My talent had its perks in the old days. I ate what the miscreants gave me, and they never skimped. Honey and dates for robbery, tarts for a mistress, raw steak for murder. As I chewed, my teeth released their evils that I then washed down my gullet with wine. My customers were freed, and I was full. Win-win. Watching them go, I would listen to my gut digesting the dark things they hadn’t the heart to carry any longer.
You may consider me a worm. I won’t deny it. But without the worms in the dirt, how could any of the flowers bloom? The richest loam is from the most putrid rot, thanks to the worm. It would do you well to remember it.
Because I am going hungry.
No one comes to me anymore. Where once the towns knew the light of my lantern and the bargains on my lips, now dwindling lines of podunks come for the sideshows with which I share the stage with Mr. Two-Ton and the Yak Woman. I am a curiosity, an antique. Lay down a few bucks, the barker cries, to see the geek eat his weight in this or that…
Ah, may I light you another cigarette? Your break has nearly been prattled away by me, sorry to say. High praise must go to where it deserves, though. A shelter like this one needs more caretakers like you, those who work the night shifts. Lord knows there are not enough beds inside to care for the down and out. It is a wonder you can keep track of anyone.
You deserve sainthood for taking in that poor woman the other night. And she leaving last night without so much as a glance at the son whom she birthed in between? Atrocious! But, for some, a child born out of wedlock is atrocious. It is the worst of sins.
I could smell him from the fairgrounds a mile away, like warm bread. Comfort food for an old boy like me.
All I ask you is to leave the back door open, if only an inch. No one will hear me. You have nothing to worry about. That poor, disgraced mother will be absolved when I’m done. I would consider my coming here as a godsend.
And afterward, I will take whatever you have for dessert.
Win-win, wouldn’t you say?
M.C. St. John is a Chicago writer. He has been published in After Hours Press, Ink in Thirds, Literary Orphans, Maudlin House, Chicago Literati, Quail Bell Magazine, Word Branch, and Unbroken Journal. His short story collection Other Music was recently released, and he is working on his next.