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"Shoveling Snow for Money" by Wayne McCray

Somewhere on the southside of Chicago, a clock-radio alarm blasted heavy metal at 4:30 a.m., soon followed by the sarcastic disc jockey Lawrence of Chicago. Jaybird got up and looked out his bedroom window and to his delight, an overnight blizzard hit the entire city, burying it in all white.

Clearly the northeast winds whipped up Lake Michigan, causing the body of water to dump more snow than expected, perhaps a foot or more. For Jaybird, it meant digging out a lot of people. Good thing he used a nice amount of rock salt and cat litter, both at home and for his customers. It made his job a bit easier. Particularly at his favorite hang out, a two-story brownstone a block from where he lived. Just thinking about the place made the job worthwhile, for it gave him something to look forward to, and provided an early education into manhood.

After so much snowfall, he hoped his preventive measures took hold and the walkways would have less of it. Shoveling snow is an unpleasant task and not for everybody. And in all honesty, Jaybird's friends hated clearing their own porch steps and sidewalks. Especially in the month of January, which is often the coldest and snowiest. It produced many cowards. His friends only went outdoors when absolutely necessary. Besides their unwillingness, a good number of walkways remained untouched, icy, and outright dangerous. Seniors suffered it worse for obvious reasons.

Knowing this, Jaybird offered them his services. At first, it began slowly but over time his clientele slowly grew from two to five. Unfortunately, he unburied people in substandard winter clothing. Even when bundled up, Jaybird often returned home as cold as a popsicle, having to thaw out his hands and feet. He spent many a day standing atop a heat-blowing floor grille and holding something hot to drink to warm up his shivering soul.

His mom figured he would ultimately quit and surrender to Old Man Winter and his frigid demeanor. But Jaybird wouldn't. Not after he picked up his sixth client, now his favorite, that two-story brownstone sitting on the corner on the next block. They paid him handsomely, four times above his $25 asking price and $15 for continued maintenance, to faithfully keep their walkways free of ice and snow.

Now the spring before, his mother contacted Dr. Howell, a close family friend, who lived year-round in Gustavus, Alaska, working for the National Park Service. As a cultural anthropologist for the federal government he studied Inuit societies and tribal organizations. He became intimately familiar with not only their customs and cultural practices, but also in the frigid conditions, and what the locals wore to stay warm as they performed their routine outdoor activities.

Sometime in July a large care package arrived. The box contained black moon boots, ski goggles, a bunch of fleece-lined thermal underwear, elk-wool blend socks and a skull cap, a black, triple fat goose down, fur-hooded jacket, and a pair of custom designed sea otter skin and fur-lined gloves. Jaybird tried them all on and they fit well. For the first time, he felt confident he could shovel as much snow for as long as possible without fear of freezing to death.

So when winter arrived, Jaybird could walk city blocks after city blocks without leaning forward, stand upright at any bus stop, or at a L-platform in below zero weather. No more jogging in place. No more hiding behind a solid obstruction to block the wind. Even the blowing hawk became a mild breeze. His only problem: he must change into dry clothes from all the sweating.

After his alarm went off, Jaybird took fifteen minutes to go through his morning ritual of winterizing his face, lips and hands with vaseline, getting fully dressed, and stashing a few high-protein granola bars inside his coat pockets, and eventually going downstairs onto the back porch. There, he shouldered an old Northface backpack lined with a garbage bag full of rock salt and cat litter and grabbed his large square shovel.

He soon made his way onto the front porch, looking out. Block after block, as far as his eyes could see, he saw everything flat, curved, and irregularly shaped layered in snow dunes. Even the sidewalks lacked footprints. The only signs of human endeavor came from the constant snow plowing by the city, the road crews tossed as much dirty snow as possible atop every parked car from one end of the block to the other. Otherwise, the streets remained relatively pristine and free of traffic.

As he stepped down, the snow crunched under his feet, signifying its softness. Jaybird dropped his backpack, took a deep breath, and then repeatedly knelt, scooped, and tossed. Shortly thereafter, concrete slabs became exposed and the rock salt-cat litter mixture applied. By 6:20 a.m. another home got dugout. Another one completed at 7:15 am. Jaybird looked at his watch and smiled, glad on being ahead of schedule.

Jaybird shouldered his shovel, then headed to his favorite house. There, he would take a break and eat a few granola bars. As the brownstone grew closer, he heard a loud whirring noise. Right then, he knew what it meant. And, by the sound of it, it is really stuck. As he reached the corner, he saw a black sedan spinning its back tires, rocking back and forth, but failing to gain any traction, which made things only worse.

