Tag Archives: short story set in miami

Cynthia Smith and Her Boys Short Story (photo: Favour Omoruyi)

Cynthia Smith and Her Boys

It is just after sunset when Cynthia Smith and her boys walk into the efficiency she rents in El Portal, a neighborhood just east of Miami Shores in northeast Miami-Dade County. She immediately switches the air conditioning unit on high to get rid of the damp smell in the living area. Her sons, three and four years old, throw their book bags onto the old wood floors and jump onto the black canvas futon that sits in front of a large TV set that came with the place.

“What are we eating for dinner?” her eldest son asks as she sets her large black purse on the kitchen counter. She turns on the slow cooker and lets him know that they will be eating red beans as rice, same as last night. The kids groan at the prospect of eating leftovers of a meal they didn’t like to begin with.

“Alright guys, sit quietly and finish your homework while I take a shower. And don’t tell me you don’t have any because I spoke to your teachers today,” she says as the AC unit begins to make a rattling noise. Her lie about speaking to their teachers seems to do the trick, giving her at least a few minutes to unwind.

Once they have their workbooks open, Cynthia walks into the bedroom she shares with them and sets her smartphone on her white formica nightstand to charge. Under the dim light of a small bedside lamp, she takes off her white blouse and tosses it on the bed. Out of habit, she hits the home button on her phone to see if there’s a response from her estranged husband.

She had texted him while sitting in traffic on the way home from her office job about their children’s expenses. The only unread message she sees is one from the mobile phone company threatening to discontinue her service for lack of payment. Her heart sinks as she remembers the bills she’s behind on.The last thing she wants to focus on during her brief moment of solitude is the humiliation of having people call her mobile phone only to hear that it has been disconnected.

Sitting on the side of the messy bed, Cynthia throws her black pumps into the closet, then falls back onto the bed and rubs her eyes. Her next payday isn’t for another week, which means she may have to go a few days without a mobile phone before she can afford to get it reconnected. Even though her boy’s learning center has her office number on file for emergencies, she breaks into a cold sweat worrying about how her financial situation may affect her children’s well being in the long run.

Her worry quickly turns to anger when she imagines her kids’ father shacking up with his girlfriend in her Downtown Miami loft. She would love nothing more than to grab her phone and send him an angry text pointing out how his behavior is affecting their boys, but she knows that it will only make it harder for her to get him to co-parent in the future.

Frustrated and exhausted, she hangs up her black slacks, throws her bra and underwear in the laundry basket and steps onto the cold, cracked pink tiles of her small bathroom. She lets the shower run so that it isn’t freezing cold when she steps into the pink tub. The water in the efficiency never really gets hot, but it’s worth waiting a couple minutes for a luke-warm shower.

As the water runs, Cynthia pins her shoulder-length hair up and places a blue shower cap over it. She pulls a baby wipe out of the basket under the sink and begins to wipe off her makeup, revealing dark black circles under her eyes. The site of her tired face makes her feel even worse than she already does. The only thing she’s happy about is that she can’t see the stretch marks on her tummy from the same angle in the bathroom mirror.

Just as she pulls open the mildew-stained shower curtain, she can hear the television switch on. She knows that the boys’ homework is not done yet, but she isn’t in the mood to discipline them. The guilt of leaving them in daycare while she’s at work all day takes over as the water washes over her face. All she wants to do is clock out for a few minutes. Finally feeling a moment’s peace, she looks down at the shower caddy to grab the soap and nearly screams as a cockroach crawls out of the drain into the tub toward her feet.

Cynthia immediately jumps out of the shower and shuts the water off. As much as she wants to scream, she knows that it will be in vain. With nobody to help her get rid of it, she makes herself a glove out of toilet paper and flushes the roach down the toilet with it. Once she sees it go down, she sits on the toilet and begins to weep.

Not one to feel sorry for herself, she usually finds a way to talk herself through the difficult times, but she can’t help but feel hopeless and lost at the moment. She wishes she knew what to do to get out of this mess, but she barely has the energy to get through a normal day. The weeks just seem to meld together and her lack of sleep makes it hard for her to recharge her batteries and push through like she did in college.

