Bobby Love Runs into an Old Friend

by Kevin Sterne

Bobby Love sat at the blackjack table of the Horseshoe Casino, a windowless affair on the Nebraska side of the Missouri River. The cards were coming easy. He rubbed a hundred-dollar chip and a twenty-five-dollar chip together in his pocket. The most money he’d had in a while. He could never keep money on him from one city to the next but could always afford a drink and hand or two. Tonight, he was pulsing, felt in control. A month ago, he’d run a job for Chilo and had already burned through it on everything a man would need in Omaha, Lincoln, Lawrence, Columbia, and Des Moines. After this job was over—the mountains. Denver. He’d been in the grass too long. Chilo’s payout could keep him a while. Hide out, take it easy.

He was a vanishing man. A skill honed from childhood, from having followed his uncle to three different trailer parks in the southern half of the state, where the dust was thick, and the wind blew so much they called it tornado alley. He had known when his uncle was home, and he shouldn’t have been. And, during that time, he had slipped into the usual trouble a boy could get into.

The dealer dealt him a 7-2 off suit, normally a terrible hand in poker, but, for Love, a lucky one. He doubled his bet and the dealer turned over an Ace and Love took his chips.

If you feel tapped in, the cards come that way—something his uncle had said during one formative moment. He’d taught Bobby the basics of poker, if you could call them that. Cards, booze and women were Love’s weaknesses, like his uncle’s. He’d been strong enough to fight his uncle at seventeen and had been living on his own since.

The key to vanishing was timing. He frustrated himself by giving in to what kept him in a place too long, usually women, lately Honey. But right now, it was this current job for Chilo. He felt for the phone in his pocket, flipped it open. Nothing.

  The dealer dealt him two cards and Honey slid into the seat next to him.

“Not tonight, Honey.”

“But you’re on a heater.” She played with something in her purse. 

“Hasn’t anyone taught you about superstitions?” She kept playing with that purse.

“I never got to properly thank you for what you did.”

A few weeks back, this suit had called her a lot lizard and Love had followed him to the parking lot to talk. She’d called him a hero. But tonight, he was tired. And he was waiting on instructions.

“Sweetie. Dear. I love you but you’re breaking my concentration.”

“Oh please. Your concentration. Gimme a break.” She put her hand on his knee. He took it and folded her fingers over a chip.

“Next time.” He kissed her hand and walked away.

“When will that be?”

But he’d already disappeared.

And he felt pleased with himself for doing so. Focus, when he had it, came in spades. He half smiled as he walked into the atrium. He threw a quarter into the horseshoe fountain, to repay the good luck he’d used. He was heading to cash his chips when he saw Cat sitting at a slot machine. What were the odds? Before he could decide not to, he was already walking up to her. She looked up at him then back at her game. It was something with cherries and dice. She forced a half laugh and ignored him.

“Last time I saw you, you said you were done with casinos.”

“I said I didn’t like the smell of the men. You all wear too much cologne.” She finished her game and looked at him. He looked at her. She looked healthier; her skin had more color.

“It’s been a while.”

“I guess it has.”

Her face said hug me and push me at the same time and it always pulled him in. He wanted to ask if she was still dancing, how things were after her mom died. He wanted to know about that old Jeep. The Fentanyl. The hole in the wall, was it still there?

 “I just finished CNA school. Six months. I’m celebrating.” His eyes went wide. “A nurse now.” She had a glow. But Love was ready to leave, felt uncomfortable. She sensed this and pointed to his arm and said, “What you got there?”

“My winnings.” He grinned. She followed him to the cashier, said her celebrating was over and she hadn’t won anything. “I’m riding big right now,” he said.

“Better hope it lasts.”

“That’s what I’m saying.”

He scribbled his name onto three pieces of paper, gave the cashier his real ID, complained that he was signing his life away. “Same old Bobby Love, making his money in casinos. But this time, you didn’t lose it.”

“I’m a changed man. I have one job to collect from and then I’m getting west.” She laughed. He gave her a good look. She had changed. “Nursing school?”

 Outside, the horizon was sucking away the last bit of blood orange from the sky. They stood under parking lot lights, with cattle fields all around them. Pearl millet, sorghum, cereal rye, short but hardy. It was just grass. “How’d you get here?”

 “I walked.” A ghostly tumbleweed brushed by them. Inside his car she leaned over him and he smelled lavender. Clouds of silt swirled around them. The wind howled. They were in the middle of a dust storm with nothing better to do. “Cat I can’t.” 

“What do you mean—”

He gently lifted her. “It’s this job.”

“You’re talking like the movies.”

“This one’s important.” And so, he told her. And, as he did, her expression changed.

  “Oh.”

  “Yeah.”

“Well. Where is he now?”

“I have him tied up in the trunk.”

About the Author

Kevin Sterne is a carpenter from Chicago and the author of the story collection All Must Go. He’s the winner of the 2020 Phoebe fiction contest. He’s currently working on his first novel.

Essential

by Megan Neary

                                                                  Danny wrapped his hand in a plastic to-go bag and cleaned the vomit out of the urinal. While he did, he mentally reviewed the night’s customers and tried to decide which idiot had gotten sick. There hadn’t been that many customers that night, it had been nothing like the night before when the place was packed with a sea of green t-shirts and speckled with several wasted office workers dressed in full-on leprechaun costumes. Now that had been a night. Sure, the customers were annoying as hell and totally tanked by noon, but man had he made money. He’d also gotten a black-eye breaking up a fight, but, still, all-in-all, it had been a great night. And now this shit. The place was closed and wouldn’t open again until god-knows-when. And he was fucked. Totally, completely fucked. 

