Note: This is the second part of a short story I started writing as an assignment for a class taught by Ryan Blacketter.
Read Part I here.
This is a draft and likely to undergo many revisions over time. But here it is...
"So now you gonna tell me a story?" said Noah. He rolled his eyes.
The Drifter demurred. "Probably couldn't tell you anything you don't already know."
Noah set his jaw. "I got a story too. Yours better than mine?" he said.
The Drifter squinted. "Son, I seen you all my life. Already know your story."
"You seen me, but we never spoke," said Noah.
"Didn't have to," said the Drifter. A silence grew between them. Then the old man said, slyly "He was a mean old cuss, wasn't he?"
"The fella that took up with your ma."
The Drifter continued. "He'd whup on ya, wouldn't he?"
"He'd try," Noah said. "Too damn drunk to do much of anything."
"All the same, you learned pretty quick that you weren't welcome. No way in hell you could stay. Ain't that right?"
"Just a damned drunk. Just a goddam drunk," Noah said.
"But your ma knew it too, didn't she? She kissed your forehead that morning. She sent you on your way with a kiss and a prayer, didn't she?"
"She give me her car, " said Noah. His mouth twitched.
"Old beater car that went far enough to get you good and gone before it died."
Noah stood silent with his hands in his pockets, eyes cast on the concrete at his feet.
The Drifter's gift was that he knew when to push and when to ease up. "But I was talkin' about Catfish, wasn't I?" he said.
Noah sat down on the bench, studying the cement at his feet.
"Catfish Cutter pretty much spent his whole life lurkin' around garbage
dumps and alleys and under bridges. 'I always lived at the bottom,'
was what he said. 'Been rolled along by the current.' And it was true,
so far as I could tell. He was bone thin, washed up, and driftin'.
Never had anyone but himself since the day he lit out on his own. But
just like every other young man in this world, he come to a point where
he felt he had to reach out, take the rein, hold a piece of this world
to his own hand.
"As for me, I was younger than you when I lost my footing. Not that I ever had much ground to stand on anyway. Things weren't so good at home. Not much more than a place to sleep and scrounge what food I could. Never knew my mother. Pa was drunk most days.
"Folks at the public school pretty much figured out that I wasn't there to hear what they had to say. Only ever went there as a meet-up place. Not to speak ill of it, mind you. Books and learning are fine things, but it took more than I could pay out. And as for Catfish --well, he already knew more than what they were preaching.
"Long and short of it was that things came to a head for both of us at the same time."
"What shit are you sellin' now, you old coot?" Flo, barefoot and sullied, stood with arms folded across her middle. Behind her, the kid held a grease-mottled paper bag in one hand. He stuffed a roasted potato into his mouth with the other.
"Where'd you get that tater?" Noah asked.
Flo tossed her chin toward her shoulder. "She give it to us." The iron-haired Mexican woman glowered in the distance.
To be continued...