Jaybird shook his head, but gave a big smile underneath his scarfed face. He recognized the car, a Dodge Diplomat. It parked on the side street every Sunday, right around twilight. And like all the other Sundays, two of the three second floor windows went dark while the third one changed colors, turning from red to an electric blue. Besides the color switch, the amount of foot traffic entering and exiting this brownstone also changed. Going from typical to zero. Now Jaybird knew what went on there, but the color change stumped him.


Sean spent the morning tangled up between two women. It took some considerable prodding to get them to untangle their legs and arms so he could squirm free and get up. Now standing, he stretched out before reaching down to the floor to pick up his discarded clothes so he could put them on. Sean soon checked his wrist and saw the time: 6:23 a.m. He sat down in the chair next to the window to slip into his socks and shoes and then the weather caught his attention. The world he knew from last night had whitened significantly.

"No way," he shouted, stunned. "It couldn't've snowed that much." He stood tall so he could get a better view of the street and saw buried car roofs. Just recently, he gave his daughter his foldable shovel, window scraper, bag of cat litter, old blankets, and car mats he kept in his own trunk for such an occasion. Not having them meant trouble.

A ginger-colored woman with unruly hair sat up in the bed. She leaned back on the oak headboard, her chest buoyant and nipples erect, taunting him with that black curly bush, and beaver tattoo on her inner thigh. Her sweet voice beckoned for him to come back to bed, to find satisfaction, warmth, and love, but he kept his pants on and ignored her magnetic pleas. Besides, he didn't wish to spend his last five hundred dollars and leave there broke. It already required a hefty payout to secure the house and pay-off the other girl for losing a night's work.

"Sean? Are you tired of the origins of this world?" she joked.

"Scarlet?" Sean replied, gazing at the capital V that was taking shape. "Do you have a shovel I could use? So I can dig my car out."

"Ummm," Scarlet replied. "Sorry, I don't need one."

"So how do you keep your sidewalks cleared?" He asked.

"We pay a local kid to do it," Scarlet told him.

"Really?" Sean replied.

"He's a child. The boy ain't even fuckable yet," Scarlet replied. "So, no. But he is at the age where he enjoys looking. That much I do know."

Sean shook his head while Scarlet reached into the bedside nightstand, taking out a King Edward's box. The other woman began whining softly about how her sleep and comfort had been ruined by him and that he didn't have to get up so soon and should come back to bed. She then slowly rolled onto her chest, squeezing the silk pillow, and taking a supplicant position, which showed a bunny tattoo on her round left buttock.

"How about another quickie?" she suggested.

"I can't. I have to get to work," Sean replied.

"If the weather is as bad as you say," Scarlet replied. "I suggest you wait for our little friend to show up. He could help you."

"And when is that?" He replied.

"I don't know exactly," Charlotte said, now pulling the silk bedding over her naked skin. "But I know when he is out there and it's usually before 9."

"That's too late," he replied. "And with the weather being what it is, it's going to take me a while to get dug out and get to the precinct. So I better get going."

Throughout it all, Scarlet had rolled a fat blunt. She then fired it up, blowing clouds of smoke at the ceiling. The pungent odor mingled with the perfume-scented bedroom. Charlotte turned over, threw off the bedcovers, and then sat beside Scarlet. Pretty soon both began puff-puff-passing, sharing shotgun kisses, and much, much more.

"Scarlet? Charlotte?" Sean protested. "You two are so wrong."

Since they wouldn't stop, he looked around, patting himself down to make sure he had everything on him. He left the bedroom fast, closing the door behind him, but hesitated in the hallway, fighting back his impulses. Another door suddenly opened, a short plump woman came out, half-asleep and groggy, donning a silky nightgown and nothing else.

"Hey Pamela," he politely said.

"Morning Sean," she replied. "You're leaving kind of early aren't you?"

"Yeah, I am." Sean replied. "I need to get to work. The weather outside is horrible. I say it's about 10 inches out there."

"That much, huh," Pamela replied. "Do you mind?"

Sean had unwittingly blocked her route to the bathroom. He moved aside, said goodbye, and then continued on his way. The front door automatically closed and locked itself as soon as he stepped beyond its threshold. He made the short trudge from the front door to reach his car and simply stared at it, wondering where to begin. Left without choice, he crotched and began hand digging at the wall of dirty snow against the driver side door. He soon succeeded in getting inside and cranked the motor. It took him a while, but the engine soon thundered. The heat and defrost came on and set high. Sean sat there, letting it run, sometimes stepping on the gas pedal, begging for the car to warm up faster, and once it did, he made a few futile attempts to drive off.

He tried the rocking method, believing at some point the snow would give, but couldn't he free up his car. Too much snowdrift and plowed snow around the parked cars hindered him. Then he saw walking in his general direction a stocking faced kid, sporting ski goggles under a furry hood of a dark bubble-coat and wearing space-looking boots, and shouldering a shovel.

"What's up?" Jaybird said, as he approached the dark sedan which honked at him. "Sounds like you're stuck."

