So Gills was having a pretty good week so far. He slept at Elle's apartment last night after she bought him dinner and in the morning she reheated the chicken and he ate her pussy. He was walking home. The sun hurt his eyes. The city was bright orange and he had trouble seeing where he was going but he didn't want it to end. It was cold out, but a nice sharp cold. As he turned onto his street the sunlight gave way to definite reds and whites. The street was blocked with vehicles and people. His building was on fire. He crossed over to his building only to be told, you can't go in there. Gills looked up and saw his window framed in charcoal. He touched his pockets. All he had on him was all he had. In front of his building had always stood a four-foot or so white marble statue of the Virgin Mary. He looked carefully to make sure she was still untouched. He walked the twelve or so blocks back to Elle's apartment but she'd left for the day for work.
Gills went to a diner to take inventory. He had enough money for eggs, toast, and coffee but no more. Coffee refills were free. In his coat he had a pocketknife, a small notebook, a stubby pencil, a subway token, and Elle's lipstick. He wished he had a cigarette. He didn't dwell on losing his apartment. He hated that apartment—and his landlord. He hadn't paid rent for the last two months. He wasn't sad over the belongings he'd lost, but he did care about several books he'd read several times. At least the public library was still standing. His bed and desk and chair had come with the apartment. He smirked when he remembered a girl once saying he ought to burn his dirty sheets and blankets. There were some photographs in the desk drawer he knew would now be gone. He'd looked at those enough anyway. Eating as slowly as he could, he stared out the window and tried to remember where Elle worked.
Elle worked as a travel agent. This morning she was working on getting an older couple to Canada. They'd never been out of the United States and this trip was a big deal. The trouble Elle was having was, that for the couple, air travel was too expensive and ground transportation took too long. Elle wanted to yell at them, "Either you want to go or you don't!" They were indecisive and seemingly uninterested in something that was meant to be exciting, or interesting at the least. Elle wondered how the two had made it this far along in life, much less together. It was exhausting trying to get people places they said they wanted to go when they continuously resisted.
Elle got an early break for lunch, only after getting the elderly pair to consider the airfare. She bought a tuna salad sandwich with too much pickle relish in it and sat on a park bench to eat. As she started for the second half of her sandwich a man sat on the bench next to her. She looked at him and saw he had sores on his hands. His hair was long and his beard didn't much hide his chapped burnt skin. She looked at her sandwich and then asked the man if he was hungry. He said no but thanked her. She looked at his clothes, thin and dirty. It was a sharp cold outside and she knew he must be cold. "Would you take my scarf and hat?" she asked. He lifted his head to look at her for the first time in her eyes. She watched his eyes move to the thick plaid wool scarf on her neck and then to the white knit hat on her head. He said, "You need those more than I do." Elle took off her scarf and wrapped it around the man's neck, nearly hugging him. She pulled her hat down over his greasy hair. "I have more than I need," she said with a smile, getting up to walk away, leaving the untouched other half of the sandwich wrapped on the bench. As she crossed the street she thought she heard the man say, "Bitch."
After a few hours at the diner, Gills decided to walk back to his block. The flames had died down but the commotion had not. People crowded the sidewalk and fire hoses lay across the road as water dripped from the building to mix with ash on the street. Gills asked a fireman if anyone was allowed in the building and the tired fireman said, "I'm afraid not, son." Gills pointed to the charred window frame and told the man that that was his apartment up on the third floor. The fireman said that he was sorry and that everything was gone, then said, "Excuse me but I'm needed," and walked away, turning around to say once again that he was sorry.
Gills went over to the little statue of the Virgin Mary. She was still shining, not a smear of ash on her. He found Elle's lipstick in his pocket. He took it out and extended the gentle red part fully. He put the tip to the Virgin Mary's white mouth and rubbed the bright color onto her lips. He stepped back then moved in and pressed his lips to hers for a long time hard. Gills then walked away without looking back. He licked his lower lip and thought about praying for snow.
Robert Overbey is a writer of mostly short fiction. His stories have appeared in Alexandria Quarterly, Sakura Review, and Paris Lit Up. His debut collection, A Life Without Seasons and Other Stories, was published by AQ Press in 2016. He received a BFA in writing from Goddard College. He lives in New York City.