One story from what I hope will be a compilation of short stories. More on that later ;) See more of my scribblings on scribd.
He had done a pretty good paint job; the gun looked real – real enough to fool Mr. Wong and the three customers by the register. Wong didn’t recognize him, the mask ensured that- and as the old shopkeeper took the cash and placed it into a black plastic bag, Johnny felt a certain amount of remorse. The old man had always been kind, letting him take a few items on credit- even giving his daughter free snacks whenever they came to the grocery together. But today that didn’t matter. Johnny was four months behind on his rent and had to pay by Friday. A few snacks couldn’t change that. Items taken on trust wouldn’t help him to sell his art or get a “real job” like his mother wanted. Things had been salty for a year now- not because he wasn’t trying. A combination of unsuccessful interviews and people offering to pay him with “exposure” had crushed his spirit. For all his promise, all his talent- by society’s standards he had become a thirty year old nobody.
The cake and chocolate ripple ice cream were a welcome change from the depression of sardines and rice that had become the norm- and although Johnny couldn’t afford the bike his daughter wanted for her birthday, he knew how to improvise. A rusty frame Ms Ragbeer down the road didn’t want, some used tyres, black spray paint (Cherisse loved black), a few stickers and voila! Soon the nine year old was zipping around the two room apartment trying her best not to knock over her father’s collection of “junk”- old boxes filled with spare parts, toys, masks and other things of interest that Johnny thought might be useful in his artistic endeavours. On the other side of the room next to the small TV, some of the paintings and sculptures he hadn’t sold leaned against a wall. In another corner, encased in a plastic sheath, hung the clothes he wore to his last interview- the clothes he would wear to his next one. Trying to re-insert himself into the Matrix had proven to be problematic.
“Daddy, can we go outside with it?”
Cherisse recognized her father’s ironic tone and giggled as she moved towards the door. Before she could open it, there was a knock. A bailiff had arrived.
Wong’s old hands quaked as he packed the last of the cash at Johnny’s urging. It wasn’t a lot in truth- a thousand at most. Not enough for rent. Johnny wondered how people even survived on petty robberies, the idea of marking the store foreign to him.
“Doh stick old man!”
“Alright, just stay calm.”
As he grabbed the bag, Johnny took his eyes of the convex mirror mounted above the register. He didn’t notice Mr. Wong’s son approaching from behind with a bat. In a split second of violence the old man was ducking behind the counter and the customers were running for the door. With the first strike, Johnny’s arm went limp. The toy gun hit the terrazzo and broke into two pieces, each skidding in different directions. The plastic bag slid towards the exit. As more blows and curse words fell, Johnny willed himself to move. In a blur of blood and adrenaline, he grabbed the money and sprinted until his lungs burned.
Soon he was cradling his arm by the river near his daughter’s school. The spot was fairly secluded, and he had often gone there when seeking inspiration. As he sat catching his breath, he could hear the voices of playing children in the distance. School was over. His phone rang.
“Yes Miss Ragbeer, thanks so much for picking her up”
“Yes, that’s fine.”
“I’ll come get her in about an hour- running a little late.”
“Thanks again. Bye”
An hour would be enough to clean up and figure out how to hide his swollen and possibly broken arm. In the meantime, he rationalized that the money he now had could buy him another month. Enough time to sell some work online or on the streets and maybe secure another interview. Things were going to be alright. He reached for the change of clothes he had hidden in some nearby bushes.
It was only then that he realized he had lost his mask.
The General Manager seemed more interested in whom he knew than in his portfolio. Johnny knew then, that this was a dead end. As he entered the apartment the patronizing interview replayed in his head. He slumped to the floor trying not to break down.
“How the ass he go ask me dat!”
Angrily he ripped off his tie only to be bombarded by thoughts of the bailiff. The enforcer at least had a conscience that could be activated by a blue note- the last one in Johnny’s name.
“I only started working this week. I need more time.”
“Not my problem boss”
Johnny looked into the big man’s very dark shades. He only saw his own reflection.
He looked at the bailiff’s nametag.
“Please George, ah beggin’. Ease meh up.”
George thought about it for a long second. He scratched his face.
“Gimme something and we could talk after that.”
Johnny reached into his pocket and produced the bill. The bailiff scoffed but grabbed it anyway.
“Dat only givin’ yuh until Friday.”
Both conversations cycled through Johnny’s mind and he grew more and more frustrated with each pass. He thought about asking his family for help but he had relied on their charity enough over the last year. He couldn’t do it anymore. He could only take so much emasculation. Besides which, the “real job” talk would come up again. He definitely didn’t want to endure that. The apartment began spinning around him. His artwork, remnants of the birthday party, Cherisse’s bike all became annoyances. On the millionth spin, his eyes settled on his collection of junk- a toy gun, a gorilla mask and the rest of the black spray paint he had used on his daughter’s gift suddenly stood out.
Cherisse lay on the floor next to her bike. She had her English textbook open and was working on some sentence correction. This was her preferred homework position for today and Johnny didn’t challenge her on it. Once she got it done, it was fine by him. He sat nearby on the old couch, attempting to extend his injured arm. It wasn’t as swollen now, but moving it was agonizing. As he reached his pain threshold, he hoped he would never have to tell his daughter what he had done. For now, a long sleeved jersey concealed his shame.
The Police had been around -but as of yet, nobody had knocked on Johnny’s door. It was an uneasy peace. Was his face on camera? Were they just waiting for the right moment? Was it some procedural glitch that had granted him a temporary reprieve? Whatever the case, he planned to avoid the grocery indefinitely. The trek to the one in the town would be inconvenient-but he was fine with that. That was better than the guilt and fear he felt every time he thought about what he did. It was all for naught as well- after everything he had been through, another payment was due in a week. George wasn’t as sympathetic as he thought. The room began to spin again. Cherisse interrupted his daze.
“Is it cause and affect or cause and effect?”
“Effect is correct.”
“Just making sure. Thanks.”
She put her head down and continued with her work, while the fear of the inevitable continued to torment her father.