Age: 13, Grade: 7
School Name: Dalton School, New York, NY
Educator: Josh Bachrach
Category: Flash Fiction
Looking up at the ripped screen, Sam imagined what it would have been like sitting there 20 years ago. The projector spilling out the movie, the audience gulping down their food. Sam could see it now. He created a whole movie on that abandoned screen. But then he was back in that dusty old building, the seats never going down all the way. The aisles too narrow to sleep in. But he couldn’t sleep outside, he just couldn’t. He was better than that. And yet, when dog-tired, as Sam always was, it was the least enjoyable place to be. There weren’t any windows, and the lights died long ago, so it was always pitch black. How was one supposed to sleep in such a cramped place? Sam was always asking himself this, and yet, every night he would curl up in the corner next to the screen, his neck aching, and his whole body screaming to lie down on a soft bed. But there’s nowhere comfortable to sleep in a movie theater.
Even so, Sam was happy. Every day he would sit down against a wall in Grand Central and watch the people go by. His cap out on the ground there to collect whatever passersby would give him. But Sam never asked for money. He never walked through the subway telling his sad story or screamed for help in the street. Sam had pride, and he’d never give it away. He always dressed well, in a clean suit, and when it got at all dirty, he’d wash it in the fountain. He didn’t have much, but he never looked like it. It had been this way for the last decade. People knew Sam, they respected him, but at the end of each day, he’d only have a few bucks to live on.
Grand Central on a snowy winter day is one of the most amazing places in the world. There’s something about that golden light of the station when, outside, the snow is piling high, emitting a magical feeling of Christmastime. On one such day, Sam had a cheeriness that was rare for someone in a situation like his. He loved to watch all the furry coats and excited kids run by, even though they barely glanced at him. Sam flipped up the collar of his beloved frock coat and blew warm air into his hands. A family of seven came stumbling by, the children talking, or rather yelling excitedly about the magic of NYC. Sam knew all about this; you might even say he was an expert on the subject, but the kids’ parents kept rushing along. They had that aura of boredom that the people who grew up in the city but never really saw it seem to have. The fake “New Yorkers.” Sam had seen all too many of them. One of the kids, a little boy with mittens twice the size of his head, came running up to Sam.
“Hiya Mister! You look cold.”
“I’m alright. Thanks for asking.”
“Isn’t the snow so exciting!” the boy said as he looked around in awe.
“Sure is, kid.”
“What’s your name?”
“What on earth are you doing!” The boy’s mother came running over.
“You get away from my son!” The boy’s father demanded of Sam. And just like that the kind little boy was swept away, and the family was gone. Sam stared into the crowd. Why did people think of him like that? Why couldn’t he just be a normal person? Sam looked down and saw the cold hard tiles of the station. Wait! The ground? “My hat!” Sam yelled. Sam jumped up and ran through the crowd, his eyes scanning the fur coats for those two big mittens. Then he saw it. The striped fabric of his old hat was scattered with snow and dirt. He leaped forward and grabbed it. Slowly, he walked back to his wall and sank to the floor. He brought his hat up to his head and slipped it on. He felt something resting on his head. Sam had worn that hat so many times, that when he put it on, it felt like it wasn’t there. It was so natural for there to be nothing. Nothing at all. But now it was different. There was something there. When Sam removed his cap, a long slip of paper fell from the seam. Sam picked it up and felt the smooth dry texture of a check. Only once before had he ever touched a piece of paper of such value. And that was 20 years ago. Sam flipped the paper over, and read as follows:
Date: December 20th, 1993
Pay to the order of Samuel R. Hill
At the bottom, there was a signature, but that’s not what Sam’s eyes were drawn to. All Sam could see as he sat in the blaring station was the beautiful blank space after the dollar sign.