Alfred Bowler was not your average newspaper salesman.
For one thing, average newspaper salesmen did not drive a two-hour commute just to sell text-covered bundles of paper in a city that was far too crowded for its own good. But Alfred did.
It had happened two years ago, when he had been in desperate need of some sort of income. His dusted black phone had rung for the first time in what Al could have sworn was ages, and Alfred had answered to find his elder sister on the other line.
"Alfy!" she had cried immediately. He hated being called Alfy. "How are you?"
"Terrible," he replied bluntly. Alfred had never been one for subtleties. "And you?"
"Oh, not bad, not bad..." she chortled. The future newspaperman could picture her twirling the phone chord with one finger as she spoke. "What's so terrible about your life, then?"
"Jobless," grunted Alfred.
"Ah. That would be terrible, wouldn't it?"
"Yes. It is."
Suzy Bowler "huh"-ed for a moment, then let out a melodramatic gasp. "Omigod! I know where you can work, Alfy!"
Now he was listening, as much as it pained him. "You do?"
"Yeah, yeah! There's a guy, out in the city! Needs someone to run a newspaper stand for him!"
"Suzy, I can't work at the city. I live at least a hundred miles away."
"Hmph!" There was a crash, and Al imagined that his sister had just thrown the phone at the receiver in protest, and missed. Sure enough, there was some muffled cursing, a click, and the line went dead.
Now I remember why I don't stay in touch with her anymore, thought the future newspaper salesman. The city! Why would I want to work there, for Christ's sake?
At this point, he had looked back at the ominous eviction notice posted on his front door, and remembered.
Now, he stood at his stuffy newsstand, frowning at the violet-faced man before him and asking, "Are you alright?"
The man said nothing, only stalked off into the nearby coffee shop. Alfred shrugged, taking another drag of his cheap cigarette. It was a habit that Suzy (who had now begun calling him regularly, much to his dismay) desperately wanted him to abandon, but he simply didn't have the willpower to do so. Alfred Bowler was many things, but a master of self-control was not one of them.
A shadow passed over Al, blocking him from the sun's rays, and he looked up to see a bedraggled-looking woman reaching into her oversized purse. "How much for a paper?" she asked, her gaze still focused on one of the newspapers Alfred had hung above him for decorative purposes.
"Two dollars n' fifty," replied Alfred, holding his hand out for the cash.
"Lucky man," she commented, nodding toward the headline as she continued to dig around in her purse. "I always have the worst luck. Bought a lottery ticket once, and I ended up having to pay them fifty dollars."
The salesman frowned, only half-interested in her story. "They can do that?"
"Apparently," she replied. "Ah, here you go," she dropped a mixture of bills and coins into his hand, then grabbed a paper and ran off hurriedly, trying desperately to stuff her wallet back in her baggy purse.
"Hey, this is a--" Alfred frowned, seeing that the woman was out of hearing distance by now. "--Ten." He frowned down at the bill, which was sitting, out of place, among the smaller denominations of money.
There's a moral to this, isn't there? he thought, pocketing the ten-dollar bill inconspicuously. Too bad I don't have the time to figure it out.