Rent was ten days away. Rent was not impossible. It could be earned in ten days. Non-stop work, lots of hours, overtime hours. Six hundred dollars wasn’t really that much money. No, rent wouldn’t be a problem. The problem was that at that exact moment Mitchell Donnelly had only two dollars and thirteen cents to his name.
He hadn’t eaten all day nor had he eaten the day before. He was weak and sore all over his body like you get after a long workout. Only he hadn’t been working out. He hadn’t been doing much of anything other than lying down watching old DVD after DVD. Movies he had already seen a hundred times nevertheless replayed to kill the boredom.
The year is two thousand six and at this point in his life Mitchell has never gone this long without food before. Lying there in his bed wearing pants that should have been washed three days ago, half watching electrons dance across his television and half thinking back to all the late night conversations he’d ever had in his life. Conversations over coffee with excited mouths all chattering and comparing notes on life and experiences. He’d heard people say they’d gone days without eating, some even went so far as to claim a week. Round people, soft people, with skin that danced when they spoke and puffy red mounds where their cheekbones should be. Not to seem over-privileged Mitchell had always lied and said that he had gone days without food at ambiguous times in his life as well.
Truth be told he’d never gone so much as a day without eating. Sure he might not have gotten hot food or maybe received food he hadn’t liked but he had eaten. He’d never starved before. The weakness stopping him down, slowing him, this was starvation. He knew that much and after two days without food he knew something else too, they were all liars. None of those people had ever starved either.
Liars and braggarts with full soft bellies. Mitchell concentrated on the round pink bellies. Then the image in his head became only the bellies, then the bellies of a pig. Then a cooked pig roasted and glazed with a caramel apple in his little piggly mouth.
Suddenly there was too much saliva in Mitchell’s mouth. It was running down his throat, gagging him. He sat up and reached for his wallet to count his money again. Two one dollar bills, a nickel and eight pennies. Still the same. He hadn’t miscounted before, nor had the magical Destitution Fairy flown by sprinkling his wallet with cash. Right there, at that moment Mitchell Donnelly was worth only two dollars and thirteen cents.
One thing was certain though. Come tomorrow he’d have even less. Scooping up the money he threw on his shoes and shot out of the front door. The convenience store a few blocks down sold food. Over priced, oily food so out of date it could take a full grown trucker down.
Night outside, hazy, cool Los Angeles night. Mitchell slid through his gate and gave a start as the well-greased cage door swung shut behind him with a bang. He instinctively began slapping at his sides hoping for the jingle of keys. Luckily he heard it and could continue walking. He’d locked himself out at night before and far too polite to go waking people up he’d waited three hours until the first of his neighbors left for work. It never got too cold in L.A. but still, no one wants to be locked out on the street all night.
A few people were out. No matter what time of night there will inevitably be at least a few people walking around downtown. Normally Mitchell took a quick scan of the area making sure to take note of any junkies, crackheads or tweakers that might be out. Mainly tweakers though as meth was in season.
The lack of food and muscle aches had somehow transformed themselves into a dizzying headache. Each footfall he made felt like he was rattling his brain. He remembered hearing about ring deaths. Boxers are notorious for losing massive quantities of weight before a fight. The only way to get a hundred and seventy pound boxer to make weight in a one hundred and fifty bout is to drain all the water completely out of his body. So the boxers don’t eat or drink and try to sweat out all their stored water. When they make weight they’re allowed to beef back up as much as they can before the actual fight. Though sometimes after this procedure the boxer will come out and take a punch that kills him. The starving and dehydration works, deprived of its water your body slims down, all of it, even your brain. You can fill it back up with water but until you do you’ve got a loose brain freely floating inside your head. That’s the type of head ache Mitchell had.
“You got a square?”
Mitch looked up and through the swirl that was his vision he saw a tall thin black man, homeless by the look of it, standing in front of him. Asking for a square meant asking for a cigarette. Normally he would oblige but he had no money for food much less cigarettes.
