Friday, June 11, 2010

#fridayflash~The Shabby Man

The Shabby Man

The shabby man limped down the quiet street, pushing his shopping cart with great deliberation. Three wheels rattled on the pavement while the fourth rotated uselessly. Wide maples lined the manicured lawns on both side of the street but they offered the thin, bearded man little protection from the relentless sun.

A cleaning woman walked up the paving stone driveway to Number 67 as she did every Friday morning. She waved to the shabby man and shouted, “How you doing today, Marco?”

He released his grip on the handlebar and returned her wave; the morning sun glinted off the prosthetic steel hook where his hand had once been.

Marco heard a gentle hum behind him. He ignored the car and continued slowly down the center of the street as his rubber boots scuffed off the asphalt. The driver leaned on the horn, causing Marco to flinch, and he slowly made his way to the curb. The Mercedes passed him and pulled into the driveway at Number 38. A young man emerged from the car and pulled a set of golf clubs from the trunk.

The shabby man stopped in front of the young man’s house and removed his tattered overcoat, placing it with care over the handle of his cart.

“Scram, ya bum,” the young man said, a hint of menace in his deep voice. His slicked back hair fell behind the upturned collar of his golf shirt. He pointed at the shabby man, “Are ya deaf? Move along, asshole!” Marco detected a slight quiver in the young man’s hand as he pointed an accusatory finger. His other hand reached towards the handle of a golf club protruding from the bag.

The shabby man considered arguing with the young man, or perhaps even pissing on his lawn, but glanced at his cart and decided he couldn't afford to lose the cash from the recyclables. He didn't want to end up in jail again either. He gave the young man the evil eye for a few seconds and then wordlessly pushed his cart away.

Marco continued down the street and noticed an old man working in an open garage at Number 7. He paused to watch the man spill a plastic bucket of tin cans into a clear plastic bag. Many of the tins missed the mark and clattered on the concrete floor. The old man glanced at Marco for a moment but continued his work. The shabby man began to push his cart forward when the old man shouted to him from the garage.

“Hey, hold up a second,” he said, shuffling down the driveway. “That’s quite a collection of recyclables you’ve got there.”

Marco shrugged. “I’ve been collecting them from the streets and parks since last week.”

“That should get you a bit of money.”

“Yes, sir. At least 12 or 14 bucks I reckon.”

“What will you do with the money?”

“I’ll buy some cheese and meat. It’ll get me by until my next cheque.”

“Very good. I notice you pass by here regularly. Maybe you can help me out.”

Marco shrugged. “What do you want?”

“I was going to haul these bags to the recycle depot, but I’d spend a half hour waiting in line and I’d burn up more in gas getting there than what I’d make. Could you take these in for me?”

Marco eyed the man suspiciously. “I suppose…do I get to keep the money?”

“Yes, of course,” the old man said with a chuckle. “And here’s something extra for helping me out.” He offered the shabby man a folded up five dollar bill. Marco used his hook to gingerly pinch the money from the man’s fingers and slip it into his shirt pocket.

“The name’s Mitchell, by the way,” said the gaunt, old man. Marco nodded in return, noticing the old man’s yellowed skin.

The men hauled four bags of recyclables down the driveway and Marco piled them high atop the collection already in the shopping cart. Mitchell waved goodbye to Marco from the garage. As Marco waved back he noticed a grey-haired woman watching from an upper window of the house.

For the next several Fridays, Marco found clear bags of recyclables half way up Mitchell’s driveway. There was always a small envelope taped to one of the bags with a crisp five dollar bill folded inside. The grey-haired woman always peeked from the upstairs window as he loaded the bags in his cart.

One chilly, October morning Marco discovered no bags awaiting him. As he stared at the empty driveway the wind caused the curled, brown leaves to whisper around his boots. The sound reminded him of the desert sand during the war. He continued on his mission.

The next Friday there were still no bags. And none the week after that. Marco figured the grey-haired woman had finally put an end to his arrangement with Mitchell.

