Twenty Minutes By Kevin W. Perizzolo
Max had only recently moved to the city, had only recently landed the new job, and had only recently quit drinking. He had decided a fresh start in a new place with new goals, and some old ones, would be good for him. He was a stranger in this place. He did not know who to trust or who to let into his life. His old social life would have taken him to a bar, to sit and talk to other drunks. He had to admit, it was not much of a social life.
In the city, he avoided the drifters on the streets. They were much savvier here in the city, to make people do what they wanted, than in the small coastal town from which he had come. Yet, years of being approached by homeless people asking for this or that had made him cynical. Made him somewhat mean-spirited. He did not like giving people money without knowing what they were going to do with it. He even knew it was not his business to know. Yet something inside him did not want to enable other people. He preferred to help them with food or transportation. Things he could be sure of. And he had had enough food and bus passes tossed back in his face to make him not even want to do that any longer.
And so, for a couple of months in the beginning; he stayed home, he watched movies, he read books. But one evening he sat on his stoop and heard a womans voice singing in a bar across the street. He was mesmerized by the sound and clarity of her. He knew the music: blues (his parents favorite genre). Thus, Max stood up and dared do what most alcoholics who choose not to drink should not do: he walked into the bar.
What can I get for you? the bartender asked.
Soda water lime, Max replied lightly.
Nope. Just came in to listen. Max pointed to the stage in the corner.
She is good, aint she? The soda lime appeared. Ill have to charge you a buck.
Max pulled out a five-dollar bill, handed it to the man behind the counter, and said Keep it. He was never charged a dollar for a soda lime again. And he always tipped five. He and the bartender, Scott, quickly became acquainted.
Max waited for his bus, smoking his second to last cigarette. The last one, turned around in the pack upon opening and then placed back, was considered the lucky cig. It was always smoked last.
Hey, mister, a quiet voice said behind him. Max turned and looked into the bright blue eyes of a homeless man. Or so he figured, at this hour of the morning. The man had no jacket, looked unwashed, had dirty clothes, and was unshaved. Do you have a spare cig?
Max almost said No, and then thought better of it. The man had not asked for money, had not asked for bus fare, and had not had the audacity to ask for a drink. Just a cigarette. He reached into his pocket and, smiling, handed the man the pack. That's the last one. It's a lucky cig. I hope it helps you somehow.
The man demurred. I cant take your last one.
Sure you can. Dont worry about it. I can get some more. The bus pulled up and Max got on without another thought of the cigarette or the homeless man. Twenty minutes later, Max got off the bus and waited to cross the street. He noticed something stuck under the edge of a newspaper machine. Reaching down, he pulled it out and found a ten-dollar bill. Theres lunch, he thought to himself, smiled, and pocketed the bill.
The following Sunday Max walked the short distance to the grocery store. It was a crisp, cool morning, and he was in a good mood. He saw a young man sitting on the curb, near the alley across from the store. As he passed, the man asked to his back, Sir, do you have any spare cash so I can get something to eat? Why they always waited until he passed by, Max had never figured out. He stopped, took a deep breath and turned.
Dont have any cash on me. buddy, sorry.
Its okay. No one does anymore. The man lowered his head and stared at the patterns in the dirt.
Max cringed at that statement. He walked into the store, picked his own food. Then grabbed a couple of the prepacked meals that busy parents put in their kids lunch boxes. He put them in a separate bag and walked out of the store. Crossing the street, he noticed the young man had been turned down again. Here you go, Max said as he handed him the bag.
Thanks! the man said as he opened the bag. For real? You got this for me?
Yup, Max replied and walked on.
He stopped at a convenience store on the way home to buy some cigarettes and added a scratch-off ticket to the order. He pocketed both the ticket and cigarettes and went home. Starting his breakfast, he forgot the ticket for about ten minutes and then remembered it when he turned the bacon over in the frying pan. He pulled it out of his pocket and grabbed a butter knife on the counter.
