art by Liz Clarke
The Body Shop
by Devin Wallace
The streets smelled of trash and human waste as James held his daughter close to his side. He knew better than to let her wander ahead or stray behind. James wasn't eager for her company, but he was told she had to be there. Safety regulations, they said to him. As if safety was any of their concern.
They passed stores with windows boarded, garbage cans burning in decrepit alleys. He pulled her closer. James shivered under his thin coat. The sky was dirty, stained with a dozen shades of gray and peppered with streaks of sunlight seeping through.
After crossing a few streets littered with garbage, they came to a small brick building. A broken light hung above the door. Cigarette butts and broken glass formed a welcome mat. They didn't bother to wipe their feet.
A bell rang faintly when they opened the door. Warm air enveloped James' body and dust clogged his nostrils. The room was dark. Fluorescent lights hung from the ceiling, only a few of which worked. Shelves lined the walls, but to James' left was a glass counter. He tried to see what was for sale. His daughter spun her head around.
"Bells, daddy, I hear bells. Where are the bells?" Her gentle voice was interrupted by a gruff greeting. A bald man stepped out of the shadows behind the counter. He was more round than tall, wearing better clothes than James had seen in a long time.
"Can I help you?" The man looked down at James' daughter. James stepped in front of her, closer to the counter.
James looked down at his daughter and then back at the man. "I need to buy."
"Daddy, daddy, what are you buying?" his daughter asked. She stared blankly at the ceiling.
The man behind the counter nodded to her. "For the girl?"
James nodded. "Yes."
"No, um… I need to trade…."
"Fine with me," the man said, "don't be shy. What ya' got?"
James moved closer to the counter and again looked back at his daughter. He talked in a hushed tone near the man's ear. James stepped back and the man looked at him. "Not gonna happen. Can't do it."
"Why not?" James asked. He looked around the room quicker.
"Repair will cost me two or three alone, not to mention," the man said as he looked at the watch on his wrist, "I've got to turn a profit."
"I don't have anything more."
The man frowned, but motioned for James to come closer. The man whispered something into his ear. James closed his eyes when the man pulled away.
"If you don't, neither can I."
James knelt down next to his daughter and brushed the dirty hair out of her face. She stared over his shoulder. James stood up and nodded. "How long will it take?"
The man pointed towards the back. "Just a bit. Room's in the back." The man scribbled on a piece of paper. "Hand this to the guy in the coat. They'll know what to do."
James took his daughter's hand. "Come on."
"Where are we going?" his daughter asked.
James took the piece of paper from the man and knelt next to his daughter. "We're going to get some presents, ok? You'll see."