- by Kimberly Brandon
These flash fiction stories are based on a word picked randomly from the dictionary.
They don’t call me Sam or Sammy. Never do they call me Samuel. They don’t call me nothing respectful or decent. I am Shoe Shine Boy, or Boy. All of them call me that, except Mr. Hilcock. He calls me Blackguard. Got himself a fancy education and he’s a military man. Told me that a Blackguard is a term used for shining shoes in the military. He tips me real good, tips me the same what I charge for the shine, and always tells me to keep my chin up.
“Shoeshine?” I ask the banker man? He ignorers me, like he always does. Thinks I’m a waste of good air. He’d probably charge folks for air if he could.
“How much, boy?” Mr. Archibald, the hotel owner asks.
“Ten cents? I can get my houseboy to do it for a nickel. You spit shine?”
“Yessir. If you like I can”
“I want to see my reflection when you’re done. Hear me boy?”
“Yessir.” I don’t have to think about what I’m doing. Done it on the streets since I was ten. Five years later still at it. Pa is outta work. Got a bad back. Ma has six mouths to feed and I the oldest. I don’t mind. I ain’t got nothing better to do. They don’t let colors learn with the white kids. Don’t matter no how. So I shine. Real good, too!
“Boy, you done a real fine job.”
“Yessir, thank ya Mr. Archibald.” He tipped me three pennies. With that I can buy the youngins a peppermint stick each. It’s getting late so I decide to pack my box and call it a day.
“Shoe Shine Boy,” I hear as I leave the general store. “Yeah, I’m talking to you.”
It’s the teen-age white boys. They always picking on me. “Get on your knees and shine my shoes,” says Billy badass. That’s my name for him, but I never say it to his face.
“You wearing Converse, I can’t shine them.”
“On your knees anyhow, boy.”
“I gots to get.” I say walking away. I start to home. That’s when it begins. A rock pelted me in the back.
“I said on your knees boy! Now,” yelled Billy badass. The other boys laugh. I walk faster and I hear them pick up their pace behind me. More rocks came at me and I start running. One hits me real good and I fall to the ground. The boys surround me, the odds ain’t so good.
“What you gonna do now, boy? Sit there and bleed?”
“I just minding my own business, trying to get home.”
“Give me your money. I saw you shine at least five pair of shoes today.”
“No. This for my family. They gotta eat.”
“What did you say to me boy?” A bigger boy pushes me flat on the ground and digs through my pockets. I kick him off, grab my box and try to run. I get pushed to the ground again. Billy stands over me laughing. I look at my box, and then I look up at Billy. Blood gushes from his head. The other boys take off running. I hit him with my box over and over. He stops moving.
“Blackguard.” It’s Mr. Hilcock. “What have you done?” I stare blankly at him, shaking.
“He was….he tried…”
“Run Blackguard!” I still stare at him, speechless.
She clutched her stuffed cat as she walked into the room with the big chair. It smelled like her bathroom after she brushed her teeth. It was cold and the light over the big chair hummed. In the distance she heard some women laughing. She thought it was at her for bringing her toy. The girl was embarrassed but the fear overtook her.
“Open up,” said the dentist. As he prodded, the mask over his mouth moved when he spoke and his breath stank. She was uncomfortable with how close his face was to her’s. He turned to the tech and told her to do some x-rays. The tech put film holders in the girl’s mouth. Then secured it with a plastic thing that tasted powdery around her lips to keep her mouth wide open. The spit in the girl’s mouth started building and sliding down her throat. She struggled to swallow afraid she would choke. A heavy blanket was placed over her and the tech told her to be very still. She turned off the lights and left the room. The girl closed her eyes tight and heard a snap, then another, then another. Her mouth was aching. A few more snaps and the tech returned. She pulled at the plastic over the girl’s mouth. It hurt but she refused to cry.
“Doctor…” The tech left the room. The girl could hear distress in the tech’s voice as she described the situation. She returned with another tech. They fidgeted with the plastic unconcerned about comforting the frightened child. Again, they left, closing the door behind them. She was alone. She fought hard to remain strong, but couldn’t help the tears. They came streaming down her cheeks, but she didn’t whimper. She was afraid to be heard. The saliva built even stronger in her mouth, her tiny throat worked hard to swallow. After what seemed like forever the techs walked in behind the doctor. Her mother was with them and at the sight of her the girl couldn’t keep from crying. The doctor poked around and applied something cold that tingled on her lips. He removed the plastic and the film holders from her mouth. She rubbed her aching jaw and swallowed properly.
“Now, lets get to the cleaning. Open wide.”
The Georgia clay caked up her shoes as she walked into the service station. Behind the counter a shirtless old man wearing paint crusted overalls slapped a flyswatter with one hand and the other wiped a red bandana across the beads of sweat gathered on his forehead and continued down his face to the thick white growth of an unkempt beard.
“Fill up?” He mumbled with bits of chew on his bottom lip and spat into a coffee can next to the register. A fan oscillated from his direction to hers. She caught a whiff of stale tobacco, onions, and sweaty old man. It reminded her of her grandfather.
“Yes,” she said. “These, too.” She set down a bag of sunflower seeds, a can of Vienna sausage and a diet RC cola.
“Where you headed?” He muttered, and shifted the wad from one cheek to the other.
“Not sure, I’ll know when I get there.” He replied something incoherent. She imagined it to be disapproval. Up went the counter and he shuffled to the door, farting between shuffles.
“You want unleaded?”
“Yes sir, I can pump it.” He either didn’t hear, or ignored her.
“Tire’s low. Pop the hood so I can get to the oil.” She wondered if he was being nice or if he was just accustomed from many years of running a service station to do this. Rex had been crossing his legs for the past 20 miles so she fetched his leash and let him out the back seat.
“Out back there’s a water bowl. Give him a drink and don’t bother picking that up, it don’t matter.” He grunted, as she bent over to pick up Rex’s business. A truck pulled up with two men arguing. They were yelling about who had to go inside.
“I’m not dealing with that old son of a bitch,” said the driver. “Get your sorry ass in there so we can get going.” The passenger reluctantly obeyed.
“He’s a crazy son of a gun, young lady,” the man in the truck said to her as she put Rex back in the car. She acknowledged him with a nod and walked back inside. The old man was cussing the other as he left the store.
“$31.50,” he said to her and spat. She spotted a photograph taped to the register. It was like looking in a mirror.
“My grand daughter,” he said as he eyed her looking and pushed the bag her direction. She started the ignition and began to pull away when she smelled something sweet coming from the bag. Inside were her purchase and a few ripe peaches, dog treats, motor oil, a map and an envelope. She opened it and found $31.50 and a note that simply said, ‘be careful’.
Kim Brandon has had a passion for writing her entire life, yet has only become serious about it within the last year and a half when she was accepted to The Moss Workshop in Fiction, lead by Richard Bausch, published author and holder of the Lillian and Morrie A. Moss Chair of Excellence in English at the University of Memphis. She is currently most interested in the flash fiction form of writing. Smokelong.com defines flash fiction as a short story that can be read under the time it takes to smoke a cigarette. Kim lives in Midtown and is interested in forming a Midtown writer’s group. Please contact CultureGrits.com if you are interested in joining.