He was young; she could see that, now that he was stripped of the bravado he always wore on the streets with his crew. She passed him often on the way home from work. He’d try to catch her eye and stare her down, sometimes grabbing his crotch through baggy denim and offering vulgar suggestions. The rest of his gang banging friends laughed, egging him on. She would turn away and lower her eyes, picking up the pace to get by as quickly as possible. Her ears burned with the filth he flung at her.
No more than sixteen, she guessed. He knelt before her, his fingers laced behind his head, his big, scared eyes flicking from her to the gun she aimed at him.
“You come into my house?” she said. “My house? It ain’t bad enough you be disrespecting me every day on the streets, you have to come into my house?”
His lip quivered. Beads of sweat formed on his brow. His eyes watered, and he squeezed them shut to keep the tears back, then opened them again in panic.
“You think you have the power, out there on the streets. Some punk kid turned god, with all those boys that got your back. They ain’t here now, are they? It’s just you and me. And I’m not what you expected, am I?” Her voice trembled, but the hand holding the gun was steady.
“This thing,” — she looked down at the gun, waved it at him while he cringed — “you think it’s got some kind of magic, think it’s your talisman, that’s what they call it. Except it ain’t in your hands anymore.”
She took a step closer to him.
“No, it ain’t in your hands anymore.” She reached her fingers into the pocket of her jeans and pulled out a dirty quarter.
“Let me tell you how it’s gonna be,” she said. “I’m gonna flip this here coin. Heads, I shoot your brains out. Tails, I call the cops. Fair enough, eh boy?”
He stared at the clouded silver disk as she balanced it on her thumb and with a flick sent it into the air. She caught it as it fell. She held her hand out to him and opened it slowly.
Tails. It showed tails. She felt relief flood over him, the tension in his body released, he dropped his head and let the tears flow freely. She squatted down in front of him, and he raised his thankful eyes to hers.
“Except I don’t need no coin to tell me how to make up my mind.”
She pulled the trigger.
“Damn cops don’t come around here anyway.”
by Shelli Proffitt Howells