We All Cry Sometimes: Flash Fiction - LetterPile - Writing and Literature
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We All Cry Sometimes: Flash Fiction

Chris has written more than 200 flash fiction/short stories. Working Vacation was 21st out of 6,700 in the 2016 Writer's Digest competition.

Tom wasn’t wearing shoes when he ran away from home. They were by the front door where his ma always insisted he leave them when he went inside. The pants, suspenders, long-sleeved button-up shirt, and hat were what he was wearing and all he took when he slipped out his bedroom window.

The day before, he had come home from school where he was in the fourth grade and found his ma on the kitchen floor, dead. This morning he had sat in his room listening to two strangers talk about his future like he wasn't fifteen feet down the hall listening. When one of the adults mentioned the word, orphanage, he ran.

An hour later, Tom was on a bridge that led to a part of the city he had never been to before. Buildings towered over busy streets while people clogged the entrances and exits to the subway. Newsies called out the headlines for the day, but Tom wasn’t interested in the news. He was hungry, and the thought of where he would sleep that night had just entered his mind.

we-all-cry-sometimes

He sat on a chunk of concrete under a bridge. His sore feet soaked in the cool creek water while his mind wandered. His pa had been killed in a construction accident two years earlier. Tom hadn’t really known his pa very well. He seemed to be at work all the time. But Tom adored his mother. Tears streamed down his smooth face and dropped onto his shirt. He wiped his nose on his sleeve, something his mother could never keep him from doing.

“What’re you cryin’ about?”

A boy, a few years older than Tom, towered over him with fists on his hips and a frown on his face.

“I ain’t cryin’.” Tom wiped at the tears and turned away.

“Well if you ain’t cryin’, you oughta get to a doctor cause your eyes is leakin’ like fire hoses.”

HIs name was Jack. He sat with Tom and they threw twigs into the water and watched as it carried the sticks away like life seems to carry everything away.

“Don’t worry, we all cry sometimes.” Jack stood up and walked to the edge of the underside of the bridge. “You comin’ with me or you gonna sleep on that rock all night?”

The older boy walked fast. Tom had to run sometimes to catch up. At one point they stopped and Jack looked toward the sky. Tom followed his gaze up the side of a building all the way to the clouds.

“She’s the tallest in the world,” Jack said.

The boys went on until they turned into a dark, damp alley. Rats skittered around mounds of trash and garbage. The cool moistness felt good on Tom’s feet, but the smell of decay and human waste caused him to contribute to the source with his own vomit, which didn’t take long. He hadn’t eaten since breakfast.

“Here we are.” Jack pointed at a ground-level window that was half as tall as it was wide.

“What’s down there?” Tom wiped his mouth on his sleeve.

“It’s where me and my gang live. Well, it’s sort of gang, but we don’t hurt nobody unless they try to hurt one of us. We steal sometimes cause we gotta have food.”

“And you want me to join your gang?”

“Climb through that window and you’ll meet the others.”

Tom pushed the window open with his feet and slid in. He stood in complete darkness. He heard a sniffle, a boot scraping over dirty concrete, a snicker. “It ain’t funny,” he said to whoever was there.

They all started laughing and lit candle after candle. The room was filled with light and laughter.

“Hush!” The room went silent at Jack’s admonishment. “What do you think? Do we got room and food for one more?”

“Heck, we ain’t got enough food now.” One of the bigger boys stepped forward.

“Well, Tucker, maybe we just oughta throw him out.” Jack took a step toward the other boy.

“I’m for it.” Tucker was as tall as Jack.

“Or maybe we just keep him and throw you out.” Jack struck his most menacing pose with fists on hips.

Tucker looked around the room. Every eye glared at him, upper lips curled and mouths sneered.

“Do what you want, Jack. You always do anyway.” Tucker sat back down.

"What we always do is vote.” Jack turned his attention to the others. “This is Tom. His ma died yesterday. If you want him to be one of us, raise your hand.”

Every hand went up except Tucker’s.

we-all-cry-sometimes

Jack showed Tom to a spot in the middle of a line of orphans and runaways just like him. The other boys wrapped themselves in blankets and curled up on the floor. Tom wanted a blanket. Maybe he could steal one. Jack said they stole things they really needed. He’d probably have to steal shoes too.

During the night, someone got sick and threw up. Moans and more vomiting followed. Tom hoped he wouldn’t catch whatever it was.

