Robb Hill/Robb Hill Photo
Robb Hill/Robb Hill Photo
Round Three Winner: This short story by Rhonda Strickland won the third round of our Three-Minute Fiction contest. For more stories, visit the Three-Minute Fiction page.
In Tucson, we found the train-hopping kids, and went with them to New York City. I was 15 and had never been out of Arizona. That summer, I'd learned to eat from Dumpsters, carry a knife in my pocket and sleep with my backpack chained to my waist. My girlfriend Sarah was scared to try, but when she saw I'd go without her, she came. New Mexico and Texas floated past, framed in the open rail car door. We slept under a Baton Rouge bridge, partied in New Orleans, changed trains in Atlanta. Sarah was liking this now. At Penn Station, we stepped outside, and the cold stung our skin. We stood there and blinked. The other kids headed round back of a coffee shop to Dumpster dive. Sarah called to me. I shook my head, and she went. I knew she'd bring back something — a stale doughnut, a still-warm half-cup of coffee. In the shop window, I studied my reflection. Wild red hair stuck out from knots Sarah couldn't untangle with her broken comb. My eyes seemed too large and staring. My beard still looked strange. I thought of Phoenix. I'd left home over a month ago, telling no one. I hugged myself, shivering. We'd have to find coats, sweaters. I stopped seeing myself, and looked through the glass, at a warm table with a spread-open newspaper, carelessly left behind. The pages fluttered each time a customer opened the door and went in. Sarah came up beside me, handed over a half-eaten apple. She said, "No coffee." Her hands were blue. She followed my gaze. "We'll get newspapers tonight." She meant for sleeping. Old papers were everywhere, littering the ground under bridges, inside doorways, beside creeks and riverbeds. We stuffed our clothes and covered ourselves when it rained. She said, "Come on, Ben," but I couldn't stop looking at the newspaper, how people walked past, ruffling the pages, not noticing. The paper danced in the draft they created, and inched across the table, moving close to the edge. Sarah tugged my arm and looked anxiously at the Tucson kids rounding a corner, searching for food. I didn't know how to explain to Sarah I wanted this paper. I wasn't thinking of Phoenix anymore, of my home and my parents. I wanted to fold this newspaper shut with a crease, protect it from the gray sooty day, keep it from falling to the floor, where it would soon get covered in black shoe prints. But I could not get myself to go in, take it from the table. In its perfect frame of polished wood and gleaming glass, lit by lamps and the glowing smiles of people sipping coffee from steaming china cups, I knew the paper wasn't mine.