Serial blogging, stories to tell. Short stories and micro-fiction!

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Leon part three

By Jesse Edwardson

The wind bit deeply.  It was the coldest Christmas Eve in years. 

Leon made the five-block journey to the Fifty Second Street Shelter.  No room for him here either.  The lady he met just inside the door sincerely felt bad for turning him out.  Leon felt no resentment toward her.  He understood quite well that space was limited and the children come first.

He left the shelter and headed toward his favorite alley.  Having a favorite alley seemed odd at first, but this alley was behind an appliance store and Leon knew that he could find a good cardboard box to sleep in tonight.  This alley was also quiet and far from where the gangbangers hang out.

“Oh lord, it sure is cold this evening,”  Leon spoke out loud to himself.  He pulled his stocking cap down a little tighter over his ears.  He didn’t have any gloves, but he had a good coat and he kept his hands deep in the pockets.

On his way to the alley, Leon passed a liquor store.  Leon didn’t drink often, he never had, but he thought that a little something sounded good.  He turned around on the sidewalk and stepped into the warm store.

Just inside the door Leon stopped to shake off the chill and remove his cap.

“Good evening,”  said an old Asian woman behind the counter.

“Good evening ma’am,”  replied Leon.

The old woman eyed Leon suspiciously.  She figured that he was just some bum trying to stay warm and planned to loiter in her store without buying something.  Or worse still, that he may be planning to hold her up.  Either way she had her hand under the counter, ready to grab her pistol.

Leon walked down one of the two aisles running the length of the store.  He looked at some bottles of wine and could not believe some of the prices.  One bottle cost more money than Leon had seen in the past six months.

“Hoo, Lawdy!”  he said under his breath.  He reached the end of the aisle and found something he could afford.  It would cost him nearly half of the money he was carrying, but tonight was special.  It was Christmas Eve.  He took the bottle to the counter and set it down.

The old woman had relaxed a little but kept her hand near the gun while she rang up Leon’s purchase.

“Three, forty-nine,” she said without any enthusiasm.

“And worth every penny,”  Leon replied with a chuckle while handing her four one dollar bills.  The old woman didn’t even crack the smallest of grins.

Leon took his change and put it into his pocket.  He pulled his cap back onto his head, slipped the bottle under his arm, and buttoned up his coat.

“Well, Merry Christmas,”  he said as he turned toward the door.  The old woman made no reply.  Leon stepped back out into the biting wind and the old woman resumed reading her tabloid.

After a couple of blocks, Leon reached the alley.  He tried to keep a box hidden behind a dumpster so that he would have one when he needed it.  The box he hid was gone.  He looked inside the dumpsters for another box and couldn’t find one anywhere.

“I guess I’ll just have to hunker down between these two dumpsters for the night,”  he said to himself.  He threw a bag of garbage down and against the wall so that he had something soft to lean on.  Leon then sat down between the dumpsters and tried to bundle himself up the best he could.  It was going to be a long night.

Leon pulled his wallet from his pocket and opened the pictures that he carried there.  He sat staring at the photos of his wife and daughter.  A tear leaked from his eye and froze to his cheek.

“I miss you two so much,”  he said with a choked voice.  His finger traced the face of Lisa.  It was her first grade school picture.  He could remember all the fuss she and Vivian went through that morning trying to get her hair just right.  The dress was the easiest part of getting ready that morning.  It was her favorite dress, she always felt so pretty when she wore it.

“Oh baby-girl, you are so beautiful,” he spoke to the picture.  “You were so proud of that dress.”  Another tear froze to his cheek.

He set his wallet down in his lap with the pictures still open and pulled the bottle of wine from his coat and twisted off the cap.

“Merry Christmas, my lovely ladies!” he toasted and put the bottle to his lips.  He drank deeply and when he tipped the bottle back down he took a long shuddering breath. 

He looked out into the alley and noticed just how quiet the night was.  He wiped the frozen tears from his face and felt just how alone he was.  Alone and lonely.  Leon was not the kind of man who ever felt sorry for himself, but every once in a while he would realize just how sad his life was.

He looked down at the pictures in his wallet again.  He allowed one or two more tears to fall before he returned the wallet to his pocket.

He sat there between the dumpsters sipping his wine and celebrating Christmas, and freezing.  The air was so cold that his wine began to slush up.

“Just as well,”  he said, setting the bottle down.  He pulled his knees up to his chest and leaned against the bag of garbage.  Trying the best he could to get comfortable, Leon Robinson settled in for the night.

Some time in the middle of the night, without a watch he had no way to know what time it was, Leon heard a voice.

