarcastic and cold.
“I’ve done a lot of bad stuff in my life, sir. I’ve failed her so bad. But now she won’t get the crap beat out of her any more for something as stupid as dropping a pencil.” Roger spoke calmly and respectfully. “So, yeah, it was worth it. Even the death sentence would be worth it.”
Mandy walked out of the courthouse on a sunny day in July after she and her boyfriend, Ron, had visited her dad. They laughed as they talked.
“Can you spare some change?” said a middle-aged man sitting cross-legged on the sidewalk.
Mandy smiled at Ron.
“All I have is thirty-seven cents,” said Ron.
“Sometimes all it takes is a small bit,” she said, taking it from Ron and dropping it into the man’s hand.
“Bless you,” said the man. “My daughter will really appreciate it.”
“I’m sure she will,” said Mandy.
Copyright Shai Adair