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Rated: E · Fiction · Action/Adventure · #2310053
The first chapter of a story I have stuck in my head.
         An ambulance screaming past startled Sean awake. Though huddled away in the dark recesses of an alleyway, the shrill sound carried itself to his ears, alarming him. His eyes shooting wide, he saw no battlefield or dying comrades-in-arms. Just the same dank concrete he had fallen asleep on. The acrid scent of decaying meats jabbed into his sinuses as he stretched his wiry, sore limbs. While he had managed a few hours of sleep, it wasn’t nearly enough to satiate his exhausted body.
         Looking around, Sean took in what little view of the dimly lit alley he had. The sun while not in view hung low, barely coloring the sky a faded orange. While he no longer owned phone nor watch - having pawned them off for a few days’ meals months ago - he knew by the stray cats standing around expectantly and the light peeking out from under the Butcher’s doorway that it was around 7pm. Closing time for the butcher, which meant one thing.
         “Food,” Came a hoarse baritone voice. The Butcher’s back door flung open. A portly man with a thick, curly black beard stared towards Sean impassively. Sean braced himself with the dumpster he had been lying against and stood up, approaching the butcher. “You not look good. Never look good, really.” The man’s thick Russian accent always took Sean aback. Despite months of camping out in the alley, and months of receiving meat scraps in exchange for the prevention of break-ins, Sean could never get used to the Butcher’s voice.
         “Mh.” Sean mumbled, his voice scratchy and hoarse. “S’fine. Means I won’t be bothering you much longer.” He weakly stretched his arms out towards the Butcher, palms open and upwards, waiting for his pittance of secondhand meats. The Butcher stood silently, eyeing him up and down before sighing heavily.
         “Come.” The Butcher clamped down heavily on Sean’s wrists, dragging him into his shop as the door slowly closed behind them, the sounds of the alley cats fighting over the meats slowly fading. The Butcher’s Shop smelled moderately better compared to the alley. The scents of spices, meats, and the distinct sharp air of a walk-in cooler combined together to form a thick, dense scent that while not wholly pleasant was leagues above rotting food and cat feces.
         Rounding a corner behind the counter, the Butcher dragged Sean up a small flight of creaky wooden stairs into a small second story apartment with obvious signs that it had seen better days. Water stains on the walls and sagging portions of tile floor spoke of better, more well-off days. Not slowing down, the Butcher walked the duo into a cramped bathroom. A chipped porcelain bathtub with an egregiously ugly shower curtain welcomed them. The butcher turned Sean towards the sink as they had reached their final stop. The Butcher slapped an ivory bar of soap into Sean’s hand. “Wash up. Good man like you deserves to have dignity and proper meal.” Sean glanced between the soap and the butcher.
         “But… I don’t have money to p-” Sean started.
         “Ah!” The stout man interjected. “Did not ask for money. You are human - you should be treated as such.” The Butcher cut him off and walked out of the bathroom, shutting the door behind him - his footsteps growing distant as the sounds of cupboard doors opening and closing filled the silence.
         Sean sighed wearily and turned towards his scrawny reflection. In the yellowed illumination of the overhead light he could see all the dirt and grime that had accumulated on his face, arms, and clothes. Small cuts, scabs, and bruises peppered his forearms, and grime seemed to coat his face like a thick molasses. The print on his sweatshirt was so faded that the pattern and letters were no longer discernible against the greenish black of over two years of accumulated dirt from sleeping on the ground. He returned his attention to the soap in his hand, and began running water over it. Though it took a few seconds, the water warmed slowly, soothing him to his core. The first hot water he had felt in what seemed like forever, and it was due solely to the kindness of a Butcher whose name he didn’t even know.
         The heat of the water seeped into his skin and warmed him down to the bone. Rolling up his sleeves, Sean began cleaning himself with renewed vigor. The sting of the soap against recent accidental nicks and scrapes was overpowered by the joy of being able to be clean again. Sean lost all concept of the passing of time. For all he cared, the sensation could have lasted hours. Days. Weeks, even. Was he handed a full bar of soap? He didn’t know, as by the time he had finished cleaning his face and arms it felt like he had only a sliver left. Before long, the smell of cooked meat wafted into the bathroom, bringing him to his senses. He finished scrubbing himself and took one final look at himself in the mirror before shutting off the water. His unkempt facial hair stared back at him disheveled, but no longer with the built up gunk that had kept it a sickly brownish yellow. He was clean. Malnourished, pale, and thinner than a toothpick, but he was clean. Turning off the light, Sean opened the bathroom door and exited, only to be pelted in the face with something soft. It smelled of mothballs and tickled his nose something fierce.
         “Put it on.” Came the voice of the Butcher. “No longer fits. Is yours now.” Grabbing the mystery item from his face, Sean saw that it was a hoodie. Plain, gray, and with a couple grease stains. While not his first choice in clothing, it outclassed his current attire tenfold. Sean tore off his old sweatshirt and pulled on his new hoodie. It was warm, as if it had just gone through the dryer, the warmth almost bringing him to a sweat.