By mid-November, Marco had layered another jacket on top of his winter coat and wore a black toque to keep his head warm. The street was lined with cars down both sides. He noticed an elderly couple carrying a dish of food up to the front door of Number 7. The old grey-haired lady greeted them with a tight-lipped smile and glanced past them at Marco. He nodded and continued up the street to the recycling depot.

After collecting his money, Marco stopped into the dollar store and bought a bouquet of plastic flowers. He polished up a small sheet of tin he had found in a garbage can and fashioned it into the shape of a heart and slipped it over the stems of the daisies. He left the arrangement at the front door of Number 7 and pushed his cart back towards the men’s shelter.

The following Friday, Marco found a bag of recyclables in the driveway of Mitchell’s place. He opened the attached envelope and found a five dollar bill and small scrap of paper. ‘Thank you’ was written in small, precise letters. Marco glanced at the upstairs window and noticed the curtains flutter. The shabby man tucked the note and money into his shirt pocket with his hook and slowly pushed his cart towards the depot.


Anonymous said...

Oh, Alan, you've put tears in my eyes. What a sad and ultimately lovely story. I just want to give Marco a big old hug. And sweet Mitchell and his wife.

Beautiful story.

Marisa Birns said...

What a tender story! *sniff*

Mitchell was such a lovely person, helping out Marco and letting him keep his dignity.

And fashioning a heart out of the tin? *sob*

Aaron Polson said...

Great piece, Alan. And I love the image--perfect match. Thanks for sharing.

Anonymous said...

Loved it. Eye-watering.

K.Hinny said...

Wonderful piece Alan! Thank you so much for sharing it.

John Wiswell said...

This was too good, Alan. You're too good at this. In another story you might cut the kid with slicked hair harrassing him, but not here. Here you have me worried that you'll be evil through that kid. The same with the offer of recyclables. God bless you for not making his life even worse. The details - the casual mention of his missing hand and of the war - seem effortless. Lots of flash fiction try to be sad. Melancholy is up there with surprise twists for popular themes. But this is actually heartwrenching without having to resort to a single cruel trick.

kathryn said...

Oh...what an endearing story. I especially loved the line about the leaves to "whisper around his boots"...fabulous.

I could picture it all...and my heart ached a little for poor Mitchell...

Sulci Collective said...

There is a very refined, dignified poignancy to this tale. Well done indeed.

marc nash

Joanie Rich said...

Excellently written. I loved the details about the plastic bags with the envelopes attached and the woman in the window. I could see it all clearly in my head, didn't even need the visual at all. The casserole dish and flowers said plenty, proving you can say a lot without dialogue. Thanks for sharing this story!

Laura Eno said...

Rich in detail! You old softie *sniff*

Michael Solender said...

the small things that bring/restore dignity. a nice modern fable here alan, very controlled and polished write

Debbie said...

Wonderful story Alan. I could see every detail so clearly. Just wonderful.

Alan W. Davidson said...

Gracie- Thanks for the kind words.

Marisa- Stop it! *Sniff* or you'll get me started too.

Aaron- Thank you, sir. It took a bit of digging for the image but it was worth the search.

Anton- Thanks. The eye is probably watering because you need to take your contact lens out...

Kara- You're welcome. And thank you for taking the time to read it.

John- Thanks for that feedback. I often wonder if I'm giving enough detail for the reader to 'get' what I'm visualizing.

Kathryn- I'm glad you could visualize what I was trying to say. Thanks for the kind words.

Marc- Poignancy...I like that word. Thanks very much for the compliment.

Joanie- That's a good observation about 'saying a lot without dialogue'. I wonder sometimes if I'm not using enough dialogue (ie. relying too much on scene description). Thanks for the feedback and the kind words.

Laura- Thank you! *Sniffs* Hey! Who you callin' old!

Michael- Thanks for the kind words, sir.

