Red flames burst out of the trash can in front of me. My fingertips are stretched out towards the orange-red heat and it licks them with warmth. Penniless and homeless, you can understand the dilemma I now face. I can’t write a single word with no home, and no computer or laptop. Or for that matter, anything remotely technologically advanced. Even if I did have a computer device of some sort, no home, means no electrical outlet.
Even paper is hard to come by.
Six sizes too big, the men’s full length black jacket hangs down and drags along the ground through the snow. The wool mitts I wear are peppered with small holes as if moths have taken special delight in chewing each part of the tattered cloth as if they were picking at a scab. There’s a pungent odor that drifts around me of rotting food, sweat, and alcohol.
Sixty-five years of age and this is my life. I had a husband at one time. Until he trotted off down the rainbow road with a blond bombshell, double-D, named Misty with bosoms the size of Texas. On occasion a few years ago, before I lost everything, I would bump into them at the grocery store or coffee shop, and every time I saw them a part of Misty’s silky white breast popped out of whatever shirt she was wearing. (Even, if it was a sweater.)
But I can’t blame Misty. It was inevitable. I was a leech. I was barely able to financially support myself most of the time we were married. Combined with this, my struggles with depression where it became a situation of I-can’t-raise-one-foot-to-get-out-of-the-bed made me the worst sort of wife. When I was able to hold a job for some time, I would inevitably change them at whiplash speed in pursuit of some other opportunity that I felt may offer more challenges. Later in life, I hoped for a career as a freelance writer.
Let’s put it this way – that didn’t end well.
Writing, I believed, was my thing.
“Who saz u can be h’re, Cyndie?” He says with shoulders rolled forward and a bowed head as he staggers towards me.
All I need is one strong gust of wind, and he’ll be knocked off his feet and I can run away.
Did you hear me? One strong gust of wind?
“It’s Cynthia,” I say with my chin raised. Dwight’s the zip code bully to GRBG CAN. It seems only courteous that if Dwight’s going to force me to move somewhere else, he can at least have the decency to remember my name.
“I DUN’T CAREZ WH’ATZ YOUR NAMEZ!” He screeches at me.
Joe, Fred, Nancy, and Sandra who were warming their hands around the fire bend their heads forward and quickly glimpse up at me. But no one says a word to him. I can’t blame them.
Dwight is unpredictable at the best of times. He’s killed people before and he’s never been caught by the police. Poor Greta writhed around on the concrete as a knife protruded from her gut. She hopelessly placed a hand over the wound as sticky redness oozed from it. Anguished moans poured from her mouth. Tears streamed down the sides of her cheeks. She pleaded with me to help her, but I did nothing. If I did anything, Dwight would end my life too. He said so.
I have a snappy line that spins in my mind that I want to say, but decide for the rest of the residents in the area it might be best to leave it unsaid.
I nod in the direction of Dwight and say, “I’m going.”
With that I slowly turn around and begin walking away.
“You’re nuttin!” He trudges behind me. The sound of his slow-moving words, shuffling feet, and his drunken words that are still somehow true – forces me to quicken my pace, and I hurry along putting some distance between us. Not because I’m afraid, but more out of annoyance.
After some time, I pass under a concrete bridge and something glistens on the sidewalk. I bend forward to pick it up, and let out a whoop of, “My lucky day! I found a toonie! I can go for a coffee.”
“Nah, that’z mine!” He shouts from behind me.
I stare at Dwight frozen, wondering how the heck he managed to catch up to me, and why I didn’t hear him. Good god, even his breathing is loud.
I glance hastily at the two dollar coin and then back to Dwight. Surely, I can out run him. But then I begin to wonder what my life will be like if I decide NOT to hand him the coin. I could leave this city but I would need to walk. As well, there’s a good chance my situation would be the same and possibly worse, because some of those people around the garbage can are my friends, and they’ve helped me before.
Dwight continues a slow trot, odd lumbering motion towards me. When he arrives I have the coin in the palm of my hand and say, “Here you go, Dwight.”
I pull my coat tighter around me to block out the frigid December wind that drifts up my coat, and rips through my thin clothing stinging my skin. Protected a little more from the chill, I quietly ask, “Any chance I can stay at your garbage can tonight as I gave you the coin I found?” I glance away from him for only a second to do a sweep of the ebony streets to make sure nothing worse lives in the shadows than the man who already stands before me.
“No!” He screams spitting the word at me as his face reddens.