The following morning Tom watched Jack cross to where Tucker was wrapped in a blanket. He bent down and shook the older boy. Something wasn’t right. Jack shook him again and pulled the blanket away. There was no rise and fall of his chest. His eyes didn’t flutter open to greet the candlelit morning. Tucker was dead,

Jack picked up a small wafer and held it out. “Rat poison. If any of you guys is thinkin’ about killin’ yourself, here’s how you do it. He went around to Tucker’s feet and unlaced his shoes. “Is any of you older boys wearin’ shoes that’s too small?”

“Mine is.” One of the boys stepped forward.

Jack tossed the shoes to him. “Try these. And give yours to Tom. He’ll need ‘em if he’s gonna be a newsie.” Jack was busy removing Tucker’s shirt. “You got any money, Tom?”

Tom barely heard the question. All he could think about was what Jack had said about him being a newsie. Two boys carried Tucker’s nearly naked body to the window. Tom put his hands in his pockets, pulled them out and looked at his open palms. “I got twenty-eight pennies.”

“Everybody give Tom one penny. We did the same thing for you when we took you in, so no whinin’. The boys filed by, and each one dropped a penny into Tom’s cupped hands.

“Now how much you got?” asked Jack.

Tom sat on the dirty cement floor and counted each penny. “I got forty-eight.”

“You need two more.” Jack was holding Tuckers pants. He fished around in the pockets and dropped two more pennies into Tom’s hand. “Now you got enough for a whole stack of newspapers. Sell enough of ‘em and you’ll be able to buy somethin’ for dinner." Jack started to walk away, but turned back. "Here, you'll be needing this." Tucker's blanket landed at Tom's feet.

#

The early autumn day was bright and warm. Tom sat on the curb beside a stack of one hundred copies of the New York Times. He held one copy up in front of his face.

“What are you doin’.” Jack sat next to him.

“I’m readin’, what’s it look like I’m doin’?”

Jack picked up a paper and pointed at a random paragraph. “Read that.”

Tom read the words. Some were challenging, but he made it through the paragraph.

“Ain’t nobody in the gang can read.”

Jack called them all together in an alley near where they bought their newspapers. “Every mornin,” said Jack, “We has to find somebody to read the headline to us so we knows what to call out all day. From now on, that’s your job, Tom."

Most of the day, Tom stayed near Jack, but he had his own stack of papers to sell. He tried the words out for the first time, announcing the big news to the waking city.

“Get your morning paper, read all about it! Germany attacks Poland! England and France at war!”

A man held out a penny, and Tom exchanged it for one of the papers. He looked at the coin. Wheat stalks framed the back. On the front, President Lincoln’s portrait was centered beneath the words, In God We Trust. Should he trust God or should he trust Jack and the gang of newsies? Maybe God had sent them to him, sort of like angels. Yeah, he liked that. He sold another paper and began making plans for dinner.

Newsies (Newsboys) on the Streets

© 2018 Chris Mills

Comments

Chris Mills (author) from Traverse City, MI on July 30, 2018:

Hi Shauna, In history, mankind has had some strange attitudes toward children and that strangeness continues to this day. This story is as close to reality as I could make it. In fact, it doesn't go nearly far enough. Thanks for reading.

Shauna L Bowling from Central Florida on July 25, 2018:

Great story about survival, camaraderie, compassion and teamwork, Chris. It was a rough life for those boys, but they made the best of it and bonded together as brothers, as well.

I really enjoyed this.

Lawrence Hebb from Hamilton, New Zealand on May 13, 2018:

Chris

'A friend in need is a friend indeed' the saying goes, and maybe the gang was 'Angels' that came along.

A story well told, reminded me of Oliver Twist

Nikki Khan from London on May 01, 2018:

An excellent story and very well told,, felt so sad for the little boys and their stories are heartbreaking.There are so many out there similar to the boys in this story.But how they faced poverty and got together through hard times,, it’s so compelling.

Thanks for sharing such a heartfelt one.

Chris Mills (author) from Traverse City, MI on April 26, 2018:

Bill, yes, odd places for sure. Some would fault these children. The story has many facts in it. They might be faulted for running away, for stealing, for forming gangs. Suicide among children and teens was very high during the 1930s. But these children banded together and saw themselves and each other through tough times. Thanks for visiting, BIll.

Chris Mills (author) from Traverse City, MI on April 26, 2018:

Frank, I'm glad you enjoyed it in spite of the dreariness. Thank you for visiting.

Bill Holland from Olympia, WA on April 26, 2018:

Tough times on the streets...we find our support system,sometimes, in the oddest of places. Loved this story, Chris!

