“Teach Me” is the winning story from this year’s Flash Fiction contest, sponsored by the Vegas Valley Book Festival. The author is Lisa McGlaun.
Entrants had 90 minutes to write a 500-word story based in Las Vegas and had to incorporate a book into the plot. The writers did not know this rule ahead of time. McGlaun will receive a check for $500 and will have an opportunity to read her story at the festival this weekend. “Teach Me” is being printed as she wrote it at the time, without edits.
By Lisa McGlaun
English Joe liked to hang out in the parking lot on Bonneville and tenth. Most afternoons when I left the office I’d find him slumped in his wheelchair near my car. He coveted the shade of the large trees on the edge of the lot. We had this in common.
Never one to step around a homeless person as if they were litter on the sidewalk, I always said hello, unless he appeared to be sleeping. In this way we struck up a tenuous friendship.
“Hey, I’m going to the store. Can I bring you something?” I asked. What I wanted to ask but didn’t was, “How the hell do you survived in this heat?”
“Sure. Some water would be good,” he said.
At the convenience store on Charleston I searched the shelves for foods suitable for a man with broken and missing teeth. A chicken salad sandwich and a banana seemed easy enough to chew. I grabbed a two liter of cold water and stopped short at the freezer case. Ice cream. English Joe deserved ice cream.
I had an irrational fear that Joe might disappear before I got back. His comings and goings were erratic, based mostly on the mood of the building manager, Maureen, who’d made it her mission to rid the prestigious Las Vegas property of eyesores.
“I’m not the one pissing on your walkway!” I’d heard him yelling once from my office window. I had looked out to see Maureen push Joe into the alley, shake her finger in his face, and stomp back into our climate controlled lobby.
I caught a glimpse of Joe as I rounded the corner. Thank God, Maureen was too busy to pay attention today. I locked eyes with him as I got out of my car. Joe dropped his gaze, then found me again, as if it were too much for him. I wondered, was it because it hurt too much for me to truly see him? Or did it hurt too much for him to truly see me? He took the food and I set the jug of water on the ground within his reach.
“This is more than I asked for,” he said.
English Joe reached down and rummaged through a torn canvas bag that hung from the side of his chair. He pulled out a book. “Take it.”
“I can’t Joe.”
“Sure you can.” He placed the old but cared for copy of Walden by Henry David Thoreau on my palms.
“I’m just borrowing it. I’ll give it back. I promise.”
“Of course. You know where to find me.” He smiled.
Later, I found an inscription on the inside cover. To Mr. Edmunds. The best teacher I ever had.
Months have passed with no sign of English Joe. I like to think he’s alive. I like to think he was Mr. Edmunds, a star in the classroom. I hope to ask him. I keep Walden in my car. Just in case.
Lisa McGlaun is an award-winning short story writer, poet, and author. Her work has been published in various online and print magazines, as well as best-selling national anthologies. She is mother to five talented children and wife to her best friend, Todd. She moved to Las Vegas nine years ago from a small Georgia town. She’s finally adjusted to the climate and the big city life.