Context: This story was inspired by some tales I've heard lately hanging around Joe's garage. He and his buddies have known some interesting people in their time. I have several others simmering in my mind; at this rate I may end up with a book's worth of short stories. Please note that Joe is NOT in this story.
He hesitated before turning the corner, listening for the sound of metal on metal. If they were busy, chances were better that he could rummage around in relative peace. The noise level reassured him. He shuffled out a few feet and peered around the wall through the massive glass doors that shielded the interior from the frigid Michigan winter. Every hoist was filled, the mechanics' bent forms shadowed by the vehicles poised high above the floor.
He moved forward again, ducking beneath the one door still raised from admitting a customer's truck. He moved to the barrels by the wall and began rummaging through the oily rags and empty canisters for the plastic and aluminum he sought. Quite a haul today. Soon the ancient saddlebags slung across his shoulders were bulging, the flaps barely able to conceal the hidden loot. He shifted to accommodate the new bulk, the linked keyring straps rasping.
"Hey, Ironsides!" The voice was jovial but contained a dangerous edge. "What the f--- you doing over there? Lookin' for donuts again?"
He ducked his head, saying nothing, rooted where he stood.
"You can stop lookin'. We saved a few just for you!" The speaker walked into view from around the Ford F150 waiting for service. He held a battered pastry box at arm's length, his face twisted into a smile. His eyes glinted a flinty grey amidst the grime.
He ducked his head again, shifted his saddlebags, and gingerly grasped the box, gripping it tighter as the other man suddenly loosed his hold. He clutched it close to his chest, then shuffled back out the door to sit on the curb. His muddy eyes flickered back toward the shop, where a knot of men had gathered, grinning and muttering low comments to each other. He edged the lid of the box open, jerking his head back a moment at the stench that rose from its interior.
Five donuts sat in battered gloom in one corner, huddled away from the grotesque curl of stinking brown nestled in the center. He stared, motionless, caught for a moment. From the doorway came a burst of laughter.
"What's wrong, Saddlebags?" the mocking voice rang out. "Ain't you gonna eat them? What kind of gratitude is that? That'll teach me to do you a favor."
His eyes flickered up to the door again, then back to the pastries. His thick fingers moved into the box, caked fingernails flaking as they brushed against the half-raised lid. He selected the mangled, oozing jelly donut closest to him and lifted it to his mouth, heavy tongue swiping the saccharine dribbles of strawberry filling as they spilled over his thumb. Chipped, stained teeth bit deep. The cake was faintly stale, the jelly thick and cloying. He chewed stolidly, swallowed, and raised his eyes again to the men laughing and clapping each others' shoulders.
"You sick freak!" one of them called out. Perhaps it was the man who had given him the box; perhaps not. They were all the same.
He stood, bags clunking flatly against each other, box tucked carefully under one elbow, and shuffled toward the bus stop. The bins there were often filled with recyclables from the many passengers who came and waited and went. He already had the fare he needed to head down to his next area, the one closest to his biggest stash.
His mind moved momentarily to a flash of green and beige, rectangles of much-abused paper in stack upon stack, and another of grocery bags filled to bulging with silvered disks. The mice had been moving in again. Perhaps he would have to use a little of what he would get today from the contents of his saddlebags to purchase some traps. He should be able to find some cheese in the dumpsters behind the Kroger down the way; he had been planning on searching them for some dinner later anyhow.
He shifted his bags once more and absentmindedly reached for a chocolate glazed donut, most of the glaze smeared on the cardboard in sweet parody of the lump of waste now freezing in the ditch next to the shop. The men's laughter had already faded in his mind, joining the echoes of countless other voices left behind over the years.
3 years ago