safe 2

This is a follow-up to “safe” and was written because Trent asked for more.  I don’t know if this will be the end of it or if I will continue to come back to this character.  We’ll just have to, as always, see where the words take us.

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She woke to the scratch of the sun on her hand, absentmindedly trying to brush it away with no success.  Her eyes cracked against the glare, to glare at the offending stray beam of light splashed across her flesh.  Scowling she withdrew her hand and curled away from the day but sleep would not come back to her and a few minutes later she sat up and took stock of her surroundings.

It was later than she had expected, which is why the sun had found her in the alcove of the now defunct store.  Not unlike the carts that used to be returned on a nightly basis, she found her way there most evenings to find her rest.  The world, people and cars, bustled nearby, visiting the shops that were still open in this dying strip mall.  Without the flagship, the others would close eventually unless a new grocer came in to fill the vacancies.  She had seen it go both ways before.

Her pack was where she’d left it.  She was grateful for that but had learned how to get by without her few possessions.  Her current pack, a purple and ragged affair, was not her first and would not be her last.  Things had a way of walking off in the middle of the night.  That truth was part of living on the streets.

Fishing a cigarette from her dwindling pack, she struck a match and pulled in the smoke, filling her lungs with warmth, before releasing it to the wind.  She watched the smoke disappear before taking another drag.  It was a nicotine breakfast kind of day again.  Her stomach hardly argued with her much anymore and this morning was no exception.  She had some coins rattling around in a pocket.  She’d see if she could find them a few more companions and maybe get some lunch in a bit, or maybe get a new pack.  Depending on how the rest of the morning went that could be a tough call.

Stretching, she crushed the filter of her now spent cigarette between finger and thumb, and then deposited the butt in the small pile of trash she’d move to a can when she walked away.  She liked to keep her space clean.  She didn’t see any sense in allowing her small nightly alcove to become cluttered with trash, especially when there was a can only a few feet away and she’d pass it on her way to the park.  Shouldering her pack, her muscles groaned her onto her feet, and she took a few timid steps until she found the strength and balance to stride onward.  Lunch seemed like it might need to win out over smokes.  Then again, the day was still young and almost anything could happen before she’d have the coins to get either.

safe

She spent her mornings hidden in the cart return of a closed grocery store.  The alcove provided shade and gave her some privacy to just be, away from the judging eyes she dealt with the rest of the day and away from the predatory eyes that came out of the night.  Sometimes the patrons visiting the neighboring stores would catch a glimpse of her and hurry their steps away.  Other times they would stop to talk, or offer money and food and she accepted those.  She never asked for their charity, though.  She didn’t stand out in the open with a sign, announcing her presence and begging.  That wasn’t really what she wanted even if it was what she needed.

Her only possessions were never out of hands’ reach, in an old and battered backpack she had picked up somewhere along the way.  When she found herself with extra cash, for one reason or another, she would go to a laundromat and wash her clothes.  Once she even splurged on a hotel room so she could have a proper bed and a hot shower.  That had been a long time ago, though, and she couldn’t remember when it exactly was.  Just as she could no longer remember the story that went with each of her missing teeth.  She knew some had rotted out and some had met more sudden ends but that was the end of it.  She kept her nails long and her hair short.  Occasionally she would pal around with others like her but for the most part she enjoyed solitude.  She found it hard to trust people and she had found there was usually more safety in being alone.  Everyone has issues and when she was by herself she only had to deal with her own.  But humans are social creatures and when she felt the craving for someone to talk to she would visit the places where she knew she could find someone.  Then it was only a matter of striking up a conversation and finding someone to pal around with for a couple days.

