“Mr. Lehnsherr what did I tell you!” Mr. Shaw sneered down at the young man in front of him.
Erik barely managed to avoid rolling his eyes at his boss, but it was a very near thing.
“To put two even coats on your shoes.” Erik in a voice devoid of emotion.
“No, incompetent idiot!” Mr. Shaw scowled. “I told you three coats!”
Erik could remember the order Mr. Shaw had given him earlier quiet clearly, something that his boss seemed to be lacking, Mr. Shaw had said two coats and not a single drop more.
Of course, instead of voicing his thoughts on the matter he swallowed all the complaints that were practically begging to come out and apologized instead.
“I’m terribly sorry, sir. It won’t happen again.” in his best apologetic voice, which to say wasn’t apologetic at all but more monotone.
It seemed to appease Mr. Shaw at least because instead of saying anything else he just sneered again before leaning back in his chair and sticking his three hundred dollar loafers into Erik’s face. Erik moved his head backwards, almost gaining a black eye for his troubles if he had moved a little slower.
Erik burned with rage, wanting nothing more than to splash the shoe shiner all over his boss’s face and expensive suit before stomping him in the balls several times over.
But alas, he couldn’t live out his fantasy so instead he silently added another coat to the shoes. Once he had finished polishing them up until they shinned Mr. Shaw was up and moving.
Erik made sure to bite his lip so that he wouldn’t cry out in pain when his boss purposely placed his shined shoes down carelessly on top of one of his hands, pressing down until a small audio pop could be heard. The smirk on the man’s face told of sadistic pleasure while he shifted his foot around, harshly grounding Erik’s hand into the ground.
“I expect you here bright and early tomorrow, Mr. Lehnsherr.” Mr. Shaw commanded before leaving the room.
Erik stayed on his knees for several minutes afterwards, taking deep meditative breaths in order to control his anger and pain at his situation.
After he was sure he wouldn’t go into a manic fit of anger and lash out Erik slowly got up and picked up his rags and shoe shine tins with his good hand, for now ignoring his bleeding and red hand, he had clearly popped a few of his knuckles but the pain wasn’t bad enough to indicate a break so it was easily ignorable for now, he’d deal with it once he got out of here in one piece.
Now that he’d been dismissed for the day Erik headed out into the streets, moving towards Bernard St which was half-way across the city. It was a long walk but having a place away from Mr. Shaw’s business area was more important than sore legs.
On Bernard St, there was a small corner that had been sectioned off for his own little shoe shinning business. The man who owned the corner market shop next to the bend where Erik set up shop was an old friend of his grandfather and was gracious enough to spare him the area for a few hours a day so that he could earn some money for his family.
Today Erik was lucky enough to make it to the corner before everyone else got off work, which gave him time to set up before what would hopefully be a rush of business men who needed a quick polish before the next day. It was a good time as any to do business, although doing it early in the mornings would probably get him more business but it was rare that Mr. Shaw would let him off early enough to make it before the majority of business men would already have their shoes shined by others. Most times Mr. Shaw would keep him all day from dawn till dusk, leaving him no choice but to go home without anything to show for it. He hated that his mother would give him an understanding and tired smile on those days.
He had enough time to inspect his hand, after wiping away the blood from the small split cuts he decided to not wrap it until he got home, it would be hard to work with something on one of his hands, besides that he would only think to use one of his dirty socks to wrap it since he didn’t want to waste any money on bandages.
Erik was in luck this day, after he set up the wooden chair that the shop owner held for him he got a few tired business men who needed a quick shine and polish, it wasn’t a lot but it had been a good week for him.
This was the third day this week that Mr. Shaw had let him off before it got dark so he’d been able to work and earn a few dollars. Which was more than he had been able to earn last month when Mr. Shaw had worked him so hard he had barely managed to get three or four hours of sleep per-day.
He’d made ten dollars this week, which was something very rare and he couldn’t help but smile at the thought of the food he could purchase with the amount.
Mr. Shaw didn’t bother to pay him for the work he did for him, it wasn’t that simple. Erik wasn’t his employee in the traditional sense and Erik couldn’t charge his customers at the corner a whole lot because then they’d just go to someone else instead.
Ten dollars was a lot of money though and he’d been saving up for weeks so he had quite the small honey pot at home. He wanted to go to the grocery right away and spend it on all the delicious foods that lined the shelves but he knew he needed to be smart about it.
