I'm still waiting for my slides.
By the time we got to the Fotomat it was just starting to rain. It was Monday. The shopping center was nearly deserted and the little yellow kiosk looked like an island on a calm asphalt sea. We were filming our gladiator epic and needed a couple more cartridges of Super 8 film.
I was twelve, Matt was ten. We were filmmakers.
The girl in the booth was bored, blonde, pretty and staring at her fingernails. We both knew she was beautiful and would discuss our theories and findings later.
When she handed me the film, I noticed that the fingernails she’d been staring at were little, bitten things; little red slitted things, like squinting, bloodshot eyes.
I didn’t notice the old man until he was in right front of me.
He was small and smelled and his right hand was deformed.
He had lost all but two fingers – his pinky and his thumb. He kept pinching his digits together like a crustacean, like a crayfish.
He was drunk and he smiled with rotted teeth.
I accidentally made eye contact with him.
“Ha-hello!” he said. The smell of the word was stronger than the sound. He lifted his snapping crayfish hand and extended it toward me.
Matt took a step backwards and pretended to be interested in the wet curb.
The old man put away his pincer and said, “How old are you, kid?”
He shook his head and stared into his brain for a long while. “Twelve,” he repeated. “Twelve years old, my God.”
His voice creaked and flaked like rust. His eyes were yellow and rheumy. “I feel bad for you,” he said.
I nodded out of politeness, without understanding the source of his pity.
“You kids today. You got no future. No future. Y’know?”
I nodded again.
“What with all the atom bombs and stuff...”
I nodded again. “Yeah…”
“No future. That bad actor with his fool finger on the fucken bomb button. Y’know?””
He lifted his claw again and I swear I heard the clicking of hard, chitinous carapace.
I took a step back and gave him a little wave. “Well, see ya,” I said and Matt said the same and as we walked away we heard the old man say to the bored, pretty girl in the booth: “Hey, how you doing?”
“I don’t know you,” she said.
“You gotta know me to talk to me?”
We kept walking, finally feeling the lash of the rain and I put this story away in a little wooden box. I found it again today. It smells of mothballs and mold and the edges have decayed and crumbled away, but I thought it was worth looking at again.
Oh, and that smelly old man was wrong.