As the foot traffic in the shopping center picked up, she would pack up her bag and wander off.  There were a series of parks nearby where she could sit in the shade of a tree to pass the hottest part of the day.  Then as they heat began to dissipate, when the nightly marine later rolled back in from the coast, she would head towards the spots she knew she’d be safer during the long hours of darkness.  Just safer.  There was never a guarantee of absolute safety no matter where she went.  But, as she had realized when she made the decision to live on the streets, homes only provide the illusion of safety as well, there is no place that is and will always be completely safe.

do you dare?

The staccatoed wails and grinding moans haunt the empty street.  The sounds lilt and rend, clawing for attention, purposefully the opposite of the peaceful evening.  And, yet, it is beautiful and harmonious despite the discord.  There is magic in the notes.  There is the soul of a blues-man in the undertones of the harmonicas plaintive cry.

He sits with his back against the graffiti and shit stained bricks, the color of his hair lost in the grease and filth of his time on the street.  His knees are tucked against his chest, and his bare ankles are barely discernible from the darkness regardless of the large gap between the hem of his worn pants and the top of his tattered shoes.  The silver harmonica, however, gleams in the night, catching every stray beam of light that dared wander down the alley and passing it along in spirals of glinting rainbows.

The instrument is cradled lovingly in his tired hands, cupped against his lips, and passed back and forth in meticulous and precise movements.  His hands play the role of conductor and bring the harmonicas orchestral sound to life to such an extent the very night around him seems to pause and take notice.  His soul pours through his lips and gives the song its purpose and meaning.  The music is a story, confusing and wonderful, of struggle and loss and pain and hope.  The music is a story, transformed from misery to joy.

Hours pass, and the man sleeps where he sat, but the mournful vibrations of his blues continue to resonate in echoing calls up and down the alley.  They peek around and corners and tempt passersby to stop and listen and heed the warnings of loss and life.  They haunt the night and all who dwell within it, a constant reminder of all that came before and all that might one day still come, until the hint of day warms the horizon and then they wander into the shadows and quietly find peace.

There, in the forgotten places of brick and concrete, the music rests until night comes and the blues-man brings the harmonica out from his jacket pocket to once again purge the contents of his soul to all those daring enough to listen.

https://i0.wp.com/farm6.static.flickr.com/5576/15102555760_b24639ac7c_m.jpg
Image Credit: Steve Edwards (pootlepod)

frozen

_kuri
Image Credit: _kuri

The city slept, and we huddled together to share our warmth.  We didn’t have a choice, really.  It was either work together or die during the freezing days and nights of winter.  We may call the streets our home, but that doesn’t mean we don’t value our lives.

The city slept, and the cold ate into our bones.  We felt as stiff and brittle as the buildings across the river looked.  Eventually day would come and those offices would warm with the lights and movement of the movers and shakers of the world.  We would stay hidden, out of sight, forgotten, but we would be shaking too.  We never stopped shaking from October to May.

The city slept, and the river creaked and moaned.  We understood how it felt.  We intimately knew its complaints for they were ours as well.  All year long it was open to receive the whims of the weather.  As the chill wrapped itself around us, it blanketed the surface of the river.  That too, could mean our death, because we needed the water to survive.  Dehydration was every bit as deadly as hypothermia for us.

The city slept and we crept onto the ice with our borrowed shovels.  We needed to break through and pull as much water as we could before the ice weakened under our feet.  The longer we took, the more likely the hole would refreeze.  The more times we had to reopen the hole, the more likely the ice would crack and send us into a watery grave.

None who had been claimed had ever been rescued in time.

We drew straws each morning to determine who would brave the ice.

They risked death to provide us all with life.

When they fell they were celebrated as heroes as best we could.

A small memorial was built.

Words were spoken in their memory.

A round of cheers sent them on them.

And still the city slept.

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This was my response to this week’s Once More With Feeling picture prompt.  The first thing I thought of when I saw the picture was a backpacking trip I was on years ago where we had to break through ice at a lake we camped at to pump water for our dinner and to refill our canteens…  This story flowed from that.

What do you see when you look at the picture?  What do you feel?

Write it, link it, post it!