He won a hundred dollars.
# # #
The next Tuesday he got off the bus and headed to the bar for his soda and lime. The scratch-off ticket was still in his billfold. He cashed the ticket before going into the bar.
His soda and lime appeared in a matter of seconds. He handed the bartender a twenty-dollar bill and waved it off when the bartender tried to object.
Max, you cant keep tipping me like this.
Why not? Good things are happening to me. And I just want to spread it around.
Okay. It's your money.
No, it's actually a homeless kid's money. He brought me luck.
You dont really believe that bull, do you?
I cant explain it any other way, Scott. It just seems to be happening to me.
He became very quiet for a few minutes. Scott walked away and tended to some other customers. Max pondered the thought for a while and then shook his head. No way, he muttered to the soda bubbles.
He decided to walk to work the following day. The sun was out, but it was a bit brisk. Walking along the road, he came to an area he loved. The street crossed a creek, and it was overgrown with trees, vines, bushes, and flowers. He loved the juxtaposition to the concrete of the city.
This morning he saw an elderly woman walking with a young girl, four or five years old at most. The woman was a bit hunched over, shuffling, and obviously struggling for energy. The young girl saw Max approaching and held out her hand, palm forward. Stop! Were lost! she cried.
What can I do for you? Max asked as he bent down to the little girl.
Do you know where the bank at Maple Boulevard is? the woman asked. She handed him a piece of paper. The paper had 300 Maple Court written on it.
Piece of cake, Max replied. I work there in the office building. I can walk with you.
Is it far? the old woman asked.
Six to eight blocks back this way, Max pointed.
Oh my. We must have just passed it, the woman muttered. We came all the way from the Fairmont.
Yup, you passed it. Ill walk with you, Max replied. It was slow going, but he enjoyed the company.
At one point while crossing a busy street, the little girl reached up and took his left hand for protection. Max choked back a gasp at the tenderness of the moment. Then realized it was something he would not soon forget.
All three walked into the lobby together. A very large painting was on display in front of an abstract stone sculpture. The woman gasped at the painting, Its so big. And so beautiful. Evie, have you ever seen such a big painting before?
Nana, look at the size of this rock! The child ran up to the sculpture. She turned to Max. You work here?
Yes, I do, he replied.
Youre so lucky, she whispered.
I think so. He pointed. Down this hall is the bank.
Thank you so much young man. It was a pleasure walking with you, the woman said as she took his hand and squeezed it gently.
Pleasure was all mine, Max replied. Taking the elevator up to his office, he grinned. The only words he could come up with were that, at that moment, he was having a Warm Fuzzy.
He sat at his desk for a bit. His supervisor walked by and asked what he was so quiet for.
Nothing really. Just had a great morning, he replied cheerfully.
Good for you. By the way, your three-month probation is over as of now. Welcome to the team permanently, she told him.
Max glanced at the clock on his computer. It was nine twenty. He sat back, put his hands behind his head, and laughed.
He celebrated at his favorite Thai restaurant that evening. By himself, of course, yet he did not care. As he walked out of the small building he heard a small sound. Almost a whine, almost a whimper. He looked around and found an emaciated cat huddled next to the building. Covered with mats and flea bitten, it almost ran from his movement. He bent down and talked soothingly and made no sudden movements.
The cat looked at him with wary eyes and stayed put. Ready to run if need be, but in a trusting mood. The smell of the leftover chicken in the bag in Maxs hand had something to do with it as well. The cat inched closer to the bag, sniffing.
Oh, thats what you want, eh? Max said as he slowly opened the bag and the box. The aroma of the chicken and the sauce permeated the air. The cat moved closer. It reached out a paw and gingerly stabbed a piece of chicken. Pulling it out of the box, it moved back a few inches and quickly devoured the piece.
