Benny paced from the ATM to the lotto machine and then back again. He looked at his watch for the fifth time in the last two minutes then glanced up at the big clock on the wall. It was twenty minutes to five. He stared at the middle-aged women behind the counter and frowned.
“Did it come in yet?” he asked, slapping his right palm on the counter.
The woman glanced to her right at a white machine. “Nope,” she said and went back to her magazine.
Benny took a deep breath and walked over to the magazine rack to grab one for himself. He chose one with a bikini-clad model on the front and leaned against the wall. Barbara had never cut it this close before. She always wired the money well before five. Benny took another peek at the woman behind the counter and then began turning pages.
He hated having to rely on his sister just to get by, absolutely hated it. But after he was released from prison, finding a job — besides the occasional day-work on a construction site — proved nearly impossible. Every application he filled out, even for a cart-collecting job at a supermarket, this supermarket actually, had that question on it: “Have you ever been convicted of a felony?” And then there was always that ridiculous caveat: “Answering ‘yes’ does not necessarily preclude you from employment.” Bullshit.
The first time Benny read that one he laughed and put an x in the “No” box. Who’s going to check? But they did. Because everybody was convinced everybody else was a terrorist, even someone who just wanted to sweep floors for $5.50 an hour, they checked.
But what was the alternative? When he handed in his application for a delivery job, the manager looked it over briefly and stopped, Benny could tell, when she saw the box marked “Yes.” She didn’t read any further and said they’d be in touch.
Benny flipped a page of the magazine hard and it ripped a little. He tossed it back on the rack and returned to the counter.
“Not here yet,” the woman said, before he could say anything.
God he hated this woman. Why couldn’t that cute redhead, the one who always smiled at him, be behind the counter today? Benny always thought if he were a little younger and his clothes were a little nicer, he might actually have a shot with her.
He looked at his watch again — 4:46 — then glanced at the pay phone near the doors. Barbara had wanted him to call, had practically insisted on it; she said she wanted to hear from him every once in a while to see how he was doing. The day he got released, he was surprised to find her waiting for him. She had cried and hugged him while her husband and their two kids waited in the car. But after they had driven off, Benny had thrown her number away.
Now they only corresponded through mail, and not that e-mail crap. Benny didn’t have a computer, wouldn’t know how to work it if he did. Right before he went to jail he remembered people just starting to talk about the Internet, but that was almost twelve years ago.
Barbara had found out through the prison where he was staying and sent him letters every few weeks. Benny read them; it was mostly stuff about her family and her job. Along with the first few letters she had sent envelopes with stamps for him to write back. He never did and after a while she stopped including them.
It was after a couple months when Barbara said she would start sending him money; apparently she had heard (Benny didn’t know how) that he was having trouble finding a job. She told him she would wire it and the next Friday a money order was waiting for him at Snyder’s Market. She didn’t say it but Benny figured she did it that way, instead of sending him checks, so her husband wouldn’t find out. And every Friday for nearly four months the money had been there.
But not today. The clock over the counter said 4:53. Money orders could only come in before 5:00 on weekdays. If this money didn’t arrive in the next seven minutes he wouldn’t have a chance to get it until Monday.
Benny was down to his last three dollars. Under his bed in his room in the boarding house were a half box of crackers and a small bottle of apple juice. He could make it to Monday; hell, he’d gone longer without food. But what if the money didn’t come until next Friday? Or what if it stopped coming all together?
In her last letter Barbara hadn’t said anything about stopping the money; most of it was about her daughter Annie hitting a homerun in a softball game. But why didn’t he ever write her back? Why couldn’t he have done that? She seemed so happy, the way she talked about her husband and her job and the kids. Not just happy, different. Different from the kid he had grown up with. But then again, Benny wasn’t around a lot back then, and when he was he didn’t care much about his stupid little sister.
