Penny for Your Thoughts

A dirty mattress with rusted coils poking through sits propped up like a couch in one corner of the small shack, and a stack of old paperbacks sits in the other. A candle and some matches from a local bar are on top. There is no door, only a blue tarp to block out the wind. And some of the wooden planks of the walls are loose, letting in light between the cracks.

Patty used to squat here, but last week they found her behind Walmart with a needle sticking straight outta her arm. Dead so long she had rigamortis. I’m sorry she’s gone. Patty was a good person with a shit habit. Me too, I guess.

It has been a long road, but now I get methadone at the clinic once a day. I stand in line and get a dose just big enough to keep me from getting sick.

Today I was at my regular spot, asking for change, and each car that drove by just looked right through me. It was like I didn’t exist. I get it, though. We’ve all been approached by someone asking for change. People become numb. I used to be numb, too.

But people out here do exist. We have flesh and blood and souls. Some of us have just run out of luck, and some, like me, have made a couple mistakes along the way.

I sigh and watch a cloud of crystals form in front of my eyes. The chill in my chest is hard to erase in the winter, but I’ll get through.

Other than the mattress and my books, there isn’t room for much else, but at least I’ve got a roof during the colder months this year.

I hear a rustle at my tarp just as the sun begins to dip.

“Who’s there?”

“It’s Jan. Mind if I come in?”

“Not much room, but come in,” I say. “I can share the mattress, but leave your drugs outside.” It doesn’t pay to be stingy on the streets. Or anywhere, I guess.

Jan pulls back the tarp, letting in a breeze that bites. The extra weight on her bones makes it hard for her to breathe, and every time she exhales I get a whiff of cigarette smoke and teeth that need a good brushing.

“I found this book on the street today,” she says, tossing a tattered paperback into my lap. “You read, don’t cha?”

“I do. Thank you, Jan,” I say, carefully moving the candle and matches. I add it to the stack with my others, then light the candle for extra light.

“You’re welcome, dear,” she coughs, and nearly brings up a lung. “Thanks for lettin’ me sit with ya” she says. “Most folks don’t want me ‘round cause ‘a my size and all.”

“It’s no trouble at all,” I say, giving her room on the mattress.

“A kind lady bought me a sandwich today,” she holds up the sub wrapped in white paper with green and yellow letters. “Care to share? For your troubles.”

I feel my stomach grumble painfully in response to the mention of food.

“That would be nice,” I say, taking half her sandwich.

Photo courtesy of Gratisography