Yesterday, I had a hard time getting in a word count. Nothing got me off the block until a brief volley on Twitter with a co-conspirator of sorts did the trick. Here's hoping he has a better day and even greater days ahead. Hang in there, buddy....
The Job Loss
A Charlie Byrne Short
To most a front porch is an odd place to watch hockey on television, but Cornelia Muggs was my neighbor, set in her quirky, senior ways and loved to watch sports outside. Mrs. Muggs said it helped make the game real for her, even in the dead of winter. She was a nice lady and made me miss my grandmother sometimes. They were friends for many years before my grandmother heart gave out.
Mrs. Muggs’ house was a mirror image to the one I inherited from my grandmother, similar structure, gray and white three floor stand-alone built on a solid foundation just after the turn of the last century…one of the older boned homes that survived the great Ocean City hurricane of 1944 and refused the late nineties greedy rush to tear down and go duplex. That evening Mrs. Muggs was bundled up in a blue, puffy down parka and a heavy wool blanket mummied her aching legs. I sat beside her in my watch cap and Navy pea coat. In matching wicker rockers and the bluish, electric glow, we made quite a pair there in the dark.
“Charlie, you look so tired.”
The wicker rocking chair creaked beneath me as I shifted a bit.
“Burning the candle at both ends again, son?”
“And a little in between.”
“You should call it a night. Get some sleep.”
“Yeah, but there’s only twenty minutes left in the frame here. The Devils, you know, could come back.”
Mrs. Muggs tittered and rocked, “Doubtful. Briere is on fire tonight. Flyers up by two, this spectacle reeks of gallant defeat in spite of your misguided Newark-based allegiances.”
“Hey, a lot can happen in twenty minutes.”
“It’s a power-play. I’m thinking you should give me those five smackeroos right now.”
“I respectfully decline.”
Mrs. Muggs drained the last of the blended scotch in her highball glass, chucked the ice to her right, and licked her ancient lips.
“You know,” she said, “your grandmother and I used to wonder how you’d make your way in this world. She always thought you’d do something helpful. Become a policeman or join the fire department maybe become one of those EMTs or something like that. You’ve always been even keeled when everybody else is losing their heads.”
“Ever think of changing jobs, son? You’re still young.”
“Sometimes. Honestly at this point, this market, I wouldn’t know where to even begin.”
“Besides, things are kind of clicking along. I’ve got experience now, steady work from two law firms and stuff.”
“Mister Super Snooper, no longer the dilettante.”
“It’s not snooping, Mrs. M. Not entirely. I fill in the gaps. And anyway, most of the time I’m on the phone or on the computer. I still help people who are in trouble on occasion.”
“Not so much.”
A while later, after I forked over a crumpled Lincoln, I said goodnight to Mrs. Muggs and helped her inside with the small television and extension cables. Instead of crossing the empty street and going straight to bed as she admonished, I crammed my hands deep in my pockets and ambled up to the beach.
The night air was brisk and narcotic and the calm Atlantic Ocean trembled under a plump December half moon. A little after ten p.m., a couple of dedicated fitness enthusiasts steamed the boardwalk. A man in a Santa Clause hat waved a breathy greeting and kept his power stride.
In less than eight hours I had to get up and drive west to sit on a workman’s comp case. The suspected fraud wasn’t exactly a cheat yet, but he had that rangy, soft uncertainty about him and his employer, a plumbing group based out of Vineland, doubted his back problems. It had been two days and I had nothing to show but the thickening edges of a head cold. Tomorrow was Saturday, and the comp case was a do-it-yourselfer. A load of lumber had been delivered to his house earlier in that day and I had a clean view staked from the woods nearby. The delivered lumber looked like enough to build a small deck. My hunch was he had plans to build a place where he could recluse himself from the wife’s whines, drink inexpensive canned beer, char a kielbasa and wonder what became of his dreams.
The suspected fraud was a father of two wild buzz-cut boys. On the first day of my sit I witnessed a drawn out plastic light saber battle in the front yard that lapped around a sagging trampoline. It took some effort to brace down my misgivings about catching their father in an irresponsible act and blowing the tenuous armature of their young world apart. Maybe their father had his reasons. Maybe his employers had screwed him over one time too many and he felt he was due for some slack in this unrelenting world. We should all be so lucky.
You can ask a lot of me for money, but forgiveness in the face of what’s right, that’s hard. You had to do right, make an effort, you had to at least try.
Or so I told myself.
KIERAN SHEA’s fiction has appeared in dozens of venues including Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine, Thuglit, Dogmatika, Word Riot, Plots with Guns, Beat to a Pulp, Crimefactory, and Needle: A Magazine of Noir ...as well as in some beefy-looking anthologies most of which will make you question the tether of his shiny, red balloon. To his self-deprecating astonishment he's also been nominated for the Story South’s Million Writers Award twice without sending the judges so much as a thank you note. He co-edited the satiric transgressive fiction collection D*CKED: DARK FICTION INSPIRED BY DICK CHENEY and his debut novel KOKO TAKES A HOLIDAY is out now from Titan Books. Kieran divides his time between 38°58′22.6″N- 76°30′4.17″W and 39.2775° N, 74.5750° W.