His pockets are no longer full. The sound of change and jingling keys that once echoed through the halls are a memory. His hands, that once found warmth in the plaid caverns of his jacket, are gone.
His family buries him in a flannel shirt like the one he always wore; the one tattered at the end ofits sleeves, the one his daughter pulled at as a child, trying to direct his attention her way. Theone he was wearing when the paramedics found him at the back of the city bus, no longerbreathing. Unable to revive him. He’d spent breakfast chasing a high, and with one white crosstoo many, overdosed. He’d boarded a ride he’d never leave. One missed stop after another.
The flannel had covered the sores on his neck and back and protected his kids from his secret.But Phoenix was a hot place in the summer, and his daughter found it to be a strange choice in attire.
“Daddy,” she said, “Aren’t you hot? Why are you wearing that?”
He smiled and swallowed his shame. “You writing a book?” He didn’t wait for an answer.“Well, tear that page out.”
She was used to this response when she asked questions she didn’t know she wasn’t supposed to.
She lowered her head and tried to hide the frown that anchored to her smile.
She was his only little girl, and he hated to see her hurt. He tousled her hair.
“Because, honey…” He flexed his arms like the wrestlers they watched on TV together everyThursday night. “It’s illegal to show off these guns.”
Not that the law ever stopped him. Prison didn’t change him. His daughter still looked at himlike he was her hero when he got out because she didn’t know where he had gone. She was told
that her father was sick, and she prayed every night he’d get better so he could come home. And he did. Everything had always gone back to normal because his wife hid the truth like he did for as long as she could. But he would never get better.
His daughter was seven when he scooted into a booth at Denny’s with her and her brothers and a foggy glass tube, splattered with burn marks at the end, slipped from his black and red flannel onto the floor. He scurried to pick it up and hushed his little girl violently as she questioned its purpose. Her older brother, who was thirteen, already knew their father’s secret and kicked her hard beneath the booth in order to shut her up. She remained quiet and uncomfortable for eighteen years to follow.
There is a stain on the chest pocket of the jacket, where he once kept his cigarettes, Camel Light100s. It is starting to rip from the former use. His little girl is a young woman now and she runs her fingers along the tearing corner, trying to ease the fabric back into place. Beneath the tips of her fingers is a strange stiffness, something hidden underneath the fabric. She slips her hand inside and pulls out a card, it is a peach color with cacti on it and in large black font the date: FEB 29th. It is the bus pass, from the day he died.
She cries and water drips off the card. It was the last item he’d ever conceal. The last thing his broad, thick hands would ever touch. For a moment the card feels warm, but then there is emptiness, like the once filled pockets.
About the Author: Samantha Payne holds an MFA in Creative Writing with an emphasis in Fiction from Northern Arizona University where she teaches composition. She is the author of the new-adult-romance novel Maleficium and her short stories have been featured in Alt Hist, Flash Fiction Magazine, The Dirty Pool, Donut Factory, and Story Shack. She was the fiction and visual arts editor for Thin Air Magazine, and is an active publishing assistant for the speculative fiction magazine, Bards and Sages Quarterly. When she isn’t teaching or writing, Samantha draws manga and practices coloring inside the lines.