Sunday, September 30, 2012


A single guitar player plucking along the side of a coffee bar in the art district wasn’t a unique site. 

The public responded with quiet indifference, occasionally dropping loose change into the open case at his feet.

He nodded appreciatively at the meager tips, but kept his head in the music. If he allowed himself to be concerned with totals he wouldn’t find the determination to keep playing. It could mean the difference between making it to the power company by five and another night burning candles just to find the bathroom. At least he had bought two weeks with the water company.

He pushed the thoughts away and strummed the opening chords to a Johnny Cash song. Out of his peripheral he caught a woman stop in the middle of the side walk. She held a chubby little boy by his free hand as the other gripped a pastry from the coffee shop.

By the second verse she had vanished. He wished admiration could buy him a meal at the end of the day, but it was a temporary salve to his wounded pride. He did his best to appreciate the moments as they were few and scattered.

He wrapped up the song and received a handful of broken applause from the patio area. As he nodded a silent thanks in their direction he noticed the woman was back again. She walked up to him, a cup of coffee extended towards him.

“I thought it might be nice to have a warm drink with all that singing,” she explained as she offered him the drink. “Its just black, there’s cream and sugar in the bag.”

He was stunned and extended his own hand to accept out of reflex more than conscious effort.

“That song was one of my dad’s favorites. He used to play it over and over in the evening.” Her eyes wandered to a past memory as a sad smile crossed her lips. She blinked to shake it away and smiled warmly at the guitarist. “I just wanted to say thank you and let you know you sang it beautifully.”

“Thank you,” was all he could manage at first. “Wait, I can pay you for the coffee. You didn’t need to do that.”

“No, no please.” She waved him off refusing the change he fished from his guitar case. “Please, it’s the least I can do to repay the gift of a good memory. Best of luck to you.” She took her son’s hand and led him away, stopping for a brief moment to drop an offering into the case.

He watched them walk down the street, his own sad memories swelling to the surface as she carefully guided the little one between other pedestrians and laughed at something he had said.
Once they turned a corner and were lost from his view, he looked down into the case and caught his breath in his throat. A twenty dollar bill stared up at him from the handful of nickels and quarters splayed against the felt.

He snatched it from the case and shoved it in his pocket with the wad of ones and a lonely five all stored away safely. Paper money always stayed out of the case, just as he always started a street set with a few of his own quarters in the case. He hated to see it empty, and the thought of some jackass grabbing any real money out of the case was a paranoia he could never shake so he followed these two rules with unshakable dependence.

He started in on another cover, more modern this time and meeting the approval of the patio crowd.  A girl he figured to be about his age climbed on top of the newspaper box across the sidewalk from him. She crossed her legs and propped her elbows onto her knees while resting her chin in her palms. She stared intently at him as he started another verse.

He did his best to ignore her, but was growing irritated with her game. It wouldn’t be the first time some punk teenager gave him a hard time.  The coffee shop owner let him play outside the patio as long as he didn’t cause any disruptions. He had some major convincing to do the last time he broke a kid’s nose for heckling him.

He rationalized he wouldn’t hit a girl so he would just have to ignore her. At least until her boyfriend showed up and gave him someone he could legitimately hit.

He finished the song and took a moment to sip on the coffee at his feet. He glanced at the girl hoping she would grow tired of her game, but she only adjusted one of the electric blue braids on the side of her head and tucked it behind her ear against her dark hair. Half her mouth curved into a grin, her darkly lined eyes never leaving his face.

He rolled his eyes and started another song.

Three songs, twelve dollars and some change later she jumped down from the box and walked directly towards him.

“You look like you could use a break.”

He stepped back overwhelmed by the determination emanating from the petite frame in front of him.

“Uh, I wasn’t really planning…”

“You could use something to eat. Get inside for a few and thaw out.” She stared him down, intent on having her way.

He reached in his pocket and felt the few precious bills inside. “I don’t really think I…”

“My treat. I owe you.” She smiled up at him and raised an eyebrow, challenging him to try and say no.

“That’s cool of you, but there’s no reason for that.”

“Of course there is. I can’t just walk away with a free concert, and I only have my debit card. Lunch it is, okay?”

He felt his traitorous stomach grumble and couldn’t come up with another excuse so he shrugged and pulled his guitar strap over his head. “So are you going to tell me your name, or should I make one up?”

She held out her hand, “Veronica.”

He shook her hand and for the first time returned her smile. “James. So is this a hobby of yours? Taking street musicians out for lunch?”

“Only the talented ones that happen to be good looking and have a promising future,” she didn’t hesitate with her answer, catching James off guard. He felt his face flush and he cleared his throat, unsure how to respond. “Don’t be so shy. You will need to learn to accept compliments when you’re famous.”

