Tyler grimaced, pretty pink lips drawn into an ugly bundle of disgust.
“God, these people,” she hissed, stepping wide to avoid the beggar propped against the wall. The man’s head was bowed under the weight of the yoke he bore on his stooped shoulders, his grimy hands dangling limp from the contraption. Melinda’s belly churned with the agonizing pity and shame she felt each time she came across one of the city’s many unfortunates. She knelt down before the man, pinching her nose against his stench as she read the cardboard sign that rested against his twisted legs.
It could happen to you.
“Here,” she mumbled, stuffing five dollars in his tattered pocket. His eyes widened in surprise and gratitude, and a tear traced its way through the ragged beard and accumulated muck on his cheek.
“Thank you,” he whispered, his lower lip trembling. “You’re kind. There’s so few like you left.”
She was already walking away, cheeks flaming, head tucked into her shoulders in defence against the stares of her fellow commuters. She caught up to Tyler, who strode in silent fury on her towering heels.
“Honestly, Melinda. Why would you go and do a thing like that? He’ll only spend it on drugs. Everyone saw you, hunkered down in front of that filthy thing, encouraging him.”
“He’s in pain, Ty. Of course he’ll spend the money on painkillers. What else can he do?”
“He got himself into that mess. Whatever he did, he must have deserved what he got. Why else would the government make him Homeless? Wise up.”
Tyler stomped right over the top of a woman who lay hogtied on the ground, whimpering into the asphalt with bleeding lips, a cardboard sign with her own short tale of horror tied to her neck. Tyler’s six inch heel plunged into the woman’s right eye, popping it like a blister before wrenching free with a loud sucking sound. The woman screeched as pinkish liquid bubbled out of the wet mess in her socket, dripping on the pavement.
Melinda felt the stares of those around her like blades laid in threat against her skin, and forced herself to shut her ears to the Homeless woman’s cries and walk on.
The office was cool and quiet. Melinda looked around, fingers moving furtively across the keyboard, typing in the web address she knew by heart. Nobody looked up from their cubicles as she focused on the screen.
- what did you do today to help, M20996?
She squirmed. Five bucks to one Homeless was hardly an admirable resistance effort.
- $5. Man in yoke at Flagstaff Station.
She paused, the lump in her throat burning, before continuing.
- don’t think he’s got long left. He used to work here. Everyone pretends not to remember.
Her anonymous ally went silent for a moment. It was dangerous to say too much, but her emotions overpowered her better judgment.
(it hurts…it could happen to you)
She gulped down the scream that was always eager to erupt from her throat.
Come on, she begged the unmoving screen. Talk to me. I’ll do better. I’ll help more. Just don’t leave me alone in this madness. There has to be hope.
- every bit helps, M20996. Keep going.
- I’ll try.
“Coming to lunch?” Tyler materialised at her elbow, and Melinda yelped. She fumbled with her monitor, flicking it off, trying to hide her shaking. Had Tyler seen the words on the screen? God, would she tell? Would they put Melinda out on the streets, a display of agony for the world to ignore?
Tyler smiled at her. Her teeth were very white and her eyes were dead and flat. Melinda stretched her own lips in response, bile rising in her throat.
“What do you feel like?”
But she did, and that had always been her problem.
Tyler kept smiling, not moving away from the desk. She held onto the edge of the cubicle, and Melinda noticed her knuckles were white. Too late, she also noticed the men in purple Government suits walking towards them across the office, their faces dark.
“Tyler,” she whispered. “Please.”
“You people,” Tyler said, her cheek twitching. “You deserve what you get.”
Felicity Dowker is a 28 year old Australian writer with a husband, two young children, and a not-so-hidden feminist and atheist critique nestled in much of her work--especially the flash pieces, for some reason. Quite a few people have been foolhardy enough to publish her short stories, and she has one limited edition chapbook. For ramblings, news and a bibliography, go to http://holeinthepage.blogspot.com/ but enter, stranger, at your riske; here there be Tygers.