“Daddy… Daddy.  Wake up,”  the voice gently cooed.

It’s a voice that Leon thought he recognized, but that couldn’t be right.  Leon opened his eyes and saw the face of Lisa, his baby girl, just poking in between the dumpsters.

“Lisa?”  Leon said in disbelief.  “Is this a dream?”

“No Daddy, it’s no dream.  I’ve come for you.”  Lisa smiled.

“But you can’t be here baby girl.  You’re supposed to be in heaven,”  Leon said while tears began to roll freely down his cheeks.

“I was, and Daddy it’s so beautiful there.  Come on, stand up,”  she said as she took her father’s hand and helped him to his feet.

Leon stood up and realized that he was no longer cold.  The tears stayed wet on his face and his daughter Lisa, was holding his hand.  He could feel warmth and life in her small hand.

Lisa gently pulled her daddy’s hand and led him along the alley toward the street.

“Oh baby girl, where are you taking me?”  Leon asked.

Lisa turned her smiling face up to her father and said, “To see mama.”

Leon stared at her, amazed by what she said.  He then looked up toward the street and watched it disappear in a great flood of light.  In the light he could see a lone figure waiting.  He knew who that was at once.

“Merry Christmas Daddy,”  Lisa said as she led her father into the light.  Leon entered Heaven while holding his daughter’s hand.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Leon part two

by Jesse Edwardson

Leon nodded to the man and his wife and said “Hello.”  He also smiled and greeted the children.  The parents were apprehensive and nervous.  It was obvious that they have never spent a holiday in a homeless shelter.  Leon felt sorry for them, he knows how they feel.

Once upon a time, Leon had decent job in a factory.  He, his wife, Vivian, and their daughter, Lisa lived in an old run-down apartment building on the south-side.  Life was pretty good, they didn’t have a lot but they had enough.  Leon worked on the third shift, ten p.m. to six a.m.  He hated working nights.  Their neighborhood could be dangerous at times.

One night, Leon was called into the office by his boss.  A neighbor had called because there had been a fire on Leon’s floor.  The fire department was still putting out the flames and no one was sure about the safety of Vivian and Lisa.  Leon ran home as fast as his feet could take him.

As it turned out, the fire had started in the apartment adjacent to Leon’s.  Some fool had fallen asleep with a cigarette in his hand.  The fire killed him and two other neighbors along with Vivian and Lisa.  Lisa was only six years old.  They both died in their sleep from smoke inhalation.  Leon’s heart was broken.

Vivian was fifteen years younger than Leon and they tried for many years to have children.  They were finally blessed with Lisa one month before Leon’s fiftieth birthday.  She was the apple of his eye.  His pain is still strong, especially on holidays, but it always makes Leon happy when he sees a whole family.  He was thankful for their blessings.

The boy of this family was staring at Leon as he ate his dinner.  Leon pretended not to notice at first but then he caught his eye and smiled and gave him a wink.  The boy blushed and looked away.  Leon laughed.

“What is your name young man?”  Leon asked the boy.

“Michael,”  he answered.

“Well I’m pleased to meet you Michael, I’m Leon.”  Leon put out his hand.  Michael took it and gave Leon a firm handshake.  Just like his grand-dad had taught him to.

“Hello, Mr. Leon.” said Michael.

This made Leon laugh again.  “You can just call me Leon, son.”

“Okay, Leon.”  The boy smiled.  Leon reminded Michael of his grand-dad.

“Why are you here, Leon?”  Michael asked.

“Michael, that is none of your business!”  his father scolded.  “I’m sorry Sir.  He really has better manners than that.”

“That is quite alright.  Children love to know things and asking is the best way to get to know things,”  Leon said to Michael’s father.

“Well Michael, I’m here because I don’t have a house to live in.  Just like most of these people here,”  Leon said as he motioned to the rest of the room.  “I once had a good job and a beautiful wife and daughter, but now all I’ve got is my grandpa’s harmonica and the clothes on my back.  Oh, and my health.  I can’t forget about that,”  Leon spoke with a kind smile on his face.

“Wow,”  said Michael.  “It’s kinda like us.  Dad lost his job and the landlord kicked us out of our apartment.”

“Michael I’m sure Mr.  I’m sorry what is your name?”  Michael’s mother asked.

“Leon Robinson, ma’am.  You can just call me Leon.”

“Thank you Leon,”  she said.  “Michael, I’m sure Leon doesn’t want to hear about us.  Now please drink your cocoa.”

“It’s quite alright ma’am.  I don’t mind.  It’s nice talking to your little man here,”  Leon said.  “I’m very sorry that you were evicted.  Times are tough.”