    Danny scrubbed his hands until they were red, then finished closing up the bar. He triple-checked to be sure everything was turned off and locked up, he nailed plywood across the windows, then he stepped out into the quiet night and checked again to be sure the chain and padlock across the front door were secure. 

    His breath formed little clouds that he was continually walking through as he made his way toward his apartment. He felt the bulge of cash in his back pocket- a sad selection of small, damp bills- and wondered how long it would last. He was glad he’d had a good night on St. Patrick’s Day, but he’d been counting on that, had rent coming up and would have to pay it. So what the fuck was he going to do? Ted, who came to the bar most nights on his way home from the office, had told him he could probably get unemployment, or something, but of course Ted didn’t know he was paid in cash and was, as far as the customs agents who had let him into the country ten years ago were concerned, here for a week to visit his cousin. He remembered how afraid he’d been when they’d asked him, how it felt like they could see right through him, like they knew he had left Ireland and did not intend to go back, not ever. But he’d been careful, had only packed a single bag, hadn’t brought any photographs or mementos that might’ve made them think he’d stick around. And, in the end, they’d let him through. God, he remembered stepping onto the bus outside the airport and feeling that he’d made it, he’d really made it. 

    Within the week, after lying about his age and his vast hospitality experience, he’d scored a job pulling pints at O’Malley’s. And, when the owner learned he was still living in a shitty hostel in Greektown, he’d found him an apartment at a building his brother-in-law owned. All cash. He got paid in cash, left an envelope full of it in his landlord’s dropbox every month. 

    Ten years. Had he really worked at the same little bar for ten years? And what would he do now? He couldn’t turn around and get a job at a different bar, they were all closed. And the restaurants, too. He’d never been in a situation like this before, hadn’t been without work since he was fourteen. It was a terrible feeling. 

He got to his building and made his way up the dark, piss-smelling stairs to his apartment. He unlocked the door, but it stuck until he gave it a sharp kick. “Fuck,” he screamed as pain flooded his big toe. He limped into the apartment and grabbed a bottle of whiskey off the sticky counter and took a long swig before opening the cupboard and grabbing a bag of chips. He carried the chips and the whiskey and a can of coke from the fridge to the sagging orange couch. He turned on the TV and watched numbly as he ate chips by the handful, spilling crumbs all over his O’Malley’s t-shirt, and made his own whiskey and cokes by pouring booze and coke into his mouth at the same time, then swishing the concoction together in his puffed-out cheeks.  

He woke with his cheek pressed against the empty chip bag and his head pounding. He walked the four steps to the little kitchen nook and started a pot of coffee and filled a big glass of water at the tap. He swallowed the glass in a few long gulps, then refilled it and took some Advil from the cupboard. He knocked back four, swallowed the rest of the water, poured the coffee into a red mug and carried it back to the orange couch where he drank it along with a short swig from the whiskey bottle. 

He spent the next week in much the same state, venturing out only to the corner store to buy food and booze. It was a depressing drunk. He’d been on benders before, but always they’d been filled with adventure, with buddies, with girls, now he just sat on his sad, sloping couch and drank himself blind. 

After a week, his cash was running dangerously low. So, he got himself off the couch, showered, shaved the sad, patchy excuse for a beard that had cropped up on his jawline and dressed in clean clothes. Then, he pulled out his phone and began to search for a job. 

Craigslist was full of sketchy ads looking for “quarantine companions” and scams promising to earn you one hundred thousand dollars a year if you’d just buy the two thousand dollar getting-started kit, but then he saw a posting seeking a babysitter, someone to keep an eye on the kids while their parents holed up in the home office, to help them with their online schoolwork, and to provide other “enriching” activities. They were offering cash. 

Danny fired together an email that consisted of lies and extreme exaggerations strung together with excessively formal and polite pleasantries, then returned to scanning the other postings. He scrolled past one seeking an egg donor and offering twenty thousand dollars for the right person and was momentarily jealous that he didn’t have any eggs to donate, but then he figured he’d probably freak out at the idea of a bunch of his kids running around who he’d never know. Beneath the egg donor ad there was one that said We’re Hiring NOW! So he clicked on it and read “We are not currently hiring, but would love for you to send us your resumes for when we can return to work.” He almost threw his phone across the room and he considered penning an angry email to let the poster of the Craigslist ad know he was an idiot, but he just decided to take a break from the job hunt instead. 

Danny got drunk and went to sleep.

In the morning, he got up and made his way to the corner store. He was walking with his head down, feeling decidedly hungover and downtrodden, so that he didn’t notice Mr. Jones sitting on a fold-up chair on his tiny front porch until it was too late.

“Danny,” he called, “come here, come here, I’ve got something important to tell you.”

Danny felt mild panic set in, but then he remembered, he had a trump card! “Sorry, Mr. Jones,” he said, “but I’m afraid I can’t ya know, social distancing and all.”

