Lenny parked his rusting shopping cart next to the dumpster. The hum of early morning traffic was quieter in the alley, and he welcomed the seclusion. He lifted the lid and hauled out a bag. Could always count on good pickin's after the weekend. He ripped open the plastic.
Right on top, between blackened banana skins, was half a ham sandwich in a deli box. Further down, an empty rum bottle. Lenny swiped a smear of grease off the bottle and squinted as he held the bottle up to the rising sun. An amber droplet pooled in the corner. He set the bottle upsidedown in the cart, next to the sandwich.
Picking through gnawed chicken bones and slimy tins that once contained peaches and baked beans, Lenny came to the bottom of the bag. He'd added two cigarette butts (with a puff or two left in them) to his pocket, and a damp copy of Louis L'Amour's Kilrone to the cart. A smear of ketchup garnished the cover, giving Kilrone a bloodied chest. Lenny ripped off the sticky cover, and tossed it into the dumpster.
Lenny rattled out of the alley. Exhaust already competed with fresh morning air, and people bustling on the sidewalk skirted around him and his cart of belongings, their clicking heels quickening. In front of Li's Market, Lenny stopped by a heap.
"Hey, George." The heap moved, and a lank haired head emerged from the dirty blanket. Red rimmed eyes peered at Lenny. Lenny fished the cigarettes from his pocket. "Enjoy, pal."
Sitting on a bench in the park, Lenny ate the ham sandwich. He twisted the cap from the upsidedown rum bottle, taking care not to spill the captured drops. Ah, fine literature and a drop of the good stuff on the same day. He lifted the cap to the gleaming windows of the nearby office buildings. All you in the steel towers, cheers!
Breakfast finished, Lenny picked up the novel. A slip of grimy paper was stuck between the pages at Chapter Eight, as good a place as any to begin. The hours preceding an attack are slow hours, he read. The minutes pace themselves slowly... Deep, that. Then he noticed the paper that had fluttered to the ground.
A lottery ticket.
After carefully placing the ticket between the pages, Lenny pushed the cart back to Li's Market. Just curious, wasn't he? That's all.
At the counter, a girl with Barbie-pink hair and a nose ring counted change with neon-nailed fingers. Lenny looked about. Isn't there a machine that provides the winning numbers? The girl left, brushing past Lenny, and Lenny saw what he'd been looking for behind her. In a moment, had more than he'd been looking for.
Like a butterfly, he could escape this life. Buy a car. Have his own land, his own grass, not a city-owned piece of mocking greenery. No lonely scrap of cardboard in the alley behind Bamboo Imports at night.
Back at the park, he tried reading Kilrone, but Kilrone was busy with his own gunslinging adventures. So, Lenny pondered his fortune while pigeons pecked around his feet in the sultry heat, inspecting him with shoe button eyes. Eventually, the drone of cars faded. Darkness descended, and the shadow of ambivalence grew within Lenny. It's just a slip of greasy paper. That's all.
It's fifty thousand dollars.
Long ago, when he'd been Mr. Leonard Sterling, he'd taken to the streets and found freedom. Freedom from the continual charade of happiness, of hiding his discontent. Freedom from a life in which one's value and importance was determined by calendars, clocks, and dollars. Did he really want to exchange this world for that kind of life again?
The city glittered, but no lights shone from above. Jewel-like dew settled on Lenny's furrowed brow. Sleep evaded him until the sun peeked through the rustling leaves of the oaks.
The pigeons wakened him, and Lenny rubbed his eyes, feeling afresh his turmoil. Had it only been yesterday morning that he'd pulled the warped Kilrone from the dumpster? It had been an eternity of slow hours, of slow-paced minutes. Then, in a flash, his mind was made up.
Lenny headed to Li's Market, his cart clattering and clanging as he hurried. In front of the store, he stopped beside the bundle of frayed blanket.
"Hey, George, wake up. No ciggies today, but I've got some mighty fine literature for you. You'll like Chapter Eight."
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