Welcome to The Spot Writers. This month’s prompt: mistaken identity – a story where a mistaken identity plays a major role.
This week’s story comes from Phil Yeats.
The Panhandler by Phil Yeats
The scruffy young panhandler sat on the busy sidewalk suckling a fractious infant. When I dropped a coin in her pot, the baby reached for my fingers. Distracted by the tiny hand and abandoned breast, I lingered for a moment too long.
“Alan?” she said as I tried to back away.
I jerked upright, shocked that she knew my name. “Yes, sorry. Should I know you?”
“Alan? Alan Cummings?”
I shook my head. “First name’s Alan but not Cummings.”
She lost it, setting, no closer to dropping, the baby on the ground, and wailing as she clutched her hands on the sides of her head. She slumped forward, both breasts now hanging free, and leaned on her elbows with the baby underneath her.
He, or maybe it was she, squirmed from under his/her mother, grabbed onto my leg and pulled himself/herself upright. The brazen little hussy, I decided she was a girl, reached up imploring me to pick her up. I decided she was about a year old, more toddler than infant, because she stood without difficulty. I hoisted her into my arms, at least twenty pounds, maybe more, so a year or a year and a half old. She squirmed, gurgling and reaching for my glasses as her mother regained her composure and adjusted her top.
She rummaged in her beat-up old rucksack and passed me the photograph she extracted. I recognized the three young men immediately. They were Gerry Murphy, my best friend through high school, Carl Cummings, another schoolmate, and me. We hung out together in grade twelve, but I hadn’t seen either for years.
I slid down until I was sitting beside her. I studied her more intently as her baby continued to tug at my glasses. She was an awful mess with scrapes and scratches and eyes puffy from crying. She had a bruise on one cheek and a fading shiner, but she had to be Gerry’s youngest sister, a kid of only twelve or thirteen when I left home. I don’t think we met up either of the times I returned home, so I hadn’t seen her for seven years. I didn’t recognize her, but she remembered me. She just got my name mixed up with Carl’s.
“Peggy?” I said. “Are you really Peggy Murphy?”
Her tears started flowing again as she leaned against my chest. “Gerry told me you were at the university, and I so much hoped I might find you, but then I got your name mixed up with Carl’s. Oh God, Connor and I are alone in the world, and I’m so messed up I can’t even remember your name.”
“Please, stop crying before you upset Connor. Is that really his name? I thought from the way he flirted with me that he must be a girl.”
That produced a hint of a smile. “Little Irish charmer, but definitely a boy.”
“Are you really alone? Connor’s father not with you?”
“Alone with no where to go. We stayed last night in a homeless shelter but they don’t want babies and we can’t keep going there.” She leaned over and stared into her pot. “And I’m not making enough to afford a room.”
I sighed, remembering my teenage years and the times Peggy’s parents stepped up when I needed support. It was payback time. “I’ll put you up until you sort yourself out. My place is tiny, but we’ll manage and you won’t have to worry about Connor crying.”
Her smile broadened, and I wondered if she was imagining more than a temporary sanctuary. A potential problem perhaps, but not an immediate one. I helped her to her feet, and together we carted Connor and her stuff to my humble abode.
The Spot Writers—Our Members:
Val Muller: http://www.valmuller.com/blog/
Catherine A. MacKenzie: https://writingwicket.wordpress.com/wicker-chitter/
Phil Yeats: https://alankemisterauthor.wordpress.com
Chiara De Giorgi: https://chiaradegiorgi.blogspot.ca/
C.A. MacKenzie is the author of (among other books) the novel WOLVES DON’T KNOCK, a psychological drama/thriller, available from the author or at various retailers including Amazon [https://www.amazon.com/Wolves-Dont-Knock-C-MacKenzie/dp/1927529387/].