This short story first appeared in Corvus Review.
Stormy nights are the worst. X has to piss herself to keep warm. It doesn’t last, though. The merciless torrents flush away every bit of bladder-producing heat.
None of the pedestrians who encounter X on a daily basis know her name, and they’d rather not learn it. Most don’t acknowledge her whatsoever. Like the cigarette-smoking woman—tonight donning an ivory overcoat with matching stilettos, gilded hair drawn into a topknot so tight that it provides a makeshift facelift.
The pasty smoker’s cigarette-less hand strangles the faux-wooden handle of a humongous black umbrella whose canopy could shield three women, if called upon, from the relentless downpour. God forbid a rogue droplet dampen this bitch’s dainty figure…
Muscle memory compels X to offer a palm, in case the smoker has even a morsel of change to relinquish. (Earlier, a student had given X a dollar, which had enlivened her spirits.) The smoker, of course, doesn’t dole out anything. She focuses on the storefronts across the street, as if they’re worth looking at, and releases a cloud of cancer from her tar-laced lungs. The dull ticks of her skinny heels against the soggy sidewalk fade as she trudges on toward the posh bar she’s meeting her wretched friends at for appletinis and gossip.
X’s slab of cardboard, no longer the luxury piece it used to be, squishes beneath her as she adjusts her ratty blanket’s coverage.
Despite tonight’s harsh tempest, X attempts to sleep…while sitting up. Just as she’s nodding off, a brigade of dead leaves flutter nearby. The tough little rust-colored soldiers work, futilely, to evade the unremitting rain. One combatant in particular catches X’s attention.
This one is…distinct. Much greener, livelier. Rectangular, with clear edges. And unique imprints. X picks it up with a grimy mitt and scrutinizes it thoroughly, though she already knows what it is.
A hundred dollar bill.
She cannot remember the last time she held so much power between her fingertips. She grips it tighter, rubs it with her thumbs.
X hears approaching clanks and clacks. Oh shit. Bugeyes. With a stolen shopping cart full of soda cans. She hastily stuffs the bill inside her jacket and dashes back to the sodden cardboard. She plays it cool, knowing what he’d do if he knew about the money. The din of loose aluminum grows until he halts directly in front of her.
Their eyes lock. Bugeyes knows. Somehow the bastard knows. From inside the wobbly cart, he retrieves a metallic apparatus designed to grab objects from high up, undoubtedly a tool he has pilfered from a dumpster.
Bugeyes’ free hand jets out, tacitly demanding that X fork over the bill. She doesn’t budge. His dirty palm fills only with rain water. Fed up, he raises the grabber above his head and brings it down hard. Her forearm, lifted in defense, absorbs the blow.
Bugeyes lashes X again and again, knocking her to the flooded pavement. Adamant in refusing to cough up the cash, she bear-crawls away as he clubs her savagely, dead set on her surrender. To his frustration, she remains obstinate. His final, mightiest thwack is to the back of X’s head.
She drops face-first into the wet concrete, barely conscious, vulnerable—prey not only to her attacker but the bitter rain as well. Bugeyes crouches down and searches X until he finds what he wants. Without a hint of remorse he snatches the money, chucks the grabber into the cart, and moseys along. Clanking and clacking into the tumultuous night.
X, mostly recalibrated, rises to her hands and knees. In pain all over, and still somewhat shaken, she skulks back to the stupid hunk of cardboard and collapses. Moments from sweet sleep, X can only recall Bugeyes looting the pockets of her pants…
She wiggles her grubby fingers into her jacket and withdraws the hundred.
Bugeyes, the dumb fuck, had taken the single. All that bull for a dollar. For the first time in a long time, X laughs.