Tonight, he would only buy some vegetables to add into his mother’s cabbage soup for the night. While the very idea of tender and hearty meat made him salivate he knew that his stomach and his family’s weren’t use to meat and may reject it. It had been too long after all, better to start small and build up to it.
So, what would it be, carrot, squash or a potato?
Erik pondered this as he packed up his stuff once more. He would be giving a small portion of his earnings to his grandfather’s friend, Mr. Solomon at the grocery, it was only fair after all. Any other person would have called the police on him if they found him on the street trying to shine shoes.
He walked into the store with the wooden chair in one hand and trying to balance his brushes and tins in the other. Ignoring the throbbing that was steadily getting worse.
“Erik my boy. You done already?” Asked old man seated behind the countertop.
“Yes, there aren’t many people out in the streets at this hour. I thought I’d head on home after buying Mom some vegetables for dinner.” Erik answered.
“Ah yes you mustn’t needlessly worry your mother, blessed woman. You’ll tell your grandfather that I said hello. It’s a damned shame that he can’t move about these days. One of the downsides of getting old I suppose. One of these days that’ll be me stuck in a bed. I unfortunately don’t have a strapping young grandson like Joe has to help me.” The old man chuckled sadly.
Erik smiled politely back at him. Everyone knew that Mr. Solomon’s only living relative was an alcoholic son that had never bothered to check on his elder father except to ask for more money for his vice.
“Don’t you worry Mr. S. The day you stop walking is the day I become rich enough to take care of you all.” Erik joked, hoping to cheer up the elder, he didn’t really know how to deal with sad people, his own family were such positive people even with the circumstances they lived in.
It confounded him how he was so cynical and morbid in humor, maybe it was a defense in order to combat the sunshine from his family’s smiles?
Mr. Solomon laughed in delight, the earlier gloomy air vanished.
“Well then I guess I’m going to be walking forever huh boy?”
Erik smirked, letting his rather large teeth display, he’d been told he had a rather unsettling smile from his former classmates and acquaintances. Only his family and family’s friends liked his grin.
“So what do you have for me then? It’s the end of the week, did Mr. Shaw pay you anything today.” Mr. Solomon asked, the last part wasn’t a question though, they both knew that Mr. Shaw wouldn’t pay him a penny if he could help it.
Erik’s face twisted in a scowl. “Of course not, it will be a cold day in hell before that old bastard will pay me for any of my work. All the money I’ve made has been from the corner.”
“It’s been a while, five, six months? Since you’ve starting working for that foul man. You should just stop working for him, I know that you don’t just shine his shoes…does he-?” Mr. Solomon asked hesitantly, looking shaken.
“He what?” Incomprehension shown on Erik’s face before comprehension dawned as Mr. Solomon coughed a few times and gestured vaguely towards his pants.
“Oh that-! NO! Gods no!” Erik’s face wrinkled in disgust at the very thought. He could feel the bile rising in this throat at the very thought of having sexual relations with the older man.
Mr. Solomon chuckled at the sight of Erik’s face, despite the rather dark conversation it wasn’t often you saw Erik Lehnsherr’s face twisted like that.
“I’m sorry Erik but you can hardly blame me for thinking the worse. The man runs you ragged and doesn’t pay you and yet you stay. Why haven’t you quit yet? I know the rumors that go around that man but he must be a legit business man since I’ve seen him in the newspaper talking to some political ya-hoo and the Chief of police.”
Erik was silent for a minute before letting out a huge sigh and pinching the bridge of his nose.
“I can’t Mr. S. I want to believe me but I can’t. You know as well as I that Mr. Shaw is a powerful and influential man and I don’t dare to cross him right now. He’s a vindictive man and who knows what he’d do to mother and grandfather if I displease him? But you are right about me doing other stuff for him. Not…that of course but I do run errands for him at times.”
Mr. Solomon’s face was shrewd as he looked upon Erik.
Erik couldn’t- wouldn’t meet his gaze, instead he kept his eyes downward and tried to backtrack in his thoughts.
“I’m going to take a guess here and say that these little errands you run aren’t the legal kind?”
