Northbound. A flash fiction.

A change of style and tone this week in this flash fiction inspired by an early morning spent at Pike Place Market, Seattle. Let me know what you think.  Check out #fridayflash for an abundance of great flash fiction from many talented writers.

Northbound

Marty took a sip from the cup and spat it out. Cold coffee. Was it too much to ask for a hot drink in the morning? He threw the cup in the nearest trash can, cursing under his breath, and continued making his way through the market. When had the easy things gotten to be so damn difficult anyway?

It hadn’t been like this back in San Diego, where he’d run wild through dusty streets like a young tiger, returning home to face a scolding from his father for being late and a plate of hot food from his mother for being loved. Later, moving north to LA, life was still easy: the hand-to-mouth existence of a beach bum suiting the teenage Marty just fine. There had always been a job here, a room there; a girl in between.

‘Hiya Marty; looks fine outside don’t it?’

Marty looked up and raised his chin: his greeting of choice to the market traders who called out as he ambled past; this rag-tag collection of Chinese flower-sellers, drop-out cake-bakers and ex-con fishmongers. They were a good-natured bunch, he knew that, all with a story to tell and a past to hide.

‘Hey Marty, how d’ya do yesterday? Any better?’

Marty forced a smile and shook his head. What was this guy’s name? Pete, was it? Yes, that was it. Marty peered at Pete’s new-age stall which the vendor was just setting out for the day; healing crystals, incense, patchouli.

‘Guess this recession’s hitting us all pretty bad, huh?’

Marty thought for a second before replying.

‘I guess.’

He carried on through the early morning bustle of the produce section, ducking under crates of fruit carried aloft by youthful delivery boys and skirting piles of ice cradling glistening fish.

Patchouli: hadn’t they all worn that down in Frisco? It had been inevitable that he would continue his migration north to intercept the sixties at their pulsating heart; and he had laughed and loved along with the rest of them. Where had he lived then? What had he eaten? Did anyone eat back then? Marty couldn’t remember. He probably hadn’t cared much at the time; the possibilities must have seemed endless.

Marty watched the stall holders weaving their way through the mêlée, anxious to set up again for another feet-stomping, hand-warming day in the draughty old market hall. Had any of them, himself included, ever stopped to think that life might actually get harder?

As Marty approached the market’s main entrance, he caught a glimpse of Estelle’s hi-visibility coat; her garment of choice this spring, he’d noted. He walked faster to catch her before she turned the corner, heading for her pitch at the far end of the market. He called out over the crowd.

‘Hey, Moonbeam! Hold on a minute.’

Estelle’s reply was shouted gruffly without turning her head, tossed behind like a drained beer can.

‘Not my name; never was.’

‘Liar!’

Marty gave up the chase. That had been her name back then, in Frisco. When it was all over she’d changed it back, looking for a ‘more authentic life experience’; whatever that was. Marty wondered if she thought she’d found it yet.

He rubbed his eyes. God, he was tired. Sleep didn’t come so easily to Marty these days; too many worries. Marty supposed that was normal; older people tended not sleep as well didn’t they? His sleep pattern changed when they’d all jumped aboard the caravan heading north; ever the trend followers, never the trend setters. What did they call it? Grunge? Even the word sounded bad for you. Let alone the crap you took to be part of it all; Marty, Estelle, everyone else.

 At the entrance, Marty chanced a glance up at the sky; the sun, he thought, might win today’s battle with the city’s resident clouds. He might not do so badly after all. The rain was crap for business, any stall holder would tell you that, and Marty agreed.

Just as he was about to set up shop, he heard one of the market traders calling out his name. Looking behind, Marty saw the man crossing the stream of early-rising tourists and shoppers, waving a piece of card in the air.

‘Hey, Marty, wait up. You dropped your sign.’

Marty took the piece of white card,

‘Thanks Bill,’ he said, ‘wouldn’t get far without that.’

‘No, you wouldn’t. Have a good day!’

‘Thanks.’