“Not to worry, not to worry,” called Mr. Jones, making a little clucking noise with his tongue, “I’ve measured it all out. You just stand right there beside the fence and I’ll call to you from here. It’s six feet and 2 inches, don’t you worry.”

“Alright, Mr. Jones,” Danny said, leaning his elbows on the grey fence and studying the old man with his big puffy winter coat pulled over his stooped shoulders and his extraordinarily lethargic mutt slobbering on his brown loafers. “What is it?”

“Pardon me?”

“You said you had something important to tell me.”

“Ah, yes, of course,” Mr. Jones said, making that clucking noise again, “of course I did, now, let’s see, where was I? Ah, yes, well, you remember how I told you about my water heater?”

“Yes,” Danny almost shouted, he was so eager to cut off a retelling of the story at the pass.

“Well, so, you remember, how my water heater had been acting up. I didn’t have a proper warm bath for three weeks. Or was it three and a half? Hmm, well, it started on a Tuesday, and,” he lost himself for a moment, counting his fingers again and again, “yes, that’s right, it was three weeks and two days. Well, like I said, I just couldn’t get hot water to save my life. And I called my landlord. Must’ve called him ten times. Let’s see, yes, I called him that first Monday, then again Wednesday, and,…”

The story went on and on. Danny zoned out completely and picked at the peeling paint on the grey  fence until he heard the old man say, “now, isn’t that just something?”

“Sure is, Mr. Jones,” Danny said, “good to see you, but I’m afraid I’ve got, uh,-” he remembered that work and most appointments were canceled and panicked, “stuff,” he blurted and took off at the fastest walk he could manage without breaking into a proper sprint.

Danny made it to the corner shop and bought cans of beef stew and chill, a bag of tortilla chips, and a handle of cheap vodka. The old woman, Valentina,  looked concerned as she rang him out. 

“You here a lot now,” she said.

Danny gave her a grin, “well, I just can’t stay away from you.”

He took the long way home to avoid Mr. Jones then heated up a can of chili and ate it with his chips. He put the vodka in the freezer and told himself he couldn’t open it until five so then he ended up watching the clock for hours until he could grab the bottle and make love to it on the orange couch. 

The next morning, he had an email telling him he seemed like a great fit for the babysitter position and asking him to come by that afternoon for an interview. 

He showered and shaved and dressed in black pants and a blue collared shirt, then typed the address into his phone and set off on a long walk. He could’ve taken a bus, but he’d begun to go a little mad from sitting around all the time and the sun was shining and the jury was still out on whether buses were disease breeding machines.. He was halfway to the address when the sky darkened and only a few blocks away when it opened up and poured a deluge of cold rain down on him. By the time he reached the hideously modern highrise, his jacket was soaked through and his hair was a plastered, dripping mess. He rang the buzzer and was granted admittance to the foyer, where he pulled off his coat and ran his hands through his hair before boarding the elevator and slowly climbing twenty stories. 

He found 20F and knocked. Through the door, he heard the sound of children screaming. After several minutes, a blonde woman in yoga attire opened the door. 

“Can I help you?” she asked.

“I’m Danny, I’m here for the interview.”

“The interview?”

“For babysitting.”

“You’re Danny?”

“Yes, ma’am.”

“Oh,” she said, like a tire deflating.

“Is something the matter?” Danny asked, wondering if she was disgusted by his obvious failure to remember an umbrella.

“No, no, not at all, it’s just, I thought Danny was short for, you know, Daniela.”

“I’m, uh, afraid not.”

“Well, I guess you’d better come in,” she said with another sigh and she walked into the apartment, leaving the door open behind her. Danny followed. 

The apartment was large and sunny and decorated in greyscale except for the purple yoga mat that sat in front of the massive TV and the toys of the three boys who were chasing each other and vaulting over the white couches and standing on the glass coffee table. 

“Please, have a seat,” the woman said, pointing to the chair beside her at the black kitchen table. 

Danny sat.

“So,” the woman went on, “tell me a little about yourself.”

Danny went on for several minutes with lies about his experience and expertise.

“I just love your accent,” the woman replied. 

There was a sudden sound of shattering followed quickly by a shout of, “it wasn’t me.” 

The woman put her head in her hands and groaned. “As you can see,” she said, “they are really missing the structure of school. That’s why I need someone to keep them on task.”

“You know,” Danny said, “I could start today.”

The woman studied him for a long, awkward moment, then sighed again, “alright,” she said, “alright.”

She called the boys into the kitchen and, after several minutes and ten repetitions of her call, they came, and she introduced Danny to Tucker, Kyle, and Wyatt. 

Then, she went into the other room and returned to her yoga while Danny faced his three new charges and remembered he had no idea what the fuck he was doing. 

For about an hour, they listened to him. Tucker and Kyle worked away on their online schoolwork and Wyatt colored beside them, but then they got bored and made a break for it, racing around the apartment again, Wyatt’s marker-covered hands posing a serious threat to the white couches he was forever trying to climb.

Danny tried to coax them, to appeal to their better nature, to pitch schoolwork as somehow appealing, all the while keeping his eye nervously on the bedroom door behind which their mother was napping. 

When she came out of the room, he smiled and said, “they did such a good job I decided they’d earned some free time.”

“Great,” she said and she brewed a pot of coffee then brought two mugs of it over to the table. They sat and drank their coffee while the children, finally tired out, watched television. 

