This story is by A.C. Wolfe and was part of our 2018 Summer Writing Contest. You can find all the writing contest stories here.
I would give anything to avoid people, their judging stares as if I am contagious. As if I could make them lose their homes as I lost mine.
“Daniel, where you been?” asked Biggs, a street friend.
“At the bar, dummy. Spending all our money. Again.” Tiff gives me a glare.
“Sorry.” I muttered sheepishly.
“It’s fine.” Biggs jingles his pocket. “This is why I am in charge of the money, though.”
“Excuse me?” Tiff mutters. “Why can’t I handle it?”
“Cause we do not want a repeat of last year. When you bought all that food and it made us sick? Please tell me you didn’t forget.”
“You guys won’t let me,” she muttered. Mostly everything she said was muttered. But almost everything was correct, as well.
“So, What are we gon’ do?” Biggs asked. I paced over to my cardboard bed, curling up on it and ignoring the wind.
“Sleep,” I moaned.
That morning, the sound of a garbage truck woke me up. The dizzying sun told me that it was late, which meant that, if they were smart, Tiff and Biggs would already be at the street. I stood up unsteadily to join them when a rock bounced onto the ground below me, narrowly missing my head.
“Hey Dan!” Tiff calls down. Tiff is definitely a morning person. She’s always in a better mood when she wakes up.
“Aww,” Biggs groaned. “That would’ve been more fun if it had hit him in the head.” I grinned.
“Hi. How’d you get up there?”
“We climbed.” Biggs poked his head over the edge and slid a metal ladder down to the ground. I climbed the ladder, a little shakily because of my headache, and thudded down next to Biggs and Tiff. Looking out at the view did not help the dizzy feeling. You could see the whole city if you looked left or right, and when you looked forwards, you could see into the other building framing the alleyway I called home. People were already at work, which meant it was probably around eight or nine. I missed ordinary office jobs. I had one, before this. Cue a vague gesture to my life. The scream of a cop car broke through our meditation session, and before we could move, cars were on either end of the alley, and people were getting out.
“Shit,” Biggs hissed. We crouched down, hoping that the fire escape would be enough to hide us. It seemed to be, but it didn’t hide our stuff, which the cops threw into a dumpster. The cops, after trashing everything, got back into their cars and left.
“And that would be our cue to leave,” said Tiff, yanking the ladder down. She was halfway done climbing before me and Biggs moved. We ran together, away from the alley. Although the cars were driving away, I could still hear the faint sound of sirens. Moving wasn’t unusual for us, but it still bothered me every time. It was as if the universe had decided I couldn’t even have anything resembling a home.
“Run,” Biggs panted, “Cops hate me, I’m black.”
“Cops hate me, I’m a woman,” Tiff countered.
“Cops hate all of us, we’re homeless.”
We ran down several streets on nothing but instinct, until the sounds of sirens faded. I found myself looking into the reflective surface of a window to a coffee shop. Several families hovered inside, which made my heart ache. My reflection, and Biggs’ and Tiff’s, were hovering around them like ghosts. Tiff’s red hair was plastered down with sweat from our morning run, Biggs’ dreadlocks were covered by a dingy hat, and my sandy blonde hair was dirty and in desperate need of a haircut.
“Who’s that guy?” asked Biggs, pointing at a man who was giving out slips to some other hobos feet away from us. We jogged up to him, our brains still in running mode, and I saw one of the slips fall out of someone’s hand. I picked it off of the ground and studied it. It was coral pink, and so bright it almost hurt my eyes.
Are you in need of a home? Money? Support? You may be eligible for money from the state.
At the bottom, there was a phone number that we were instructed to call, which I found ironic because I didn’t have a phone. I dropped the flyer to the ground as we approached the man. He gave us slips that were yellow, not much better than the pink color because they still hurt my eyes, but it said the same thing.
We managed to put together enough money for three calls at a payphone, though not for very long. I was nominated to go first, although why Tiff and Biggs decided that, I didn’t know.
“Hello, who do you want to call?” a mechanical, female sounding voice rang out. I read her the number on the flyer and a long, droning beep sounded.
“Name?” a bored voice asked.
“None.” They asked me a long series of other questions, the answers to which were mostly “None.”
Biggs and Tiff went through the same process, and a week later a man in a suit came up to us at a meeting place we were instructed to go to.
“Would you be Biggs, Tiffany, and Daniel?”
“Yes,” we chorused. He handed yet another slip of paper. This time, it was blue. It was something telling us to redeem an apartment, relatively cheap but still a step up.
The first thing I did with my apartment (and soon after, job) was go see my wife, and daughter Emily. They shut me out of their life after my drinking made me violent. I couldn’t blame them. Then, I got evicted from my house and ended up on the streets. And now I was here, where my wife and child had made their life without me.
“You sure you wanna do this, man?” Biggs asks. He’s a worrywart.
“I’m sure.” I walk up to the door of the house, a lot nicer than the one we used to have, and ring the doorbell. Margaret answered.
“Marge…” She narrows her eyes. Emily, eyes wide, darts out from behind Margaret and latches her arms around my waist.
“Daddy!” I smiled and hoisted her up.
“Hey, Emily. Have you been good for Mommy?”
“Yes.” She shows me a crooked smile. “I lost my first tooth!” I laughed.
“Yes, you did! Awesome!”
“Sweetie, can you go inside for a moment? I need to talk to Daddy.”
Marge only spoke after Emily was inside.
“Are you still drinking?” She got right to the point.
“Well, yes, but—”
“Save it. I am not letting you influence my daughter with alcohol. I will not let you hurt us.”
“Goodbye. Until you quit, we’re through.” I resisted the urge to scream at her, knowing that it was the alcohol talking.
“Goodbye,” I whispered. As I walked to the car, I heard Emily say:
“Did Daddy leave?”
“Yes, honey. But he’ll be back.” I hoped she was right.
Nobody was as surprised as I was that I took care of my home. I recycled my bottles and everything, although I knew that doing so didn’t make up for drinking them in the first place. Draining the last sips from the bottle I was holding, my intoxicated self threw the bottle at the recycling can. Not surprisingly, I missed and the bottle smashed into the floor.
“Damn it,” I muttered. I turned away and my eye was drawn to a photo of Emily and Marge. Emily was holding Marge’s hand, smiling. I absently traced a shaking hand over Emily’s dimples. It was the last photo Marge had sent me before she had decided I was unable to change. The memory forced bile into my throat, and I swallowed it down. My feet shuffled over to the couch, and as my eyes shut under the force of the hangover, I had one last thought.
Tomorrow I am going to change.
I awoke to the sound of the phone ringing, and glass impaled my foot. As I bandaged up my foot and threw out the glass shards and all the other bottles in the house, the pain sharpened my focus that today, I would get help. On the phone was Biggs, asking if I could head over to the park. I found them there easily.
“Yo! What’s up?”
“Nothing much. You?” Biggs replied.
“I’m on the road to quitting, I think.”
“About time,” muttered Tiff.
“We could steal your money to make sure you don’t buy any more?” Biggs proposed.
“Why not get a counselor?” Tiff suggested.
Her suggestion introduced me to Greg, an addiction counselor. I would even go further to say he’s a friend. It was frustrating, but worth it when Emily could have the father she deserved.
And I realized something else, too.
I was happy.