Better Days

by Mark Reep

The painters had taken off the switchcovers.  I looked in the silverware drawer.  No knives.  A big kid in coveralls stood in the doorway unscrewing a long handle from a roller.  Guessin' you ain't the electrician, he said.  I said I used to live here, it was my stuff in the dumpster.  He shook his head, sorry.  Not on you, I said.  You got a screwdriver?  What for, he said.  I flipped the dead porchlight switch, said I had a key stashed.  He thought about it, left with the roller handle.  In the front room tools clattered.  He came back with a flatblade.  The roller handle laid across his shoulder.  I said you hit a mule with a stick, you just break the stick and piss off the mule.  He grinned, stepped back.  Just bein' careful.  I said yeah, me too. 


The false back I'd made for the box was a tight fit and I bent his screwdriver prying it out.  The key was there, a small fold of bills.  I peeled off a hundred.  For the  screwdriver, I said.  The kid shook his head, made a pushing-away gesture.  You need it worse'n I do right now, he said.  Better days, you can buy me a beer.  I shook my head.  Won't be around.  He shrugged.  Thanks, I said.  He nodded.  I left.  


Out front a beat pickup said Sullivan Constuction.  The driver's visor was down and I put it up and tucked the hundred there. Down the block a cab stopped.  An old man got out and the cab came on.  I waved and it slowed but the driver changed his mind and didn't stop.