This turned out to be more of a character development piece. I like the imagery I used; perhaps I can eventually expand this into a longer story. What do you think?
Jennifer E. Miller
The trio walked towards the intersection near the interstate off ramp. The sun struck the sidewalk and the heat rose in steamy waves. Human hadn’t bathed or shaved in a few day, he desired the look of dirtiness. To conceal his identity, he sported a boonie hat paired with a pair of outdated sunglasses found at a yard sale. He lugged a metal-framed backpack, army green, stuffed with blankets and other lightweight objects. He only needed it to appear full. Under one arm was a square piece of cardboard. Dog walked in front of Human on a rope leash, held with the free hand. Riding upon the top of the backpack was Cat. She bounced with each step Human took, clinging to the fabric as best she could. She had on her best grumpy-cat face, except she wasn’t lying.
The practice was well known in this city. Persons make themselves appear needy, when they really aren’t, stand at intersections with cardboard signs inked in sharpie marker that read “Anything helps,” “Hard times, need money,” and similar phrases. They take turns standing on corners with solemn looks upon their faces, careful not to make direct eye contact with motorists, in hopes one will take pity and hand them a couple dollars. If they are lucky, someone hands them a twenty. The shifts are about three hours and can easily yield $100 per hour. Usually more. The organizing company, if it’s even classified as such, takes sixty percent. That leaves Human with $120, $40 per hour, on a slow day. Much more than his current day job of $17.50 per hour, and Uncle Sam takes a large portion of it. Begging on the corner is a cash-only business and he doesn’t have to share it with the government. It was easy money.
At first, Human went alone. The cash poured in slower than expected. Many drivers handed him business cards with “call me for a job interview” scribbled hastily on the back. Some pedestrians brought him snacks or leftovers from their restaurant meals. Clearly, people felt sorry for him but he didn’t want their charity. He wanted their money. He had bills to pay, nagging student loans, vacations to fund, and two animals to feed. That’s when the idea dawned on him; to bring his pets along. They add to the look of desperation, and perhaps folks will see he needs money for his “dependents.”
His plan was a success. His black labrador and tortoise shell cat made ideal ornaments to fleece citizens. A poor man with animals definitely struck emotional chords. They handed out cash with looks of pity and sorrow. He faked shame as he accepted the bills with grace, stuffing them into the ratty pocket of his cargo shorts.
Lately, however, Human noticed Cat and Dog did not enjoy their excursions. Dog, who was active and friendly, did not display eagerness and joy at the walk down the now familiar stretch of road. Cat, an unusual creature, liked to venture out of her indoor domain and explore past her territory. Today, she growled and complained at riding atop the backpack. Both seemed aggravated on the way to the intersection.
About half a block away from the intersection, Human could see the woman he was relieving. She packed up the last of her belongings and headed in his direction. He was annoyed with this girl. She wore her Ray Ban sunglasses; a big mistake. Motorists will question why a beggar wears expensive eyewear, and move on. However, he noticed today she had found a way to increase her success rate. She wore a thread-bare t-shirt, that hung off her shoulders. The front had several large holes exposing her belly button ring and smooth abdomen. She smiled satisfactorily as she walked by Human, her blonde braids bouncing over her shoulders. He suspected she gathered a bounty of business cards with personal phone numbers, in addition to a large sum of cash.
Upon arrival, Human set his cardboard sign down and pulled the large pack from his back, careful to not knock Cat to the ground. Balancing her perfectly, he set the it upright on the ground. Cat continued to perch on the top. It was her preferred resting place during the shift. Dog sat down, panting with drool dripping off his tongue in long sticky strings. Human unpacked the travel water dish and a canteen of water and filled the bowl. He picked up his sign, held it with two hands, faced it towards the traffic exiting the interstate, and waited.
Copyrighted 2016 by Jennifer E. Miller
Copyrighted 2016 by Jennifer E. Miller