         “Come, sit. We are having soup. No scraps, this time. Meat, potatoes, and carrots.” The Butcher pulled out a chair, and gestured for Sean to take a seat. “We must put meat on your bones.” He continued, headed towards his small refrigerator. Rummaging around, he raised his voice for Sean to hear. “Growing boy like you needs milk, yeah?” The Butcher turned his head back towards Sean, still crouched in front of his fridge. “Heh heh, is funny joke. Because you are adult...” Sean continued staring at him, a mixture of weary and perplexed. “Bah, we just eat.” The Butcher shut his fridge after pulling out two bottles of beer, whose labels either had worn off or were removed.
         Sitting down, the Butcher passed Sean a bottle. “Gregor.” He sighed to Sean.
         “What?” Sean replied, confused.
         “Is my name. Gregor.”
         “Oh. I’m Sean.”
         “Mmh. Good name. Strong name. Sean. I like it. Reminds me of son.”
         “Your… son? …Was he also named Sean?”
         “No. Gave him better name. Boris. He is big, strong man now. Runs Taxi service. Still, your name reminds me of him.”
         “Ah. I… See…” Sean laughed awkwardly. The conversation trailed off, neither man knowing exactly what to say.
         Gregor clapped his meaty, callused hands together. “Well, we should not let food waste, yes? Think I made too much soup. Go ahead, eat before it gets cold.” The large man ladled himself a huge helping of the soup, chunks of potatoes falling off back into the soup. Sean stared at him as Gregor set the ladle back in the pot. Gregor brought a spoonful of soup to his lips before looking up at Sean. “What you waiting for, letter of invitation from Queen of England? Eat!” Gregor gestured to the pot, mildly annoyed.
         Sean hurriedly ladeled himself a small portion of the soup, Gregor watching him with an eyebrow raised.
         “I-I’m sorry?” Sean asked.
         “More. You take more! You barely have enough to feed alley cat!” Gregor huffed. “Is just you and I eating this soup, no need to save any. Gregor can always make more, so just eat!
         Sean nodded rapidly, hastily adding a few more generous ladles of meat and potatoey goodness to his bowl. Seemingly pleased, Gregor folded his arms and nodded.
         “Good, a man’s portion. I trust we eat fine, now? No more hold up?”
         Sean shook his head. “No, Sir. Thank you.” He then took his spoon and brought a spoonful of the soup to his lips, and it was divine. The first real food he had eaten in what seemed like forever. His eyes widened as he shoveled more and more soup into his mouth. Gregor chuckled heartily.
         “Ahah! Finally! Was beginning to wonder if you even had appetite! Good to see you still know good food when presented to you.”
Sean nodded vigorously, small trails of soup getting into his beard as he continued spooning mouthfuls into his maw. Gregor returned to his portion, and the two men continued eating in silence, the sound of an old radio playing classical music the only real noise aside from spoon clinking against chinaware.
         Time passed, the pot of soup slowly emptying as the two men had their fill. The sky outside the kitchen window faded into the darkness of night.
         “Gregor did not know he needed this.” He sighed, setting down his spoon. “Since his son left, Gregor has not been able to share meal in… forever.” Sean looked at him understandingly. Gregor fiddled with an old and well-worn ring on his finger, his eyes staring into his soup bowl as silence filled the air. Snapping back to reality, he looked back to Sean. “Tomorrow, we get you on your feet, yeah? Find you work.”
         Sean was taken aback. “Sir, I couldn’t ask-” Gregor interrupted him.
         “Ah ba ba. No refusing. Where you going to sleep? Garbage bin again? After I just give you clothes? You sleep on couch.”
         “I don’t want to impose…”
         “Gregor just brought you in, had you wash up, gave you clothes, and fed you. Too late.”
         “‘Ah’ indeed.” Gregor collected their dishes and put them in the sink, putting the pot of soup in the fridge. “Gregor go get blanket for you.”
         As Gregor walked away, Sean sat there, utterly baffled by the sequence of events that had taken place. It had been a long time since last he was met with kindness. Gregor returned shortly, a blanket draped over his arm.
         “Here. Couch is just over there.” Gregor pointed in to the living room at an old red couch with a floral pattern, placing the blanket in Sean’s hands. “Gregor will talk to you in morning.” He began walking away before Sean stopped him.
         “I appreciate your generosity, really.” Sean called.
         “Bah.” Came Gregor’s reply as he waddled off, turning off the radio before entering his room and closing the door behind him.
         After sitting at the table for a few more seconds in silence, Sean made his way to the couch, placing the blanket on it before quickly returning to the bathroom to clean the soup out of his scraggly beard. Tomorrow would mark the start of a new beginning for him. He just knew it.
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