Like the others, Michael appeared from nowhere, one of the vagabonds who populated University Square like pigeons—flocking, scavenging, defecating.
Around 11pm each night, the drifters cleared out of the Square. Some slept in shelters, if there were slots available. Those who remained, the street cleaners shooed to the cemetery by the city border.
Shopkeepers pitted against understaffed social service workers, wealthy residents against their activist progeny. But they all agreed on one point: it seemed impossible to clear the Square of homeless people.
Michael came equipped with resources: a guitar and a folksy-bluesy singing voice. Others had tried street performing, but sooner or later, they sold or traded their harmonicas, guitars, and keyboards for cigarettes, alcohol, drugs, or food that wasn't scrounged from dumpsters.
Michael cultivated a following. He called out for requests and sing-alongs from the college students who gathered to listen while they ate their lunches or broke from study groups. He handed out chamber of commerce maps to tourists juggling fancy coffee, pastries, and strollers. He kept a respectful distance from prep school girls, who developed crushes. He has dimples, they'd say, or, nice eyes, or, if he got his teeth capped...
When his street mates taunted him, Michael invited them to join him. Those who accepted his offer could participate in whatever performance-related fashion they desired. Some sang, some danced, others recited poetry.
Shortly after the mayor stopped by for photographs and handshaking with the ragtag ensemble, a reporter wrote a feature for the Sunday newspaper, “Successful Banding in University Square: Michael and the Unfortunates,” which spawned a name for the group.
Restaurant owners lured Michael and the Unfortunates to their outdoor cafés with free meals. It helps out people trying to pull themselves up, they said publicly.
During a noontime performance in the grassy patch known as Square Green, a gyrating Michael collided with a cocker spaniel that was darting after pigeons. The dog screeched. The dog's owner pelted Michael. Somebody overturned a trash barrel.
After the dog incident was cited in the newspaper, the appetite for Michael and public entertainment in University Square diminished. The police curtailed public performances by enforcing ordinances that regulated noise and loitering. Restaurant owners stopped offering free meals to Michael and the Unfortunates. Its members disbanded, went back to panhandling, foraging, and squabbling.
At 11pm each night, the drifters cleared out. Some found beds in a shelter; the others scattered to the cemetery along the city border, before the street cleaners arrived to sweep debris from University Square.
Sue Ann Connaughton is a former librarian, who has been writing short fiction from a drafty old house in Salem, MA, since 2010. Recent stories have appeared or are forthcoming in The Journal of Compressed Creative Arts, Oberon's Law, Short, Fast, and Deadly, Bete Noire, Boston Literary Magazine, Twenty20 Journal, Speech Bubble, Candidum, Liquid Imagination, Six Sentences, The Adroit Journal, Fix It Broken, On the Premises, and The Binnacle Eighth International Ultra-Short Competition anthology.