He broke down outside the Unemployment office after the third visit. “There’s something for you just around the corner”, LaSandra told him in a very convincing voice. He would have believed it had he not heard her same the same thing to the two people before him. She meant well but that didn’t make the bullshit stink any less.
He was jovial with LaSandra, even making her laugh a couple of times before leaving. She assured him he had submitted to go jobs, that though it was very competitive, he was among the best. “It will take time, sweetie, don’t quit, okay?”, LaSandra like to say. He would respond with “the only thing I quit is cigarettes and”, the second part he changed each time, today’s quit was, “Fifty Shades”. LaSandra laughed out “Oh stop” as she removed the book from view.
Thats how he left LaSandra, with a smile on his face. He sat in his broken car, which he shared with whomever else had a Honda key in the city, and cried. A tapping on the driver side window brought him back. Great. Probably a fucking car jacker. It wasn’t. The tapper was a homeless woman. She didn’t stink. That was different than the bums he was used to in New York. Probably all the rain.
Uncharacteristically he rolled down the window and handed her five bucks. It was the last bit of weekly allowance his wife had brilliantly set up to get them through yet another rough patch. He had planned on using it to buy lunch off the dollar. When he was working he never touched fast food. In unemployment he found himself drawn to disgusting behavior. Let the bum lady have it. If there is a God maybe he, she (?) will count it as tithing and grant me a prayer.
The bum lady said thank you through a gapped tooth smile and then stared at him for a very long moment. Awesome. Now she’s wants to talk. This isn’t worth any prayer granting.
Instead he told he didn’t have anything else to give. “I just don’t have anything else to give. Sorry.”
She didn’t care about more money. “Shit”, she said. “You don’t got to apologize to me, mister. You know what you look like? Like a man thats been looking backwards so long you’ve seen your asshole more than your dick. You got to turn your head around mister”.
Not wrong, he thought. Another long stare, this time he initiated it. The bum lady saw something in his stare.
“Your neck’s to crooked to look forward”, she said. Then she pulled out a little white cat made of soap and handed it to him. “Rub this on your eyes and you’ll see forward again”. He reached his right arm through the window and thanked the bum lady. But she wasn’t having it. “Don’t thank me, rub it on your eyes”, she scolded him. “Or do you like looking at your asshole all the time?”.
He looked up at the bum lady from the drivers seat, searching for a sign of lucidity. There was none to be found, and yet…ahhh what the hell. He rubbed the cat shaped soap on his eyes, probably for the same reason he bought lotto tickets, and prayed, or pretended to smile, because he would do anything to find his place in the world, however crazy it might be.
The soap stung. By the time he wiped the tears and blurriness from his eyes the bum lady was gone and it was dark outside. What? Why is it…what the…
His broken down Honda with the peeling interior that played Motel to vagabonds and derelicts was all shiny new. Exactly as it was when he bought it his senior year of college. The cat was still in his hand. From the rear view mirror hung a plastic peace sign attached to a fake leather rope. And stuck to the glove compartment was a small, greasy calendar. All three were familiar, but he didn’t know why. He would never wear a peace sign necklace, the soap stunk like perfume, and the calendar was useless, at least for another seventeen years.
When he saw her sitting in the hammock it all came back to him. Their first date. She was waiting for him, just like all those years ago. He could see her long blonde hair falling out from under a checkered bandana. She wore the type of comfy sweater the Dude would wear. Though he couldn’t see her pants he knew them well enough. Baggy jeans she had belled out and resown with some paisley fabric and cinched at the waist with a belt made of hemp. Everything about her wardrobe hid how sexy she was. You had to talk to this one. You had to be invited in, and he had been invited. She was sitting in that hammock waiting for him.
She would have fewer crows feet at the corner of her eyes. Seeing her on that hammock again overwhelmed him with the hope and eternity of youth. He thought their children, the joys of getting lost in Rome, and all the best things of their life together. She had given him so very much. He wanted to give her something this time around. He wanted her to have the life she wanted, the life she didn’t yet know she wanted sitting there on the hammock waiting for him. The life of being at home with her children, of not penny pinching, of wine that came in bottles instead of boxes.
He would give that to her this time. She would have all that she ever wanted. A life near her family, with a partner that didn’t look backward so much, with one that looked at the moment to see her beauty and strength.
So he drove off. Leaving her sitting in the hammock.