Schadenfreude

Fiction
Clare Hughes


Schadenfreude: Scha.den.freu.de. From the German, meaning to take malicious joy out of the suffering of other people.

She studies her feet and for the first time Mr Supergenius there finally notices she’s missing a shoe. Her eyes are red and there are bruises up and down her arms. She can’t be more than eight years old.

He looks at this little girl, so wide-eyed and vulnerable. The poster girl for charity cases. And God knows the streets are no place for a little kid, but she’s got that wide-eyed vulnerability that tourists open their wallets for and, this is how screwed up this guy is, for a minute he almost wishes he was that little girl.

He wishes he could incite that much pity in someone else. And okay, it’s not quite schadenfreude, but it’s close.

Wait.

This is not how the story starts. Well, in a weird kind of way, maybe it is—but it isn’t. This is so screwed up.

I’ll start again.

Picture this:

It’s another sticky day in Louisiana, when Mr Charisma finds himself out on his ass again. Mr ‘I’ll pay you right back, ch√©rie.’ Mr low-riding jeans.

Right now, this dickhead, this dreg of society, is standing outside his own apartment, holding his finger down on the doorbell and periodically banging on the windows. He looks like he’s been out drinking all night. He probably has.

He yells: “C’mon petite, can’t we talk about this?”

He yells: “C’mon, open up!”

There are no garbage bags full of clothes for him to step over. No half-filled suitcases flung from the top floor window. This is a man who doesn’t own much. He’s only been living there for a couple of weeks anyway, and the only thing this bum has to show for it is a small wooden card table that his (presumably by this point, ex-)girlfriend had tossed out the door by way of eviction notice. He picks it up and crosses the road to a payphone, where he leaves another bullshit message on her answerphone. He knows it’s too late at this point. She’s on to him. He knows when to give up.

Jessica has kicked him out. He doesn’t know it for sure yet, but he’s fairly certain he’s homeless again. But, if we’re being honest here, they’d only really been living together for a couple of weeks, and it’s not like he was planning to help out with the rent or anything. He liked to think sex was his rent. I don’t think Jess saw it that way.

Forget about Jess. Jess isn’t part of the story. She isn’t a character and she’s barely even a plot device. This isn’t about Jess, this is about him. Our Louisiana anti-hero. A living chapter to Southern misogyny.

Maybe he knows when to give up but it takes about twenty minutes for him to actually leave.

For your information, it’s a fifteen-minute walk from Jess’s apartment to the Dixie Landin’ Amusement Park down in Baton Rouge. It sits nose-to-nose with the Blue Bayou Waterpark. Make a note: The Blue Bayou Waterpark is the place you want to be when your girlfriend kicks you out of an apartment that was never really yours, and the sun is beating down on your back. Our boy stumps out his cigarette. His T-shirt sticks to his back. He picks his usual spot, between the hotdog stand and the Hall of Mirrors and it’s business as usual.

Laissez les bons temps rouler.

He unfolds the small table and starts to shuffle the cards. The table is old and stained. It probably isn’t too stable after being flung out onto the pavement, but it holds up well enough when he cuts the deck and places the cards face down into three piles on the top of it.

He’s attracting a crowd now, because even though people tend to hate buskers, this guy, he’s young. He’s young and unconventionally attractive, in his own small way. He’s right back where he started a month ago, relying solely on his charm and selecting a pretty young woman out of the audience; he’s back to wooing with his cheap magic tricks

He smiles, but it doesn’t quite reach his eyes. He walks the pretty girl through one of the simpler card tricks, letting her think that she’s beating him.

Letting her think that she’s a winner.

She isn’t.

She giggles and coos, and slips him a small piece of paper with her phone number on it, so maybe he has a place to stay tonight after all. It’s funny sometimes how fate plays out. It’s almost like God has a grand scheme.

This guy, he thinks he’s God. That’s how come he’s usually two steps ahead of everyone else. And even though he didn’t foresee Jessica kicking him out on his ass, he wasn’t surprised when she did. It was almost a premonition. A premonition that missed him by this much.

Our lead character, he does another flashy card trick and people throw nickels at his feet. This does nothing to stave off his God complex.

The next mark, he isn’t so lucky. He loses twenty bucks.

And time passes.

Time doesn’t pass in hours—it passes in currency. And fifty-two dollars and thirty-three cents later, this unscrupulous bastard gathers up his cards, folds his flimsy table and bows to the audience. His fair skin is sunburnt. That’s usually a good indication of a hard day’s work. A child, a little girl, who could be either side of seven years old, watches him with wide blue eyes. Everyone else is already scattering, but she’s waiting to see what else he can do.

Thumbs up. Another satisfied customer.

Fifty dollars. Fifty whole dollars. And there’s no one to share it with either, so tonight he’s looking to supersize that Happy Meal. He walks off, table under arm, and whistles to himself. Stupid god damn idiot. The little girl follows him. She’s clutching a toy bunny. And she’s missing a shoe. Facts easy enough to miss when she’s standing in a crowd but when she stops him at the traffic lights, it still doesn’t register.

She tugs at his T-shirt.

“What d’ya want, little one?” He says, “I got places to be.”

The little girl, she’s all big-eyed and innocent. She asks if he’ll come and see her mother.

“Some other time.” He says, “Why don’ you come back tomorrow, little one? Maybe I’ll see her tomorrow.”

Please?

But, dickhead that he is, he’s already crossing the road.

She catches up with him outside an abandoned record store. He grimaces. You can see his jaw working whilst he thinks. Teeth grinding. His momma taught him that you’re never supposed to say ‘fuck off’ to children, but mentally he’s reviewing this policy. His momma was wrong about a lot of things.

The little girl, she says, “Pretty please, come an’ see my momma.”

He shrugs. Resigned. He says, “A’ight. I give up.”

He says, “Why you want me to see your momma, little un?”

He says, “Why can’ you just go get someone else?”

Schadenfreude. She studies her feet and for the first time Mr Supergenius there finally notices she’s missing a shoe. Her eyes are red and there are bruises up and down her arms. She can’t be more than eight years old. And she says, “Because they don’ know magic, like you.”

This is where the story starts.
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Clare Hughes is 24 years old, and lives in Liverpool. Aside from drinking herself into an early grave, Clare enjoys the many other facets associated with a career in writing and has had poems published in Summer Daze and Still Life by United Press. She is currently studying for her master’s degree in creative writing at Edge Hill University, and has a full-time job doing paternity tests for the Jeremy Kyle Show. No, seriously. E-mail: impersonating.tomlenk[at]gmail.com

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