There’s this guy, David Newman, who creditors keep leaving messages for. I wouldn’t want to be in his shoes, I guess. The creditors don’t know they have the wrong number and I’m not going to bother telling them. I kind of look forward to coming home from work and seeing the message light lit on the answering machine. Even if it’s not for me, at least I get to hear someone’s voice when I get home. I guess you might think I’m lonely but I’m not, really, just in the need of company. There’s a difference, you know.
Anyhow, this David Newman cat must be in loads of trouble because they call every day, and it’s funny listening to the woman who leaves the message. She started out real polite like, then got nastier and nastier as the weeks moved on. Soon the weeks turned into months and a new woman from the same bank started calling, and it was like the whole thing started over again. Too bad, though. I liked that other woman’s voice better but she probably got sacked or something. Who knows? I thought of calling her myself once but then thought better of it. I was afraid the calls would end and they’re just stupid enough to let them go on forever. You’d think they would understand that maybe the guy gave the wrong number or maybe it got screwed up somehow when somebody typed it in, but no, not once have these bank people even questioned whether or not they have the right number. It’s kind of weird, really. And they keep calling around the same time of the day. So even if I were David Newman, which I’m not, they’d never reach me because that’s the time I’m at Shorty’s.
Shorty’s is a pool hall where I hang out during the day. I don’t play pool much but I enjoy watching the other fellas rack up the balls and pull one over on the visitors. You’d think people would be smarter these days, what, with movies like The Color of Money and Grifters, you know? But nah, there’s always some sucker who comes along and gets hoodwinked into thinking he can beat these hustlers. Of course that’s when I cash in, too. So I’ve made a pretty good living of late – collecting unemployment and piggybacking on these sharp-shooting pool sharks. It’s a great way to afford a warm pretzel and a hot chocolate before I make my way home to listen to the bill collectors hunting down David Newman. I wonder what the guy even looks like.
He’s probably not as handsome as me. I have long brown hair and green eyes, and all the girls – or at least Shorty and her daughter, Scratch, the waitress – tell me that I look like John Cougar Mellencamp. Johnny Cougar, I never even thought he was handsome, really, until Scratch told me I can pass for his twin. Now I’ve got posters of the guy hanging in my apartment. I bought a few of his tapes, too, but I never listen to them. I just keep them out with the covers facing up in case a girl comes over. Then she can see the resemblance and I can tell her that we’re brothers. I can probably even get away with telling her that we’re twins, but I don’t think she’d believe I was really him since I can’t play a lick on the guitar and I haven’t sang since my mother took me Christmas caroling as a boy. I think that’s the best memories I have of my mom, she and I hitting the streets in our best clothes, singing “Silent Night” for tips. It was a good year or two we had there, before the social workers got involved and took my brother and me to a foster home.
I never did care too much for my foster parents. It wasn’t that they were mean or anything. They just thought who they were. I mean, big deal, they were caring for unwanted kids. Nobody deserves a medal for that. And besides, they got paid to do it. Once I found that out, I figured, screw it. I’m a meal ticket is all. Why should I hang around? So I split. I left my brother behind, though. He wasn’t too keen on coming, I don’t think. Plus he was kind of sick and I didn’t want to have to take care of him. He’s a little on the retarded side, and I figured why should I drag him along when all he’s going to want to do is play checkers and listen to baseball on the radio? I needed more in life, so I became a bachelor on the move. A man about town who looks like Johnny Cougar and has women calling and chasing after him.
Scratch sure thinks the world of me. Just ask her. And Shorty has it in for me, too, though she’ll never admit it. She says I’m too young for her and too old for Scratch. I’m 18 and Scratch is 13. I guess Shorty’s 30-something. She looks more like 40-something, but don’t tell her I told you that. She’s an awful nice woman, even if she is a little on the hard side. Scratch is real sweet, though, and I treat her like a sister. Sometimes even more than that.
Just today I was throwing snowballs at her. She was walking back from school and I was coming back from Shorty’s. She laughed at me because she said I didn’t know how to dress for the cold. I was wearing a t-shirt and jeans and canvas sneakers, just like I always do, no matter what time of year it is. If it gets cold, like it did today, I put on my dungaree jacket and a pair of batting gloves clipped at the fingertips. I sure like throwing snowballs with them gloves on. They’re good for gripping.
Anyhow, after I caught up to Scratch and her friend walking, she told me I should get a different pair of shoes for this weather. She can’t understand how my feet don’t freeze, she said. Especially when it’s wet like it’s been this winter in Baltimore.
I don’t mind walking in the cold, I told her.
I’m going to buy you a pair of boots, she said.
I don’t want boots, I told her. I’ve got my own.
Why don’t you ever wear them? she asked.
‘Cause they’re my mom’s, I said.
Your mom’s? she asked.
Yeah, I said. My mom’s.
That was about the drift of our conversation before we reached Shorty’s where I had just come from. I didn’t have any money to hang around, so I left. Even though I really wanted to stay.
On the way home, I felt bad because I wanted to tell Scratch the story behind the boots. You see, when the foster people came to take my brother and me, they let us grab some things that were important to us. My mom was so stoned, she couldn’t even stand, no less hug us, but I can remember how she tried. Anyhow, I grabbed the pair of boots she always wore when we would go Christmas caroling. I wanted them to remember her by. Only problem is, I must have dropped a boot on the move ’cause I only have one in my closet. One boot is all, sort of cream-colored with white fur inside and a black sole. It doesn’t fit me, not even close, but I’ll never throw that boot out. Only wish I could find a match.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Dan Cafaro is the founder and publisher of Atticus Books, a small, independent publishing house located in Kensington, Md., a suburb of Washington, D.C. Dan is actively seeking manuscripts from authors with distinct voices. If you have stories that you would like considered for the “Timeout for Flash Fiction” series, please e-mail a query to email@example.com.
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