He didn’t sleep at night until he had fed the jar. He hustled pool and won: nobody figured a kid could shoot. Mondays he caught shifts at the deli unless the regular slicer came back sober from the casinos. He ran deliveries of whatever didn’t burn a hole in his hand until nothing felt hot. He never begged but he did sometimes politely request. Money came home in two pockets. One he emptied onto the table where his mom sat in the kitchen. This is for my life, he said. The other he emptied into the jar. The day he turned twelve, the landlord taught him to collect rents. He gave him a pistol and pointed at doors. Go collect, he told the boy, I’ll give you twenty percent. They gave him what they had. Do they even rent from you? he asked the landlord. By evening, he had divided his take into two pockets, ten percent each. He handed the landlord the gun and the rest of the cash. What are you, trying to steal from me? said the landlord very quietly, I do the counting. He emptied the boy’s pockets and gave him two tens. You have burned a bridge, he told him. They lived at 212 Clinton and 214 with a hole punched through. When one got shut off, they moved into the other, he and Mom and three men with no last names. One day it got serious: no lights, no heat, and they had found his trophies and his jar. He offered them his pockets. They laughed. All right! he said and with the plated figure of a boy shooting free throws he smashed the jar. His hand wept blood. Are you sure? Mom kept asking. Are you sure this is what you want?

Copyright © August 15, 2008 David Hodges

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