In Clover - a Short Story by Marc Shapiro
The concept of 'making it' boils down to where you're at.
Henry rounded the corner into the tumbledown quadplex on the south side of town. He was dragging ass, hot and sweaty. The plastic trash bag, slung high on his back, was beating a numbing tattoo on his shoulder blades. He took the last of the broken stone pathway in a staggering shuffle and finally found the door - way in the back where the sun did not shine.
He was home but it was hardly sweet.
It was a shoddy add-on by a greedy developer. Barely a studio, it stood a cracked, chipped, crumbling edifice around a door that was peeling paint and a doorknob that was hanging by a thread. The windows were cracked, forming odd surreal landscapes. He had done the best he could on the inside with tarpaper and duct tape to no avail. Henry kicked open the door and shuffled inside…
Where he found June sprawled out on the couch that doubled as a fold out bed. He gave her a dejected humph. June gave him a glazed thousand-mile stare and held out her hand, flicking her fingers up into a curled position, the classic shorthand for ‘where’s mine?’ Henry tossed the trash bag into a dark corner and reached into his pants pocket. He pulled out a wad of folded up bills and a handful of change and, with an exaggerated gesture that equated with bored royalty, he dropped the money into June’s hand.
June sniffed at the day’s take. Not bad. It would get them a couple of items off the dollar menu and a couple of bottles of Night Train. They still needed another twenty to cover next week’s rent but this would at least get them through tomorrow.
June stood up. Her body had held together fairly well. Henry saw exactly what had attracted him to June in the first place. She stuffed the money into her tight jeans, stretched and went out the open door, slamming it with an exaggerated crash.
Henry hit the crapper, found a swallow left in last night’s Night Train bottle and downed it. He stared, eyes a glaze at the filth, grime and poverty that seemed to close in further every day. But Henry had seen worse and June was a good sport about it all. At least she had been to this point.
They had met at the all night Bottle Locker around the corner at around 2 a.m. He found her outside the door, panhandling other drunks for enough for a six pack of the cheapest stuff in the place. As fate would have it, so was he. A deal was struck. They would pool their change for a clutch of cans of the cheap stuff and then go back to his place for a nightcap. The booze was just this side of piss. But everything that came after was aces. By the next morning June had moved in and a division of labor was hammered out.
Henry would go out into the world each morning and, figuratively, hunt. Dumpster diving, coin return slots and the occasional found-wallets outside of bars were his main trophies. Then he would finish up at the recycling plant where he would cash out for the day. Then it was home and hand over the day’s take for June to go out and replenish the larder. So far everything was working out. They were living so far from the edge that they were hanging on by a fingernail. But they were living in bliss.
His thoughts were interrupted by the sound of June doing her best Henry imitation and kicking open the door and sauntering in with a couple of brown paper bags which she proceeded to lay out between them on the couch. Two Mc-somethings on sesame seed buns and a couple of Night Train Lights. They began to munch and drag. After a moment, Henry matter-of-factly told June that he had something to discuss with her.
June looked him in his blood shot eyes. She made a joke about packing her bags and catching the midnight train to Georgia. Henry chuckled and belched. No it was nothing like that. He was quite happy with their situation.
But he had run into somebody on the trail today that had hipped him to a new day-labor shack that had opened a few blocks down the road and that they were looking for people who would do shit work for shit pay. June sized him up for a minute and then cut to the chase. Henry smiled a tight smile. $20 a day. Five days guaranteed. Mentally they both knew what it meant. Not much. But at least it would keep this poor excuse of a roof over their heads. And neither was looking forward to going back on the streets.
They talked it out for the rest of the night, unfolded the hideaway bed and generated some skin heat. Then they decided to think about it.
Henry awoke first as was his routine. He slipped on his trash-picking clothes and turned to look at June who was still sawing wood and had kicked the blankets off. Henry surveyed her long, lean form. He picked up his plastic trash bag and walked out into the early morning haze. Henry had decided as only Henry could. If he made at least $20 today, he would continue on as a man of leisure. If he made less…
…Then he would become a working stiff.
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Photo courtesy of Khachik Simonian.