A Whole Lot of Wonderful
Here's a little story I wrote for collection which I self-published on Amazon for family and friends. I'd love to hear what you think!
A Whole Lot of Wonderful
Mikey found her in Wilmington, in February. He’d been looking for her in every shelter and homeless camp he passed through with his dad, every bus station and city park and vacant lot, from Delaware to North Carolina.
Though he was too young to get a real job, his dad talked the man hiring day laborers off the street in Raleigh to let Mikey work for half the wages of a grown man. The money they earned cleaning up a construction site was just enough to get them down to Wilmington, where they hoped things would be better. Maybe his dad could get a job as a contractor, doing what he liked best: building houses. It had been rough lately, but the economy was supposed to be looking up. It just never seemed to be looking up wherever Mikey and his dad were.
There were several homeless camps in the woods around the city. They were run off from the first two after his dad started fights; first with an Afghanistan war vet, and then with a woman he’d been drinking with. This third one was good so far, but as soon as his dad scrounged up some money and got drunk again, they’d be forced to move on.
Mikey found her on their second day in the new camp. She looked like she was a few years older than him, around fifteen or sixteen. From the stories he’d heard, she stayed the same age, even though some of the kids in the other camps had met up with her a long time ago, years even.
“Hey,” he said, seeing her sitting on a tree stump next to the creek that ran alongside the camp. He pulled a stale doughnut out of the plastic bag they’d given him at the soup kitchen. He’d been saving it for this moment. “Want some?”
She finished braiding a couple of pansies into her tangled hair before she looked up at him. “Thanks.” She smiled at him, biting into the half he tore off for her. “You’re real polite, aren’t you?”
He relaxed, reassured by the compliment. This was going well.
“My mom always told me to share,” he said.
Mikey settled down on the dead grass beside her, chewing slowly. They sat companionably, watching the sluggish green creek flow. He didn’t want to scare her off. The doughnut was a good opening, but the kids he’d talked to in Raleigh told him to be careful, not to go too fast. He tried to think of what to say to her; maybe if he told her about himself, she’d be sympathetic.
“My name’s Mikey,” he said. “My dad and me are traveling, just came down from Raleigh.”
“Where’s your mom?” she asked.
“She left after my dad lost his job, and never came back. I don’t know where she is now.”
“That’s rough, kid,” she said. “How’s it going for you?”
This was the opening he’d been waiting for. “Not so good,” Mikey said. “My dad drinks too much, ‘cause he can’t find a steady job. I can’t go to school anymore, either.”
She looked at him out of eyes that were too old for her sixteen-year-old face. “You miss that, don’t you?” she asked. “You were real good at reading; you always had a book in your backpack.”
For the briefest moment, he wondered how she knew that, but then Mikey remembered who he was talking to.
“Yeah, I miss reading,” he said, remembering the many books his mom had bought him when they had the money, enough to fill the bookcase in his old bedroom. He blinked back a sudden tear. He missed his books; he missed his bedroom, and his bed, and clean clothes and his mom and being warm at night.
“I’m sorry for your troubles,” she said softly. “Is there anything I can do to help?”
This was it. He’d thought carefully about what he would ask for. The other kids he’d talked to told him to be very careful. “You can only ask for one thing,” they told him. “Make it good. Think it through. And don’t be greedy.” They’d all heard the stories about stupid kids who asked for stuff like super powers, or a million bucks, or to be president of the United States. Even worse were the wise-ass guys who asked for three more wishes; they were lucky she didn’t turn them into frogs.
Mikey pulled an empty whiskey bottle from the old Iron Man backpack he’d used to carry his schoolbooks in.
“I want this bottle to always be full,” he said. “I want it to taste just like real whiskey, the good stuff, but when my dad drinks it, I don’t want him to get drunk.”
If his dad thought it was the real thing he wouldn’t go looking for more booze. But if he drank it and didn’t really get drunk, then his dad could get a job again, a real job, and maybe find a place to live so Mikey could go back to school. And maybe his mom would come back from wherever she went, and live with them again.
She looked deep into his eyes. He stared back, unflinching.
“Are you sure that’s what you want?”
“You’re a pretty smart kid, aren’t you?” She took the bottle and held it up in the weak February sunlight. “I’ll grant you this wish,” she said, smiling. “And I’ll give you another boon, as well.”
For just a moment Mikey thought he saw his mom looking out of her eyes, then his grandma, and every good woman he had ever met. The Danish woman next door who baked cookies for her neighbors, the art teacher who’d taught him to draw, the librarians at school, the strawberry lady at the farmers’ market, the college girls who used to babysit when his parents went out on date night. She was every woman; or maybe every woman was her, had a little bit of her inside them. Mikey wondered who she really was, besides the fabled girl who helped homeless kids.
He watched as the empty whiskey bottle filled with brown liquid. She handed it back to him and his hands trembled as he tucked it safely into his pack.
“That’s for both you and your dad, so that he can get sober,” she said. “But just for you, I make this promise.” She paused; Mikey felt she was looking into the deepest part of him. “If you stay true, and stay kind, then you will achieve whatever your heart most deserves in this lifetime. I give you my vow. And I’ll let you in on a little secret.”
She grinned at him like the sixteen-year-old girl she appeared to be.
“What your heart deserves, little brother, is a whole lot of wonderful.”
She left Mikey sitting beside the creek and walked through the homeless camp, turning back to wave farewell before disappearing beneath the trees. Mikey saw his father crawling out of their cardboard shelter, and realized that—although he’d gotten his wish—life was still going to be difficult.
But there was a whole lot of wonderful coming his way.