Erik flushed and protests vocally. “I can’t deny that I wouldn’t want to be caught on one of these errands but-”
“You don’t need to defend yourself to me, boy! I can’t say I understand your situation but I know you, you have a good heart and a level head on your shoulders. Could make something great out of yourself if you had the pennies for the schooling.”
“Now I know that Mr. Shaw use to pay you when you first started to work for him, since you would stop in to say hello once in a while. I bet the moment you went on one of these errands for him he stopped paying you and started blackmailing you instead.”
Erik was speechless in silent awe at Mr. Solomon’s insight, he was practically spot on. Only his grandfather’s friend would be that shrewd to look at it from that angle.
“Come off it kid, you don’t have to be so shocked, I’ve had time to think about it these last few months. I may be old but I’m no fool. I just wish you hadn’t gotten yourself in such a mess.” Mr. Solomon said mournfully.
Erik’s face flushed a dull pink. “I know sir. I too wish I hadn’t been foolish enough to accept it when he had offered me a job. But it’s alright, really. When grandfather’s better I’m going to get my family out of this city.”
“You’re talking about your mother’s dream of owning a small farm out in the countryside. You still intend to fulfill it for her? Erik my son…I know it’s hard to believe but your grandfather-”
Erik interrupted him before he could complete his sentence. “My grandfather will get better, once I’ve saved up enough money to pay for his medicine it’ll all be alright.”
Mr. Solomon sighed in defeat, but didn’t argue. He knew that Erik was stubborn and mule-headed about his goals, he also didn’t have the heart to reason about it either.
“Alright boy, I won’t say anything more on the subject. Why don’t you hold onto this week’s pay then and pay me at the end of the month instead?”
“What? No I couldn’t do that, we had an arrangement and I don’t need your pity old man.”
“It’s not pity, young man. I just thought that your family would enjoy something a bit more…sustainable to eat this week instead of adding only a few meager vegetables to your mother’s cabbage soup. It’s not just about you Erik, remember that.” Mr. Solomon scolded.
Erik’s face once again flushed in shame and anger. “I know that.”
“It’s your pride, I know. I remember how it was to be a young man in his prime. Just take the money and buy something nice for your mother and grandfather for me eh?”
Mr. Solomon just waved in dismissal. “Just get boy!”
Erik smirked weakly and left quickly after that. He walked the two blocks to the food market, which was thankfully still open. He bought one large potato, two big carrot sticks and after much internal debate a small stick of butter. If they rationed this all could last them the entire week.
Of course, he hadn’t kept all his money in his wallet. He wouldn’t put it past Mr. Shaw or any of his cronies to pat him down and take it from him given the chance. He’d taken six dollars from his hidden spot under a floor board that was position just right underneath his bed.
He’d been planning on giving Mr. Solomon two dollars and using whatever he had left to get some food, mostly whatever was on the clearance table. The table was mostly filled with bruised and close to expiring food but the prices were half the original price which was the only thing that Erik cared about.
Mr. Solomon’s compassion and pity had stayed his hand once again, this wasn’t the first time the elder man hadn’t let Erik pay him.
He still couldn’t decide whether to be pissed or thankful, on one hand his pride told him to be angry at the pity of other people, but his heart oozed gratitude and relief.
His small family really needed any little cent they could get their hands on.
In the end, Erik had learned to use both of those feelings to his advantage. The anger he used when he worked for Mr. Shaw on one of his errands, the gratitude helped him when he was with his mother and grandfather. Seeing them happy, even for a short while filled him with a sense of achievement and pride while the former filled with enough disgust at himself and others to drown a sewer rat.
The medication that his grandfather needed to take to keep up his health was expensive and he’d been saving here and there for a while now in order to afford enough of it so that he would get better enough to be moved from their shack of a house.
Erik’s grandfather hadn’t been able to leave his small cramped bed for the last five years, his legs had weakened and became brittle to the touch. Every winter Erik and his mother despaired that it would be his last.
But Grandpa Joseph, Joe to his family and friends, held on despite the odds stacked against him. Even when his body failed him, his mind remained as sharp as ever. He would tell tales of fancy from his youth from the bed as Erik and his mother puttered around the small one room house-shed that encompassed their whole lives.
About how he’d once worked at Charles Xavier’s factory when he still had the use of his legs and all the fanciful things he’d seen and done there.
