ROW80-2 - 06/16 -Ready for the next Round
ROW80-2 -21/06/19 - Wrap-up

The Caretaker

Our latest Flash Fiction challenge was to write about a dumpster. And include five random words.  My words were: wise, office, ocean, friendly, and lop-sided. My story was short of the 1000 limit, at only 878.

The Caretaker

Dennis walked slowly down the alley, still getting used to his new feet. He’d been walking by when he’d spotted a large dumpster, parked behind some fancy offices. The shelter wouldn’t be closing for a while, so maybe in the meantime he’d find some treasures to sell.

He was about to peer over the edge of the container when he heard some movement behind him.

"Hey buddy, you lost? All by yourself, are you?"

There were three of them, sidling closer, with predatory grins. Running was out, so it looked like he’d have to stay and fight. He squared his shoulders.

"Better use those long legs and make a dash for it, whitey."

A dark face peered down at him from the dumpster, teeth gleaming in a lop-sided grin.

"My friends can be tough. Although, if you drop your wallet, it may slow them down a bit."

"Not enough cash for a wallet," said Dennis. "I’m staying in the city shelter for now. And I can’t run, these are new prosthetic feet. The latest model, but I’m still learning."

"How did someone staying in a shelter get expensive new feet?"

"Just lucky," said Dennis. "Bad luck is I fell asleep in an alley last winter and froze both feet. Good luck is my sister died and left me enough to pay for these artificial ones."

The man waved at the approaching trio. "Back off, this is a friend." He reached down. "I’m Malik. And you are?"

"Dennis. Here, let me help you down."

Malik was short and stocky, wearing new Nike’s and a leather-trimmed track suit.

"Truth is, you might have held your own against my friends," he said. "They’re all are crippled in some way. " He gestured to each one. "Pete’s missing an arm, Dan has a fake leg, Jose is almost blind. There’s more down the alley too, all needing help. I’m sort of their caretaker. Look, I’ve some wine, sit with us for a bit."

Dennis sat on some old crates with his friend, sharing a bottle, as more people emerged from the shadows. Some shared a plain tar-papered lean-to with Malik, some had cubbies along the alley, some just slept rough. One had been a banker, another a dentist, another a nurse—men and women down on their luck, all disabled in some way, all helped by Malik.

"So, Dennis, how are you managing? Picking up any jobs down at the work center?"

"I never seem to keep one very long," said Dennis. He took another swig of wine. "I end up on a bender, miss some days, and get fired. But my sister left me a little annuity to, so I’m okay."

"You should stay here," said Malik. "We pool our checks, and I buy food and clothes for my friends."

Dennis noticed everyone was dressed very plainly, and none seemed to appear that well fed.

He shook his head. "If it’s all the same to you, I’ll pass. This is a little too rough for me, I prefer the shelter. I’m going to start saving up for my own little place, maybe near the ocean."

"Everyone seems to like you," said Malik. "Just relax. I’ll send someone to the shelter to get your stuff – I know the staff there."

"No, like I said, thanks but no thanks. I mean it." Dennis took another drink then handed the bottle back. "Here, take your wine."

"You’d be wise to reconsider," said Malik.

"Shit man, I said no. Back off!" Dennis lurched to his feet and headed toward the far end of the alley.

He’d almost reached the street when there was a scuffle behind him, a blow to the back of his head, then nothing.

When Dennis woke up, he was face down in garbage. He rolled over, gagging at the smell, then wiped off his face. It was night now, and he was in the bottom of a dumpster. He tried to stand up, but stumbled and fell. Shit, his feet were gone. Disconnected, both of them, right at the stainless steel ankle fitting.

"Hello? Help! Is anybody there?"

A familiar face peered down at him in the dumpster. "Well, what do we have here?" said Malik.

"Hey man, help me out, will you? I got mugged, and the bastards took my feet."

Malik smiled. "You don’t say, imagine that? Guess you’re stuck down there until the truck comes. Maybe they’ll check inside first, and be nice enough to dump you on the shelter’s doorstep."

Dennis reached up. "Come on, give me a hand. Even if I get back there, I’ll be helpless with no feet. I’ll get shoved in a wheelchair and forgotten."

Malik extended a hand, then paused. "But I thought we weren’t good enough for you here. Change your mind?"

"Yes, get me out."

"And your cheques?"

"Into the kitty. As long as I can keep some spare change for myself."

Malik reached down. "Deal, welcome to my friendly little community. Don’t worry, I’ll look after you."

Dennis had just been settled into a seat in the sun when Pete came running down the alley, waving a bundle of cash in his one good hand

"Malik. Look at this wad, I sold them both!" He stopped when he saw Dennis.



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Joyce Juzwik

Please forgive my late comments. I read your story right away and was planning to comment, but it's scary how one minor interruption can totally derail my plans!

I really like this story. It expresses the desperation of those who basically have nothing. People who have no support from family or friends, are unable or unwilling to look for or accept available resources (providing there are resources available for their particular situation), are often condemned to join forces with others like themselves and form communities. As the saying goes, there is strength in numbers. Malik could be viewed as a savior who keeps a group of what society feels are throwaway people together, feeds them, and keeps them safe. Then again, he's also a dictator who uses fear and intimidation to bring others into his fold. He's probably a little bit of both.

Picturing this scene reminds me of where I grew up in Chicago around the L stations. Some folks had no choice but to take the L. The L only ran through really dangerous neighborhoods, and if you wanted to take the train that ran through the suburbs and ended up in the heart of the Loop, you had to take countless buses to get to a station. Under the L stations, lived folks like Malik and his band. Under the stairs and at the top where you waited for the train, you could be robbed, murdered, and probably dismembered and nobody would notice. Life is brutal on the streets, and you have painted that dark picture very well.

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