California Writers Club, Sacramento Branch
2016 Short, Short Story Writing Contest
Second Place Winner
by Jenifer Rowe
Irv lowers his shotgun when he sees a young girl, and not a stray dog, peering at him from behind his overturned trash can.
“Who are you? What are you doing prowling around my back yard?”
“Lookin’ for food.”
“Well then, go home and eat.”
“Old man, what planet you live on?”
“Get in here and wait while I call the authorities. Damn it. I hate people meddling in my affairs, coming into my home, expecting me to make statements or whatever. But I guess I ought to turn you in.”
“No you don’t got to, far as I’m concerned.” But she goes through the back door, since Irv is still holding the gun. On her way to the front room, she looks around and lets out a low whistle. “You got enough boxes in here to build you another house. Don’t you ever open none of your mail? This place smells like a dumpster. Lookit all them take-out bags.”
“How old are you, girl? And what is your name, so that I may properly address you?”
“I’m Taneesha, and I’m fourteen. But I seen plenty, so don’t go treating me like some kid.”
“All right, Taneesha. My name is Irving Gladstone, and I am a retired professor of history.”
“Well, whoopee for you. I bet you ain’t never scratched for a meal, huh, Irving? Looks like you hidin’ away in here and you don’t know shit about the outside world no more.” She glares at him as they both sit down.
“What was your last permanent address, Taneesha?” He takes a phonebook from the side table.
“I rather be dead than go back to that foster home. I get by okay turning tricks downtown. It feeds me better, and I don’t get beat up so often.” She looks around. “How many bedrooms you got here?”
“Since you are interested, this house includes three bedrooms, one and a half bathrooms, a kitchen and a front room. It is modest, I grant you, but more than sufficient for my needs.”
Irv starts thumbing through the phonebook. Taneesha watches him closely before speaking.
“Cool. So one bedroom for you, one for me, and one for whatever ghosts you got runnin’ around in your head. Or maybe for your junk.”
“What are you talking about?”
“I’m sayin’ I should stay here. I can do for you. I know how it is with you. You scared to go out. I had me a uncle like that when I was little. He nearly burnt his place down when a spark caught on the stove. He was right there to put it out, but all them newspapers and pizza boxes ‘most got past him.”
“Are you suggesting that you would like to room here? And why should I consider that proposal?”
“So here’s the plan: I do you a deal, see? You let me sleep here. I go where you don’t wanna go, an’ I bring back whatever you need. It works for both of us. You down with that?”
“Why should I think that if I give you money, you’ll come back here with anything?”
“Cause I wanna sleep with a roof over my head and a toilet to pee in and nobody messin’ with me, that’s why. All you gotta do is try me one time. If I run off with the grocery money, you ain’t losin’ much, way I see it. But I’m thinkin’ I be stupid to run off, since we got a chance at a good deal. And I ain’t stupid. What you think, old man?”
“I think you make great presumptions, young lass.”
“Yeah, whatever. So what you think, anyway?”
Someone knocks at the door. Taneesha ducks into the kitchen. Irv slowly gets up and makes his way the few short steps toward the front hall, taking his shotgun along. The knocking grows louder.
Irv clears his throat and yells, “Hold your horses. Give me a chance to get there.”
A young man Irv doesn’t recognize stands at the door. “Hi. I live next door. I thought I heard a gunshot. Is everything okay here?”
“Everything is just fine. I thought a stray dog was into my trash, but I was mistaken.” Irv closes the door in the man’s face, but gently so, or at least that was his intent. He turns to see Taneesha with a grin on her face.
“I didn’t think you was stupid neither, old man.”