Thinking about her goals and ideas for the future when she was completing her business degree makes her feel even worse in her current situation. Her parents are in similar economic circumstances, so she has nobody to call on when she’s in a bind. Taking care of her children by herself puts a strain on her low-paying job that makes it almost impossible to get a salary increase because she is always missing work to deal with sick kids and their disciplinary issues. 

After letting herself cry for a few minutes, an odd sense of relief comes over her. Even though she still feels helpless and alone, Cynthia decides to get up and keep going, not for herself, but for her boys. She uses a white hand towel to wipe her tears, then throws it over the drain in the shower and turns the water back on. She can taste the salt of her tears as the fresh water splashes on her face again. As she grabs the soap, she can hear her boys laughing at the TV and a smile finds its way to her face for the first time all day.

Humanitarian of the Year

I

It never occurred to me that I would be sitting on this hard as fuck bench that smells like piss and dirt on what has to be the hottest night of the year with nowhere to go.

I never thought that everything I own would fit into this carrion bag. I was hoping for a godsend or a lifesaver, but all I got was till the first of the month. Even as I was selling everything that ever meant anything to me, I never thought that this would be it.

My net worth is now a few t-shirts, a couple changes of underwear, a suit I couldn’t sell because I burnt it with my last joint, and a pair of shit-stained jeans that I couldn’t sell for obvious reasons. I can’t fucking believe this shit.

The idea that selling everything I owned wouldn’t even cover a security deposit on an efficiency in Little Havana makes me want to kill myself.

Part of me still doesn’t believe it. The optimistic part of me is still waiting to wake up in my bed thanking God it wasn’t real. That I wasn’t really sitting at a bus stop with a carrion and no idea where any of these buses even go.

I always wondered how people became homeless. I can’t believe this is how I’m finding out. Are you fucking kidding me, man? What the fuck?

Had I fucking known that I was gonna end up here I would have done everything so differently. I wish I had known this before G-E-D and B-M-W and D-U-I.

All of those letters make me wanna fucking kill myself. F-U-C-K U-P. That’s me. That’s my autobiography. I wish I had known this before I sent all my friends to H-E-L-L.

I wish I had listened to D-A-D or G-O-D and become a P-H-D or a C-E-O. I wish someone would send me a genie to grant me these wishes. I would wish for it to be less humid.

I wish someone had told me that I wasn’t gonna be taken care of for the rest of my life. I would have learned a fucking trade. Then again, no I wouldn’t have because if that were true I wouldn’t be in this predicament.

I wish an angel or the devil would have come to me a year ago and let me know that this was gonna happen ahead of time. Then again, I wouldn’t have listened to an angel or the devil back then anyway. I would have thought it was just a bad trip.

Jesus! I hate myself so much right now. No wonder I have fucking no one. I don’t even fucking like me. I can’t stand being alone with myself and it’s only been a few hours.

And this fucking bench… I wanna know what ASSHOLE decided to make this bench so hard, the backrest so short. And who the fuck thought it was a good idea to make the armrest out of steal or whatever the fuck metal this shit is made of? I can’t even lean on my elbow because it feels bruised. My back is aching and my ass is sore.

The only thing that’s keeping me on this bench is my pride. I’d rather be waiting for a bus to I don’t know where than be wandering the streets with a carryon bag twenty miles from the nearest airport.

My underwear is already damp with the humidity and my armpits are moist. Not to the point where I smell, but to the point that I feel gross and want to take one of those quick showers I took for granted.

I never thought you could take a shower for granted.

I should have shaved my head and my pubes and every hair on my body when I still had a bathroom. It’s so hot all I want to do is take off all my clothes. My face feels greasy and my balls are sticking to my leg. My thighs feel like they are a hundred degrees hotter than the rest of my body.

I hate these jeans. My ankles are sweaty and I can feel the sweat dripping from the hair on my legs.

I don’t understand why I’m being made to feel more uncomfortable than I have my entire life on a night like this. God, haven’t I been through enough?

I know I’ve been a fucking douche, but there are a million people who have done worse shit and I’ve never seen them out on their asses. Why me? What the fuck did I do that was so bad?

I still don’t get it.