“How about some change? I hear it in your pocket man, please help me out. “ He said reaching his open palm out. There must be some sort of bum handbook they pass around to indigents because they all use the same tired line. Help me out with some change.
“I need my change, sorry.” Mitchell said feeling a sick feeling in his stomach. He knew what it meant too, this guy was readying to come at him. Mitchell looked around and there were other people on the street. A paper man was sitting in his truck and a white couple was walking towards him.
“Gimme your money.” The bum said still smiling. He had thick, spread apart yellow teeth and a dry purplish tongue that flicked tiny amounts of spittle when he spoke.
“Leave me alone.” Mitchell said firmly. Bums normally backed off when he put the bass in his voice. He was black too and wasn’t averse to playing to people’s stereotypes if it meant his safety.
“Come on man you gotta give me something.” He was still smiling as if they were somehow friends. He had this expectancy too as if he’d performed some sort of service for good ole Mitch and only wanted his rightful due.
“You’re going to have to take it.” Mitchell said in a voice he hadn’t thought himself capable of before.
Without another word the bum jumped. He was throwing fists wildly and Mitchell was too busy covering his head to do anything else. He tried to get as low as he could so his knees could help shield the assault. He knew he only had to hold on for a little while. Soon the guy in the truck or the couple or someone would see what was happing and they’d help him.
Then he felt a hand crawling all over his ass and he jumped back as he realized the bum was trying to grab for his wallet too, home of his last two dollars. He then saw up the street the white couple had crossed mindful not to involve themselves in whatever trouble was going on. The paper man in his truck had driven off. It was then that it occurred to Mitchell that no one was coming to help. No one would break this up. It was just two Negroes battling it out. People probably told themselves it was over drugs or liquor or gangs. Most likely gangs.
The bum, who at this point Mitchell was pretty sure was a tweaker, felt into the front of Mitch’s pocket and pulled out his wallet. He smiled letting his big pipe blackened lips pull back from those grotesque teeth. He flipped Mitchell’s wallet open and reached inside.
Before any displeasure at the lack of money could make itself known Mitch exploded back at him with fists to the nose. They grabbed each others clothes and went hurtling into the side of a parked car. Mitchell felt the glass shatter as his back slammed against the passenger door.
The bum was ferocious using the opportunity to punch Mitchell in the sides. Each blow made Mitchell feel like he was going to piss himself. This was life. It struck you down, took your food and then subjected you to...this.
Mitch spun with all his might unpinning himself from the car and taking the both of them to the ground. He happened to land on top and began raining punches down. He jack hammered harder and harder, his fists like pistons, watching as they sent the bum’s head smashing against the asphalt.
Growls and nothing else were escaping Mitchell’s throat as he fired away. The only thought in his head was that he had to get his money back. It could have been a million dollars or just one. The point was he needed it. True desperation was also a foreign sensation for him.
His head didn’t hurt anymore. He didn’t even feel hungry. He walked into the convenience store and straight on back to the tiny rack that carried their non-chocolate edibles. He grabbed a can of chicken noodle soup and made sure to snatch a thirty-nine cent banana on his was to the register.
The teller, to his credit, didn’t make a big deal about his bloody, tattered appearance. He didn’t even make eye contact. He rang the sale and said “3.02$”
Mitchell laid down one dime and then dropped from his palm a blood covered five-dollar bill.
He didn’t even wait to get home to dig into his banana. It wasn’t the food that tasted so great, it was the victory. Not over some tweaked out bum, who was consequently still lying in the pool of blood and glass...with his pockets turned out.
It was the small one time victory against the world that sweetened the fruit. The fact that for the first time in his life his will actually counted for something. Mitch stepped over his adversary’s unconscious body and made his way back to his gate banana in one hand and soup on the other. Sometimes life kicked your ass and sometimes you had to kick a little back.
Ryan Priest has published short stories with Dark Reveries, Dispatch, Outercast, Art Times, The Writer's Post Journal and several others .He is currently living in Hollywood where he is one of the writers for the new sketch comedy troupe, the Socialites. www.RyanPriest.net