Jolted by his cry, I leap back from him! Surprised my eyes widen, and I quietly wonder, oh Christ! I’m going to be killed over a two dollar coin!
Red and blue lights suddenly begin a quick blink around us. Two muscular young police officers exit the cruiser and they assuredly march towards us. Dwight’s head bounces up instantly when he sees the lights and the men. He shouts, “Nah problem, offic’r.” Not even a second later, he wobbles down the street at a sad slow run.
“Ma’am, are you alright?” They ask me when they arrive. Four eyes skim across me as they do a quick assessment of where I belong, and what my story is. I tug at the collar of my coat. I don’t understand it. When I don’t want to be invisible, I am. And when I do want to be invisible, I’m not.
“Ye-yes officers, than-thank you.” I stutter at the two men. There’s a rush of an intensifying sense of doom. My eyes get misty.
I can’t escape that woman!
One of the officer’s face scrunches at me. “Mrs. Sandringham?” He murmurs.
My thoughts are broken and I’m back on 59th Street in front of the policemen. Squinting at the whisperer of the old name I used before, I answer uneasily, “Yes. But I don’t go by that name now.”
“Cynthia? You were married to Bert Sandringham?” He says. “It’s Jack. I shoveled your driveway, when I was a kid.”
This has never happened to me before. I’ve lived on the streets for a couple of years now, and I’ve never run into anyone I knew. After my divorce, I moved to another city a couple of hours away to start again. Things didn’t quite work out for me. This is where I had my final chance – and where I became homeless. I’d cut ties with family and friends mostly because I was delinquent in fostering relationships. My fault. When things got bad, I couldn’t reach out to anyone. Too embarrassed.
This kid, Jack…He’s a good boy. Sweet boy. He was nice to me, and my husband. And his parents, they were great.
I smile at the man before me. “Of course, Jack! Yes, I remember. How are your parents? David and Sue, was it?”
“Yeah! They’re doing great.” He says smiling. A moment later, his eyes scan my clothing again and his mouth drops open. He pulls his hat off, runs his fingers through his hair, and quietly asks as if he’s embarrassed, “Do you have somewhere to go tonight?”
I throw my head back. Laughing I say, “Well, I had a garbage can! But Dwight owns it, and he doesn’t like me much!”
Stunned Jack stares at me. The other officer, his partner, says, “There’s a shelter a few blocks from here. It’s a good one, run by a church. We can take you there.”
Jack’s mouth gapes at me. Then his words come out earnestly, “Yeah, really nice. Give you a hot meal, and somewhere to sleep tonight. Father Patrick – he’s a really good guy.”
I’m kind of hurt young man Jack didn’t laugh at my joke. I think I’m funny most of the time. His serious tone and desperate pleas causes puddles to form in my eyes. For the first time in a long time, someone cares about me.
The young man in front of me is a good kid. With no other options in front of me, and afraid of Dwight returning after the officers leave, I whisper, “Sure.”
“Great!” Jack beams. As we walk back to the cruiser Jack asks, “Do you still write?”
“Not these days.” I reluctantly answer.
“Oh right!” Jack answers as he nods his head, and his cheeks turn pink.
There it is again, that awkward silence.
Jack says, “I really liked your stuff when I was a kid. That you read to me. That fairytale you wrote, about the little girl, who only wanted to be smart.”
“Oh my, you remember that story?” I ask in a hushed tone of disbelief. “That was what, twenty years ago?”
“Something like that.” Jack says. “After you read that story to me, I buckled down and got my grades up. I was an honor roll student from grade ten onwards.”
I’m flabbergasted. I can’t speak. I mumble to myself only, “Maybe I should.”
Jack pulls the door open for me. Then he leans in and says, “I can bring you some paper and pens tomorrow.”
“That would be great.” I answer. Before I get into the car, I stare in the direction of the road Dwight wobbled down.
“Get me the paper, and I’ll tell you a story about a man named Dwight, and the murder of a homeless woman named Greta.” I say as my lips smack together in renewed anger at the death of my friend at the hands of the garbage can bully.
Jack’s jaw clenches. He gives me a tight smile and nods. “If you do this Mrs. Sandringham, you can’t live on the streets.”
“Oh, I know. Maybe it’s time to find a home again.” I answer. “See if I can get my pension now that I’m 65. Clean stuff.” I give the kid a wink.
Jack roars with laughter.
“And after I write, The Murder of Greta Stonewall, I’ll write another story about a hero cop who saves an old woman from the streets.”
Jacks grins at me and says, “I can’t wait to read it.”