Previous Challenge Entry (EDITOR'S CHOICE)
Topic: Astonishment( 02/02/12)
By Michael Throne
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He just stood there. It was weird, he must have had a reason for stopping, nobody just shows up at the Dew without wanting a beer or to meet someone or sell something. It's dirty and musty and smells like rancid frying oil. You don't just go there.
But there he was, mid-thirties, dressed in jeans and a white cotton shirt, staring at us.
The stranger's eyes narrowed their focus on me. I don't know why. I thought maybe he was going to ask me out dancing or maybe try to sweep me off my feet and take me to his mansion on the hill. He had that look to him and I'm a sucker for lies.
But he didn't. What he did do was to walk up and ask if I knew of anyone in need. Sure, we said, we're all in need, but he said, no, not like that. Did I know anyone homeless or going hungry?
The rest laughed, but I didn't. Whoever he was, I decided then and there that getting swept off my feet was exactly what I wanted, mansion or no.
There comes a time when you realize you aren't going to live your dreams. There comes a time when all you want is to have a little power over the hell you and too many of your friends are living in.
"Yeah," I said. "I do."
"Let's go," he said.
He climbed behind my wheel and took my keys. I'd been drinking; I didn't mind.
"What's your name?" I asked.
"Pleased to meet you Gabe. I'm Debbie."
"So who needs help?"
"Who? Gosh, lots of folks."
"Fine. Melinda. She lives downtown. She's about to be evicted because she can't hold a job with a baby."
"That's hard," he said, nodding. "Where's her husband?"
"She's not married."
"Where's the father?"
We drove into town and I directed him to her apartment building. He turned off the car.
"So what are you going to do?" I asked.
"Yeah. For Melinda."
"No. I'm not doing anything for Melinda. I'm doing it for you."
"You're doing what for me?"
We took Melinda shopping, but not just anywhere. We went to bargain and second-hand stores and found things, good things, used and on sale. We bought a port-a-crib and a highchair, a monitor and a bunch of baby bottles. We found her a perfectly good bouncy seat that someone was giving away. We went to the food pantry and got her some groceries.
I was beaming. I felt fantastic. Melinda was so grateful to us both.
We parked outside her apartment.
"Go pack," he told her. "You're moving."
"Where to?" I was anxious to hear as well.
"You're moving to Debbie's."
I was flabbergasted but I didn't say a word. Not until she left.
"No way. I've got a one bedroom apartment. I can't handle having a baby in there."
"You won't have a baby. You'll have three."
"Melinda will be watching two others so their mothers can work. It will last two or three years, until they can get a house together."
"But why can't you...?"
"You have to do this yourself."
"But I don't have room! I don't have any extra money!"
"Where were you tonight? Where did I pick you up?"
My face fell. "At the Dew."
"And you've been going there, what, three maybe four nights a week?"
"But it's where my friends are."
"Make new friends."
We loaded the trunk, there wasn't much worth moving, and pulled up to my apartment.
"Who are you?" I asked, pulling the bouncy seat out of the trunk.
"I already told you. I'm Gabe."
"No. Really. Who are...?"
To my astonishment, he was gone.
I asked Melinda where he went.
I asked about him at the Dew.
They never saw him.
Money was gone from my purse, my paycheck was half spent, Melinda and her baby were busy setting up house in my apartment, and I was going mad, going stark raving crazy....
But not really.
I sat back in my chair and bounced Melinda's baby on my knee.
In truth, it was the happiest time of my life.
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