July 11, 2022

by  Ann Yuan


He was the man with a backpack. It was a part of his attire, he never walked out the door without it.

He works in a used car dealership at the east end of Main Street. Every day at 9 AM, he entered the building with coffee in one hand, lunch box in the other. The backpack, green horizontal stripes on a white base, loosely hang on his shoulders. But if somebody passed by and greeted him, a hairy head would stick out from the top of the backpack—It’s a little boy in pajamas clinging to his father’s back and grinning to this strange world.

Outside the building there was an 18ft inflatable tube. The man had moved his desk close to the window so that the boy could watch the wacky tube man endlessly waving and dancing in the wind. When he needed to spend a long time with a potential customer, he brought his chest to his desk, stretched out both arms to make his back as flat as possible. The boy then amused himself by coloring or reading on this portable desk.

He usually had lunch on a bench in the garden nearby, with the boy perching on his shoulders. Between his bites and chews, he’d tweaked a piece of sandwich, reached out his arm backward and accurately fed it into the boy’s mouth—a scene often attracted a number of pigeons and pedestrians. 

His sale record was phenomenal. Nobody ever bothered him about bringing a live backpack to work.

It was true, the boy never left his back. People drew a logical conclusion that an Orthopedist should be in need. But Mrs. Herrick, his next-door neighbor, swore that from her kitchen window she’d seen the boy jumping on the bed like a chipmunk. And just by sniffing at the smell hovering in the backyard, she decided that the man was a master of meatloaf and Cajun cornbread.

At dusk, he stepped out of the car, shoulder stooping to sustain the half-asleep boy. Each morning, he walked to the mailbox under a cherry tree, reviewing alphabets, or single-digit additions if the backpack didn’t protest. The man and his backpack had become one body, one soul as if the one cell that the boy used to be had never swum out of his body.

One time, he went shopping and waited in line to check out. The boy became cranky, moaning and wiggling as though a small animal was struggling to flee a cage. The girl at the register pointed to the seat on the cart. Other mothers offered to cuddle. The man used one arm to wipe his forehead, bent the other to clutch the boy tighter. In his cart, among oatmeal, milk, ground beef, and celery, lay a pair of green striped pajamas, seemingly one size larger than the one on his back.



Ann Yuan lives on Long Island, NY. She loves reading and writing fiction. Her work has appeared or is forthcoming in Flash Fiction Magazine and On the Run.