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Fifty Euros

Tony looked through his computer bag for a five-euro note to give the old woman who always occupied the same spot on the pedestrian shopping street he took to and from work every day.

Tony didn’t often give anything to panhandlers. It was too easy for them to fake their seemingly pitiful ailments, and he didn’t like to encourage substance abuse or idleness. Last month he’d seen a guy hopping effortlessly into a taxi, tossing his crutch and cardboard sign into the back seat, somehow miraculously cured of his stoop and limp.

But, as far as Tony could tell from the many times he’d walked past her, this woman looked legitimately needy. There was no telling how old she was – even a Hollywood make-up artist couldn’t have created such a face. A face lined with the cares of the world, yet dignified. And it was Christmas Eve. Severe winter weather had been late in coming this year, but the streets were still cold, and the woman didn’t look that warmly dressed.

He rifled through his bag, but all Tony had was a fifty-euro note. While five, or even ten, euros were manageable, Tony just couldn’t see giving the old woman fifty euros. He needed to stop and pick up a couple grocery items on the way home – most stores would be closed tomorrow. And he didn’t have his credit card with him. Maybe he’d do something for her next week. Tony walked on.

A few minutes later, Tony turned into the narrow alley behind his apartment building. The light was starting to fade – sunset came early this time of year. Tony didn’t hear the mugger or even feel anything until he came to. It was dark, his head hurt, and his computer bag was gone. Along with his laptop, keys, cell phone, and the fifty-euro note.

Tony thought a minute, and decided his best bet would be to return to his office for help. His knee had been wrenched badly in the attack, but Tony thought he’d be able to make it back. There’d been several people still at work when he’d left, trying to wrap up various assignments before taking time off. Hopefully, someone would still be around. Tony could call his building super to let him into his apartment, and maybe borrow a few euros to tide him over.

As Tony limped back along the pedestrian shopping street, he noticed the old woman was still there. A man was standing next to her, and was reaching into a computer bag that looked a lot like Tony’s. Tony drew closer, until he was standing right next to the man, intending to confront him. Then, Tony saw him hand the old woman a fifty-euro note.

“Bless you, my son,” Tony heard the woman whisper.

“Merry Christmas to you, ma’am,” the man responded, with tenderness in his voice. “Eat well tonight.”

The man ducked quickly away down a nearby alley, while Tony caught the old woman’s eye. It was an eye cloudy with age. A small tear trickled from its corner and caught the faint light.

“Merry Christmas,” Tony stuttered at her, with as much enthusiasm as he could muster. He winced as he started to limp away.

“Sir,” the woman called to him, and Tony turned back toward her.

“Merry Christmas,” she said, and handed him her cane.

 

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Clones

Evelyn’s date was very handsome, and they’d had a nice time, but she was pretty sure he was a clone. Paul had that slightly off feel most clones had. And when people were too good looking you always wondered. She knew it shouldn’t make a difference – clones were born that way and it wasn’t their fault. But still.

Evelyn and Paul had been set up by their mutual friend, Kim. Evelyn considered whether she knew Kim well enough to broach the clone question about Paul, without being judged. But it was hard to come right out and ask that kind of thing, so she decided to let it go. She just wouldn’t see Paul again.

As they parted, Paul was glad there was no mention of a second date.   Paul was pretty sure Evelyn was a clone. She had that slightly off feel most clones had. And when people were too good looking you always wondered.

Photo Credit: Nigel Tadyanehondo on Unsplash

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Palace Guards

Vito and Mario lit cigarettes with Mario’s plastic lighter. Mario lit his own first and then handed the lighter to Vito. Vito clicked the lighter several times before the flame caught, even though it wasn’t windy. Vito stared into the blue fire at the base of the flame as he lit his own cigarette.

Vito and Mario were on a break. They were sitting on a large chunk of marble that had fallen long ago from some ancient Roman building and had probably been part of several buildings over the centuries. It was in a sheltered area around the corner from the central square where the Vito and Mario posed for photos in their Roman uniforms.

It was a good place for a smoke – close to the square but separated from the bulk of the tourist traffic. Vito considered that, aside from the lighter, the scene may have looked quite similar in 300 AD, assuming ancient Romans had smoked cigarettes. Had they? Vito wasn’t sure.

Mario and Vito weren’t friends. Quite the reverse. They’d worked together for several months, as guards at The Palace. Each had developed a distinct distaste for the other, right from the start. And it had gotten worse over time.

They’d both started working as palace guards on the same day. They’d begun their first shift in a small locker room off the square. There’d been two other young men in the room as well, more seasoned guards that would train Mario and Vito for their first few shifts.

As they’d removed their shirts to change into uniforms, Mario had made an indiscreet comment about Vito’s physique. About the small roll of flab around Vito’s waist, just above the band of his underwear. The other two guards had laughed.

Vito was very sensitive about his body. He’d been chubby as a child, and had been teased about it. He’d worked hard to slim down as he grew into adulthood. He ran and worked out regularly. But he could never seem to get rid of that last bit of flab around his waist – the last vestige of his childhood chubbiness. It wasn’t even visible when Vito was fully clothed. But Mario had pointed it out. In public.

Now Vito stared into the blue fire at the base of the flame of Mario’s lighter and thought how he would hate Mario forever.

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The Rose Peddler

Every summer, Zoja sold flowers to the diners at the restaurants along Skadarska Street. The diners sitting outside were mostly tourists and often spoke no Serbian. But Zoja only needed to communicate the price for a flower, and that wasn’t difficult.

Zoja sold pink roses, rather than the deep red roses typically sold by other street peddlers. That difference, along with her advanced age, sometimes gave Zoja an edge over her competition. But that wasn’t the reason Zoja’s roses were pink. Zoja’s roses were pink because of Igor.

Zoja and Igor had been married one spring long ago, right after Zoja turned 21. Igor wasn’t wealthy. Igor wasn’t handsome. But Igor was thoughtful and kind, and had loved Zoja very much. Igor called Zoja his Laughing Pink Rose because her delicate complexion turned pink whenever she laughed. And she’d laughed often with Igor. Igor had brought Zoja one pink rose every single day of their marriage. That fall, Igor was killed in an accident at the factory where he worked.

Zoja married again a few years after Igor’s accident. This second husband was wealthy. He was handsome. But he wasn’t thoughtful or kind. And he never laughed with Zoja the way Igor had. Or brought her pink roses. He hadn’t brought her any flowers at all.

Zoja spent over 50 years with this man before he’d died and left his wealth to her. Zoja wasn’t sorry about this man’s death. She rarely thought about him at all. But Zoja thought often about her one happy summer with Igor.

And now, every summer, Zoja sold flowers to the diners at the restaurants along Skadarska Street. Not for money, but to remember Igor and his laughter and his pink roses.

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