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Fiction #347
(published September 13, 2007)
Short Change
by Errid Farland
Paul and Daniel were waiting in ambush for Wes. They were there to kill him, and, hell, who could blame them? Seems like everybody wanted to kill Wes anymore, especially me, but I didn't because I loved him, the prick.

My deal was different from theirs, though. I had his baby and that's what he stole from me. What he stole from Paul was his tennis shoes. That's why Paul came to wait in ambush. They were brand new seventy dollar Nike's that Paul stole fair and square from the back of Lawson's Shoe Store, and when Paul passed out, Wes took them. Daniel came along for the ride, I guess because he didn't think Paul would actually kill him, but then, Daniel never smelled Wes' feet before. Wes only had to wear a pair of shoes once and they were his for life.

Well, hell, Wes didn't end up dying, and I guess that's a good thing. Paul and Daniel waited down the street all night, and like a fool, I kept calling Wes' cell to warn him, and like always, Wes didn't answer my calls and didn't check his messages.

Baby Tullie (her real name's Talulah Jane, but we've always called her Tullie) knew something was up in that creepy way babies have of knowing things. Could be she was picking up nervous energy from me. Well, I did want to kill her daddy, but I didn't want him to actually die, so I was pacing and calling and yelling into the phone and leaving him messages like, "Answer the phone, you jerk. It's a matter of life and death," making my voice sound as menacing and threatening as I could, but, you know, a voice can only spew words, it can't actually reach out and grab someone by the balls, which is what I wished it had the power to do.

So maybe that's what kept waking her up, I don't know, but she was restless. About as soon as I'd lay her down, she'd wake back up again.

That's what I meant earlier when I said I had his baby and that's what he stole from me. I didn't mean he stole Baby Tullie, though like her mommy, she was fool enough to let him take her heart. What I meant was, here I was, twenty-years-old, not even old enough to accompany him to a bar, and I've got this child propped on my hip—the very hip that had permanently broadened out when I passed that eight pound monster through my still teenaged pelvis. Not that Tullie's a monster or anything, she's not. But she wasn't Tullie yet when she came out. On that day, she was this huge swell of stretch mark stained belly, this gynormous blob of torso with appendages all curled up tight, and this big old square head, a hard head, a giant head that was pushing and tearing and trying to rip me apart in the most secret places.

And there was Wes, saying how much he loved us and his hips are still slim and his belly didn't become a road map, and he's not the one pacing the floor all night with Paul and Daniel outside waiting to kill him and me inside wishing my voice over the phone could put a strangle hold on him first because if anybody has a right to take him out, it's me.

So he finally got home. He was on his Harley that announces he's there about five blocks before he's actually there, and I saw Paul and Daniel take up their positions and I heard Wes say, "Here, take your fucking shoes. I just borrowed them for a couple of days," and I saw Paul pick them up and I didn't see that invisible wall of stink slam into Paul and Daniel, but I did hear them make guttural noises and wordless exclamations and exaggerated grunts before Paul dropped the shoes and said something about, "You motherfucker."

That's when Paul stabbed him, about six or seven times. He probably wouldn't have done it if Wes had gotten home at a decent time, but, you know, Paul and Daniel had been waiting all night, like me, and they'd called his cell phone about a million times, too, and they'd left threatening messages, too, and they were burned out and fed up, so, hell, who could blame them?

Wes didn't fight back. Wes never fights. He's a lover, not a fighter, he says, even though he's got about six inches and fifty pounds on Paul. All but two of the stabs hit him in the arm where he tried to fend off the attack while he screamed, "What the fuck?" and "Oh, God, you're killing me," and Baby Tullie woke up and started crying, and I went running out there, and Paul and Daniel took off, and I thought Wes was dead. Well, I knew he wasn't dead because he was still on his feet and still cussing and I called 911 and it turns out Paul only used a little two-inch blade from a nail clipper, but still.

So Wes didn't die, and Paul and Daniel went to jail, which was tragic, but they can't go stabbing people over smelly tennis shoes, and I think they know that now. Wes had two stabs on his left side that had to get stitches, and he said he was going to change, and he did start washing his feet three times a day—before work, after work, and before bed—and he got some Odor Eaters, and some Gold Bond powder, but that only lasted for two weeks. Some change.

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