Welcome to this week’s flash fiction challenge posed by Dan Alatorre. Our task was to randomly choose a scene and a key word from two lists and write a caption or short story based on the results. This is what the random number generator chose for me. Enjoy!
- Scene – Two shoppers lined up at a cash register while a man holds up and examines a necktie
- Key Word – Star
“Will that be all?” The cashier adds my new sweater to the bag, atop our other purchases – items we need for tonight’s ugly sweater party.
“Yes.” I hand over my credit card and elbow Nate. “It seems silly to spend all this money on things we’ll only wear once.”
He wraps his arm around my shoulders. “What do you mean? I plan to wear mine to church every Sunday.”
“Ha!” I laugh, remembering the sweater he picked – a snowman with a strategically placed carrot and coal lumps. “They’ll kick you out.”
The cashier hands me my card and charge slip to sign. As I complete the transaction, something behind the register catches my eye.
A man – old, dirty, and apparently homeless – picks up a boxed necktie and holds it near his eyes, turning it. His hands, clothed with fingerless wool gloves, fumble with the box as he tries to open it.
The cashier hands me my bag, which I hand off to Nate. “I’ll meet you in the car.”
Without waiting for Nate’s agreement, I approach the man, still struggling with the box.
I lean over to catch his eye. “Can I help you?”
His hands shake. “This tie…I need to see if it’s the right size.” His voice is tired and gritty, relaying his years on the streets.
“Can I see it?” I hold my hand out. After a moment of hesitation, he gives it to me.
I shake my head. “This won’t fit you. It’s sized for a little boy.”
“It’s not for me. It’s for my star.”
“Your star?” My heart aches for this man. Not only is he homeless, he’s obviously not right in his mind.
“Yeah. Can you see how much?”
I scan the box until I spot the small tag. “Twenty dollars.”
He reaches into his coat pocket and removes crumpled bills. He straightens them, then slumps. “I don’t have enough. My star needs this. She’s getting a job. I want her to look nice.”
“Okay.” I pat the man’s arm. “Tell you what. I’ll buy this for you. Then your star will have what she needs.” After spending twice as much on a crude sweater for my husband, making this man’s day a little brighter is the least I can do. It’s almost Christmas, after all.
He flashes his half-set of teeth at me, and his eyes glisten. “That sure is kind of you, Ma’am.”
He follows me to the register, and I complete the purchase. I hand the bag to him. “Merry Christmas.”
Smiling, he rushes out the door.
I follow at a respectable distance. The man walks around the building, stopping near a dumpster next to a loading dock. I wait at the corner, where I don’t think he will see me.
He pats his leg and whistles. “C’mere, Star.”
A dirty yellow lab darts from behind the dumpster. He crouches, allowing the dog to lick his face.
The bag rustles as he reaches into it. “I got you something for your job.” With some effort, he pulls the tape from the box and removes the purple necktie. He ties it around the lab’s neck in a perfect Windsor knot.
I stifle a laugh. The dog looks adorable.
The man stands. “Come on, girl. Let’s go to work.” He looks up and catches my eye. His smile disappears.
I leave my ineffective hiding place. “I’m sorry. I had to see what you were talking about.”
“Thought I was crazy?”
“No. Just curious.”
He walks towards the street and points. “That senior home across the way. They said they’d give me dinner and some money if I let Star visit the folks there. Thought they’d like it if I dressed her up.”
“I’m sure they will. She looks fantastic.” I pat the dog’s head, and she licks my hand. I swallow the lump in my throat. “You’d better go. Star’s public awaits.”
The man smiles and leads Star to the crosswalk.