“Ha! Famous? I’d settle for uninterrupted power service.” He ran his hand through his hair immediately regretting the admission.

“I think we can manage that.” She started down the street and he followed close behind. 

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Kipper the Amazing Dog

"No way. Absolutely not."

Logan hugged the ratty looking dog to his chest. "But he doesn't have a home. Look, he doesn't have a collar and he was eating garbage under the porch."

His mother sighed, indicating her patience was reaching its limit with her stubborn son. "I'll give you until Sunday to try to find his owner. If no one claims him, he goes to the pound. We don't need a dog."

Logan released the dog long enough to squeeze his mother in a grateful hug.

"Ugh, and take some shampoo outside and wash him off. He stinks like he rolled in something dead. And he stays outside! Don't try sneaking that dog into the house or that's the end of it." She turned her attention back to making dinner as Logan raced outside with his new friend.

She had kept her word and let the dog reside on the back porch while Logan littered the neighborhood with "Dog Found" posters. He was still working on a plan to convince her that the dog needed to stay when they were packing for the beach on Saturday.

"Can we please bring Kipper?"

"What's a Kipper?" Mom asked with half her attention while stuffing towels and coolers into the back of the car.

"My dog. I named him Kipper."

She stopped shifting the beach items and rested her forehead against the open trunk door. "You named it?"

"He needed a name. I like it," a small defensive voice replied. Why did it feel like he had done something wrong?

"It's harder to get rid of an animal once you name it."

"Oh," was the only response he could manage. At least now he understood why he still had a baby sister. A soft hand ran over his hair.

"I'm sorry sweetheart, but we just can't keep him."

He won with a final plead to bring Kipper to the beach. He had hope that he could talk his mom out of the pound the next day.

Kipper yipped frantically in Logan's ear rousing him back from his semi-conscious state. He was dazed and unaware of the rising wave pulling their tiny bodies higher into the air.

The wave crested over their heads separating the pair for a few frantic moments. Logan's lungs burned from the salt water he sputtered past his lips. His arms paddled with the last of his strength when he was buoyed back up by a small, furry body tucked under his arm.

Kipper grunted with the effort of fighting to keep them both above the surface. The water began to pull again and Kipper yelped in warning. Logan dug his fingers into Kipper's fur, desperate to keep hold of the dog. No one else had heard his shouts for help. Only Kipper had swam out to save him.

When the waters receded and peaked, Logan released an ecstatic shout as he viewed the shoreline for a brief moment before being forced under again. He kicked and clawed at the water to reach the surface. The entire time his left hand secured in Kipper's fur.

He was determined not to cry, but his arms and legs were so tired and his eyes burned. His right arm stopped pulling at the water and his left hand loosened it's grip on Kipper. He could hear the insistent yips and barks directed at him, but was too drained to fight against the tide any more.

His small head slipped under the surface for only a moment. A strong arm pulled him clear out of the water and laid him across a board. He fought to call out to Kipper between hacking coughs.

"He's good. We got him," a reassuring voice informed him.

Logan managed to open his eyes enough to see Kipper standing on a surfboard, tail wagging with joy. A young surfer sat behind Kipper, paddling them both towards the shoreline.

"You're a lifeguard?" Logan croaked from his raw throat.

The man that had pulled Logan from the water smiled at his small companion and shook his head. "Not a lifeguard. They weren't as close as Jesse and I when we spotted you. Everyone was trying to get to you. We just got there first."

Logan nodded his understanding right before his stomach decided to purge the salt water he had swallowed. The surfer patted his back and patiently waited for him to finish.

"Feeling a little better now? That stuff can be wicked."

Logan could only close his eyes and rest his cheek against the board. He felt the small swells rise and fall as they rode into shore.

A gentle hand nudged him awake. He heard his mother's shrill voice calling his name. He was handed over like a parcel and clutched fiercely by the recipient.

A cluster of voices and shouts washed over him. Someone wrapped him in a blanket and for the first time he was aware he had been shivering.

His mother sat on the beach, her arms wrapped around his tired body, and sobbed with relief. She called out her gratitude to several people and answered questions in single word answers, but she refused to allow anyone to take Logan from her arms.

"Sorry, Mom," he whispered into her bright pink sundress.

"No no no, don't say sorry. Don't. I should have realized before...I'm sorry," her voice broke off with a fresh wave of tears. She sniffled with surprise as a familiar bark disrupted her breakdown.

"It's you."

Logan stirred at the tone of her voice. It wasn't like the previous times she had addressed Kipper, like she was smelling something unpleasant.

It was grateful.

"And you said I couldn't keep him," Logan smirked.

His mom laughed despite the circumstances. "Alright, alright. Keep the stupid dog."

Logan sighed with contentment. He now owned the most amazing, smartest life saving dog that existed.

"And don't call him stupid."