Benny glared at the white money order machine. Where the hell was it? Screw her, he thought, walking back to the lotto machine. How could she send him money all this time and then without warning just cut him off? How could she do that? And who asked her to help him anyway? Did she think he couldn’t take care of himself? Where did she get off-?
Suddenly Benny noticed a short white-haired man standing in front of the ATM. The machine made a grinding sound and a few seconds later the man picked up a thick stack of bills. He slipped them into his jacket pocket and walked past a register and down an aisle.
Benny glanced at the woman behind the counter and after a moment followed the man. Keeping his distance, he watched him grab a can of soup off a shelf and stroll to the back of the store. Benny crept to the end of the aisle and peered out. The man was headed towards the bakery.
As he filled a bag with bagels, Benny sidled up next to him pretending to look at the cakes in the display case. Just as the man began to walk away, Benny said, “Excuse me, sir.”
The man turned to look at him. “Yes?”
Benny didn’t know what to do; he hadn’t thought this far ahead. He could ask the man for some money, maybe make up some sob story, or tell him his own story, but he probably would just say no; plus Benny hated having to beg.
“What is it, son?” the man asked, getting impatient.
Benny stared at him. He was probably about sixty, and he had a bit of a beer belly but his clothes looked expensive and his hair, perhaps cut that day, was extremely neat. Suddenly Benny was enraged. Who the hell did this guy think he was? Why should he have all the luck? Was it right that he could just go to a bank machine and pull out whatever the hell he wanted? Was that fair?
“Give me your money,” Benny said quietly.
“What did you say?”
“I said, give me your money.” Benny took a couple steps towards him. “All of it.”
“Calm down son,” the man said, looking around, “just calm down.”
“Give it to me,” Benny growled. “Now.”
The man backed up quickly and his left foot caught the edge of a doorstop. The bag of bagels and can of soup fell to the floor as he flailed to keep his balance. Benny grabbed him by the lapels, steadying him for a second, and then shoved him through an open doorway. They man grunted and tumbled to the concrete floor of the backroom.
“Give it to me,” Benny said, towering over him.
Spotting a long knife on a nearby table, the man scrambled to his feet and lunged for it. Just before he could reach it Benny kicked him in the stomach. He groaned and sat down hard on the floor. Benny picked up the knife and crouched down next to him.
“Okay,” the man said, gasping for air. “Okay, here, take it.” He fumbled in his pocket and his hand shook as he held out the bills.
Benny grabbed the stack and stuffed it into his jacket. But he didn’t get up. Instead he just stared into the man’s terrified face.
“What?” the man stammered; he was on the verge of tears. “What else do you want?”
Benny frowned and in one swift motion buried the knife into the man’s neck. He made a wet choking sound and thumped to the floor. Immediately blood began gushing from the wound and Benny watched as it pooled next to his head.
Suddenly a large metal door in the back opened. Tendrils of steam floated out and a tall man in white emerged carrying a tray of dough.
“Hey, you’re not supposed to be back here.”
Benny glanced at him for a second and then fled through the doorway, down the nearest aisle and towards the front exit. Just as he reached the doors he heard someone say “Hey, buddy,” and he froze. He swallowed hard and turned to see the middle-aged woman behind the counter looking at him. “Your order came in.”
Benny peered at the clock: 4:58. After a glance at the door, he walked up to the counter. He fidgeted as the woman counted out the money and muttered “thanks” as she handed it to him.
“Oh, wait,” the woman said as Benny began moving towards the door. “Almost forget. It came with a message.”
She held out a small slip of paper and Benny took it.
Hi Benny. Sorry if this is a little late, it’s been a crazy day with the
kids. Here’s a little extra for a bus ticket if you wanted to come to
our house for Thanksgiving. We’d love to see you. Barb.
Benny read it twice then shoved everything into his pocket. He took a deep breath and slowly walked to the door. When he got outside, the chilly breeze hitting him immediately, he heard the sirens.
| COPYRIGHT 2006-2011
Portland Fiction Project
ALL RIGHTS RESERVED