Harry leaned forward and picked up the notes a pretty stranger had placed in front of him. She had already moved on without looking back. He stared at the money in his calloused hands, it was more than usual. She must have been in a good mood.
Harry stood and gathered his few possessions: A rucksack that stored his blanket and gloves for when it got colder in the night along with his sign which he folded carefully in half and placed in the bag. The money he held on to tightly, just in case it fell through the holes in his pockets - or were picked out of them.
Harry walked, his hands shaking despite the warmth of the sun above him. People walked beside him gave him a wide berth and tried not to look at him, he was used to it. It wasn't far to the convenience store he was headed. He stared downwards, his boots were beginning to wear, grey socks visible in a few places. He looked up again, he was where he had been headed - where he wanted to go.
He stood on a corner, on one side the store offered groceries and everyday items, on the other a bottle shop. His hands shook. He knew what he wanted, he had to clean himself up and find work. Only then would he be worthy to look after his kids again. He had to try for them. His head pounded, screaming for it's medication. He knew what he needed. He stepped forward, with paper notes as his prescription.
The doctor inside knew him well, "It's on special today, Harry." But Harry wasn't after the usual meds. He had more today, so he would celebrate. He wouldn't buy more, he would buy better. He made his way down the aisles, passed the shine of tin cans, the glint of green bottles and stares of scarlet liquid trapped in their glass houses. He stopped at his prize.
Deep brown, decently aged, just what he needed. The whiskey stared back at him, it told him it could make everything better, that it could numb the pain of loss he felt, that it could fill that void inside him, that it wasn't really a void, more of a deep hole that could be slowly filled with empty bottles.
Loss of what?
"No don't think about that, you don't have to when you have me."
My family, my kids, my house... we were happy.
"Don't I make you happy?"
Only for a while. But her... she was always there for me, my sunshine... until she wasn't. Then everything went dark. All I was left with was, Harry stared at his reflection in the dark liquid harshly, it had robbed him of, my family, they were everything to me. They are everything to me.
Harry knew the whiskey wasn't talking. He wasn't mad either, he just found it easier to think straight when he spoke to his reflection in the bottle, warped with its curves and tanned with its contents. Harry had everything not long ago, a beautiful wife and happy children, a steady job and a house they would own by the time he was fifty. But she had been taken from him too soon, he couldn't handle it. He had turned to the bottle, he could afford better back then. The medicine turned to poison sometime between him showing up to work late and the debt collectors barging through his front door.
Grief may have been the scorpion that was ushered in by his wife's death, but alcohol was the tragic barb on the end of its spiny tail.
His kids were alright, at least they were last he heard from her parents. They had taken them in while Harry sorted everything out. And that's what he had been doing, sorting things out. Many people had offered a helping hand, but he didn't want to lean on anyone - didn't need to. He had to do this himself, what sort of man would he be otherwise? No, he wouldn't accept help. He would stand up on his own, he was successful, he could find work anytime he wanted. That's what he had told himself every time he was in this aisle.
He'd been in this aisle too many times.
Harry put the bottle back, his head screamed for him to pick it up again. He turned around. The shaking racked him back and forth like a leaf in the wind, but he was stronger than the wind. He steadied himself and walked back to the automatic doors, they seemed further away than usual.
"Forget something Harry?" The clerk asked from behind his counter. Harry staggered to a stop. He could come back at any point. His poison waited in stores just like this all over the city. Harry struggled to lift his eyes, but he did.
He stared into the clerk's face and mumbled, "I'm not welcome here anymore."
"You're always welcome Harry, this is a judgement free zone." he laughed lightly.
Harry's eyes widened and he stepped right up to the counter, he grabbed the clerk by the collar with as much strength as he could muster, "You make sure I never come back here! You make sure I am not served under any circumstances. Do you understand?" He saw the terror in the clerk's eyes. Good. "Take my picture and call me a thief if you have to, but you make sure I am not welcome here, or any other place like this!"
"W-we h-have security footage." he said pointing to a corner of the store, developing a shake of his own.
Harry nodded, released the clerk's collar and gave his shoulder a firm pat. "Thank you. And good bye." He left the store and entered the shopfront next door. He went to stationary and picked the cheapest scissors on offer, he went to the back wall and gathered home brand soap, a plastic comb and toothpaste that came with a brush. He even had enough for a new water bottle that he could refill later.
Harry paid the clerk, sparing him of the treatment he had to give the one next door. Still the cashier sneered and asked to see inside his pockets and rucksack. Once the clerk was satisfied he let Harry leave with what he came to get. Muttering something under his breath which likely wasn't a compliment.
He knew he would have to find a new convenience store - and a new job. He hoped that tidying himself up a bit would increase his chances of finding work. He knew he was about to face a lot of rejection, but he would persevere. Even if every manager in the city refused to give him work, he would travel to the next city and the next, until he could earn the right to look after his kids once again.
She may be gone, but in those kids... in our children, she lives on.