By Maria Barnes
“Put that down,” the man with black eyes said. “Are you even listening to me?”
A face appeared. It belonged to a woman and looked as if it had been bent and twisted too many times. The woman held up a pair of greasy sneakers and a jersey with a big hole in one of the sleeves.
“We have plenty of clothes back home, and if you take any more, we won’t have room on the floor for our bed.”
It wasn’t true. But the woman didn’t want to mention the last twenty years when they moved from place to place, forgetting about sleep and comfort. The man grabbed the sneakers and the jersey, but she clutched them to her chest, refusing to surrender even these meager treasures. They heard an ambulance siren screaming somewhere near them. The man let go of her arm.
“Jeez, I thought we wouldn’t get a single soul this fall,” he said. “Where did you put the cart?”
The woman vanished and reappeared a moment later on the other side of a cardboard mountain that towered over the junkyard. The shopping cart had only two working wheels, so it moaned like an old goat. The woman paid no attention to the sound. She placed it in front of the man and backed away.
He led them to the ambulance that patiently waited for its next occupant. When they arrived at the crime scene, a black-mustached police officer blocked their way.
“Can’t go any further,” he said, raising his right hand.
“We won’t touch anything, promise,” the woman whispered, but he frowned and shook his head.
She looked at the officer and then at the man.
“Do you have any plan?” she asked the man with her eyes.
When the officer turned away for an instant, he nodded. After all, they’ve done it myriads of times, and it always worked.
She spoke to the officer about distant countries, but her voice, despite its warmth and tenderness, was as deceitful as her partner’s strident demands. Calm, soothing words bombarded the officer until he closed his eyes and leaned against a wooden fence that surrounded the junkyard. The woman motioned her partner to hurry.
While she was busy distracting the police officer, the man leaned over the body and began mumbling something, but at that moment, the officer opened his eyes.
“Hey,” he said to the man. “Get away from there.”
The man walked up to the woman, and with a hand on her shoulder, he lumbered off back to the junkyard. When they were far enough, he stopped and lifted something from the shopping cart that wasn’t there before. It was the size of a jewelry box and covered in two layers of brown paper.
“Who did it belong to?” the woman asked, looking at the thing as if it was made from pure gold.
“Prostitute by the look of it. Probably one of his clients did him in.”
“Eight, and someone broke his shoulder; it stuck out at a funny angle.”
The woman licked her lips.
“We should save it for later,” suggested the man. “I don’t want to perish just because we didn’t stockpile souls while we could.”
Her eyes darted to the bundle in the man’s hands and then to his face. She never noticed how old he was.
“It will be better once the winter starts,” said the man stroking the metal rod of the shopping cart. “They will drop like flies and rot, and the meat of their hopes will cement my teeth, and I will never be hungry again.”
The woman sighed but let him speak until invisible particles of humanity from the new soul lulled the man to rest, long sleepless rest of a thief.
Then she reached into the cart and slowly unwrapped the bundle.
Maria Barnes is an author based in St. Petersburg, Russia. She has been writing fiction for over twenty years, and she has been studying literature and English online since 2018. Her work has been published in Sheepshead Review and Phantom Kangaroo.