The soles of his feet burned on asphalt that was far warmer than it ought to have been in early October. A scruffy beard the color of clay hung down the sides of his face in the same forlorn way that his backpack sagged across his shoulders. The balls of his feet burned a bit more with each step; his shoes had been taken when, in a fit of poor judgment, he’d left them out to dry after walking in a creek. It hadn’t always been this way.
– – –
Caedmon Grant was unused to being without a home. New to the life of a vagrant; new to showering at Salvation Army shelters and sometimes washing in creeks; new to having his movements confined by how far he could walk in a day or the whim of a stranger’s car; new to the peculiar camaraderie of those who drift from place to place, a camaraderie that allows both a deep sense of friendship and a certain amount of “finders keepers” mentality to coexist within that group. He mused, as the tops of his feet browned and the soles turned the color of grapefruit, thinking that perhaps it was possible he knew the man – or woman – who had run off with his hiking boots, which had been one of his few remaining ties to life as an established graduate student.
Caedmon turned off the alley that ran parallel to Main Street and into a small enclave between buildings set up to look like a garden. Grateful for a bench on which to rest his sore soles, he sat Indian-style, facing crepe myrtles and a small parking garage. Pulling a wrinkled green apple and a bottle of water – both given to him by a dimpled girl at a roadside farmer’s stand – out of the folds of his backpack, he stared blankly at what might be his only meal that day.
“Hey mister, can I have a light?” It took Caedmon a moment to process that the voice was directed at him, and he looked up to find a wiry black head protruding out from behind one of the concrete pillars that held up the second deck of the parking garage. The kid pushed his body off the ground, walking towards the bench. “I said, ‘can I have a light?’”
“All I got’s matches, but I don’t mind if you use them.” He fished in the depths of one of the smaller pockets of his pack and watched as the kid lit his Newport with a practiced hand. He couldn’t have been more than eleven years old, with knees poking out of worn cargo shorts in the way that boys’ do when they’re constantly growing. Caedmon remembered being that age, and being dragged to the store every month or so to buy new clothes when his mother threw a fit because his no longer fit properly.
“Hey man, where’s your shoes?”
Caedmon just looked at the scrawny boy, who held his gaze for a moment before beginning to blow smoke rings.
“Name’s Tyler, Tyler Hollifield,” the boy offered. “My friends call me Ty.”
“Ain’t heard that one before.”
“Well, you hadn’t met me before, had you?” The boy looked nonplussed by Caedmon’s short reply. Impressed by the kid’s persistence, he softened. “It’s Irish, the first part.”
“So what’s the last part?”
Caedmon swallowed a chunk of his apple, washing it down with the lukewarm water. “English, probably. Like, across-the-pond-English.”
The boy’s brows furrowed and a darker line appeared on his forehead. “What pond?”
Caedmon was surprised to find that he let out a chuckle. “It’s slang for the ocean, like the Atlantic Ocean. My family’s from the United Kingdom.”
“Well, where are they now?”
Dead, uninterested, or in the nuthouse, Caedmon thought. He merely said, “That a very good question.”
Tim tapped his little finger on the end of his cigarette, flicking the column of ash to the ground. “Man, I hate it when adults say that. All it means is they ain’t answering your question.”
“I’m a private sort of person. Where’s yours?”
The boy shrugged. “They’re around. Ma’s been gone for a coupla’ days but she usually turns up – longest she’s been gone’s a week. Don’t have a daddy but this guy she sees likes to act like he’s one. Mostly live with my grandma up in Hillside.”
Caedmon recognized the name of the biggest public housing developments in Fallston. “I tried to move in there a few months back,” he said. “Except it turns out that you kind of need kids to be eligible to live there.”
“Something like that. At least, a single guy like me didn’t really qualify.”
He was glad when the boy was silent for several minutes. Time to leave, Caedmon thought. Standing up and tossing the core of his apple onto the mulch under the crepe myrtles, he shouldered his backpack. “I’ll be leaving now,” he said to the boy.
Tim tilted his head back, cupping his hands over his eyes to better look at Caedmon’s face in the sunlight. “A’ight man. Thanks for the light.”
– – –
Eating at the soup kitchen the next night, Caedmon saw a woman with a son who reminded him of the young boy he’d met. This kid had a similar head of wiry black hair, but his nose already featured a prominent bump indicating its recent encounter with a fist or a wall. The woman just looked tired.
Rain pounded the roof above his head. Glad to be sleeping on one of the shelter’s cots for the night, Caedmon considered his earlier idea to hitchhike to the neighboring county, where he’d heard that several farmers were paying cash for help around their land. As lightning cracked angrily, he agreed silently with his earlier decision to stay in Fallston. Though it’d been three months since he’d lost his apartment, he still considered the town in which he’d grown up to be home. Since he began living on back roads and in homeless shelters, Caedmon had hitchhiked about two hundred miles in every direction, but he kept coming back to Fallston.
– – –
The beginning of a short story I’m working on for class. I’m new at this whole dialogue thing and have absolutely no clue how it ended up being so conversation heavy, but I’m trying to go with it. Let the story tell itself and all that.
Thoughts, anyone? (P.S. Be gentle. After all, it’s the shitty first draft.)