Flash in the Pan
A Quarterly Posting at Tiny Lights
by Lauran G. Strait
"You have any work for me?"
The old guy pushes his wire-rims up his nose then peers down at me, smiling.
"How old are you, Kid?"
"Got a work permit? It's the law, you know. To protect kids like you." He laughs.
My skin starts to crawl, and I turn to leave.
"Hold on, you want work?" His fingers tease my shoulder before tightening.
"How much do you pay?"
He smiles again, flashing large yellowed teeth. "A businessman. Okay, listen," he says, stepping closer, "you look like you been on the streets a while, haven't you, kid?"
He takes another step toward me, so close now I can feel heat coming off him.
Probably another creep looking to take advantage of me. Figures. Sucks to be me some days. But hey, a buck's a buck.
"You don't sniff stuff, do you? Glue, paint, gas? You don't do that, right? No drugs?"
"Never, not even once."
"Riiiiiight." His laugh is dry, almost like he's clearing a tickle from the back of his throat.
"So how much you want, kid?"
"Whatever you think's fair."
"Whatever I think? Meaning if I say a buck an hour you'll be happy?"
An hour? Usually in city neighborhoods like this, it never takes more than five or ten minutes. Quickies, I call 'em. What does he expect from me? A professional job? I'm no professional. I'm only twelve.
"I think you'll be fair," I say without any real enthusiasm.
"I'm flattered, kiddo, but if you're gonna be a businessman, you need to set a price."
Man, I always hate this part. The haggling and dickering. It isn't like I'm ever gonna get rich doing this. Oh well, might as well get it over with. "Five bucks?"
"Five bucks an hour? Minimum wage's nearly seven-fifty. You don't think you're worth minimum wage?"
"Fine," I whisper. The air's getting hotter by the second, and my pits already reek. I just want to get this business behind me and the money in my pocket.
He holds out his hand; we shake. I force myself not to flinch at the feel of his fingers against mine--hunks of wrinkly, dried meat.
"You should've held out for ten bucks. That's what I paid the last boy." He laughs so hard spit bubbles at the corners of his mouth. "But a deal's a deal, and we shook on it."
Like I always say, sometimes it sucks to be me. Looks like I'm screwed again.
"Well, what are you waiting for, kid?" He toys with the enormous buckle on his belt. "I don't have all day." His arm snakes around my shoulder, urging me forward.
"And one more thing, I expect you to clean it good before putting it away, you hear?"
Oh, God. He sounds just like my father.
Eyes dull, I nod.
"Well okay then. Lawnmower's out back. Get to work."
Lauran G. Strait is a freelance writer and commercial fiction editor. She also teaches Techniques of Commercial Fiction and conducts writing workshops throughout the Tidewater area of Virginia. Her print and online work appears in over fifty literary reviews, magazines, and anthologies and has been featured on NPR's literary show, Word By Word. She edited for Gator Spring Gazette, the Sci-fi print magazine NFG, and currently edits for Moondance Magazine. She is in the process of seeking a publisher for three of her four novels.
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