"I am," Sean replied. "Say, could you dig me out?"

"Sure?" Jaybird replied. "I can do that, for $100."

"$100!" Sean shouted back. "How about $20?"

"$20? You're a funny guy," Jaybird replied.

The window went up and the door flung open. In his rush to climb out, Sean nearly slipped and fell, but used the car door to brace himself. Eventually, he straightened up, so he could reach into his back pocket to remove his wallet. Instead of paying Jaybird, Sean handed him a business card.

"What's this?" Jaybird replied, reading a beige cardstock with bold font and a slant phone number. "And why do I have this…Detective Sean O'Donoghue. 7th District. Homicide."

"That's a get out of jail free card," the detective replied.

"Who do you think I am and do?" Jaybird replied, pocketing the card. "You got me confused, for real, for real. Is that what they teach you guys at the Police Academy? You're not the first cop to offer up such a favor. I'm hip to the fact that it's more trouble than what it's worth, but thanks anyway."

"I see," Det. O'Donoghue chuckled. "That wasn't my intention. I'm just trying to get to work. How about $20 for the shovel and I'll do it myself."

"Get out of here with that," Jaybird replied, walking off. "My shovel and I are one, you dig?"

"Hey! Where're you going?" Det. O'Donoghue cried out.

"Right here." Jaybird pointed. "I need to dig them out before 9 a.m."

"Say, I know them," he said. "They're friends of mine."

Jaybird froze and then gave him and the building short connected glances. Then it became clear. He returned with a new outlook and price in mind. "So you're the reason for the blue light special," Jaybird replied, as the officer gave him a confused look, unaware of the implication. "Okay? Now, I know you got it, Mister CPD. Pay $250. That's their bill and to dig you out."

"What!" Det. O'Donoghue shouted. "How do you know that's a —? Nevermind. How about $50?"

"Just as I thought. You do know that's a cat house?" Jaybird replied. "Plus, I have your card. $200."

"You little bastard," Det. O'Donoghue replied. "$100 and I won't have you arrested."

"Dude, get out of here with that, okay," Jaybird replied. "But you…you're a trick with an itchy gun and a badge, Detective O'Donoghue, and you've been scratching it for what, about six months now?"

Det. O'Donoghue paused, "Okay? Fine. $150."

Jaybird shook his head, then threw up deuces. Det. O'Donoghue knew he must get to work, and soon, but he didn't foresee an immobile car and being blackmailed as the hold up. After sizing up Jaybird and the situation, he finally went into his wallet again and extended two one hundred dollar bills, which Jaybird kindly pocketed and said nothing else. The detective got back into the warm car and sat there until Jaybird dug him out.

Thirty minutes later, that black sedan successfully pulled out. Sean let the window down, telling Jaybird how he better watch himself. Jaybird simply smiled an unseen smile, then gave a halfhearted salute, as the car slowly drove off and disappeared into the snowy landscape. Tired, Jaybird glanced at his watch: 8:29 a.m. He took a moment to catch his breath, and then began on his favorite residence. After clearing their walkways, Jaybird stood at the backdoor, the shovel put to the side. He pressed the doorbell four straight times. Soon the blinds parted, then the door opened, as a female voice told him to enter quickly to keep the cold air out. Situated behind the door is Pamela, in her lace leotard and rainbow colored flip-flops, cash in hand. Jaybird apologized for his late start, then declined taking the money, telling her why and by whom.

"Really?" She chuckled.

"So what are you doing, Miss Pamela?" Jaybird asked.

"Exercising," Pamela replied.

"Really?" Jaybird stated. "So I can watch?"

"And only that," she made clear. "Nothing else."

"Nothing else," Jaybird replied.

"Okay," Pamela agreed. "Come on."

He unshouldered his backpack, stomped the snow off his boots, removed them, his gloves, jacket, and facial wear, and then followed that swishing booty into the recreation room. There, he sat back quietly on the sectional couch and looked at a decorative leopard tattoo on her backside and hips as she did morning pilates. Jaybird marveled at its twists, along with her own wild poses and flexibility. Too bad he had to cut his visit short, but he hung out long enough to enjoy two granola bars. It was 10:57 a.m. when he left out. Two more homes required his shovel.

Wayne McCray is a Susurrus 2022 Pushcart Prize Nominee. He's short stories have appeared in Afro Literary Magazine, Bandit Fiction, The Bookends Review, Chitro Magazine, The Dillydoun Review, Drunk Monkeys, The Green Hills Literary Lantern, Ilinix Magazine, The Ocotillo Review, Ogma Magazine, Pigeon Review, Roi Faineant, The Rush Magazine, Sangam Literary Magazine, Swim Press, and Wingless Dreamer. He works diligently at becoming a Minimalist from his book-laden junk room.


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