Skinny Joe by Abi Hennig

Staring from the photograph, he almost winked: Skinny Joe, cross-legged in the front row, squinting up at the flash – Joe of the razor-sharp one-liners and the dirty jokes; Joe who taught us how to inhale cigarette smoke and hold it in our puffed-out cheeks without coughing once; Skinny Joe who showed me how to climb a tree (but not how to get back down); Joe who was ‘Oh, that Joe’ – monikered by parents who would raise their eyebrows at each other across the playground at the mention of his name; Joe who was rarely invited to the houses with the big doors on account of how there might not be quite the same amount of silverware after he left and because of Grandma’s jewellery that gathers dust beneath the bed springs; Skinny Joe who, to my shame, I bypassed on more than one occasion, crossing the road to avoid his black, golf-ball eyes and scrawny limbs and his screwball, toothless grin – he never called me out – Skinny Joe who hit rock bottom and lay sprawled there for a decade, crawling on his belly in the dust while we had dinner parties using our parents’ silverware, discussing local schools and demanding bosses and dismissing modestly the compliments we batted at each other across the table; Skinny Joe who rose from the ashes of a blighted beginning to blaze a trail the like of which we could only dream, taking everything rehab offered him and unfolding it into a concertina of paybacks and pay-it-forwards, saving souls from soup kitchen to street corner with his cigarettes and wonky grin and utter lack of judgement, exposing our idle profligacy: each wasted year of our existence a bee sting to the soul; That Skinny Joe, Our Skinny Joe, as we now call him, the lie tripping off our tongues with honeyed ease, that Skinny Joe whose MBE lies gathering dust beneath his bed springs, whose heart was always twice the size of ours, whose hands were made for holding; “To Skinny Joe,” I say aloud as I drain my glass and close my eyes and listen to the dark.

Abi is an emerging writer of short fiction who has previously won the LISP flash prize and been a runner up in the Retreat West Micro-Fiction Course competition. She loves experimenting with new forms of flash and micro fiction and discovering the many different ways stories can be told.  @abihennig