“You know,” she said, “I think this quarantine is really going to be a good thing. I was just reading some articles about how nature is already doing so great now that the people are gone. Like, there’s dolphins in Italy again, which is just wonderful. And it’s great for families to have time together, you know, no interruptions. Really, I think this is just mother nature, doing her thang, you know. Reminding us that she’s in charge and, like, the world doesn’t need us.”

“Sure,” Danny said, “you know I always say the thing the world’s missing is more plagues.”

“Exactly. You know, there’s just too many people. And, we’re, like, this virus on the earth so now, like, the earth has a fever to fight us off.”

“My thoughts exactly.”

“By the way, if you could be sure and wear a mask on your commute from now on, and leave your shoes outside the door, and, of course, wash your hands first thing when you come in, that’d be great.”

“Of course. You can’t be too careful.”

Danny lasted two weeks in that job before he was informed that the family was picking up and going off to their “summer place.” 

He was feeling bad as he walked through the light snow toward home. He was back where he’d started, he had no idea when the lockdown would end, and he hadn’t had a real conversation in weeks. 

He was hanging his head, wishing he were home already and also dreading the quiet, crushing loneliness of the place, when he saw a little golden retriever puppy darting toward him, dragging a blue leash in his wake. 

Danny stooped down and grabbed the leash and the dog stopped short, barking and nipping at his legs. He looked around, wondering where the dog had come from and what he was supposed to do now that he’d caught him, when he saw a woman in a blue coat running toward him. When she saw Danny holding the leash, she broke out into a grin. 

“Thank you,” she said when she reached them, “I tripped and he just took off.” She held up her scrapped hands as if to prove her story. 

“No problem,” Danny said, handing her the leash.

She smiled at him with a lovely, eye-reaching smile and suddenly he wanted to kiss her very much and to touch her long, dark hair. 

“I’m Danny, by the way.”

“Marcy,” she said, holding out her hand. 

They shook for an instant, but then she pulled her hand back, “sorry,” she said, “force of habit. Oh God,” she added, “I’m totally in your space right now.” She took several quick steps back.

“That’s alright,” Danny said, “I like sharing my space with you.”

“That’s, like, really not cool. It’s important to take social-distancing seriously.”

“Oh, yeah, of course, but, I mean, we already messed that up, so doesn’t that mean we might as well just go with it? We could be, uh, quarantine buddies.”

“Have you even been watching Dr. Fauci’s press conferences? Cuz, like, quarantine buddies are totally not a thing you’re supposed to have.”

“Sorry,” Danny muttered, “see ya, I guess,” and he walked past her and toward home. He felt that he had been cheated. Like, for God’s sake, everyone who’s ever seen a romcom would’ve guessed he’d end up with the girl whose puppy he caught. It was such an obvious conclusion that their whole relationship could’ve easily been summed up in a happy little montage. They’d hold hands as they walked through the zoo and an elephant would trumpet so loudly it made them jump then bend over laughing, they’d eat at a beautiful restaurant with white tablecloths and candles, they’d get stuck at the top of a ferris wheel and make out. But then he remembered all of that shit was now illegal and he tried to come up with a quarantine montage. They’d walk on opposite sides of the street, they’d buy ramen at the corner store and cook it on his ancient stove, they’d get plastered together on his sloping orange couch. Somehow, this montage didn’t have quite the same charm as the first one. 

When he got home, Danny again scanned Craigslist for a job. This time, he found a pizza place that was looking for a bike-riding delivery man. He didn’t have a bike, but he knew someone who did. He vacillated for a long while, struggling to convince himself that the certain suffering involved in getting the bike would be worth not starving. He still wasn’t totally convinced when he set off for Mr. Jones’ place the next morning.

Again, Mr. Jones sat on his tiny porch in his massive coat. 

“Good morning, Danny,” he called.

“Good morning, Mr. Jones,” Danny replied from his place beside the peeling grey fence.

“And a good morning it is, too,” Mr. Jones said, “really, a beautiful morning. Sure, it’s a bit chilly and there’s a thirty-two percent chance of rain, or was it thirty-one, oh, gee, I’ll check and get back to you, but, like I was saying, it sure is a beautiful morning. Sure, my allergies are actin’ up a bit and the squirrels are gettin’ a bit cheeky, you know, seem to think they own the place these days, but, like I said before, it is a beautiful morning.”

“Sure is, sure is,” Danny said, “so, the thing is, I’m applyin’ for a job deliverin’ pizzas, but I need a bike to do it and I remembered you’ve got that old blue bike in the yard there and, well, I was wonderin’ if there’s any way I could borrow it.”

“Pizza. What a delicious food. I don’t know anyone who doesn’t like pizza, do you? I tell ya, it sure is good. Did you know, when they first invented it the idea was to include the colors of the Italian flag? So they had the red sauce and the white cheese and the green parsley. You don’t see parsley on pizzas much these days, which is a real shame, if you ask me. I guess we should be glad England didn’t invent the pizza, though. I don’t know about you, but I really wouldn’t care for blueberries on my pie,” he paused to take a drink of water and Danny quickly cut in

“That’s very interesting, but, uh, as I was saying, to get the job I’d need to borrow the bike. Would that be alright with you?”