Thought so, Max said, not moving. He placed his hand near the box. The cat looked at the hand, then the box, and yanked another piece of chicken out, this time staying near. While it ate, Max slowly moved his hand to the top of the cats head. It did not flinch.
Some time passed and the cat seemed comfortable enough for Max to hold it. It had eaten all the chicken in the box. Max finally picked it up and said, Okay, youre coming home with me.
After bathing it, brushing it, figuring out it was a boy, Max allowed it to roam the apartment. He sat down on the couch to watch a movie. A few minutes later he felt something drop in his lap.
He almost jumped, and then realized it was a mouse. The cat sat on the armrest of the couch looking at Max. He smiled. The mouse was a present from the cat.
Scott, what if it were real? What if Karma really does exist? What if right now, right here, with me, it's happening? Max asked as he stirred his soda lime with the straw. And it's happening in twenty-minute intervals!
Scott snorted. Listen to yourself, Max. Its insane. Immediate and real Karma? Happening within twenty minutes of you doing something good? I cant see it. And I have no reason to believe it. Personally, I think you're stretching. Personally, I think you're really really stretching. Scott gently wiped the bar top.
Max slammed his hand on the bar top. Nope, this is real. This is now.
Max, maybe you're seeing this connection because something inside of you wants to see it. Something inside of you needs to see it. Something inside of you feels you're a bad person, and therefore you're seeing rewards where it's just coincidence.
Bull. Ill prove it to you, Max said as he grabbed his soda and swigged it.
Good luck with that one. Scott refilled the soda.
Max went out on Sunday morning with the intention of finding something good to do for someone. It would test his theory. Do something good and a good thing will happen to you. He took a deep breath and began walking.
Finally an opportunity presented itself. He saw an old woman waiting for a bus with three large bags of groceries. The bus was pulling up, and he noticed she was having some difficulty getting the bags situated. He ran to her rescue, smiling ingratiatingly. Let me help.
Oh, arent you sweet, she replied. She got on the bus, and he followed with her bags. He told the driver he was getting off after she settled. A few people in the front of the bus nodded approval for his helping the woman. She sat down; he put the bags next to her and stepped off the bus.
Glancing at his watch, he figured he would be near home when it happened. And he began walking again. Whistling a tune from an old musical, he awaited his reward as he strolled down the street. On arriving at home he glanced at his watch. Twenty minutes almost to the second. He looked around. He looked at the ground. He looked in his mailbox. He looked to see if there was something stuck in or on his door.
Max turned the key of the lock with disappointment. He entered and shut the door quickly. Slumping on his couch he muttered under his breath, This is bullshit.
His sense of betrayal weighed on him. Scott had been right. He just wanted to see the connection because of something empty or missing in his life.
For the first time in over a year he decided he had earned himself a drink. He got up and walked to a bar. The one drink led to two. This led to three and so on, all afternoon and into the early evening. He stumbled home about eight oclock and fell into bed.
Fighting a vicious hangover, he arrived at work the following day at nine oclock. He sat at his desk for a few minutes staring at the stacks of folders that he had to go through. Knowing full well that he would not be able to do it. He sat and stared at the folders for ten more minutes.
His supervisor passed by his desk twice. She finally stopped on the third time. Max? Are you okay?
Yeah, fine, he replied, not looking up.
What! he said sharply, looking at her.
She stepped back and raised her eyebrows. What is that smell?
I dont smell anything, he said.
Of course not. Its coming from you, she said with a look of disgust. Did you even shower this morning? You reek of alcohol.
You know I dont drink anymore, Max replied automatically.
Go home, she said and turned away.
Whatever, Max replied.
Did you just say Whatever?
Yeah. Do you want me to spell it for you? he said looking down at his desk, hands splayed out on both sides of him.
Youre suspended for a week. My office now. She walked away.
Max glanced at his watch. It was nine-twenty.
Maxs week of suspension was uneventful. By Thursday, he had been drunk for four days. Four days of getting up and starting to drink by noon. Being drunk by early evening and not even remembering going home. Four days of being reminded of conversations he swore never took place.
