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To Give Your Last Twenty

Because it could be their last

By AshleyPublished 2 months ago Updated about a month ago 3 min read
Top Story - May 2024

He walks oddly, shuffling and nearly tripping down the hallway toward his apartment door. I slow my pace, allowing my neighbor— a stuffy ex-marine with one missing tooth, a strong odor of liquor and two weeks' worth of unwashed stench always accompanying him—to reach his door. I crinkle my nose, nearly gagging as he dawdles ahead.

I fumble for the keys in my tote, sifting through the lone tampon, a pack of nicotine gum, my wallet, and a cheap Sephora brand half-used burgundy lipstick, until I find them. I pull them out and they clatter to the wooden floor.

My neighbor pauses at his front door, shifting from one foot to the other and swiveling his head behind his shoulder.

I shyly smile and stammer through gritted teeth, “Hi Bill, hope you’re having a good night.” I flip my blonde hair and dart up, quickening my pace to reach my flat before he has time to respond.

Only seconds from escaping, Bill says, “Sorry about Harvey. He keeps me up at night too, he’s a sick little asshole, but he’s the only thing keeping me from jumping, I suppose.”

My door now unlocked, I keep my hand still on the vintage golden knob. I clench my jaw. I tilt my head up and close my eyes. Why? I harshly snap at God in my head.

I swallow my saliva and cock my head playfully, “Ah, Bill, you don’t mean that. You’ve got lots of people who love you, I’m sure of it.”

Bill turns around, now fully facing me. “You’re the only person I really talk to if I’m being honest.”

Cold icy fingers intertwine between the spaces of my ribs. A heaviness invades my chest. I point my nose to the floor.

Bill grumbles, “I didn’t mean to make you uncomfortable, Kate. I don’t have much time before I’m shipped to the old person’s home. I’ll be out of here soon, I’m sure.” He turns his back to enter his apartment.

“Bill?” I call out, chewing the side of my cheek. “Don’t you have kids?”

He nods ‘no.’

My mother once gave a man her last twenty. I was ten and she was thirty. We had been going to the grocery store. Skipping behind her, a Marlboro Red Label Short between her index and middle finger, she had dropped the smoke to the ground just as we were about to enter Albertson’s.

A man had called behind us, “Hey! I’m short on cash and need to fill up my tank. Can you spare a few bucks?”

“I’m sorry, I don’t have anything,” my mother had haughtily responded. We turned our backs to continue into the store until my mother stopped, tilted her head up, and closed her eyes.

She reopened them and turned about-face, calling to the man, “Hey!” She rummaged in her purse— rustling whatever she kept in there—and pulled out a crumpled twenty-dollar bill, the last she would have until Friday, when she’d get paid.

He thanked her and dashed back to his cheap Honda Civic. My mother shook her head and began to walk me back to our run-down Saturn, which had only a quarter tank.

I had furrowed my brows in confusion, “Why did you give him your money, Mom?”

She furiously walked ahead, as if on a mission. “I know what it’s like to be down on my luck, and that’s what good people do, Kate.”

I come back to the present. Bill’s sagging yellowed eyes, his alcoholic death on the horizon, I turn toward him.

“I’m hungry for pasta, Bill. Want to join me? I’ll be ready in twenty.”


About the Creator



I'm a writer based in Portland, Oregon. Feminist-focused.

Instagram: @ashleyleap

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