Why cant I just pay for all my sins when I die, like in purgatory or something? Why do I have to go through this now? Why am I even still alive? I should have been dead the night of my DUI, the night I overdosed, the time I got beat up.

Why the fuck didn’t I just die then? I didn’t give a shit if I survived any of that.

I wanna just lay down on the pavement and hope for someone to run me over, but I doubt I’d be that lucky. Some sick fuck up there wants me to be a survivor for some twisted reason.

I don’t know why. I have nothing to contribute to this world. I’ve been on this earth for a quarter of a century and I’ve never worked an honest day in my life. The only reason I haven’t killed myself is because I couldn’t do that to her.

All I wanna do right now is run to her grave and break through the sod and the soil with my bare hands and pull her out of there and hold her like she used to hold me and tell her not to worry about me and that I’m sorry and that I love her and I will always love her and that I wish it was me who was down there all by myself and not her.

I want to smell the way she smelled before she got sick.

I want to be with her so badly right now. My mind does not comprehend why we can’t be together. It feels unnatural that she be kept away from me. The image of all that dirt surrounding her makes my heart weigh more than I can carry.

I wonder if this feeling will ever go away. I wonder if my heart will ever feel light again. Right now it’s so heavy I can’t breathe.

I just want to feel her presence. I want to pretend that none of this ever happened and I want to be home.

I don’t want to be here in the middle of nowhere with nowhere to go.

Alone.

I’m alone. The feeling makes me want to vomit. I feel a pressure in my chest like it’s about to erupt. I feel the weight of everything I have to do right now just to survive.

I wish I would have spent more time just sitting next to her in the living room watching TV or reading magazines. Or heeded her warnings about wasting my life.

I can’t give in to this reality. I’m still hoping to wake up. The fact that I have nobody and I have nowhere to go and that everything I have done in my entire life has gotten me to this bench that smells like piss and vomit makes me want to hide my face.

I feel so exposed. I can’t face this. This can’t be reality.

If I accept it, it becomes real and I’m not strong enough to deal with that kind of reality right now.

Now I understand why bums always spend their money on booze. Who the fuck would want to be conscious of the fact that they have nowhere to live and nothing to live for? The thought alone makes me wanna smoke and drink myself to oblivion.

Worse still is the thought that I am one of those bums. I’m gonna be just as dirty and smelly as they are in a couple of days, my clothes are gonna get all raggedy and I’m gonna be all unshaven just like the bums I would walk by on my way to clubs downtown back when I was somebody.

I wish I were young enough to be an orphan.

I wish I were sick at the hospital. I’d take the physical pain. People take care of you when you’re in physical pain. I’ve never felt so betrayed by my health before.

I resent GOD and life and everything else that fucking exists for making her sick and giving me health that I don’t FUCKING deserve or want.

Holy shit.

That guy scared the fuck out of me. He’s wearing what seems to be a waiter’s uniform. Normally, I would be a little scared to encounter someone on the street in the middle of the night, but right now it just makes me feel less alone. I’m glad I’m not the only one that has to deal with this isolation from comfort.

He’s probably wondering what some random pussy in two hundred dollar jeans is doing at a bus stop in the middle of the night. And what’s up with the fucking suitcase?

I’ve become that bag lady I used to see at McDonalds way back when. Oh God, why did I make fun of her with her three suitcases and all her newspapers? Is that why I’m here? Is that why I have to suffer like this?

Now I wanna tell her I’m so sorry for making fun of her in my head. I wanna go back in time to help her with her luggage. I want to tell her I don’t care that she smells and I know that she acts insane because if she looked at her situation rationally all she would do is cry.

I want her to know that she doesn’t have to carry that baggage by herself.

I want to see her smile. A real smile, with light eyes and a light heart. Even if it only lasts five seconds. That’s the only thing on earth that would make me feel better right now.

It’s been a while since I’ve gotten high, gotten drunk or gotten off. I don’t even know when the next time I get off will be. It’s not like I have anywhere to jack off.

I wish I were in my room the way it was before she got sick, listening to Sinatra in my underwear with a glass of wine.

