Jason R. Peters
First, Brian broke his right arm playing basketball. Then he was fired.
Not in so many words of course, but that’s what it amounted to anyway.
“I’m sorry, but we have to respect the wishes of our client.” That’s what Jennifer, from the temp agency, had said. Brian’s job was to load boxes from a warehouse onto delivery trucks, and a broken arm was no asset. It was, quite literally, adding insult to injury.
Of course, the agency promised to line up another job soon, but Brian had heard that before; he was not anxious to spin that roulette wheel again. Particularly with a broken arm.
The doctor had put him in a cast and seemed optimistic for a full recovery in six weeks. In the meanwhile, Brian had no income.
Because the injury hadn’t happened at work, he couldn’t claim worker’s compensation. And like many, Brian’s temp agency didn’t offer benefits, including short-term disability.
Brian wandered the streets of Chicago with his head down and his collar up, an ineffectual shield against the wind. Keeping your head lowered made it that much easier to avoid eye contact with panhandlers and street peddlers. There were fewer today than usual. It was a bitter cold October day, even for Chicago.
“Wanna buy some souls?”
One enterprising soul was out in spite of the weather, wrapped in multiple layer underneath a fashionable tan trench coat. He sported thin sunglasses, despite the overcast heavens and the late hour.
Caught off guard by the question, Brian stumbled to a halt.
“Do what?” he asked, eyebrows climbing.
“I said, ‘Do you wanna buy some souls?'” the man repeated patiently, emphasizing the last word with relished sibilance.
Brian thought of himself as part of the working class, a salt-of-the-earth guy, in touch with the common man. He’d worked with all races and colors and had picked up cusswords from half a dozen languages, but this pusher’s slang was completely foreign to him. Brian glanced around to see if anyone else understood, but all passersby made a wide circuit around them. Brian envied their distance.
“Look, whatever drugs you’re selling-” he began firmly, but he was cut off.
“Will you shut up with that?” the vender hissed, glancing nervously around. “Did I say drugs? No. I said souls. Mortal souls, brother, like the kind Jesus and the devil use to play chess.”
Though he was amused by the religious imagery, Brian was no closer to understanding. He started to edge away, but then the man said something which hit closer to home.
“Been down on your luck, brother?”
“What?” Brian said, suddenly conscious of his arm aching in the cold.
“What I’m selling is second chances. For example, you know, get your lady-friend back.” Though the peddler’s eyes were hidden beneath his sunglasses, Brian had the impression he winked. Now Brian was sure he was crazy.
“Yeah, my lady-friend is the one thing going for me right now,” he said confidently. “I don’t need whatever you’re selling.”
“Right, right, I forgot,” the man said with a disturbingly knowing smile. “Well, you go run along to her then. Just remember…you can find me here when you need me.”
Brian moved away as quickly as was possible without seeming outright rude, but the peddler’s grin only broadened.
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