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Looks Can Be Deceiving

By Paul Rousseau

PROMPT — Who am I today?

He is standing by a rural post mailbox, hair disheveled, beard scruffy, tattered overalls more dirt than cloth. I stop to ask directions to a garage sale. He tosses his head to the side. “It’s right here, but it don’t start for another hour. Come on up to my place and sit for a while.” He directs me to a ramshackle mobile home. I enter, cautiously. There is a smell of blight and obsolescence. “City folk call me white trash; no one good lives in a trailer they say.” He lights an unfiltered Camel and heaves a puff. “It ain’t true, at least not all of it.” He motions for me to follow him to a window. He pushes aside a blind and aims his finger at a pink mobile home. “See that trailer? Lady’s a librarian. A good person. Keeps to herself, don’t cause no trouble.” He drags another puff. “That lady and me, we’re a lot alike. Don’t want to hurt nobody, don’t want to be hurt by nobody.”

“Great philosophy,” I reply. I wince at my lip service words.

“Philosophy?” he huffs. “Hell man, it’s just following the good book, you know, the Bible.”

He plops in a chair; I take a seat opposite him. A blue haze of cigarette smoke swirls upward. He pours two cups of coffee. We sit in stilted silence, sipping the brew. I shift in my chair, side to side. “I hate to ask, but may I use your bathroom?”

He twists his lips into a grimace. “It’s by the bedroom, but it’s a mess.”

I amble down a narrow hall and slide the door open. Several syringes and needles lie on the lip of the sink. My breath quickens. I flush the toilet without peeing and return to the living room. I thank him for his hospitality, but inform him, duplicitously, I forgot a mandatory work meeting and must leave.

He saunters to my side and leans close, so close I can smell the wet smoke on his breath. “I know what you’re thinking.”

I can feel my heart pounding in my temples. I move toward the door; he follows. I offer an awkward goodbye and rush to the car. He jiggles his head and shouts, “If you would have just asked, those needles were for my diabetes.” He waves a bottle of insulin in the air. My shoulders slump, my face reddens.


Paul Rousseau (he/his/him) is a semi-retired physician, writer, lover of dogs, and occasional photographer published in sundry literary and medical journals. He was nominated for The Best Small Fictions Anthology from Sonder Press, 2020. Paul writes from Mount Pleasant, South Carolina. You can find him at Twitter: @ScribbledCoffee


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