Complete Short Story
in the big city...and life goes on.
by Donna Lamb
Originally posted January, 2007. Re-edited December 2014.
Eldon Williams did some business on New Years Day. He turned forty small plastic envelopes into nearly one thousand dollars. He felt good. He practically pranced down the avenue, keeping a wary eye out for cops and competitors but enjoying the walk and even the rain. A cold drizzle dampened the holiday for a lot of people but not for Eldon.
Traffic pattered by on the avenue, splashing the curbs with dirty gray water and making a lot of noise, but Eldon didn't have to listen to it. He had his music, a tiny digital music player with earbuds carried James Brown practically straight into his bloodstream. He liked James Brown, who'd had the bad luck for his family to die on Christmas Day. Even if the man had been older than Eldon's grandfather, his music still meant something and Eldon listened raptly. He imagined that he was strutting across the stage with James Brown, trumpets blowing and drums beating and guitars singing.
"I feel good, like I knew that I would, now," he said out loud. Even through the rain, the sun shone brightly, still high in the west, and with sunlight, music and money in his pocket, how could Eldon not feel good? What's a little rain on a beautiful New Years Day?
His car he'd parked several blocks from where he did his business for reasons of mostly imaginary security. Just like how he carried his money rolled up into tight, flattened cylinders held with rubber bands, inside tin candy boxes, also held closed with rubber bands and stashed in various pockets in his coat and pants. But the big money he kept in one tin box inside his undershorts next to his balls, not in a pocket. That made him feel safer, walking on the avenue, even though he knew it to be an illusion.
Feeling safe helped make him feel good and part of feeling good meant checking out the ladies. As he walked toward his car, he took the time to smile at all the women, girls and even old ladies coming his way. They were all covered up on such a day, but he liked the way they smiled back at him. A lady's smile was worth getting rained on for.
A tall girl came out of a shop practically right in front of him. She hesitated, apparently unsure of which way to turn. Perhaps unwisely on such a wet and cold day, she wore a black leather mini-skirt over red tights and high heeled boots. Her short fleecy jacket already had beads of damp on it, and she held a store shopping bag over her head in an attempt to keep the rain off her hair. She looked slim and young and sexy.
Eldon smiled right into her face as he passed her there and she smiled back.
"Whoa," thought Eldon. "That was a guy." Up close, he'd seen the telltale Adam's apple and the unsuccessfully hidden shadow of a heavy beard, and he'd noticed that the hands were too big, the jaw too long. Eldon shivered as if he'd had a close encounter of the queer kind. He didn't like homosexuals, and he didn't understand transvestites at all. Their weirdness scared him a bit, and he didn't like being scared, it made him angry. "Damn queer tricked me into smiling at his fucking queerbait getup," he muttered.
Eldon was still angry when he stopped at the next corner to wait for the light. The lights on the avenue always seemed to take forever with cars and buses and big trucks backed up for a block or more at every little street. Eldon got there just too late to legally cross, and he sure wasn't going to get a jaywalking ticket with all the money he had walking around.
He stood at the corner, still a bit angry at having smiled at the transvestite in the black leather skirt. It hadn't ruined his day. He still had sunshine and for a wonder the rain had completely stopped. He still had music with James Brown doing duets with other famous singers in his earphones. And he still had money in his tin boxes, in his pockets, and in his shorts.
But he thought of his little brother who he'd once caught trying on their mother's clothes. The little fruit had even worn makeup and jewelry when he'd thought he was alone in the house before Eldon came home unexpectedly. He'd beat the crap out of Jimmy for that; he couldn't have a fruit in the family when his life and livelihood depended on his street cred. The kid had run away a couple of months later, and no one in the family had heard from him since.
So, Eldon still felt angry about it and angry at the crossdresser who had tricked him into smiling at her -- him. And then, there she was -- he was -- in his miniskirt and tights and heels and little fuzzy jacket, standing beside Eldon, waiting for the light. Eldon looked away before she -- he -- could smile at him again.
Eldon didn't do a lot of thinking about how he made his money. He didn't think of the stuff he sold as poison. He sometimes pitied his customers who'd had the bad luck or poor sense to get hooked on something illegal. But he believed that his profits belonged to him as long as he could keep bigger dealers from cutting him out or cops from taking his ass to jail. Ethics and morality were words he sometimes heard on the radio, they meant nothing to him. And religion was something his mother had that she kept locked up in a small black book she only took out on Sundays.
So he wasn't thinking about criminal profits or the wages of sin when he stepped off the curb as the light changed. Instead, his angry thoughts had seized on the idea of his little brother dressed up in mini-skirt and heels just like the fake girl who had stepped off the curb with him. At first, neither of them saw the delivery truck making an illegal right-hand turn on red and Eldon didn't hear it because of James Brown. When the crossdresser did hear it and then see it, she fell off her too high heels in the wet street and fell against Eldon, screaming something he couldn't hear at all.
He got even madder when the queer stumbled against him. He turned to curse at her -- him -- and saw the truck, now trying to swerve and stop on the rain-wet pavement bearing down on them, looming over them, its headlights on and its wipers still working even though the rain had stopped and up inside the cab, the driver yelling something profane or obscene or both in his own anger and fear.
Eldon seized the crossdressed skinny man -- boy -- who wasn't his brother, and he pushed him -- her? -- up and onto the sidewalk, lifting one hundred plus pounds into the air and hurling that weight six feet or more to safety. Just before the bumper of the truck caught Eldon in the middle of his chest, he screamed, "Jimmy!" Then he threw his hands and arms wide as he flew through the air and smashed against a parked car while the truck, still swerving, still skidding, pinned him in a steel embrace and crushed any hope of life out of him before it spun away and let his body fall.
James Brown sang soul music into Eldon's dead ears while his blood dripped onto the wet asphalt and swirled with streams of dirty gray water into the storm drain that led down to the river and eventually to the ocean. Two of his tins of money had fallen out and burst, and sticky bills floated away in the water, too.
With his last act, Eldon Williams had bought back his humanity -- his soul -- that he hadn't even known he'd lost. And he paid cash on New Years Day in the rain for the life of someone he didn't know and didn't want to love.
Life begins, life ends, life goes on. The city -- the world -- didn't much notice the death of one man who had made a living off the misery of others but ended life a hero -- the pusher who died not for his sins but for his virtues.
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