This week's Red Writing Hood assignment was to write a short piece, either fiction or non-fiction, about something ugly - and find the beauty in it. Word limit is 600.
Mike leaned up against the old brick building and took off his baseball hat, then wiped the sweat from his forehead. After returning his hat to its rightful position, he lit up a cigarette and took in the everyday smells, sounds and sights of the alley behind his little pizza store. He had bought the store a couple of years back, just after getting out of the Army. He’d seen 20 years of Army service, and more pain and suffering than one man should witness in a lifetime. All he wanted these days was some peace and quiet and to make a living baking the best pizza east of the Mississippi. He’d never married and had no family to speak of, but he did have his best friend and faithful companion, The Colonel.
The Colonel lay at his feet, sleeping soundly, while Mike took his smoke break. He always took his break the same time every day, and always in the alley. Today was different, though. The same grungy odors from the trash bins and the grease pit were present, along with the sounds of all the traffic nearby. There were a couple of stray cats darting in and out of some big boxes left behind the compactor. He saw another storekeeper a couple of buildings down, having a break and laughing loudly while on his cell phone. Still, things were not as they should be this time of day. He looked up and down the alley and didn’t see Corrine anywhere.
Corrine always walked through the alley at this time, and he hadn’t yet known her to miss a day. She was an old woman. Mike wasn’t sure how old, but he thought her hard life probably made her look much older than she was. She always wore an old black wool coat, didn’t matter the weather, and pushed a shopping cart loaded with her treasures. “Her life in a basket”, he thought sadly.
Usually, Corrine would make her way down the alley, never talking to anyone, sometimes sporting a big toothless smile but always making mumbling and grunting sounds to fit her mood. Without fail, she would stop to pet The Colonel and give him a snack. Mike never was quite sure what she was giving his dog, but The Colonel always ate the little snack, lazily wagged his tail, then laid down and went back to sleep. This made Corrine squeal with delight every time, and in turn, filled Mike’s day with a little spark of happiness. He hadn’t realized what Corrine’s short, daily visits meant to him until today, when she wasn’t there. He had always offered her a slice of pizza and a bottle of water, and she had accepted them happily, carefully placing both items in a paper sack in her shopping cart. Then she moved on down the alley, mumbling and squeaking, until she finally disappeared around the corner. Mike always watched until she was out of sight. That was his cue to get back to work.
Today Mike had to manage his own break-time, but he took a few more minutes in hopes that he would see Corrine. Eventually, he started back inside to make the pizza, but not before another brief scan up and down the alley. He hoped Corrine was ok and would be by for a visit tomorrow. His day was not quite the same without her beautiful smile.