by Jim Harrington
First published in Perpetual Magazine
Sharon stepped into the alleyway behind Metzer’s Hardware, turned an ear toward the street and listened for any sounds of trouble. Out of the corner of her eye she saw Barry perched on the first floor balcony outside his mother’s apartment. She clutched the canvas bag with the day’s receipts to her chest and took a step toward the street.
“Hey, Barry.” She looked up. Seeing him reminded her of the five dates they’d gone on in tenth grade and the crush she’d had on him. She also recalled his trial and how he claimed it was an accident the gun went off and shot the convenience store clerk.
“How’s your mom?” Sharon said, confused by her willingness to stay.
Barry frowned at the question and looked into the apartment.
“‘Bout the same.” He shrugged with one shoulder. “Spends most of her day on the sofa sleepin’, drinkin’ beer, and bitchin’.” He stopped and blew a wad of snot from his right nostril.
Sharon winced. She’d watched her son do the same disgusting thing at his little league game last Saturday.
“Fell asleep on Tuesday with one of them putrid cigars in her mouth. Nearly burned the place down.” He cleared the other nostril.
“Too bad. I remember her as being a nice lady.” A neon light on the bodega across the street flashed. She observed Barry’s bare feet sticking out of baggy jeans.
“It’s been a long time”.
“Fifteen years,” he said. “Coulda been longer.” He rocked forward. “Junior Prom.”
“What?” Sharon said. “Oh right.” It was the last time she’d seen him in person before tonight. He’d robbed the store the next day. “You went with Judy Smithson.”
“Wanted to go with you,” Barry said to his toes.
A shiver raced down Sharon’s spine. She wanted to ask him why he never asked her out again. Instead, she said, “How long do you plan on staying with your mom?” She wondered if he heard the same nervousness in her voice she did.
“Parole is for three years.” He grabbed an iron bar in each hand. “Can’t stay that long, though. Need to get some money and leave.”
Sharon nodded and tightened her grip on the canvas bag.
The sign flashed, and she saw the desperation in his eyes.
“Your mom came in the store a couple years after you left and told me you earned your GED.” Sharon said, her hands shaking.
“Learned I was good at fixing things, too.” He leaned back against the window sash. “Don’t matter. Nobody’s gonna hire a yardbird.”
Silence filled the alley.
“Well, I’ve got to get going.” Sharon said.
“See you tomorrow?” Barry asked.
“Tomorrow’s my day off,” she said and turned to leave.
She paused and kept her back to him. “Yes, Barry?”
“Maybe we could get some coffee sometime.”
Sharon stood motionless.
“Probably not a good idea, you being married and all,” Barry said when she didn’t reply.
Sharon chased the what-might-have-been thoughts from her mind, and in a soft voice said, “Probably not.”