I loved the dark blue walls of my room and my autographed movie posters. Not mine anymore, actually. They are now the property of some motherfucker that bid like fifty cents more that the highest bidder at the last second of the auction. I almost didn’t want to send it to him for pulling that shit cause I hate that, but I needed those fifty fucking cents. Not that they ended up helping much in the end. I’m still here.

Sweaty, stranded and singular.

Where the fuck am I supposed to go? What happens if I get too tired to sit up? What if I get hungry? What if it rains? What if I get a cut or get beat up? I can’t go anywhere I’ve been before.

It would be too humiliating.

They’ll probably laugh in my face. This motherfucker finally got what was coming to him. What a fucking idiot. Burning what little money he had left. Selling all his shit on eBay and still foreclosing.

He should have thought of that before he threw so much money away on all those bottles, that grass, that blow. That’s what he gets for being so frivolous.

That’s what he gets for not caring enough about her to sober up when she was dying. Let him sleep outside for a while. It’ll be good for him.

FUCK ME.

I should just wait for this bus to come and take me out of this town. I need to start over. But I don’t want to be away from her. If I leave what’s left of her here, I’ll have less than I do now (if that’s possible).

Oh God please don’t tell me that pain in my stomach means I’m hungry.

I don’t wanna deal with that right now. What the fuck am I supposed to feed myself? The money I have in my pocket won’t get me dinner anywhere I used to eat.

I could go to Publix and buy something, but what? I don’t have a fridge or microwave or utensils and I can’t leave my shit outside. Someone will steal what little stuff I have left.

I should just fucking starve to death. Mom used to always tell me I would if she weren’t around.

Oh God why did you take her away from me? Why did she have to be the one to suffer? Why is it always the ones who don’t deserve it?

I wish I could go back to when I was small enough to crawl onto her lap and lay my head on her chest and listen to her voice when she talked on the phone the way it sounded when I was in her belly.

I just want to feel what it’s like to be held by my mom again. I want that peace of knowing that there will always be someone there for me even when I don’t deserve it.

Why did she have to die? Why did she have to feel so horrible? Why couldn’t she live a long life like so many other people? It’s not fair.

I want to be dead with her. I don’t want to be here without my mom. It’s too hard. Every time I feel like I may be able to keep on living I think of her and I can do nothing but cry.

We are so helpless as human beings. We can’t control half as much as we think we can. We can’t stay healthy even if we tried. We can’t control the weather. We can’t stop people from dying no matter how bad we want to. We can’t even control our own thoughts, our emotions, or even our hunger. We need so much.

Why did God make us so needy?

Why can’t we just be?

The only reason I have to thank God right now is that my mom didn’t have to see this.

I’m sure she knew it was gonna happen. I’m sure that’s one of the main reasons she didn’t want to die. I know she wanted to live as long as possible to make sure this didn’t happen to me, but life had other plans.

I can’t not go along with it. That’s what sucks about reality. That lack of control you have over it. Maybe that’s why I was always out of it.

That I could control.

I could make myself feel really good. I could escape from it. Not that it got me anywhere.

When you go get to a certain age virtually unscathed, you start believing you are invincible and you do stupid shit that will inevitably lead you to a place like this.

Now how the fuck do I get out?

When you’re sick you go to the doctor, when you are hungry you go to a restaurant, when you are homeless you go to… a shelter?

Do they accept people at any hour of the night? Do you have to be recommended by like, a priest or a psychiatrist?

Is it a big warehouse with a bunch of cots with bums clutching their bags while sleeping with one eye open?

Do you have to like prove you’re homeless? Do you have to like register yourself with the city? Do they make you get a job?

I don’t know how the fuck I’m supposed to get a job. I’m a gay ex-con with a GED and a suit with a hole on the crotch. I don’t think that qualifies me to do anything other than mop the floors at Popeye’s Chicken.

Chicken.

My fucking mouth is watering. I’m gonna have to get up before I get so freaking hungry I pass out.

It’s just that first step that’s killing me.

I don’t even know if I should go left or right.

What’s the closest place that serves food and is open at this time? I wanna say there’s a McDonald’s a couple miles east of here.

Miles.

I have to walk miles to put food in my stomach. I remember when I would complain when Mom would make me go downstairs and sit at the table to eat.