“Are you much of a biker? You know, when I was younger, I used to bike all over the place. We’d ride down to the lake and spend the whole day there. Those were the days, let me tell you. Children were unsupervised and free and, let me tell you, in my whole childhood only three of my friends died in perfectly preventable accidents so you can understand why I just don’t understand all the molly-coddling these days.”

“I, uh, I used to bike when I was a kid, too. I haven’t recently, though, because I don’t have a bike, but if I could just borrow yours-”

“You want to borrow my bike?”

“Yes, I mean, if you don’t mind.”

“But of course. Only, why didn’t you say so in the first place? Really, you must learn to come to the point. I always say, coming to the point is the most important thing, the absolutely essential thing…”

By the time Danny wheeled the bike out of Mr. Jones’ yard, he felt as physically ill as he used to while listening to his teacher lecture on the layers of the earth for the twelth time in as many days. 

He rode the bike to the pizza shop and stepped into the tiny, hot space. There were three empty tables on the linoleum floor in front of the counter where a tired-looking man was taking an order over the phone. Danny waited for him to hang up, mentally rehearsing his falsified resume. 

“What can I getchya?” the man asked as he hung up the phone. 

“I’m here to apply for the delivery job.”

“Have a seat over there, I’ll be with you in a minute.”

Danny sat for twenty minutes at a sticky table- which was somewhat miraculous- no customers had been allowed to eat in for weeks. Finally, the man came out from behind the counter, wiping his hands on his apron before reaching out to shake Danny’s, then wiping them again afterward- a full-proof way to stop the virus in its tracks, surely. 

“I’m Mike,” he said.

“Danny.”

“Nice to meet ya.”

“You too.”

“So, tell me why you want to work here.”

“Well, I’m just really passionate about good food and good service and I want to provide every customer with-”

“Cut the crap.”

“Excuse me?”
    “Why do you actually want to work here?”

“The bar I work at got shuttered.”

“That’s a damn shame.”

Danny nodded.

“Do you have any experience?”

Danny hesitated, worried Mike would see through him and tell him to cut the crap again, but in the end he went with his lies and informed him of his illustrious career as a bike delivery guy. 

“Alright,” Mike said, “you can start tomorrow.”

“There’s, uh, there’s one thing,” Danny said, growing nervous and fidgety, “I was, well I was wondering if maybe you’d be able to, just, keep me off the books?”

Mike studied him for a long minute before giving a little sigh and saying, “you’d better not be ICE or some shit.”

“No, no, I swear, it’s just, well, I’m supposed to be here on holiday.”

“Alright, alright, we can work something out. Most of your earnings will be in tips, anyway.”

“Great, thanks so much, I-”

The phone rang and Mike walked away to answer it.

Danny started work the next day. He met the cook, Mario, and quickly learned that he did pretty much everything while Mike leaned against the front counter and liked the photos of the many models he followed on Instagram. Mario had a thick Mexican accent and Danny had a thick Irish one, so they struggled a bit to communicate, but, just the same, they were soon fast friends, their relationship helped immeasurably by their shared interest in mocking Mike. Mike was just an insanely mockable guy. For one thing, he walked with a pronounced swagger that was forever causing him to bump into things in the restaurant’s tight quarters. For another, he flirted with every woman who came through the door and he did so quite badly. On Danny’s first day, he told a young woman who was picking up a to-go order, that he loved her dishwater blonde hair. The woman grabbed a handful of her hair and stared at it as she repeated in horror “dishwater blonde? Dishwater?” He gave another young woman free pizza every day and every day she told him she’d love to go out, but, of course, with the quarantine and everything… He also had a chip on his shoulder from having inherited the place from his father without inheriting any of his skill in the kitchen or his business acumen. So, mostly, he left everything up to Mario, but would randomly pull rank and give absurd orders “don’t forget to flip the pizza over half-way through,” he once shouted to Mario as he pulled beautiful pies out of the big wood-burning oven. “Of course, boss, of course,” Mario said, before covering his mouth and doing his best to turn his laugh into a cough. 

Danny enjoyed riding his bike through the eerily quiet streets, but he hated the process of actually handing off the pizza. For one thing, there was no consistency. At one house, he’d find a note asking him to take the envelope of cash from beneath the mat and leave the pizza at the door. At another, he’d be invited to stand inside the apartment while his customer spent fifteen minutes searching the couch cushions for crumpled, suspiciously damp, singles. 

He’d been working a week when he had his first encounter with Miss Rose. After Mario had taken her order, he sighed and shook his head, “sorry, my friend, you got a god bless youer.”

“What?”

“You see when you go.”

Danny parked his bike at the cast iron fence and walked up the steps to the blue front porch and rang the bell. After several long minutes an old woman in a pink silk nightgown and robe opened the door. 

“Good evening,” she said, reaching into her pocket for cash.

“Good evening,” Danny replied, handing her the pizza and reaching into his pouch for change. 

The woman took all of the change and shoved it back into her pocket. Danny hesitated for a second, maybe she’d just forgotten tip wasn’t included. 

She gave Danny another big, cold smile. “Thank you so much for your hard work,” she said, “I want you to know, I really appreciate it. I just can’t tell you enough how important you front-line workers are. God bless you.” And then she closed the door.

“Fuck,” Danny muttered to himself as he got on his bike and wondered if she thought saying nice things made up for not tipping, because it totally didn’t, he would’ve much rather been called an idiot and given a cool fifteen percent. 

