Mel Bosworth  
Mel Bosworth

Mel Bosworth lives and breathes in Western Massachusetts. Read more at his website, http://eddiesocko.blogspot.com.

Lost Wage

The Wealth of the Meager

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Lost Wage (July 20, 2009. Issue 7.)

Curtis, blond haired stable hand, shifted on the hay bale inside the red barn. He cradled the mug of goat’s milk in both hands, too anxious to drink. Rosanna, the farmer’s wife and onetime beauty queen, wore out the floorboards with her heels as she click click clicked in circles. Her crimson tresses were the same shade as her lips, and they jiggled on her shoulders in time with her bosom. The farmer was up at the house, chest rattling with snores that singed the air with whiskey fumes.

“What are we gonna do, Curtis?”

The thick barn cat buzzed between them and out into the darkness, eyes filled with moonlight and mice. Coyotes howled beyond the damp windrows that curled like smoke on the field.  Curtis groaned and flicked his wrist; the goat’s milk sprayed Rosanna’s bare ankles. His momma had always told him not to respect trollops, especially when they meant to cause you trouble.

“I’m gonna git on out of here,” said Curtis.

He moved toward the saddles that hung heavy on the wall beside the bull whips and polished yokes. Rosanna pressed her fingernails into his forearm.

“But the baby, Curtis! What am I gonna to about this baby?”

“I don’t know, ‘Sanna,” he said, coolly unlocking her fingers. “Ain’t my worry. Now git on out mah whey.”

Rosanna went to her knees, wrapping his legs in her arms. The stitches that ran alongside her yellow dress strained, and a few popped. Her left breast tipped out, nipple hard and fiery.

“I’ll scream, damn you!”

“Go ‘head,” laughed Curtis. “By the time that old boy wakes up, I’ll be long gone.”

He dragged Rosanna a few feet and then stopped.  The floor of the barn was rough like sandpaper, and he didn’t want to scuff up his boots more than he had to.

“C’mon, ‘Sanna. This ain’t the way to do it.”

She pressed her nose into the crotch of his jeans, sobbing. As Curtis looked down at the top of her head, he was reminded of how this whole mess started. She looked up, her face pinched with desperation.

“Your money,” she said. “He still has to pay you your money. The season is almost over. Please stay until then.”

Curtis shook his head, eyes as hard as diamonds.

“Sheeit, ‘Sanna. It ain’t about the money. It’s about you bein’ a dirty whore and me bein’ the fool to fall for it. I couldn’t take the old boy’s money.”

He slapped Rosanna once and her grip loosened. He slapped her again and she fell off.  Out in the field, the barn cat screeched and the coyotes barked. Curtis squinted through the door into the darkness.

“Damn cat don’t know what he got into,” he said.

Rosanna shook at his feet, her face hidden beneath a spray of mussed curls. He lined up her belly with the toe of his boot and then kicked. She burped a raw sound and held up her hands. He kicked again and she didn’t make any sound; he’d taken her wind.

“If that don’t take care of that baby, you tell the old boy I done raped you. You hear?”

Rosanna pulled her knees to her chest, tucking her head. Curtis saddled up the black mare. Mexico was a few day’s ride, and if the old boy did come looking for him, he’d never find him there. Won’t be no damn beauty queens in Mexico neither, he thought.  

He kept the horse at a slow gait on the gravel drive, and when he passed the barn, Rosanna was still curled just like he’d left her. His daddy had told him never to leave money on the table, but he never told him what to do if that table was on fire.

Curtis spurred the mare and pointed her south. Then the night got darker, and Curtis slipped from the saddle like a barley bag. A puff of smoke and the smell of gunpowder lingered around the farmer’s bedroom widow.

“Damn horse thieves,” he slurred, then passed out on the floor.

Table of Contents

The Wealth of the Meager (March 26, 2009. New Moon. Issue 2)

As Patrick O’Shanahan, optimist and giver, sat in the crowded emergency room with an icicle protruding from his left eye-socket, it occurred to him that times were tight. Not just financially, but emotionally as well. Thin wallets had led to depreciated kindness and patience. Shop doors, if opened, were never held for the fellow trailing, nor were sidewalk smiles returned with an added wink, if reciprocated at all.

The hymn of the middle and lower classes had become a desperate, grumbled lament. The paupers had stopped their singing altogether, opening a sad void where hope, even at its dimmest, once flashed its grubby face. Unlike the grudging sense of community that existed during the Depression-era of old, this new generation of spoiled babies just couldn’t seem to get over themselves. Despondence and apathy hung on the faces of those around Patrick like crooked paintings.

“Don’t remove the icicle!” the nurse had told him. And so he hadn’t. That was an hour ago. It slowly melted down his cheek and onto his coat. To his right, a white-haired gentleman used his teeth to tighten a bloody rag around his wrist. The hand itself had been severed, and was resting in an ice-filled fishbowl that he cradled in his lap.

“How long have you been here?” asked Patrick.

