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Pay It Forward(10)
Catherine Ryan Hyde

Jerry could hear them grumbling as they pushed by. But he was not leaving, not jumping to any conclusions. Most of the grumblings added up to something like, “Shoulda knowed it was all a gag.” That or, “Real funny, kid.”

The kid just stood there awhile. Kind of relieved, Jerry thought, because now there were only ten or eleven left. A little more manageable crowd.

Jerry walked up to the kid. Nice. Humble, not like to scare him. “So, is it a joke?”

“No, it’s for real. I got a paper route, and I make thirty-five dollars a week, and I want to give it to somebody. Who’ll, like, get a job and not need it after a while. Just to get ’em started, you know? Like food and something better to wear, and some bus fare. Or whatever.”

And somebody behind Jerry, some voice over his shoulder, said, “Yeah, but which somebody?”

Yeah. That was the problem.

The kid thought this over for a bit. Then he said he had some paper in his book bag, and he asked everybody to write out why they thought it should be them.

And when he said that, six people left.

Kid said, “I wonder what happened to them.”

And the lady with no front teeth, she said, “What makes you think everybody can write?”

It was clear from the look on the kid’s face that he never would have thought of that.

Why I think I deserve the money, by Jerry Busconi

Well, for starters, I will not say I deserve it better than anybody. Because, who is to say?

I am not a perfect person, and maybe somebody else will say they are. And you are a smart kid. I bet you are. And you will know they are handing you a line. I am being honest.

I know you said you wanted somebody down on his luck. But you know what? It is all bull. Luck has nothing to do with this. Look at all these people who showed up today. We are a bunch of bums. They will say it is bad luck. But I won’t sell you a line, kid. We did this to ourselves.

Me, I have a problem sometimes. With drugs. This is my own fault. Nobody else’s. Not my mother. Not God or the government. They did not stick a needle in my arm. I did this to myself. But I have not had any drugs for a few weeks now. I been clean.

I lost some stuff because of my problems. A car, even though it was not a very good one. And my apartment. And then I went to jail, and they did not hold my job for when I got out.

But I got lots of things I can do. I got skills. I have worked in wrecking yards, and in body shops, and I have even worked as a mechanic. I am a good mechanic. It’s not that I’m not. But, used to, you could go in kind of scruffy and dirty. For a mechanics job no one would mind.

But now times is hard, and guys show up for the same job. Dressed good, and some even got a state license. So they say, fill out this form. Which I can do. Cause as you see, I can read and write pretty good. But then they say, put down your number. We’ll call you if you get the job.

But the dumpster where I been staying ain’t got a phone. So I say, I’m just getting settled in. And they say, put your address, then. We’ll send you a postcard.

And they know, then. That you are on the street. And I guess they figure you got problems, stuff they don’t know nothing about.

And, well, I guess I do. Like I said.

But if I had a chance at a job now, I would not screw it up like I have done before. It would be different this time.

These other people, look at them. They have got used to their situation. They expect to sleep on the street. And I guess that is okay with them.

But it is not okay with me. I don’t think I quite sunk that low. Anyway, not yet.

So if you go with me, you won’t be sorry.

I guess that’s all I got to say.

Also, thank you. I never knowed no kid who gave money away. I had a job at your age, and I spent the money on me. You must be a good kid.

I guess that’s all now. Thanks for your time.

When Jerry looked up, everybody else except the kid had gone.

Chapter Four

ARLENE

It was not even seven o’clock, and therefore a scandalous hour of the morning, especially when a damned Ford extra cab had kept you awake half the night. Someone was shaking her shoulder, and without being exactly conscious, she knew by instinct that it was her boy.

“Momma? Are you awake?”

“Yeah.”

“Can Jerry come in and take a shower?”

She blinked and squinted at the clock. She had another half an hour to sleep. Nothing should have been happening now. A dream maybe, but that’s it. “Who’s Jerry?”

“My friend.”

She hadn’t known Trevor to have any friends named Jerry, and now she had forgotten the original request.

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