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85_ym_charitybeginsathome_hlyon.jpg
Art by Hillary Lyon 2021

Charity Begins at Home

 

by David Hagerty

 

Traffic moved smoothly for Berkeley as Andy cruised down I-80, one hand on the steering wheel, the other out the window riding the salty wind, when a battered pickup cut in front of him. It jerked left and slowed, forcing him to stomp his brakes. Instinct guided him to flip off the driver. Instead, he let space open between them and evil eyed the driver.

Recognition came a moment later. The truck looked just like one he once owned: oxidized grey with a short cab, an ‘88 F-150. Different license, plus a broken right parking light, but the tailgate had the scratch where he’d dropped a couch while moving in his girlfriend. Had to be his. Eighteen months ago, he’d donated it to charity, and now an idiot driver had thanked him with discourtesy.

He’d saved two years for the down payment and taken four to pay it off. Just the base model—the only add on a radio—but it never broke down. For a dozen years he’d changed the oil and tuned the engine himself. He’d used it to haul lumber, compost, bricks, and concrete to job sites. It witnessed his first date with his girl and would have witnessed the consummation if her roommates hadn’t interrupted.

Eventually, the old pickup lost power, so he’d bought a new, loaded model, yet letting go of the old Ford proved hard, and for several weeks it collected parking tickets. He tried selling it, but buyers seemed indifferent, lowballing him after noting its age and milage. That’s when he heard a radio add asking for donations to Goodmen’s Mercy. Someone without a vehicle would cherish it as he had, and he felt good watching it be towed away.

Now his old truck wobbled in front of him until the driver swerved across two lanes, ushered by the horns of other drivers. The words of his girlfriend came to him: People don’t appreciate free.”

He followed it.

The driver led him to a block of tenements in the flatlands of Oakland, parked—one wheel on the curb, the back bumper two feet from it—and exited without a look back. Not what he expected: a woman, with a slim build and jaunty pony tail, smoking a cigarette casually.

He waffled what to do. A man he’d confront, but a woman.... Still, an ingrate was an ingrate, no matter the gender. Instead, he decided: that night, he’d take back the truck.

#

Just after sunset, before the streetlights had flickered to life, Andy biked across town to her complex, a 1950s box with peeling stucco and single-pane windows disgorging three different backbeats. Luckily, the apartments curved in a U, so few residents could view the street.

He was checking over his shoulder not for witnesses but robbers—always a risk in that part of town—then threw his bike in the bed and opened the driver’s door with a spare key he’d neglected to donate. Inside the cab smelled of stale cigarettes and perfume. Still, he felt a nostalgia stronger than for any ex-girlfriend. It still bore his old union sticker, although in place of the stereo loomed a gaping hole like a missing tooth. On startup, the engine faltered and coughed until he gave it some gas. She hadn’t done much maintenance, either, as it smelled of burning oil. Still, warmed up, it ran smoothly. Without a look back, he pulled away.

Ten minutes later he noticed whirling lights in his rearview. He’d been careful not to speed or roll stop signs, so why would the police bother him, especially in a high-crime area like that? He sat silent as the cop mugged him from tortoise shell glasses. Your taillight is out,” he explained.

After surrendering his documents, Andy watched the cop in his rearview as he walked back to his cruiser and entered the data into a computer. Surely it would reveal he didn’t own the truck anymore. How to explain? That he’d borrowed it? From a friend who’d bought it off him? Unless that reckless driver had already reported it stolen. Then what? He was still debating when the cop returned. Your registration is expired.”

Really?” Andy said, to hide his relief. “The ride’s my girl’s. She’s spacey. Probably forgot to pay. I’ll take care of it.”

The cop wrote in his ticket book. “I’ll just cite you for the taillight.”

Hit and run,” Andy explained. Somebody backed into it on the street. Didn’t leave a note or nothing. Can you believe it? I’ve tried to have it fixed, but the parts aren’t made anymore.” He heard himself talking too much and stopped.

You’ve got an oil leak,” the cop said, handing him the ticket. “Fix it before you smog it.”

Course, yeah, right. Thanks, officer, appreciate the leeway.”

Back on the road, Andy realized the cop had recorded his name, so he headed back to the apartment complex. The only open space sat across the street. She probably wouldn’t even notice the truck had moved. He was checking the cab for remnants when a knock startled him.

A woman stared through the passenger window. Her dark hair fell low over her eyes, making them hard to read, but she smoked a cigarette calmly. Radio’s already gone,” she said. Some other thief got it, and you don’t want the rest. Thing runs like it looks.”

He watched her and nodded, unwilling to reveal even his voice.

What, you afraid of me?”

He shook his head.

Then come on out.”

Up close she looked small and frail, reaching only his shoulder. Still, his emotions idled as rough as the truck’s engine.

You’re wondering if I called the cops. Don’t. Been hooked up myself. Wouldn’t wish that on anybody.”

Relief spread through him like warm oil. Still, her green eyes studied him.

But you got to get over honestly. That’s what I did. Go down to the Goodmen’s Mercy, they’ll help you out. They did me. I was homeless before this. Lived in that truck six months until I could afford a place.”

He nodded, shamed.

Well, go on. And don’t mess with other people’s stuff. You don’t know how possessive some are. They’d sooner hurt you as help you.”

 

END




David Hagerty has published four novels with an indie press and about two dozen short stories online and in print, including half a dozen with Alfred Hitchcock’s Mystery Magazine. To see more of his stuff or read more about him, have a look at his website: https://davidhagerty.net



Hillary Lyon is an illustrator for horror/sci-fi and pulp fiction websites and magazines. She is also founder and senior editor for the independent poetry publisher, Subsynchronous Press. An SFPA Rhysling Award nominated poet, her poems have appeared in journals such as Eternal Haunted Summer, Jellyfish Whispers, Scfifaikuest, Illya’s Honey, and Red River Review, as well as numerous anthologies. Her short stories have appeared recently in Night to Dawn, Yellow Mama, Black Petals, Sirens Call, and Tales from the Moonlit Path, among others, as well as in numerous horror anthologies such as Night in New Orleans: Bizarre Beats from the Big EasyThuggish Itch: Viva Las Vegas, and White Noise & Ouija Boards. She appeared, briefly, as the uncredited "all-American Mom with baby" in Purple Cactus Media’s 2007 Arizona indie-film, "Vote for Zombie." Having lived in France, Brazil, Canada, and several states in the US, she now resides in southern Arizona.  

https://hillarylyon.wordpress.com/




In Association with Black Petals & Fossil Publications 2021