(Short fiction from a writing prompt on www.reddit.com/r/writingprompts)
Tim turned the collar of his ragged coat up against the wind, but the fabric was so riddled with holes it didn’t make much of a difference. He shivered as he held up his sign on the corner of 5th and Vine. Shivering may be a good thing actually, he thought. Might coax a few more dollars out of people’s pockets.
It was December, but no snow, not yet thankfully. A few blocks away he could hear the Christmas music accompanying the people ice skating in Fountain Square. He tried to get closer so he could get a few more donations but the police shooed him away. With all the improvements made to downtown, the police shuffled homeless away from the city center during holidays or big events. Too depressing for people to be reminded of the homeless problem, it was bad for business and bad for the city’s image.
A cold wind bit at his lower legs. The fabric was worn so thin on his jeans that they were almost down to thread. He looked down at the money in his jar. $8; if they didn’t have another pair at the shelter, he’d have to spend money on a good pair to get him through the winter. The closest Salvation Army store was north of town, quite a hike but one he’d have to make if he didn’t want to get frostbite this winter.
“God bless you sir,” Tim said, almost robotic as a woman in her fifties dropped some change in his Utz pretzel container that was his latest incarnation of a collection jar. The logo had been ripped off revealing strips of white paper where Tim had written “Please Help, God Bless” in crayon on the side.
“Excuse me,” a voice male behind him said as he tapped his shoulder. “I was hoping you could help me find someone?”
Tim turned around, almost dropping his sign as he made eye contact with the boy. The boy was maybe in his late teens or early twenties, with sandy blonde hair, green eyes and freckles on his nose. He averted his eyes, staring down at his feet.
“Don’t know that I can help ya, son,” Tim said.
The boy leaned in, moving his head to get into Tim’s line of sight. Tim turned around back to his spot on the street corner, his shivers now accompanied by a few drops of wetness on his cheek.
“Grandpa?” the boy said. “Grandpa, it’s me, Timothy.”
Tim sniffed and took a deep breath before speaking. “Sorry son, but you don’t know me.”
“It’s you, Grandpa. I know you. We’ve been looking for you. It’s okay now, everything is okay. We want you to come home again.”
Tim’s eyes glistened as he stared out into the street, his stomach turning in knots as the lump in his throat made it hard to talk. He managed to speak, just above a whisper.
“You don’t know me.”
The boy put his hand on Tim’s shoulder, “Grandpa…”
Tim turned around grasping the boy’s arm and pushing him against the building, screaming as he pressed his face into the face of his grandson. “I said you don’t know me, boy! You don’t know me! YOU! DON’T! KNOW! ME!”
Tim shoved the kid, turning to grab his tip bucket as the other people on the corner stared at him. He fled, running down Fifth street and crossing into an alley, working his way down to the overpass where he had been sleeping. His eyes burned with tears as he slumped down on his piece of cardboard, shoving the money from his collection bucket into his pockets.
He reached into another pocket, pulling out a plastic bottle of vodka and a torn photo from Christmas three years ago, the last time he had seen his family. Tim pulled the bottle to his lips and took a long, deep drink staring at himself in the photo. A single tear fell on the picture before he crumpled it up and shoved it back into his pocket.
“You don’t know me,” Tim said, sniffing and wiping his eyes.