“Longer than you,” said the man, bitterly. Then he looked down at the fishbowl. “Me ice is melting. Don’t suppose you could break me off a piece of that icicle from yer eye? I’ll trade you a shoe for it. I’ve got good shoes. See?”

The man straightened a leg and wiggled a pathetic, tattered thing that had once been a mighty wingtip. At the toe, the sole flapped like a slack mouth. Patrick frowned.

“You keep your shoe, sir. I’ll give you what I can.”

“That’s very kind,” he grinned, his sour tone sweetening. “You don’t find much kindness in strangers these days.”

Just as Patrick was about to snap off a tip from his icicle, the nurse rushed into the room.

“Patrick O’Shanahan! Please don’t fuss with that icicle! And come with me.”

Patrick apologized to the handless man, more for his early admission than his foiled ice contribution, and then followed the nurse to an examination room. As she turned to leave, he thanked her and then offered a compliment on her hair.

“The curls bounce when you walk,” he said. “They make me smile.”

She hesitated and her cheeks glowed crimson.

“Thank you,” she said, pleasantly befuddled. “That’s…very nice of you to say.”

 After another half-hour of sitting on the crinkly, slippery paper that covered the table, a square-jawed, well-tanned doctor finally burst in. For the wealthy, hard times meant cutting the Caribbean vacation a few days short.

“What seems to be the problem?” he asked, face buried in a clipboard laden with documents.

“I have an icicle lodged in my eye socket.”

“Well, healthcare funding has been trimmed, and I see your insurance has expired.”

“Yes, I was laid off recently,” explained Patrick. “I’ve been living in a yurt with my fiancé while searching for work. I was knocking icicles from the supports this morning when--”

“What we can do,” interrupted the doctor. “Is remove the obstruction and fit you with a prosthetic eye. The charge will be minimal. Is this agreeable? And did you just say you lived in a yurt?”

“Why yes, on both counts,” said Patrick, delighted.

Then, without warning, the doctor lunged forward and jerked the remaining bit of icicle from his socket. After hastily spraying the area with disinfectant and then fitting the hole with a blue marble, he sent Patrick--who gushed with gratitude--on his way. As he passed the white-haired man in the hallway, he noticed the bloody stump had been fitted with a crude hook. Patrick smiled and winked.

“Arrrrgh!” said the man. “Me likes your new eye! Tis blue as the sea! Be good, sailor!”

“And you too, captain!”

The revolving door that emptied patients onto the sidewalk like so much cattle was filled with long faces and complaints. It was here, in the swirling vestibule, that Patrick realized the work of the day was not yet done. Pressed between a yellow haired boy whose arm was cemented in a cast, and a flat haired woman whose frown hung so low it could’ve used a sling, Patrick began an impromptu boogie. As he flapped his arms like a chicken and shuffled his feet like a duck, the initial reaction of his fellow riders was shock. But as the door opened to the sidewalk, not a single rider stepped out. Once the door finished its circle, Patrick leapt into the lobby.

“Join me!” he called to the hesitant feet and curious faces.

“I’ll join ye!” said the Captain, immediately providing a stomping beat and hand/hook clap.

The nurses, cowering at their stations, pushed buttons and sounded silent alarms. Thick-necked orderlies, followed by wild-eyed doctors, rushed to the lobby. But no one made a move to quell the rally.

Patrick, a prolific break dancer, mesmerized the crowd with his scuttling crab and blurring knee-spin. The boy with the cast contributed an electric slide while the flat haired woman offered an awkward yet lovely jitterbug. Despite hospital protocol, some of the orderlies even joined in. They whisked the nurses from their stations and erupted into heel-kicking swing dance.

Patrick had come to the hospital seeking treatment that he’d eventually received, and left behind a disease that spread more quickly than the Bubonic plague. But instead of ravaging its victims with pain, sores, and an excruciating death, this infection brought warmth, courtesy, and a lingering happiness to those afflicted.

 And although the economy worsened as time went on, the winter softened to spring, and the incurable kindness that flourished in one man now germinated in the hearts of many, inciting rapid change beyond the control of even the most iron-fisted of bureaucrats.

Sitting in the bright doorway of their yurt, Patrick strummed a guitar while Matilda wove fresh blades of grass into bracelets. She would later trade them for goods at the new marketplace: a bustling bazaar of defunct chain-stores and restaurants that had been transformed into a haven of commerce. Patrick jumped as she tickled his cheek.

“Oh, Tilda! That’s my blind side! You scared me!”

“Do you hear that, Patrick?” she asked, pushing her long, corn silk locks behind her elfish ears.

Patrick silenced the guitar strings with his palm. The doctor, who had stuffed Patrick’s eye-socket with the blue marble, emerged from behind the yurt, naked as the day he was born. The Captain came from the other side, scratching his bare bottom with his hook.  

“What are you listening to?” asked the doctor.

“Be quiet,” said Matilda.

The four of them strained to hear. Then, rising up from the valley below, a collective, resonant voice filled the air, telling tales of lost loves and dreams, whiskey and wine, and of better days and hope.

The paupers were singing.