About how much he missed it and to this day still mourned when Mr. Xavier had closed his factory down to outsiders because of spies from rival companies that tried to steal his recipes or tried to sabotage his goods before they were to be shipped out.
When Erik heard those stories nowadays he couldn’t help but feel shame, where once he felt wonder and envy, because what grandpa Joe didn’t know was that Erik worked for Mr. Shaw.
Actually, what his family believed was that Erik worked in Mr. Solomon’s corner shop, thankfully his grandfather hadn’t seen his friend in a long time so the stories would never get crossed.
Grandpa Joe would have Erik’s neck rung if he knew he worked for one of the worse of those rival companies that had sabotaged Xavier, Shaw’s Candy and Goods.
In truth he was pretty sure his mother knew, especially when once a few weeks ago she had come home late one night with a strange expression on her face, Erik had come home shortly before her after he’d run one of the errands that Mr. Shaw ordered him to do. She had seen him and didn’t waste any time with coming over and hugging him tightly, Erik had been greatly concerned because while his mother was free with affection she knew his limits. He hadn’t asked her and she never said, but somehow he knew that she had found out he worked for Mr. Shaw. Erik suspected Mr. Solomon, but without proof he wouldn’t say anything. Better to be quiet about it and leave things unsaid.
Erik got home just as the moon rose up in the night sky. There was a chill in the air that promised a frost in the morning.
“Mother?” He called out as he stepped through the doorway, making sure to beat off the mud of the bottom of his boats before he took to many steps inside.
“Shh! Your grandfather just fell asleep.” Erik’s mother hissed out near the stove as she stirred with a wooden ladle.
Erik winced and looked over to the other side of the room where his grandfather slept, if he had been paying attention he would have heard the rather loud snores coming from the bundle of blankets.
Erik tiptoed to his mother, making sure to avoid the floor boards that liked to creak and groan when you stepped on them.
“Bad day?” He whispered to her as he placed his bag on the table softly.
“Yes, his pain was pretty bad today, I know he tries to hide it but it’s getting worse.” She whispered back as she steered the pot of water and thin cabbage, it wasn’t much but cabbage grew in even the worse conditions and so that was what Erik and his mother hand planted in the small patch of dirt outside their house, they were luckily in that they had someplace to plant anything since living smack dab in the middle of a city meant brick and concrete mostly.
“How much worse?”
She hesitated but he had gotten her to promise him to never lie to him about the family’s health once he became an adult, so with reluctance his mother spoke. “Worse than last month, it’s not just his legs anymore either, the pain is spreading to his back and chest.”
Erik’s face went taut with frustration and fear. “Damn it!”
Mrs. Lehnsherr’s face reflected her sadness and frustration at the situation, almost mirroring her son’s. But while Erik’s held some hope his mother’s held unhappy acceptance.
“I don’t think he’ll make it this winter, the first snow fall should be coming down any time now and with the cold, I don’t know.” She stopped herself from speaking about it further.
“Just…don’t get your hopes up Erik dear, he’s lived a long life. I don’t think there’s anything else we can really do except make him as comfortable as we can.”
Erik nodded even though he didn’t believe her, there was something he could do, there had to be.
Erik almost had enough money to pay for the medicine. At least another three weeks and he’d have enough to go to the apothecary and purchase several bottles of it. He knew that the medicine could become dangerous if you were to take it then stop suddenly for a while before retaking it once again, and with his grandfather’s health already declining he didn’t want to risk it. So, he wanted to make sure he had enough money to buy more than one bottle.
If his grandfather can hold out until then…
Erik didn’t share these thoughts with his mother though, there was no reason to give her false hope until he could guarantee that that hope could come into fruitarian.
Erik showed his mother the vegetables that he’d bought, and to say that she was overjoyed would be an understatement. He watched, pleased, as his mother puttered around the small stove, cutting a small portion of one of the carrots and putting it into the pot. She softly hummed a tune she had sung to him as a child to get him to go asleep as she worked. There was a small, three-day old loaf of bread his mother had gotten from work as payment that day, it would go wonderfully with the butter, although they would only use a small thin portion so they could enjoy some tomorrow as well.
Erik almost smiled as he listened to her, walking around the small room as he cleaned up all he could and straighten a few things, while also trying to stay quiet enough so not to interrupted his grandfather’s rest.
All in all, today hadn’t been a total waste of a day.