Debbie- Hey, long time no chat! I'll send you a proper email soon. I'm glad you liked the story.

Mark Kerstetter said...

Lots of lovely details, like the whispering sand around his boots and continuing on his mission. I was completely entranced the whole way.

Bukowski's Basement said...

Alan... Really really enjoyed this. I love the heartwarming tenderness of it. Can't wait to see more from you.

Jarmara Falconer said...

I loved it! What a great storyteller you are, Alan. More please!

pegjet said...

A quiet, gentle story. Someday, I'll be deft enough to pen one of these. Until the, I'll sigh and savor yours.

As the others said, the details pull the reader in, and the "showing" rather than "telling" tell so much more.

(We both touched on homeless people this week, but with two totally different stories. BTW, thanks for catching my mistake.)

mazzz_in_Leeds said...

Awwww, sad and so very sweet at the same time.

And I got totally immersed in the story, to the extent it took my mind away from my home country Greece's appalling performance against S Korea!

Anonymous said...

Alan, this is one of the most beautiful, heartwrenching stories I've ever read. Thank you.

Sam said...

Beautiful, poetic, powerful, moving. I have atear in my eye. What more can I say. Bravo!

Tomara Armstrong said...

A beautiful story... left me a little misty-eyed.

Natalie L. Sin said...

That was beautiful.

Pamila Payne said...

This was really lovely. It showed the way people's lives can be touched by strangers and made less lonely by small gestures. It was sweet without being too sentimental.

Alan W. Davidson said...

Mark- Thanks a lot. The 'whispering sand' was the only literary touch I could come up with for this piece.

Anthony- Thanks, I'm glad you liked it. I'm going to try and buckle down and contribute more to the Fridayflash scene.

Jarmara- Thank you for your kind words!

Peggy- That's really kind of you to say that. I really enjoy your regular stories as well. The name business...I'm guilty of changing a character name while editing and missing one...all the time (I rely on the first readers to point these sorts of things out to me).

Mazz- I'm glad it helped take your mind of the Greek business...It threw a small wrench into my WC pool selection...

Deanna- That's very kind of you to say that!

Sam- Thank very much for the compliment, sir.

Tomara- I'm glad you liked it. Thanks!

Nat- Thanks, kindly, ma'am.

Pamila- That's a great observation. And thanks very much!

Cathy Olliffe said...

Hi Alan! Yay for you for writing a flash! Glad to hear you say you're going to be writing more of them. This was a beauty, Sir Alan, rich with tenderness but nothing cloying. Just simple storytelling, told well. i read it out loud to Dave and he liked it, too.
That golfer was a true arsehole, wasn't he?

Gillian said...

Brilliantly written...

Lou Freshwater said...

What a gift to have the invisible made visible. Well done.

PJ said...

Very nice story. Others have said the key things i would mention - terrific job of showing and not getting caught up in explaining. Very sweet and tender :-)

Eric J. Krause said...

Excellent, touching story. Nice things all around in this one. Well done!

Karen from Mentor said...

Loved this piece Alan. I had to read it twice just to soak up all the details.
Wonderfully vivid.

katey said...

Yeah, this was beautifully vivid and made my eyes water. You are really, really good at this flash thing, my friend. Thanks so much for sharing them with us, it makes my day!

Alan W. Davidson said...

Cathy- I should have Marco brain the golf guy with one of his own clubs.

Gillian- Thanks very much.

Lou- That's really nice of you to say!

PJ- Thanks for the kind words.

Eric- Glad you liked the story.

Karen- That's sweet. Thanks a lot.

Katey- I'm glad you think so. I guess I don't have the stomach for novels right now that you do!

Danielle Ferries said...

Sorry I'm late. Very nicely done, Alan.

Anonymous said...

I just thought of this - hey, normally it's the golfer with the handicap! Okay, that is all.

Laurita said...

That's a really lovely story, Alan. Wonderful details and character development in such a short piece.