lining their pockets.wrinkling darkness curled and crept across the mid-morning sky, a threat of rain and wind beyond the windows of the diner. inside, businessmen studied their newspapers and housewives sipped their cocoa and in the center of it all sat the lowly troupe of vagrant storytellers.
"maybe this was a bad idea," casey said, staring into the murky depths of her chocolate milk. the tribulations of their encounter with the junkie and the gravity of the last few rounds of storytelling were etched in her expression, dim and disheartened.
"we can't get discouraged," joe responded, his voice uncharacteristically grim.
"yeah, i mean, we've come this far, what's the sense in giving up now?" mali chimed with a nod.
"no, i mean, we can't get discouraged," joe said, shaking his head. "i was looking at our funds before you guys got up this morning. surprise! we're broke. we don't even have the fare to catch a bus home."
"what are we going to do?" parker asked, his mouth full of pancakes. shamelessly and much to the chagrin of his comrades, he had ordered the smiling variety of flapjacks. the disheveled face now half-consumed, its one-remaining banana eye drooping as it floated on the thin layer of syrup, peered up at him from his plate.
gordon slapped his palm on the table, rattling their glasses and silverware. "only thing we can do: ditch the long faces and start charging people for our services."
"we're going to whore ourselves?" casey asked, aghast. for one reason or another, all eyes turned to mali, which she returned with a sneer.
"no," gordon said, shaking his head and trying to stifle his laugh. he nodded in the direction of the front door. semi-annual poetry slam tomorrow night - first prize $500! was scribbled on a blackboard in brilliantly-colored neon chalk and decorated in swirls and five-pointed stars.
"neat," joe said, nodding his approval and shoveling another bite of his blueberry muffin into his mouth.
"so who gets the pleasure of embarrassing himself - or herself - in front of a whole group of strangers?" gordon inquired, pointing his fork at each of his companions.
"no one wants to?" gordon asked.
"i'm not really a poet," parker lamented, bits of pancake shooting from his mouth as he chewed noisily.
"you're disgusting," casey said with mild amusement, throwing a sugar packet at him. it landed on his plate, splashing his shirt with syrup. he glared daggers at her while continuing to masticate his breakfast.
joe produced the die from his pocket and gave it a toss onto the table. it collided with napkins and discarded coffee creamers until settling between casey's milk and mali's grapefruit juice. four circles stared at the stained ceiling above them.
"give it a shot, parker," joe urged. he paused, considered, then said, "well, after you've swallowed what's in your mouth." casey and mali giggled behind their napkins.
parker gulped and took a deep swig of his milk, belched once, then began:
across the room, belly to floor
crept the smallest of God's creatures
on six crooked legs, and no more
unaware that so close behind
crept another of God's creatures
on two sets of legs, front and hind
diligent in its forward crawl
the beetle spared little concern
though little good it'd do at all
for close at its heels paced a beast
of fur, of claw, of tooth, of nail
a feared hunter, at very least
to nest, to children, crept the bug
glowing with thoughts of home so near
so proud of its journey, so smug
but soon ceased the traveler's joy
sad the smallest of God's creatures
to a cat is only a toy
parker finished and wiped syrup from the corners of his mouth. the group sat in uncomfortable silence for a moment, everyone busying themselves with bites of food or long drinks. finally, gordon broke the quiescence.
"um, anyone else?"