Bretton Loney of Halifax, Nova Scotia, is the author of The Beggar’s Show Box, the story won second place in Quarter Castle Publishing’s first short story writing contest.
Here’s a sample from the short story.
Aside from the shoe box, he didn’t stand out from other beggars downtown. He rattled coins around in a Tim Horton’s cup, muttering, “spare some change,” in a scratchy voice as he sat cross-legged on the sidewalk.
I had walked past him and was heading down the street when a friend, Diane, called out my name. I turned and waved. The beggar pulled a shoe box from a gym bag by his side, opened it and took out a slip of paper. He scribbled one word on it with a stubby pencil, put the lid on and slid the box into the bag.
I wouldn’t have given it another thought if not for the way he did it: like a miser stashing his gold.
I started to notice him after that day. He was tall and lanky, and always wore a red Hawaiian shirt and stained ball cap. He sat in the shade of a provincial building in the mornings and on other corners near my office later in the day.
When he thought no one was looking, he would pull out the black shoe box, take out pieces of paper and write frantically for a few seconds. Then he’d put them back in the box and bag in one smooth motion.
Over the course of a month, I saw him do it half a dozen times. One time he even caught me watching. I didn’t give it much thought. I had other things on my mind. Janice was leaving me after four years, moving out of the townhouse we shared on the gentrifying edge of downtown Halifax.
Weeks after Janice loaded up her SUV and drove away with my old life, I was stumbling home after drinking with a friend when I ran into the beggar sitting on the steps of the rooming house next door, a heritage-designated building with an address known to police.
“Welcome to the neighbourhood,” he sang out as he swigged an Old Scotian.
I nodded, put my head down and kept walking.
“So you’re wondering what’s in the shoe box, aren’t ya?” he said.
I know now I should have kept going. My instinct was to steer clear of him. Maybe it was the beer. Or fate.
“I give up, buddy. What’s in your shoe box?”
He put the beer down on the step, carefully looked around and pulled the black box out of his gym bag. He cradled it in his arms like a kitten. Inside were hundreds of recipe cards. Each card was scribbled on in a dozen colours from grey pencil to red ink.
“There’s stories in my shoe box, pal. Hundreds of stories. Maybe yours.”
Bretton Loney is a short story writer whose work has been published in three other short story anthologies, most recently Roseway Publishing’s Everything is So Political. His work has appeared in literary journals in British Columbia, Alberta and Saskatchewan. In 2013 his short story Tommy’s Mother was one of 12 stories shortlisted for the Writers’ Union of Canada’s 20th annual Short Prose Competition for Developing Writers. This fall Bretton will release his first non-fiction book, Rebel With A Cause: The Doc Nikaido Story, a biography of the late Alberta physician Dr. Harry Nikaido. Bretton lives in Halifax, N.S.
The complete version of The Beggar’s Shoe Box appears in the Quarter Castle Chronicles – Volume One with twelve other short stories.
Stay tuned for an interview with Bretton Loney on Thursday November 12th (due to Remembrance Day on November 11th).