The woman from Human Resources sat across the table and waited. She’d just asked him to use one word to describe himself, some almost-funny throwaway question they ask at the end of job interviews. He didn’t know what she expected him to say. The second ticked by. His tongue ran dry over his teeth.
“Like at my very essence?” he asked, surprising her. She put the pen down and covered the doodle on her pad with her hands.
“It doesn’t have to be that serious,” she said.
He almost said irreverent, but realized he didn’t know what the word meant.
Prompt courtesy of the Daily Post.
Kearns thought the finger, a man named Williams, was a hard man beneath his soft, pudgy exterior. His shrewd squirrel eyes belied the plump, rosy cheeks under them.
There’d be a cross down the line. He’d just have to be ready.
“So that’s it,” Williams said, pushing his considerable self up from the small folding table. “I think we’d need four men.”
“Just two,” Kearns said. “And I want to bring in people I know.”
Williams hide his bristling by searching his pockets. He pulled out a crushed pack of cigarettes.
“I think that can work,” he said, after exhaling.
The ghost stood in the dark kitchen and stared out the back window.
“Squirrels cleaned out your bird feeder again,” it said.
She stood on her tip toes to look. “Any coffee?”
“Drank it all,” the ghost said, turning its cup over. A single drop fell to the sink., thick with sugar and grounds. “Been up for a bit. I’ll make more.”
“Shame about the cardinals.”
“What?” she asked, moving a half-packed box from the kitchen table to the floor.
The kettle whistled.
“You didn’t see them? Squirrels scared them away,” it said. “You know they mate for life?”
The wine sloshed up the bottle’s neck and onto their laps whenever the bus hit any of the bumps in the road.
“You’ll have to drink faster,” the man seated behind them said. “And not hold the bottle against your knee.”
They nodded and took large swigs and held the bottle out to him.
“No thank you,” he said. “Sadly, it upsets my stomach. But, I will take a cigarette, if you have one.”
The one closest to the window dug the pack from her bag and handed him one.
“American?” he asked, smelling it. “Do you have a match?”
“Never try to be anything but what you aren’t,” he said, as he moved around the room, performing a mediocre box waltz without a partner. Someone tossed a pillow, which he caught and spun, and then pulled in close against his chest. “One. Two. Three.”
“You missed a step,” someone hollered. He nodded his thanks.
“Always accept offered drinks, and lips,” he said. “You’ll find both scarce soon enough.”
He went on dancing, talking like a character in a bad beatnik novel, which was all of them, but we sat rapt.
“Some night,” he said. “Some kind of a night.”
Mule walked by three restaurants, stopping and staring in their front windows, watching people work their fork and knives across their plates, sip their drinks, and say nothing to each other. He crossed the street and entered a dinner.
“You want the usual?” the waitress asked.
Mule nodded. “And a beer. Bottle. Please.”
He ate and read the newspaper he’d taken from the stool beside him.
“Get you anything else?”
He thought about pie and coffee. “That’ll be all,” he said, shaking his head. “Thanks.”
She gave him his change. Mule fingered the coins, in his palm, examining their faces.
Duck left her groceries on the bus. One bag, pretty full, paid for with a roll of quarters, and three of nickels. And that still wasn’t enough. The woman in line behind her told the cashier she’d pay for the remainder.
“Don’t worry about it, dear,” the woman said, as Duck blinked wet away, and thanked her. “Things’ll get better. You’ll see.”
And she forgot it on the bus. Food for the week, if she was careful. Because of a stupid phone conversation. She cursed herself for answering as she stood on the corner and watched the bus drive away