God, if I keep on thinking about those times I’m never gonna get off this bench.

As fucked as it is, this is my new reality. I can’t help but think of all those people who told me I couldn’t walk a mile in their shoes.

I’m finding it impossible to even take a step in mine. They’re not even technically mine. She bought them for me.

You know what? I’m never gonna get up to feed myself. I don’t give a fuck about me. It has taken all this time that the only thing I really ever cared about is gone.

I have nothing left.

But she does.

I may have fucked things up when she was still here, but I believe she’s in heaven.

I know she’s probably looking down on me hoping to God, who probably has his arm around her, that I start to listen to them.

That I start to get it. That I stop being the idiot I have been my entire life. That I get off this nasty bench and take my first step in the right direction.

And for the first time in my life, I want the same thing for myself. I want to get the fuck off this nasty, hard, smelly bench just as much as they want me to. I want to be as far away from this bench as possible, and not only as a measure of distance.

But I don’t wanna ask God for help.

I’m afraid I’d be struck by lightning if I ask for more than I’ve squandered in this lifetime.

I’m just gonna have to muster up all the courage I’ve ever dreamed of possessing and walk into that McDonalds with my embarrassing suitcase, feed myself, find a place to sleep and figure out the next step from there.

All I have to do is take the most difficult step I’ve had to take in my entire life. I have to do it myself and I can’t let the next one scare me into staying seated.

That’s how I got here in the first place and i don’t ever wanna be here again. I never want to see this street again and I don’t even want to see a picture of this bench for as long as I live. This bench represents everything that is fucked up about me.

Or maybe I should take a picture of it when I can afford a camera again and show it to people to make sure that the only people sitting on this bench are waiting for a bus to take them somewhere.

I don’t want anybody else to ever feel like this.

I’m gonna be the angel and the devil I needed before because that’s the only reason I can think that God has kept me alive.

And I want to make her proud of me.

I couldn’t do it when she was here because I was a fucking idiot, but now I get it.

I have to start believing in her belief in me.

I have to believe it because I have nothing but that and a carryon bag to get me off of this bench, on my feet and in any direction but where I came from.

II

“Tonight we honor a man who managed to lose everything, earn it back tenfold and give it all away again in the name of charity. He is truly an outstanding citizen and recipient of this years award for Humanitarian of the Year, Mr. Jorge L. Rodriguez.”

“I am so humbled by this award that the only way to express my gratitude is to thank God for two things. I want to thank God for giving me the time that I had with my mother on this earth, and I want to thank God for showing me how to love. And not necessarily in the romantic sense, although I do love and appreciate you, honey.

As most of you know, I became homeless a few months after my mom died. I was twenty five and had no idea how I ended up sitting on a bench after midnight with nowhere to go. It wasn’t until years later that I came to understand that the ‘where’ wasn’t the problem. It was the ‘who.’

After my mom died I had no loved ones. And it wasn’t because life was cruel to me, it was because I was cruel to me.

I never let anyone love me because I didn’t love me. The only person with enough unconditional love for me to withstand my self-destruction was Mom. And as soon as she was gone, I imploded.

After that I spent most of my time trying to kill myself in cowardly ways. I abused drugs, alcohol and sex in the hopes that they would kill me accidentally and I would be able to make my exit from this world quick and painless.

Fortunately for me, although I resented life for it at the time, they didn’t kill me. They just robbed me of everything but a pair of soiled jeans that I still look at today every time I think life is becoming too difficult.

I thought it would be so much easier by now, but it’s not. I can’t help but still want my mother here with me, to show her the man I’ve become.

I’m sure she had something to do with it from up there because I don’t think I could have gotten anywhere without her.

I am so grateful for this honor and the people in my life, many who are in this ballroom tonight, but I can’t help but still feel resentful to life for taking my mom away from me.

I want to dedicate the award to her for being the only person who believed in me when nobody else did.

Not even me.

For her unconditional love, because I now know how hard it was to love me back then.

Mom, if I had one wish tonight, it would be to go back in time and tell you how much I loved you while you were still alive. I was never able to give you peace back then, but I hope to make up for that by the time we meet again.

Thank you all and God bless.”

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