Updated: Dec 10, 2020
This story was the first I wrote for a creative writing class. The only criteria were that (a) the story had to be short (able to be read in 5 minutes), and (b) must include the words "but the security guard was asleep." I had a week between classes during which to write the story and I was reasonably happy with what I achieved in that time. Developing a plot that fitted the security guard theme took me quite a while; my brain went into overdrive!
Trigger alerts: Homelessness and suicide are touched on in this story.
A garbage truck noisily changed gear and rattled and clanged its way further down the almost-deserted inner-city street. A pigeon landed nearby, walked closer, and began scavenging amongst the gritty, wind-blown litter in the doorway. As a chill breeze blew across his sleep-worn face, Frank pulled his beanie lower on his head.
Office- and shop-workers began to tread past and Frank knew from experience that if he didn’t leave the shelter of the doorway soon the police would come and move him on. He sat up slowly, his body stiff and aching from another cold night sleeping rough on the street.
Life had hit him hard over the last decade and Frank looked more like 80 than his 62 years. His face was thin and deep lines were etched into his sun-darkened skin. Where once he’d been lithe and strong, he was now scrawny and weak. Heavy smoking, drinking, and occasional recreational drug use had taken a toll, and Frank was gap-toothed, bent, and plagued by a variety of health issues.
Frank staggered to his feet and took a moment to steady himself against the sandstone block wall. Hugging his bulky coat tightly around himself, he lurched out onto the street, shuffling his worn runners along the pavement, heading in the direction of the strip of fast food joints a few blocks along. Hunger gnawed at Frank’s stomach.
Digging through the upper-most layer of a rubbish bin, he salvaged someone’s discarded breakfast left-overs: part of a burger, a hash brown, and some cold fries. He stuffed the food into his mouth, aware of people walking past and looking his way as he did so. They may have been disgusted, but Frank could not have been more ashamed. He kept his head down.
The rest of Frank’s day followed the monotony that had been his life since finding himself on the streets three months ago. Two failed marriages meant that he’d lost almost everything he’d worked hard for to his ex-wives, and his lawyers had cleaned out the rest. He’d borrowed money, but when he became ill and couldn’t work, he’d lost his job as a builder’s labourer and was unable to pay back what he owed. In the end, he’d been bankrupted. The fact that his illness was non-specific meant he’d not been eligible for a disability pension. He’d couch-surfed for a while, but without any money coming in he’d soon worn out his welcome with family and friends. Some nights he slept in one of the city’s shelters, but often these were full, and he found himself sleeping on the street as he had last night.
By three o’clock he’d made his way to the park across from the primary school. He sat and waited, and soon children and their parents made their way to the play equipment. A petite blonde woman entered the opposite side of the park with two little girls in tow. She noticed Frank and immediately reached her hand into her bag. Raking through the contents, she grabbed out her phone and quickly made a call. Frank had been sitting and watching the children at play for about ten minutes, when from behind him he heard, “You can’t be here, Frank.” He knew before looking up that it was one of the local cops.
“I’m not bloody hurting anyone, Larry. I just want to see them,” Frank said, wiping the back of his hand across his face, as tears began to roll down the hollowed grooves in his cheeks.
“I know that, Frank, but Laura has threatened to take out a restraining order if you keep coming here,” said Constable Larry Crothers as he came around to sit beside Frank, sympathetic to the older man’s plight. It wasn’t the first time he’d asked Frank to leave the playground, but now there was the threat of legal action he needed Frank’s understanding. “You can’t come back here, Frank. I’m sorry, but that’s the way it is, mate.”
Frank had begged his son, Paul, to intercede with Frank’s daughter-in-law, Laura, to allow him to see his granddaughters. Paul had argued on Frank’s behalf, but Laura was convinced Frank was a bad influence, and that his appearance would frighten the girls. Frank was bitter about the fact that Laura dragged her family to church every Sunday, but she appeared to be utterly devoid of any Christian spirit or charity.
Devastated at the thought of not being allowed to see the girls again, even from a distance, Frank trudged away from the playground. For hours, he wandered, unthinking, blind to the activity on the city’s busy streets. Day turned to night, and Frank found himself standing in front of a modern, glass-fronted building. He knew this place; he’d been here before. Frank made his way down into the underground carpark, wondering whether Paul would care enough to give him one last chance.
Frank looked around the garage, and, spotting a security camera, undid his belt-buckle and slipped the belt from his waist. He pulled himself unsteadily onto the bonnet of a four-wheel drive parked under an overhead beam. He shuffled in his pockets and took a pocket-knife from one and piece of string from another. Taking his time, he passed the end of the belt through the buckle, then enlarged one of the holes in the belt with the knife. He threaded the rope through the hole in the belt and then tied the rope securely to the beam. He placed the loop of the belt around his neck. Frank stood looking directly at the security camera, and gingerly stepped off the bonnet. In a couple of minutes, he’d know one way or the other.
The monitors inside the security room had picked up Frank’s progress across the garage and had recorded his “leap of faith.” Usually, the security guard on duty would’ve noticed Frank’s presence, but the security guard was asleep. Although he’d had a couple of coffees to try to help him stay alert, the building was quiet, and the guard had nodded off a couple of times since his shift had started at six. As he shook himself awake, the guard recalled the discussion he’d had with his wife before he’d left home for work. It had been difficult at first, but he had been determined for her to understand things from his point of view. In the end he’d had a win; he’d finally managed to convince her to let his Dad move in with them until he could get himself cleaned up and back on his feet.
Yawning, Paul intertwined the fingers of his hands, stretched his arms up behind his head, and glanced at the row of monitors.
If you, like me, are concerned about the issue of homelessness, please consider donating to a charity that supports those who live on our streets.