From a story composed this morning as part of Longer on the Inside: Very Short Fictions of Infinitely Human Lives.
“Buck a drive, sir,” the girl half says, half announces, when the man opens the door of his house and finds her standing there, or perhaps it is one third says, one third announces, one third asks.
She holds the shovel at her side, the dented, slightly curling, metal edge against the blanketed brick, the green handle up around her eyes, in the manner that the man imagines a soldier in the Revolutionary War would have held his rifle. He’d read that Washington said no guns were to be leaned upon, that the gesture gave an indication of repose and vulnerability to the enemy. The softening of the psychological edge, which may be like the edge of an old shovel.
The snow comes down in ribbons of white, streamers from the sky, for which it is not hard to imagine one flake saying to another, “get away from me, you’re too close, this is my one chance, my one time, I won’t have my identity compromised, nor blurred.”
She looks like a sage who has been meditating in the elements, and it is because there is so much snow in her eyebrows that he knows that they are thick.
He sees his breath in front of his face. It’s the first time in a while that he has seen it. That it is not brown mildly surprises him, because he feels the coffee in his fingertips, and they shake in the air, despite retaining the vague, theoretical warmth of the house, though he keeps the thermostat low, as it’s just him. The girl repeats herself as the pause around them settles. “Buck a drive, sir,” she continues, and adds the word “please.”
He wants to ask her in. He can make her banana bread. He hasn’t made it in a long time, but not as long as it feels he hasn’t made it. He could prepare cocoa. They could sit. She’d be one of those children who ate what was once called enthusiastically—but not a child who’d wolf her food—and took long, pulling drinks from her mug, with a big “aahhh” at the end when she was all finished.
That had been his favorite kind of drinker. A girl to whom one would say, upon the presumed final quaffing, “All done?” and receive a satisfied smile in return. “All done, daddy.”
While the girl with the shovel—she’d leave it just outside the door—sat and drank, he’d be able to look at her, work on what he might say so that they could talk. Have a nice talk. She’d have to leave not long after. Wasn’t like she’d be able to stay. But for ten minutes, ten simple minutes, ten minutes of kindness that no one could call selfish on his part, it would feel like home again.
“Why are you only asking a dollar?” the man says. “You’re not going to get very far, asking only a buck a drive.”