At first, the people on the news told everyone to stop being such selfish bastards and leave the masks and gloves for the healthcare workers. Later, they told everyone to stop being such selfish bastards and wear masks and gloves everywhere. It was a strange sensation, to walk into the corner store with a mask on and not draw a single anxious glance. Danny imagined it must be a great time to be a stick-up artist. Hell, you were even encouraged to wear masks and gloves in the bank. 

And then, one day, the corner store was closed. Danny had never, not in the decade he’d lived down the road, seen the place closed for longer than a few hours, but now it was shuttered and, on a coffee-stained piece of paper taped to the inside of the door was a note that read: Closed due to illness. Be well. 

He walked on down the road to the next shop and bought a frozen pizza and a six pack, but he kept thinking back to the corner shop and the old woman who worked there. She’d never closed before, so it certainly didn’t seem likely she’d close for a cold. Did she have the virus, then? And, if so, who was looking after her? He knew she lived in the little apartment above the shop with that grey cat who was always trying to wrap himself around Danny’s feet and making him sneeze. 

Three days went by and still the store was closed. So, at the end of his shift, Danny got Mario to hook him up with a free pizza and rode over to the shop with it. He hesitated at the side door that led up to the overhead lodgings for a while. If she did have it, did he really want to expose himself? Was it any of his business? Wouldn’t she think it a bit creepy for him to just show up at her door? But he rang the bell anyway and waited a long while until a panting voice gasped into the intercom “yes?”

“It’s Danny,” he said, “I, uh, I go to your shop a lot.”

“I’m sorry, honey, we’re closed.”

“I know, it’s not- uh- I brought you a pizza.”

“A pizza?”

“Yeah.”

“Well, thanks, but, I’m sick, you’d better not come in.”

“I could set it outside your window, I’ll use the fire escape.”

“Thank you, love, that’s very kind.”

Danny held the pizza firmly beneath one arm as he hoisted himself onto the dumpster in the alley and pulled down the rain-slick ladder that led to the fire escape. Then, he climbed up it to the white lace curtain-framed window. He peered inside and saw Valentina looking back at him, her arms crossed over her fuzzy pink-robe-clad chest, her face older and thinner than he remembered it. He smiled and waved and she smiled and waved back. He set the pizza beside the window, waved again, and climbed down. 

The next day, he brought another pizza, as well as a bag full of groceries- Advil, toilet paper, canned soup. And he sat outside the window for a while while she sat on the other side and they yelled to each other, she told him she was just fine, would be up and at ’em in no time, but screaming it through the window set her to coughing again and it was a long while before the attack subsided. When it did, her face was wet with tears.

He began to visit her every day after work, to spend longer and longer stretches sitting on the hard, cold fire escape steps, peering through the window at the old woman who seemed to grow so much older every day. But, somehow, she always managed to make her way to the chair beside the window when she heard him knock upon it and she’d hold her little hand against the cold glass and he’d press his big one against it. 

They didn’t talk much, really. Mostly just sat beside each other with the glass between them. But there was something lovely about it so that Danny began to look forward to their evenings together like he used to look forward to a night off with money in his pocket. And he could tell she looked forward to his coming- she’d light up when she saw him, even if the light quickly faded when the first coughing fit came. He’d spend most of the evening trying to get her to smile again. He’d pull funny faces or press his nose against the glass like a little kid or, sometimes, he’d tell her stories. 

When he crashed his bike and showed up outside her window with a bunch of paper towels messily taped over the gash in his chin and a bag of frozen peas clutched to his bruised ribs, she threw her hands to her face in concern, but he smiled. “You’ll never believe what happened to me,” he said, “so, I was riding my bike, you know, just minding my own business, when, suddenly, totally out of nowhere, a banana peel appeared in my path, so, being the quick-thinker I am, I swerved to avoid it and, whatdya know, but from way up high in a skyscraper Wylie Coyote was dropping an anchor, so, of course, I had to swerve to avoid that, and then I saw that the path just totally stopped and I was about to plunge over the side of a cliff, so I slammed on my breaks and came to a stop just in time.”

Valentina laughed far more than his stupid joke deserved and said, so, how’d you end up getting hurt then, sounds like you avoid all the traps.”

“It’s just the darndest thing,” Danny said, “I turned around from the edge of the cliff and headed back toward safety and the chain slipped off my bike.” 

And then, on a pretty night, the first one that really felt like Spring, Danny climbed up the fire escape and knocked on the window and Valentina did not come. He waited a while, then knocked again. By the third time, he was growing a bit panicked. Maybe she was just asleep, probably he was being annoying, should just leave the pizza and let her rest, but he had a sick feeling in the pit of his stomach and when he had slammed and banged for a good ten minutes and still she didn’t come, he stood up and kicked in the window after estimating its size and resolving to replace it if he was just being paranoid. 

He draped his jacket over the sharp edges of glass left in the frame like he’d seen people do in movies and climbed in. 

He walked across the kitchen shouting, “don’t be afraid, it’s just Danny, I just wanted to make sure-” and he pushed open the bedroom door and he knew. She was dead. He ran to her bed and felt her cold hand through his glove. She looked so little lying there, wrapped up in half-a-dozen colorful blankets, surrounded by photos of the husband who had gone before her and the children who were locked in their own apartments across the country. 

