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by Liam Sweeny

Bethany brings me a burrito every Sunday brunch, side of corn, dollop of sour cream. It’s always hot, even on the bustlin’ days when she doesn’t get out till quarter of four. I wait, a suit on my back from Goodwill that must’ve hung on an English teacher, by the elbow patches. I have a paper, freshly stolen every day from the gas shop by the bridge. I read because sometimes I like to pretend I have an opinion about the economy. I read to be the noble savage, because Sal would’ve called the cops long ago on the pure savage.

***

I don’t talk, save for the simple pleasantries that form the secret handshakes of polite society. But I sit, smoking cigarettes when it’s slow outside. And I think of all the muck of the week; the stares, the lies I tell others, and myself. How I’m living free and don’t have to sit in a cubicle, or take a hot shower, or clean a bedroom. But every day she comes, and I see her lithe frame, her shoulder-length brown hair, scrunchy button nose, and pursed lips that hide an iron-melting smile; I’ve seen it, on occasion. But when she comes to me, she sets the plate down, and my eyes meet hers, well up just so much, and her lips part just so much that I think today will be the day she says something, or maybe I will.

***

But we leave each moment of those days unspoken.

***

I walk in the cold weather. It keeps the blood flowing, and the dreariness trailing to catch up. In a city like New Rhodes, you can always find places to walk, and walk over fifteen times and still be anonymous. But I like to find the secret places, and have spent a night or two in the city jail on a trespassing charge. So I guess I shouldn’t have been surprised when I saw a minivan down at the end of Crenmar Street, an offshoot of Grand Street that’s tucked in the city’s guts. It had a rack sticking off of it, the minivan, that is, and a figure was hunched over, rifling through whatever accoutrements lay inside.

***

I’ve seen enough to know that this was the not-quite-homeless van — air mattress in the back, all of your life’s possessions in transit between the front seat, passenger seat and back in the waking hours.

***

It looked like a woman, but hard to tell. I thought of backing away, but that could’ve come off worse. So I kept going, trying to drift.

***

Trying. Until she got out of the van, her lithe body moving about the racks of clothes with equal parts delicacy and urgency. She turned to look at me. Her eyes widened. So did mine, to be truthful. Her eyes welled, just so slightly. Her lips parted, but not before I gave what a year of glorious Sundays could not pluck from my vocal chords.

***

“Bethany,” I said.


Liam Sweeny is an author and short-story writer from upstate New York. His work has appeared online and in print in such periodicals as Thuglit, Pulp Modern, Spinetingler Magazine, All Due Respect and The Flash Fiction Offensive. His collection of shorts, Dead Man’s Switch, and the first in his Jack LeClere detective novels, Welcome Back, Jack, are available in most online retailers.

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