© — Lily Beth set the luggage back on its wheels, wrestling with the carry-on bag that kept her baggage off balance. The driveway out of the welfare office needed repairs, and the course, broken asphalt made pulling her belongings difficult. She leaned hard in her direction of travel, the right arm keeping pace with her gait, the left arm straight in the fashion of an ox cart shaft, made sturdy and rigid with daily use. Going up the curb onto the Virginia Street sidewalk would take both hands, and then the travel would be smooth and easy for a block. The stoplight provided rest for her legs, and again off the curb using both hands to keep the carry-on from spinning the last of her possessions to the ground, and the cars from honking.
The midtown convenience store had the cheapest wine on the boulevard. It was worth the stop, even if the Indian man with his pinkish turban never smiled or said anything except “$2.97”. Next door was a bicycle shop, with the pretty ones for Sunday rides along an ocean side boardwalk, where people would always be dressed nicely. The bike shop had one in the window that looked like gym equipment with wheels, black and sporty, and that wore a photograph of a young couple looking so happy and healthy as they stepped into their adult tricycles. And the dusty green one. It had a basket on the handlebars and saddlebags behind the seat. That one was perfect: it would hold all of Lily Beth’s things, and the low crossbar would make getting her weak leg over it easier.
The half-block-long art gallery, all glass and angles, had stone seats out front from which Lily Beth enjoyed the window displays. The art spoke to her through colors. The subject really didn’t matter, it was the colors: bright and muted, lovely and not so lovely. The two-story walls inside she had never seen up close; she would never go inside, as her luggage was old, dirty, and lacking a fresh airline tag. The gallery floor was expansive and vacant, big enough to sleep 200 people on a night below 32 degrees, highly polished cement just sitting and waiting. Lily Beth had counted seven people in the gallery one day, three at the front desk, and four just drifting through warm, quiet, affluent air.
Five blocks up the third bus sped by, advertising the buffet at the Hyatt. The ham and mountainous shrimp led a procession of vegetables, potatoes, and tinsel for desert. It ignited her weekly dream of eating at the shelter Sunday nights when the Hyatt would deliver leftovers from brunch. The rest of the week they would throw food away in an inaccessible trash compactor out back, so the kitchen staff wouldn’t make too much and eat the surplus themselves. The kitchen staff was already well fed, cooking for themselves at a place they called home, with children that still talked to them, and a television that safely discussed the plight of the homeless. They were fine. And so was Lily Beth; she had bread and an apple in her carry-on, and that would get her through. Lily Beth was always fine, mostly. She had a bed assigned to her, showers and toilets with full-height stalls, and her medication was kept safely locked up by the staff up at night.
Further down and across the street, on the sunny side, was a dress shop for professional women with teenage sensibilities. The outfits in the windows were way too short on the leg for being out in the weather for more than a block, and better suited for showing off what the gym and being well cared for could produce. The dresses were all so exquisite: bold patterns, meadow colors, silky sculpture. They would do well in the windows of the gallery a half mile back, and the women at the gallery front desk would do well in the dress shop. The indispensable shoes carrying to the earth the lovely contours of alluring legs and shouting, “I’m here!” Skinny little belts nowhere near long enough to hold Lily Beth’s luggage closed, with no practicality intended, anyway. And the hats…oh, the hats! Lily Beth loved hats! These were the best hats that didn’t say “Broncos” on them. Hats so big they shaded the shoulders. Hats so small they were little more than a suggestion. And hats, brand new, like the kind she would wear when she pretended she was a hippie as her mother had been. And none that could travel with her in the carry-on, or last the night at the shelter.
Lily Beth’s life followed her closely in black, heavy ballistics cloth to protect what was inside, on wheels now worn eccentric, making the journey hard. It followed her across the river to the troublesome spot. It was a commercial bank, rather new, and of attractive design. The security guard was always very nice to her, talking to her for a bit, and offering her a cigarette. That bright spot always preceded the worst of it: the large, polished and darkly tinted glass window at the door that sat at an angle and reflected like a perfect mirror.
There she would have to take the four steps that would reflect an image of a 46-year-old woman, tired and saddened, pulling luggage with a carry-on bag. Four steps of trying desperately to not think. Four steps on memory shards still freshly razor sharp. Four steps of sucking on her cigarette as hard as she could. Four steps to the hill that led down to the next seven blocks before she returned to her assigned bed. Four steps to suffer another day.
Robert W. Hansen
Copyright – Robert W. Hansen – 2016