“Trenton Makes, The World Takes” by Bruce Harris
Mondays Are Murder features brand-new noir fiction modeled after our award-winning Noir Series. Each story is an original one, and each takes place in a distinct location. Our web model for the series has one more restraint: a 750-word limit. Sound like murder? It is. But so are Mondays.
This week, Bruce Harris gets in touch with his inner entrepreneur.
Here I am, ten minutes after five in the a.m., standing on Fowler Street, one of Trenton’s meanest, a shit-eating grin on my face. How did I get here? It’s like this . . .
The Hamilton Bread Company needed a route driver. Seems as if the last couple they had for the Central West section of the Garden State’s capital city had quit for one reason or another. Two were robbed at gunpoint, one at knifepoint, and one had his vehicle stolen while making a delivery to Crocker’s Bakery on West Hanover Street. What the hell? I saw the ad, I needed a job, and the pay was decent. Be your own boss! shouted the headline. That also appealed to me.
So I wind up driving a bread route in one of the city’s nastiest sections in the middle of the night and early mornings while most decent and indecent folks are asleep. What does a former United States Marine have to fear, except the alarm clock?
The work isn’t tough, only the hours. The human body isn’t meant to work nocturnally. But I had a steady and reliable list of customers—including bakeries, coffee shops, bodegas, and a couple of diners that catered to Trenton’s druggies to make things worthwhile. The entrepreneur in me shined. I increased the number of customers on the route by 15 percent within the first six months. Things were good. The only problem was the leftover bread and rolls I had after each night’s shift. Remains ranged anywhere from one to two dozen loaves of fresh bread. The same for rolls, seeded and otherwise. What a waste, especially in Trenton, specifically in the Central West section of Trenton, where a lot of folks were hurting for one reason or another.
That’s when I got the bright idea of donating the unsold breads and rolls to the needy. I found Mr. Kang from the Ceremonial Food Bank of Trenton. Mr. Kang, the man who “feeds the hungry and lends a helping hand to those in need.” After each shift, I drove the truck to Mr. Kang’s food bank and delivered, free of charge, all of the leftover bread and rolls. Instead of tossing them into a dumpster, the needy benefited. That’s what Mr. Kang had promised. And that’s what I had believed, until I read the morning’s edition of The Trenton Times. It seemed that our Mr. Benevolent Kang was not providing the bread and rolls to the hungry—rather, he was selling my surplus stock to a couple of lowlife scumbags who traded the food for drugs and sex with the neighborhood’s vulnerable young. I nearly puked when I read the story. Exit Mr. Kang.
Which brings me back to ten minutes after five o’clock in the morning. Reflections. Golden stalactite-like spears mingle with sheets of whore-red lipstick hues against shoe polish–black waters. The famous Trenton Makes, The World Takes neon sign glistens off the Delaware River like glass splinters from broken booze bottles under a rare working Trenton streetlight. I’m nearly done for the day—or night, depending on one’s perspective—when she approaches me. A woman in her late twenties or early thirties, with two children at her side, one boy and one girl, and they have the look. It’s the faces of the needy, awful, pitiful, and helpless. Honed from years of going without, the unfortunate going day-to-day, hand-to-mouth, with no immediate prospects for improvement. Most of the time, we try to ignore them, pretend they aren’t there in front of us. But they are, and they need help. She stops at the open door of my truck and stares with crusted eyes. She is strangely overweight. Bloated? The two children are thin. They don’t smile. I’m not sure they are capable of smiling. Their cheeks stained by years of toxic tears. Discarded humanity, the way shredded retread tires lay scattered roadside.
“’Scuse me,” she says, looking up into my truck. “Me and my children here haven’t eatin’ nothin’ in two days. Can you spare us ten dollars?”
I could have cried. “Ma’am,” I said, “I don’t carry any cash. I’m very sorry. But I’ll be more than happy to give you and your boy and girl some fresh bread and a few rolls.”
“Fuck you and your bread and rolls!” And she walked away, leaving me standing on Fowler Street at ten minutes after five in the a.m. with a shit-eating grin on my face.
BRUCE HARRIS is the author of Sherlock Holmes and Doctor Watson: ABout Type.
Posted: Dec 28, 2015
Category: Mondays Are Murder | Tags: Mondays Are Murder, Noir Series, New Jersey, flash fiction, short fiction, Bruce Harris, Trenton, Fowler Street, Garden State, Trenton Makes the World Takes, Central West
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