Marty wiped the dust off the front of his sign; it was good for a while yet. He stepped out of the market and walked a short way up the street before stopping and putting down his bags. Not close enough to piss off the Market’s authorities, but near enough to catch passing trade.  He reached into one of the bags and retrieved a dirty plastic cup, which he placed carefully on the sidewalk, just in front of his feet. As he straightened up, holding on to his back for support, he coughed. I should get that seen to, he thought, before letting out a sharp laugh.

‘Chance would be a fine thing,’ he said to a pigeon, startled from its insistent pecking.

Marty lifted his head, fixed his eyes defiantly on an invisible horizon and held up his sign. To anyone who took the trouble, it read: “Old Hippies Need Love Too. Thank You.

© flyingscribbler 2011

Post Script: Marty was inspired by a real person. There was (is) an old guy begging not far from Pike Place Market and his sign really did say that. I didn’t have a dollar on me at the time, so if you see him, please give him something for me. Marty’s fellow beggar Estelle was also inspired by a real person and she was wearing a very grubby, hi-visibility coat. I can’t confirm if she ever has gone by the name of Moonbeam.

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14 comments on “Northbound. A flash fiction.

  1. Icy Sedgwick says:

    The moment you mentioned a sign, I wondered if he was homeless. This was a beautiful piece of work – very vivid descriptions, and seemed very authentic.

  2. FARfetched says:

    Nice slice o’ life here. If I’d had a five, I would have given it to him in exchange for hearing his story… I bet it would have been worth the money.

  3. Tony Noland says:

    I know guys like this.

  4. Beautifully paced . I think it captures how the freewheeling recklessness of youth can make you think wealth will last for ever. A metaphor for the decline of the West perhaps?

  5. Mari Juniper says:

    Second story I read today about getting to age. I’m feeling melancholy starting to settle in. Good story though. 🙂

  6. sonia says:

    Nice story. I can’t help but thinking this is a scam of some kind, that he’s not really homeless. Maybe it’s the cynic in me.

  7. johnwiswell says:

    Much sweeter ending than I anticipated! Thank you for sharing.

  8. Steve Green says:

    This is quite a compelling read, although there is no over-excitement in the story it holds the interest all the way through, very believable. Marty attracts interest, sympathy, and empathy. I think it is difficult to walk past characters like these without wondering about their former lives.

    • Thanks everyone for your great (and kind) comments. This was a change of style for me but I think it worked.

      Icy: I wondered whether I had given the game away too early or not, but decided it didn’t matter in the end.

      Farfetched: Maybe I should have stopped for a chat, but I kind of like my own version of his life!

      Tony: I hope Marty felt real to you. I think I got it right.

      Virginia: I only decided late on to highlight the hope that most young people have for the future. I think it makes the end more powerful.

      Mari: thanks for your comments. Sorry if it made you melancholic. I felt a bit like that writing it.

      Sonia: It’s funny, because that never occured to me at all when I was writing it, but it often does when I pass beggars on the street. I liked Marty from the start too much I suppose.

      John: no problem; thanks for reading!

  9. Helen says:

    I loved this story and I loved the character. You took me through that market with him, the sights, smells, people and you took me through his memories.

    Yet I felt a sadness for the way he had ended up.

  10. adampb says:

    The glimpse into what life is like for “others” is always confronting, forcing us to question ourselves and our priorities. Well done.
    Adam B @revhappiness

  11. Hi there Justin — nice setting and characters in this story. Liked Marty, and the slow reveal on his life and aspirations, along with those little details of the market. Sad where he ended up, though believable as to how it may have happened.

    St.

  12. laradunning says:

    The setting of this piece was so fitting for Marty. They line the streets down there, especially when the suns out. Marty was a very likeable character. I enjoyed his back flashes on his life and his reflection on where it went.

  13. You’ve got a style of writing that is difficult not to enjoy. Lovely descriptions and pictures – “hot food from mother for being loved”, “tossed behind like a drained beer can”. Was quite a journey for not having actually travelled that far!

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