A cement mattress can’t console a hungry woman, one huddling under a tattered blanket in thin socks and filth. A street corner is a cold place to kneel.
He’d heard her many times chant “little change” as he stepped by. He’d never given her a coin. Since she wasn’t a thin woman he suspected her sing-song plea worked on others. Someone was feeding her, giving him a reason to walk past with his hands in his pockets.
One night, as he rolled out of a bar and sought cheese fries and coffee to wash away the booze, he found the woman curled up, rocking on her bottom at the street corner next to his favorite diner.
Though her dirty fingers shivered as she held out her palm, nobody stopped. They all walked past. Then, as the late fall air became early winter in one cold gust, she broke.
“GOD DAMN IT, I’M HUNGRY. Won’t somebody give me a little change?”
An hour later, when he left the diner and wiped ketchup from the corner of his mouth, she had gone.
Years later he stumbled out of a wine store, having emptied two bottles of Rhone red during his eight-hour shift. He stopped at the gas station on the corner of Main Street for a pack of cigarettes on his way home and saw a woman dressed in a torn sweater and tight sweats hanging out of an open car door. She heaved and coughed thick, brown globs that she spit on the station pavement. She rolled off the seat and hit the cement, red-faced and gasping, and the station attendant ran outside and yelled, “Get up. You get shit all over the pump.”
Then the late fall air became early winter in one cold gust.