Something More for Winter
by Charles C. Cole
Kenny checked the mailbox then walked back up the driveway to his house. In winter, a mailbox just meant something more to shovel clear. While reading an advertising flyer, Kenny almost went down, losing his footing on a patch of ice. He carried the paper directly to the recycle bin in the garage. Yesterday’s paper was still on top of the pile: “Homeless Safe in Jail.” That should stop the serial killer that had been preying on them lately, but at what cost?
He heard creaking from the unfinished room overhead and half-expected a raccoon. His old, once-bagged clothes were spread out like a nest on the plywood floor. The stowaway was quiet and still, hoping he’d miss her. However, a twitching duct-taped canvas sneaker, with foot attached, gave her away.
“I’m not going to hurt you, but you should know that I have a baseball bat.”
“Is that to beat my brains in?” she asked from under the pile.
She slowly uncovered herself and sat up. She was late-twenties, pale and small, with short purplish hair which, given her face full of freckles, had probably started as something orange-red.
“Not if you stay calm and reasonable. You got a name?”
“I take it you don’t have a place to stay, Galina.”
“It depends,” she said. “This is pretty roomy and you’re obviously not using it.”
“Not in years.”
“You have any health issues I should know about?”
“Not me. What about you?”
“Can’t we at least agree that this storage space feels more like a walk-in freezer than a bedroom?”
“It beats the streets,” Galina said. “I like walls.”
“Listen.” Kenny quickly reviewed the options. “I’ve got a finished basement, with its own entrance and a double-door to the rest of the house. My mother-in-law bunked there briefly, until my separation, so I know it’s livable.”
“What’s in it for you? I don’t do favors, not sexual, cleaning or babysitting. No conditions.”
“One condition: when it warms up, you’re back on the street.”
“Because I can. I should have done it for someone else, but I didn’t. It makes no sense for you to struggle in a space where you can see your breath. I’m making an offer here.”
“I don’t smoke.”
“You’ve got to wash your clothes. There’s a small washer/dryer unit. I’d appreciate if the place didn’t end up smelling like—”
“A homeless person?”
“What’s a double-door?”
“Two doors in one doorway, like in a hotel with adjoining rooms.” She couldn’t relate. “I can lock one side and you can lock the other. It guarantees us privacy.”
“But you’ll have a key to the outside entrance?”
“You can deadbolt it when you’re in there.”
“If you shut up about dead things, I’ll take a look,” she said.
Kenny showed her the space. It was basically a furnished one-bedroom apartment. He turned up the electric heat. Dust on the baseboard smoldered.
“The place hasn’t been used in a while.”
“And you don’t want anything in return?” she asked.
“This is short-term, a month. Don’t invite anyone to spend the night. This isn’t a place to shack up or do any kind of illicit business. I’m not using the space, so it’s no big deal. We’re just keeping you off the street until this killer is caught. Does that sound fair to you?”
“I don’t have any food. I only eat instant, like mac-n-cheese, oatmeal, ramen. I can’t go to the store because I don’t have any money. And I can’t go to the soup kitchen because there are a couple of guys who would probably follow me back here.”
“I can get you something. And maybe a toothbrush and toothpaste, no offense.”
“What do I call you?”
“Aren’t you worried what’ll happen when you go to work? I might have a meltdown and make a campfire from toilet paper and bellybutton lint.”
“I work from home, remote computer maintenance, so I’ll be right upstairs.”
“Do you ever get angry, Mr. Tipton?”
“No more than the average guy. You?”
“When I was married. My ex had me ‘get rid of it.’ He said it wasn’t ladylike. I miss it. I think it’s why I’m homeless now, because I didn’t get mad enough during our divorce to demand fair restitution.”
“I once saw someone doped up on anger. We were on the roofs of these twin condemned apartment buildings, separated by an alley. This skinny bearded guy, topless and sunburned, was cursing about how all women had somehow been the bane of his existence. I wasn’t engaging.
“I was meditating, believe it or not, which seemed to aggravate him more. ‘I’m coming for you,’ he said. ‘I’m gonna catch you and I’m gonna skin you and I’m gonna wear your flesh like a raincoat. How do you like that?’ ‘Come and get it,’ I said. He backed up and ran, jumping from his building to mine, but he didn’t make it. Bang! He’s probably still in the dumpster down in the alley. That’s the so-called power of too much anger: mirage empowerment. You?”
“Normal stuff. I mostly stick to myself, even have my groceries delivered.”
“You never go out?”
“Does shoveling the walkway count?” Kenny smiled. “I could pay to have it done, but I like the fresh air. And then we wouldn’t have met, and you’d still be buried under my clothes.”
“Do you think that there are more angry people than not angry people?” she asked, suddenly serious. It was a question Kenny had asked himself recently.
“I think there’s still a balance, with the angry people in the minority, but I don’t think it’s long until we’ll have to leave the cities and move to the woods. That’s just my gut.”
“Thank you for this,” she said. “I know my life’s going to end badly one day, but it’s nice to know it won’t be today.”
Copyright © 2015 by Charles C. Cole