He knelt beside her and held her hand for a long while and he cried until he could hardly breathe, only then realizing how much she had come to mean to him. 

When he got up, he called an ambulance and watched them load her onto a stretcher. 

When they were gone, he taped one of the many pizza boxes that were neatly stacked in the corner of her kitchen over the broken window, found the cat beneath the table and picked him up like a baby, then left. He walked home, trying not to touch anything, trying not to breathe, went into his apartment, threw his gloves and mask in the trash, took a long shower, stood beneath the water long after it had gone cold, didn’t know where his tears ended and the faucet’s began.

When he called Mike and told him he wouldn’t be able to work for a while, Mike said he’d expected more professionalism and reminded him two weeks’ notice was standard. Then he hung up. Danny pulled the cheap tequila from the freezer and settled onto the sloping orange sofa for a long, hard drunk. But then the cat crawled onto his chest and began to purr. Danny sneezed and rubbed at his itching eyes as he searched the cupboards for a can of tuna, the little grey cat constantly tripping him up as it wrapped around his feet.

Author Bio: Megan Neary is a Writer and Teacher living in Columbus, Ohio. She is also a contributing editor at Flyover Country. Her stories have been published in Rejection Letters and Near Window.

Literature Post 2

This is an example post, originally published as part of Blogging University. Enroll in one of our ten programs, and start your blog right.

You’re going to publish a post today. Don’t worry about how your blog looks. Don’t worry if you haven’t given it a name yet, or you’re feeling overwhelmed. Just click the “New Post” button, and tell us why you’re here.

Why do this?

  • Because it gives new readers context. What are you about? Why should they read your blog?
  • Because it will help you focus your own ideas about your blog and what you’d like to do with it.

The post can be short or long, a personal intro to your life or a bloggy mission statement, a manifesto for the future or a simple outline of your the types of things you hope to publish.

To help you get started, here are a few questions:

  • Why are you blogging publicly, rather than keeping a personal journal?
  • What topics do you think you’ll write about?
  • Who would you love to connect with via your blog?
  • If you blog successfully throughout the next year, what would you hope to have accomplished?

You’re not locked into any of this; one of the wonderful things about blogs is how they constantly evolve as we learn, grow, and interact with one another — but it’s good to know where and why you started, and articulating your goals may just give you a few other post ideas.

Can’t think how to get started? Just write the first thing that pops into your head. Anne Lamott, author of a book on writing we love, says that you need to give yourself permission to write a “crappy first draft”. Anne makes a great point — just start writing, and worry about editing it later.

When you’re ready to publish, give your post three to five tags that describe your blog’s focus — writing, photography, fiction, parenting, food, cars, movies, sports, whatever. These tags will help others who care about your topics find you in the Reader. Make sure one of the tags is “zerotohero,” so other new bloggers can find you, too.

Journalism Post 2

This is an example post, originally published as part of Blogging University. Enroll in one of our ten programs, and start your blog right.

You’re going to publish a post today. Don’t worry about how your blog looks. Don’t worry if you haven’t given it a name yet, or you’re feeling overwhelmed. Just click the “New Post” button, and tell us why you’re here.

Why do this?

  • Because it gives new readers context. What are you about? Why should they read your blog?
  • Because it will help you focus your own ideas about your blog and what you’d like to do with it.

The post can be short or long, a personal intro to your life or a bloggy mission statement, a manifesto for the future or a simple outline of your the types of things you hope to publish.

To help you get started, here are a few questions:

  • Why are you blogging publicly, rather than keeping a personal journal?
  • What topics do you think you’ll write about?
  • Who would you love to connect with via your blog?
  • If you blog successfully throughout the next year, what would you hope to have accomplished?

You’re not locked into any of this; one of the wonderful things about blogs is how they constantly evolve as we learn, grow, and interact with one another — but it’s good to know where and why you started, and articulating your goals may just give you a few other post ideas.

Can’t think how to get started? Just write the first thing that pops into your head. Anne Lamott, author of a book on writing we love, says that you need to give yourself permission to write a “crappy first draft”. Anne makes a great point — just start writing, and worry about editing it later.

When you’re ready to publish, give your post three to five tags that describe your blog’s focus — writing, photography, fiction, parenting, food, cars, movies, sports, whatever. These tags will help others who care about your topics find you in the Reader. Make sure one of the tags is “zerotohero,” so other new bloggers can find you, too.

Criticism Post 2

This is an example post, originally published as part of Blogging University. Enroll in one of our ten programs, and start your blog right.

You’re going to publish a post today. Don’t worry about how your blog looks. Don’t worry if you haven’t given it a name yet, or you’re feeling overwhelmed. Just click the “New Post” button, and tell us why you’re here.

Why do this?

  • Because it gives new readers context. What are you about? Why should they read your blog?
  • Because it will help you focus your own ideas about your blog and what you’d like to do with it.

The post can be short or long, a personal intro to your life or a bloggy mission statement, a manifesto for the future or a simple outline of your the types of things you hope to publish.

To help you get started, here are a few questions:

  • Why are you blogging publicly, rather than keeping a personal journal?
  • What topics do you think you’ll write about?
  • Who would you love to connect with via your blog?
  • If you blog successfully throughout the next year, what would you hope to have accomplished?

