(This week's Search Engine Fiction prompt was Take Me With You. Here is my short story)
He whispered as he grabbed my coat sleeve, “Take me with you”. The loudest whisper of my life. It still pounds and bounces against the inside of my head. It only becomes quiet when I have enough cash to chase it away. Weed and beer are my preferred medicine. Enough of either and the image of his small, round face wet with tears and the sound of his pleas for me not to leave him behind disappear, and I am free of the weighty guilt.
It was not like it was my responsibility; I tell myself that when I’m sober and he’s shouting in my head. In that house it was strictly Darwinian- survival of the fittest. Even if I had taken him, would being in my life be any better than the one I left him to? I’ve had my days of empty stomachs. At least there he got food most days. Sometimes it came down to that.
I can see a guy at the end of the bar looking this way. Doesn’t look like a john but he might pop out for a beer, so I give him a smile and he comes closer.
“Hi, how ya doin’?”
“Not bad.” I smile, careful not to show my teeth. I lost one a year and half ago when a guy decided he’d be taking what I thought I was selling.
“Can I buy you another one?”
“Sure, Sweetie.” I know how to work them. This one is married, so he’s going to want a lot of attention to show him he’s Mr Big Man after his wife showed him the unwanted truth of the situation.
I was nine when he was born. Mama was drunk as usual and suddenly started shouting she was in labour. But it was night and, though I knocked on the whole hallway of doors, no one came out. I wouldn’t have either, it wasn’t safe, and so I don’t blame them.
He just slipped out of her without any fuss. That’s the kind of baby he was. Never a fuss. I used to skip school to stay and take care of him, even though Mama claimed she could, I knew she wouldn’t. I can’t count the number of times I came home to find the baby soaked and red from hours of crying. Mama always cried and apologised, said she’d do better. I knew she couldn’t so I was never disappointed when she failed.
“So you from around here?”
“Yeah, I got a place around the corner.”
“Do ya now?” He arches his eyebrow. He’s sweet really. I should be honest with him. Either it’s going to be an upfront transaction or I’m going to take his wallet and then threaten him with a call to his wife if he gives me any trouble. I wouldn’t want it to go that way.
That morning he knew I was going. He cried and begged, but I couldn’t do it. I needed to leave everything behind. I was going to make a new life. A better life. I could only do that if I cut off all ties.
I called once and the number was disconnected. I called Miss Emma from the apartment across the hall. Miss Emma said, “The cops took your mama and social workers done take that boy; skinny as a rail he was.”
“How ‘bout we take a walk over to your place?” He rubs his hand along my thigh.
“It’s gonna cost ya.” He shows me his wallet stuffed with cash. He’s new at this game. Once I see the cash, I feel bad knowing I’m going to have to take it all.
I pull my coat tight when we enter the cool night air. “Skinny as a rail.” He would have done better with me after all. I smile once I fit all the pieces together in my mind, how I’m going to make it all right again.
“What you thinkin’ about?” he asks.
We climb the stairs to my studio apartment as I pack my suitcase in my mind and think about my trip north to collect him. In my thoughts, I’m getting on that bus with that stack of money in my pocket, getting on the bus going to him, and we’ll be together again. His whispers will stop, and he’ll forgive me for my mistake.
In my thoughts I’ve made that trip a thousand times.