Breakfast and a Cigarette: A Novella in Four Directions
by Bill McLaughlin,
(page 14 of 15)
Outside the terminal he saw a man and a small child huddled under the arch in the doorway. The man was sitting on the ground reading a newspaper, his back resting against the wall. The boy, only five or six years old, was playing with a small red sports car, rolling it on the rough concrete. His face was smudgy and his clothes were shiny and frayed. Behind them in the corner was a large, bulging backpack. The man was friendly and Ray sensed that he wanted to talk. Ray's shabby appearance might have frightened timid bank clerks but it invited familiarity among street people. From a nearby silvery lunch wagon Ray bought a coffee for each of them and an apple juice for the child.
“Me and the boy here been on the road since summer. It's a bitch trying to find work with a kid. No one wants the trouble. I've been looking for a caretaker gig, you know, get a little place to stay—the boy can have his own bed and I could cook some decent food instead of the crap we've been eating on the road. That shit is killing us.”
“Where do you two sleep at night?”
The man pointed to the backpack.
“Sleeping bag. Try to find a spot where no one will bother us. It's a tight fit. We've only got one bag.”
Ray imagined them sleeping under some bushes on the side of a busy highway, diesel fumes and headlights polluting every dream, routing out every chance of a soft morning. He wondered what this kid's idea of life would be when he grew up. How would he remember this experience—something fun like an adventure? Or could he—even at this age—see it for what it was, see the hopelessness in his father's face, hear it in the hollow of his voice? Would he be angry; bitter at the world that wouldn't give his father a job? And how about the father? A man who wants to work but is denied the opportunity can turn on the world, even on those he loves.
“We're headin' down to the 'Glades. Hope to get some work planting and picking. I gotta make enough to get us up north for apple season. Then maybe I can get something steady. The boy'll be needing schooling soon.”
“Can't he stay with somebody… while you look for work?”
The man looked disgustedly at Ray.
“She's a whore. He's not going there. I'll rob a fucking bank before I send him back there.”
Ray looked over at the boy. He seemed to be ignoring the conversation except that Ray had noticed every time the man said “boy” he looked up at his father. At the mention of his mother, he started making vrrroooming noises with his car, zooming it back and forth as far as his little arm could propel it. As he left, Ray shook hands with the man, carefully pressing a twenty into his palm.
“Take it. I got a little extra right now.”
The man looked hurt, as if a confidence had been betrayed.
“I don't take no charity.”
“It's not charity, it's kindness. There's a difference. And you know, I'm just learning that myself.”
Ray walked away watching the boy dreamily spinning the wheels of his little red get-away car.
There was nothing much to see in the neighborhood of the terminal. Miami Beach was ten miles east and Ray didn't have the inclination to get any closer. The “beautiful people” had little appeal for him at the moment. Wedged now between buildings and crowds and traffic, he was longing for a large landscape, anticipating his seat on the bus that would take him away from this mess. On a corner near the terminal, a skinny black woman in her late teens walked up to him. She was wearing a short see-through sheer midnight blue dress which vividly exposed her missing bra and panties. Atop her scrawny frame sat a blonde wig that might have belonged to one of the original Supremes. Her eyes were glassy and a sad countenance enveloped her and spread like lava from her sunken face to her crimson high heels.
“You a cop?”
Ray laughed at the idea. “No, I'm no cop.”
“Wanna go out,?” she asked with a warm smile that quickly disarmed him.
Her voice seemed to float on the humid Miami air like cloud particles; thin and vaporous and threatening to dissolve at the first sign of disturbance.
“No. No thanks.”
“C'mon, let's go out. I'm sick of those fat ugly old men. You're cuter than most of the guys around here.”
Breakfast and a Cigarette, Part III continues...