You’re not locked into any of this; one of the wonderful things about blogs is how they constantly evolve as we learn, grow, and interact with one another — but it’s good to know where and why you started, and articulating your goals may just give you a few other post ideas.

Can’t think how to get started? Just write the first thing that pops into your head. Anne Lamott, author of a book on writing we love, says that you need to give yourself permission to write a “crappy first draft”. Anne makes a great point — just start writing, and worry about editing it later.

When you’re ready to publish, give your post three to five tags that describe your blog’s focus — writing, photography, fiction, parenting, food, cars, movies, sports, whatever. These tags will help others who care about your topics find you in the Reader. Make sure one of the tags is “zerotohero,” so other new bloggers can find you, too.

Criticism Post

This is an example post, originally published as part of Blogging University. Enroll in one of our ten programs, and start your blog right.

You’re going to publish a post today. Don’t worry about how your blog looks. Don’t worry if you haven’t given it a name yet, or you’re feeling overwhelmed. Just click the “New Post” button, and tell us why you’re here.

Why do this?

  • Because it gives new readers context. What are you about? Why should they read your blog?
  • Because it will help you focus your own ideas about your blog and what you’d like to do with it.

The post can be short or long, a personal intro to your life or a bloggy mission statement, a manifesto for the future or a simple outline of your the types of things you hope to publish.

To help you get started, here are a few questions:

  • Why are you blogging publicly, rather than keeping a personal journal?
  • What topics do you think you’ll write about?
  • Who would you love to connect with via your blog?
  • If you blog successfully throughout the next year, what would you hope to have accomplished?

You’re not locked into any of this; one of the wonderful things about blogs is how they constantly evolve as we learn, grow, and interact with one another — but it’s good to know where and why you started, and articulating your goals may just give you a few other post ideas.

Can’t think how to get started? Just write the first thing that pops into your head. Anne Lamott, author of a book on writing we love, says that you need to give yourself permission to write a “crappy first draft”. Anne makes a great point — just start writing, and worry about editing it later.

When you’re ready to publish, give your post three to five tags that describe your blog’s focus — writing, photography, fiction, parenting, food, cars, movies, sports, whatever. These tags will help others who care about your topics find you in the Reader. Make sure one of the tags is “zerotohero,” so other new bloggers can find you, too.

Journalism Post

This is an example post, originally published as part of Blogging University. Enroll in one of our ten programs, and start your blog right.

You’re going to publish a post today. Don’t worry about how your blog looks. Don’t worry if you haven’t given it a name yet, or you’re feeling overwhelmed. Just click the “New Post” button, and tell us why you’re here.

Why do this?

  • Because it gives new readers context. What are you about? Why should they read your blog?
  • Because it will help you focus your own ideas about your blog and what you’d like to do with it.

The post can be short or long, a personal intro to your life or a bloggy mission statement, a manifesto for the future or a simple outline of your the types of things you hope to publish.

To help you get started, here are a few questions:

  • Why are you blogging publicly, rather than keeping a personal journal?
  • What topics do you think you’ll write about?
  • Who would you love to connect with via your blog?
  • If you blog successfully throughout the next year, what would you hope to have accomplished?

You’re not locked into any of this; one of the wonderful things about blogs is how they constantly evolve as we learn, grow, and interact with one another — but it’s good to know where and why you started, and articulating your goals may just give you a few other post ideas.

Can’t think how to get started? Just write the first thing that pops into your head. Anne Lamott, author of a book on writing we love, says that you need to give yourself permission to write a “crappy first draft”. Anne makes a great point — just start writing, and worry about editing it later.

When you’re ready to publish, give your post three to five tags that describe your blog’s focus — writing, photography, fiction, parenting, food, cars, movies, sports, whatever. These tags will help others who care about your topics find you in the Reader. Make sure one of the tags is “zerotohero,” so other new bloggers can find you, too.

Literature Post

This is an example post, originally published as part of Blogging University. Enroll in one of our ten programs, and start your blog right.

You’re going to publish a post today. Don’t worry about how your blog looks. Don’t worry if you haven’t given it a name yet, or you’re feeling overwhelmed. Just click the “New Post” button, and tell us why you’re here.

Why do this?

  • Because it gives new readers context. What are you about? Why should they read your blog?
  • Because it will help you focus your own ideas about your blog and what you’d like to do with it.

The post can be short or long, a personal intro to your life or a bloggy mission statement, a manifesto for the future or a simple outline of your the types of things you hope to publish.

To help you get started, here are a few questions:

  • Why are you blogging publicly, rather than keeping a personal journal?
  • What topics do you think you’ll write about?
  • Who would you love to connect with via your blog?
  • If you blog successfully throughout the next year, what would you hope to have accomplished?

You’re not locked into any of this; one of the wonderful things about blogs is how they constantly evolve as we learn, grow, and interact with one another — but it’s good to know where and why you started, and articulating your goals may just give you a few other post ideas.

Can’t think how to get started? Just write the first thing that pops into your head. Anne Lamott, author of a book on writing we love, says that you need to give yourself permission to write a “crappy first draft”. Anne makes a great point — just start writing, and worry about editing it later.

When you’re ready to publish, give your post three to five tags that describe your blog’s focus — writing, photography, fiction, parenting, food, cars, movies, sports, whatever. These tags will help others who care about your topics find you in the Reader. Make sure one of the tags is “zerotohero,” so other new bloggers can find you, too.