He woke Friday morning and immediately threw up. He went back to bed. By the afternoon, he had stopped being sick and just felt nauseated. By evening, he was shaking from withdrawal. Saturday was a repeat of Friday. Sunday morning he woke and ate a light breakfast and went back to bed. He woke for lunch and again for dinner. He went to bed with a determination that once more, never again.
Monday morning, as he got ready for work, he said the Serenity Prayer and stepped out his door and walked to the bus stop. As he boarded the bus, the driver informed him that the fare box was not working and he did not have to pay.
He did not bother looking at his watch.
Yet, twenty minutes had just passed.
That afternoon, Max crossed the street from work to the bus stop. He saw an old black man standing near the stop. The man was stooped over, thin as a rail, leaning on a cane. He had a bag over his shoulder, stuffed with clothing and paperwork. A woman came up to him and tried to hand him some money. He overheard the old man growl, I am not homeless. I'm just old. The woman huffed off with her small dog. The old man shook his head in amazement.
Max heard the sound of metal clinking on the sidewalk behind him. He turned and saw a younger man about thirty years old, maybe five feet tall, using two crutches (the ones with the arm bands, not the under the arm kind) cruising along the sidewalk at what he would term breakneck speed. He quickly moved out of the way of the young man as he passed.
Max heard him mutter, Thanks. Then he felt a tap on his shoulder. Turned back and saw the clear eyes of the old black man. His beard snow white, hair snow white. Excuse me, he started.
How can I help you? Max asked quietly, never taking his eyes off the wizened face.
They just released me from the hospital. Max looked quickly at the mans wrists and yes, there was a medical band still on his right wrist. He felt a twinge of guilt for having done so. Even though he knew the old man had not seen the quick eye movement.
They released me from the hospital, the old man repeated. I needed a ride to the bus station. I'm going home to have a hip replacement. He handed his bus ticket to Max.
Max scanned it quickly and handed it back. You missed the bus six days ago.
I know. They're going to charge me fifteen dollars to replace. Bus leaves in a few hours. Can I have one of your cigarettes?
Absolutely. Max pulled the pack out of his pocket. He felt another twinge. He had just paid his rent that morning, leaving himself with some thirty dollars to live on for the next two weeks. He had been in a bad mood all day. More precisely, he had been feeling sorry for himself all day. But that wasn't reason enough to withdraw his offer of a cigarette.
Thank you, son. The man took the cigarette and lit it. I live in Houston. Born and raised. The doctors sent me here for treatment. Some treatment! Hah! Wouldn't even give me a ride to the bus station when they released me. Got all the way here and thought, Gee, I should have taken a cab. Now I'm almost there. Just walk it. Wow, my hip hurts. Getting a replacement when I get home. At least the weather cooled. Nice day for a walk. I see your bus coming, son.
Max stood there in amazement. He reached up and gently squeezed the mans shoulder. Ill say a prayer for you, sir, was all he managed to say.
Well, that'll do just fine. And I'll say a prayer for you as well. God bless you, child. The old man started walking down the sidewalk just as the bus pulled up.
Max looked at his watch. The bus was twenty minutes late. He realized if the bus had been on time, he would have never met the old black man nor heard his story. He looked up at the bus driver and said in the most cheery of voices, Hi, glad you're late. I had a great day, truly. Thanks for the air conditioning.
The bus driver looked at him and snorted. Yeah, everyone is complaining today.
Copyright 2016, Kevin W. Perizzolo
With some 25 years in the publishing industry, Kevin W. Perizzolo took a decade- long hiatus and moved from the Rocky Mountains to an island off the coast of Texas. He figured it was safe as Galveston Island was not part of Texas, just near it. He now resides in Austin, having decided a big city is more to his liking. He is pursuing his writing and publishing once again and thanks Rational Magic for publishing his work.
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