A transient resorts to desperate measures to survive the cold winter; by P. A. Farrell.
|Image generated with OpenAI|
Dangling streetlights are being tossed by the wind like lemon drops in the darkening evening sky. The occasional whistling sound isn’t a train, but the unforgiving tempest whipping around the buildings on the town’s nearly empty main street.
Snowflakes swirl around like confetti at a wedding. The street’s few pedestrians lean into the wind as a lone dog scampers across the street, its tail between its legs, seeking shelter. Momentarily, it turns its head and gazes at Harry eye-to-eye. Is he danger or will he feed me?
What kind of life must that mutt have had? Harry pictures a place where the mutt wasn’t cared for, was maybe even resented, and someone decided to dump him by the side of the road. How long had he been out in the cold?
Was he used to scrounging for scraps, being chased by restaurant kitchen workers raising sharp knives in his direction, and nearly sent flying by cars whizzing by him? Yeah, this dog hasn’t had it easy, and who knows where it would end for him. If he’s lucky, maybe some kind person will take pity on him and he’ll find a new home. Maybe.
Turning his thoughts to his mission, Harry pulls himself up to his full height. Standing outside the jewelry store, window aglow with its mirrors and bright lights, Harry has only one thing on his mind: getting warm and a few free meals – and he knows how to get what he needs. Empty pockets require creativity, and Harry has it.
He’ll get what he wants. But now he reaches into his jacket pocket (which at the moment is not empty) for the meat loaf sandwich given to him by the woman at the soup kitchen.
“Here, let me put it in a bag for you so you can take it home,” she said with a smile as she slipped the food in and smoothly folded the top.
Home? Home was a thousand miles and decades away. There would be no home for this sandwich.
Harry has felt what the stray must be feeling now. He understands a lack of belonging. The pangs of hunger, too, that come as you tense in the cold night.
Snow and small glittering ice drops cover the curly back of the animal that stands, unsure of the man, in front of it.
Softly, Harry encourages him to stay and extends his hand, the sandwich clearly in view. Of course, this stray might be a bit more vicious than Harry thought, but he persists. The dog flinches. Lurching forward, it snatches the food, barely missing Harry’s outheld fingers with his bared teeth. Running off, it squeezes through a fence hole and disappears.
Now, Harry returns to his desperate plan. This year, it’s time to try. He pushes his hands deep into his jacket pockets to create a bulge that spells danger.
The woman is alone in the shop, scowling and scribbling in a ledger, and she wouldn’t have noticed him if the bell on the door hadn’t sounded. Harry thrusts the door open so hard it slams into one of the display cases. Her body posture changes into an immediate tense stance. It’s almost as though she’s received an order or command to stand up. No order has been given, but she knows what she must do in response to this hulking stranger.
She begins to tremble, a display case her only support. Standing straight up so abruptly sends the ledger falling to the floor. Her hand remains curled around the pencil as though it were a knife, as she forces a smile and the usual greeting.
“Can I help you?” comes out of her suddenly dry mouth.
“Give me all those rings you’ve got here,” Harry says in the most menacing tone he can muster. One hand with an outstretched finger points at the nearest case. As he speaks, he moves his fist in the bulging pocket. She wonders why she failed to follow her husband’s orders to lock the door at closing time.
“And those watches, too, give me all of them! Put them in a bag.” Harry’s shouts almost scare himself.
No one comes from the back room, and Harry knows they are alone and the woman will comply. A wave of cool relief slows his pounding heart. Everything is going as planned. But wait, she’s taking a step to the side. Does she have something in mind? No. She’s frightened.
Standing more than a foot taller than the woman, Harry gives the impression of solid muscles, and he steps forward in response to her action. Yes, he looks like someone a woman alone in a shop with expensive jewelry should fear. If she knew his true intent, Harry thinks to himself, she wouldn’t be scared for a minute.
Her trembling hands begin to scoop up and slide the watches and the jewelry from the case into a bank night deposit bag she has near her on the counter. Her outstretched arm looks like the hoop with the golden ring on the merry-go-round Harry rode as a child.
He shoots his free hand out and snatches the swinging bag. A quick turn and he’s out the door. The snowy bench in front of the shop is quickly dusted off and Harry sits down. OK it’s going to be just a short wait now while she calls the police.
The scenario plays as Harry knows it will. Here are the police. Harry delivers his prepared script (“The voices told me to do it”), the crying woman points to him, and then there’s the quick trip in handcuffs to the hospital.
Harry knows who will be on duty to receive him; he’s correct, as always. An intern, still green behind the ears, half-asleep and stumbling, comes toward him with a clipboard. Yes, he’s prime for Harry’s tale of paranoia. They always are at this time of night on weekends.
Assuming the posture that fits the mood of dejection he wants to display, Harry crouches over and whispers into the intern’s ear.
“They tell me things,” he says in a hushed voice, peering around as though in fear.
“What do they say to you?” The young man is ready to accept anything that will allow him to get back to bed after a twenty-four-hour shift.
“I can’t say because they mumble, but it was that I had to take the jewelry in the store.” Harry’s voice dips lower as he pulls back a bit and watches the intern writing.
Yes, he knows the result: three hots and a cot for the winter. Poor dog should be so lucky, but at least he has that sandwich, Harry thinks to himself.
On the clipboard, the intern writes “paranoid schizophrenia” and signals for two burly men in white outfits to take Harry away. He is swallowed up by the darkened hallway as the men hold his arms in their vice-like hands.