Frank Atanacio from Shelton on April 25, 2018:

Out of the ashes.. is what I feel after reading your short-story.. and they say what you feel you can heal.. that's a sad myth if your story is the catapult.. Chris your We all Cry Sometimes sets the tone for scattered Dreariness... it was a wonderful read..my friend..:)

Chris Mills (author) from Traverse City, MI on April 24, 2018:

Michael, It is so good to see you again. What does hope look like in a situation like this? At the very least, a place to sleep and a penny for a newspaper. But that's just a nine year old doing the best he can.

Michael-Milec on April 23, 2018:

While adult life is not arrayed on the roses, for the children and the orphans remain lone roses thorns . Your description of the society is real, as if without change since the time when the crowd one day cried "Hosanna" and the next "crucify him". A question lingers in my mind: What a shape of hope is? Or would crying help at all?

Chris Mills (author) from Traverse City, MI on April 22, 2018:

Linda, thank you. The whole subculture of the newsboys is compelling to me. I feel a kind of kinship to them when I look at the photos and watch videos.

Chris Mills (author) from Traverse City, MI on April 22, 2018:

Dora, I think this kind of childhood could work two ways. I can see some coming out with a commitment to never being in the situation where they had to make the toughest choices just to survive. Thanks for reading and for the insite.

Linda Crampton from British Columbia, Canada on April 22, 2018:

This is a compelling story, Chris. It's sad, but it's also interesting and thought provoking. Poverty is a horrible situation, especially for children

Dora Weithers from The Caribbean on April 22, 2018:

What a plight for innocent little boys! Can't help wondering what kind of men they'll become and how many will blame them without knowing their stories. Sad, but a story well told.

Chris Mills (author) from Traverse City, MI on April 22, 2018:

Eric, Given the right circumstances, I would have been a newsie. Maybe not a homeless one, but it's something I would have done as a child. Philosopher? Na, just a storyteller. Thanks for your presence here today. It's always an honor.

Doris James MizBejabbers from Beautiful South on April 22, 2018:

Sad, heartwarming, and mesmerizing all at the same time, Chris. You mention these orphans as a societal group, but I don't recognize them. Sometimes the story had an Oliver Twist twist to it and sometimes it felt modern. Very appealing to the reader.

Eric Dierker from Spring Valley, CA. U.S.A. on April 22, 2018:

Into a life of grime. Seems so sad. It kind of reminds me of our homeless group that would rather live down by the river than in a shelter. He made that choice. Freedom over a type of incarceration. So well done friend. I checked my shirt once to be sure it wasn't like Jack's must have been. But you always get me right inside the story.

You are an amazing philosopher through your stories.

Chris Mills (author) from Traverse City, MI on April 22, 2018:

Paula, I appreciate you seeing the simple element of one in the story. As I said to manatita, I could have ended the story on a much higher note where somehow Tom's whole future was resolved. But that isn't reality. I got him to the point where he might make enough money for dinner, his first meal since breakfast the day before. It is a story of survival and of tenuous hope.

Suzie from Carson City on April 22, 2018:

One friend, one penny, one meal......one day at a time. The art of survival, told well, in this moving tale. Fascinating, Chris.

Chris Mills (author) from Traverse City, MI on April 22, 2018:

Larry, nice to see you today. Thanks for your comments on my story. The history of these children is full of moments worthy of reading and writing about. But they were not treated well by society.

Chris Mills (author) from Traverse City, MI on April 22, 2018:

Ann, Thank you. The history of these children is very interesting. Most were orphans. I saw one photo of about thirty children sleeping in one big pile just to stay warm.

Larry W Fish from Raleigh on April 22, 2018:

What an emotional and powerful story, Chris. It was so sad and heartwarming at the same time. I was mesmerized from beginning to end. You are a writer that draws the reader into the story, Good writing!

Ann Carr from SW England on April 22, 2018:

A sad story but an uplifting one too. I could see every nook and cranny of that basement and the district where the boys tried to survive. Great piece of writing, Chris, and good history lesson.

Ann

manatita44 from london on April 22, 2018:

Thanks. Yes, I'm still here, getting ready to go out. It is mostly a rest day, but like Bill, i'll do some observations. Much Love.

Chris Mills (author) from Traverse City, MI on April 22, 2018:

Thank you, manatita. Still in Africa? I hope all is well. Thanks for reading this piece. I am attracted to the lives of these children known as Newsies. The child and teen suicide rate in the 1930s was high and the means was often poisoning. Many of my stories build to a climax and end at some type of extreme. In this one, I aimed for the ending to be subdued. Tom was planning for dinner. This is just a brief account of his entire childhood and life.

manatita44 from london on April 21, 2018:

An interesting piece. I did Lord of the Flies for literature. Somehow I found myself thinking of it.

Life can be really tough. Excellent work!