Michael’s mother looked down at her lap while Leon spoke.  He could see much struggle she was dealing with.

“You know what?”  Leon continued.  “You have found the best shelter in the city.  They’ve got comfy beds upstairs, good food, and a nice little chapel right through that door over there if you’re so inclined.  They take good care of people here.”

Michael’s mom looked up and gave Leon a weak smile.

“Don’t worry honey, we’ll be back on our feet in no time,”  Michael’s father whispered in her ear as he kissed her cheek.  “I’ll go get us some food,”  He said as he took his daughter’s hand and led her to the food line.

“You are a very kind man Mr. Robinson,” she said to Leon.

“Well, thank you ma’am.  You have a very nice family, I’m glad to have met you,”  Leon said sincerely.

“Where is your wife and daughter, Leon?”  Michael piped in.

Leon’s smile faltered a little.  “Well Michael, they are in heaven.”

“Oh,”  Michael said sadly.

“Mr. Robinson, I am so sorry,”  Michael’s mom said, looking quite embarrassed.

“Thank you ma’am,  it was quite some time ago.  And I do miss them something awful.  I’m just thankful that they went together.  That way, my little Lisa had a hand to hold as she entered the Kingdom of God,”  Leon smiled with a tear in his eye.

“Oh my, they went together?”  she asked.

“Yeah, some fool tried to burn our building down and the smoke got to them in their sleep.  So they went to heaven together, mother and daughter.  I’ll see them again someday,”  Leon’s smile returned.

“That is so sad,”  Michael said.

Suddenly an announcement  came across the loud speakers.  “Attention, attention everyone.  I would like to let everyone know that our beds have all been filled.  Those of you with children will be accommodated.  All single adults, we regret to inform you that you will need to find shelter elsewhere for the evening .  Please feel free to try the Fifty Second Street Shelter, five blocks east of here.  They sometimes have spare beds when we do not.  We apologize for this inconvenience.  Merry Christmas to you all and may God bless.  Thank you.”   Click.

“Well, I guess that means me,”  Leon said as he stood up.

“Where are you going Leon?”  Michael asked.

“I’m gonna have to go to that other shelter and find a bed tonight.  There’s no room for me here.”

“But, I don’t want you to go,”  Michael said.

“Don’t worry.  I’ll be alright,”  Leon said to Michael.  He turned to his mom and said,  “It was wonderful meeting you and your family ma’am.  You all have a good night, and don’t worry, you’ll get back on your feet soon.”

“Thank you Leon,” she said.  “And you be safe tonight.  Merry Christmas.”

“Merry Christmas to you too.”

“Merry Christmas Leon,”  Michael said holding out his hand to the old man.

“Merry Christmas Michael,”  he replied as they shook hands.

“I want you to have this,”  Michael said, handing a small toy to Leon.

“Well, what’s this?”  Leon said while turning the toy around in his large hands.

“It’s  one of my army men, I want you to have it,” the boy smiled proudly.

“Well, how nice of you Michael.   Here, I want you to have this,”  Leon handed Michael his harmonica.  “You play that when you feel bad and it will make you feel good again.”

“Wow, a real harmonica!”  Michael said with wonder.

Michael’s mother watched this exchange with tears running freely down her cheeks.

“Thanks Leon!”  Michael said.

“And thank you Michael.”

Michael got up and ran around the long table and gave the old black man a bear hug.  Leon returned the hug gladly.  They both had tears in their eyes.

Leon straightened up when Michael let go of him.  He wiped the tears from his face and buttoned up his coat.  “I plan on coming back here tomorrow for the church service, so maybe I’ll see you then,” he said to Michael and his mom.

“Sure thing,” she said, smiling.

“Ok, good night now,” Leon said as he walked away.

“Good night Leon,” Michael and his mom said at the same time.

Leon walked to the front door of the shelter with a smile on his face.  He pulled the door open and stepped out into the frozen night.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Leon part one

by Jesse Edwardson

The homeless shelter was crowded.  Who am I kidding?  It’s always crowded.

Leon Robinson waited in line for a meal.  He was a patient man.  He didn’t gripe like some of the people in line ahead and behind him.  He just stood quietly, with his stocking cap in his dark and wrinkled hands, and waited for the line to move forward.

Leon liked to watch people to pass the time, so he looked around the room.  So many children, he thought.  Too many children.  It’s so sad.  They should be tucked in their beds, in a warm house.  He saw single moms, looking lonely and desperate.  He also saw many men here.  Men like him, black and past his prime, and men unlike him.  These men were scrawny strung out junkies and wannabe gang bangers.  Everyone here needed something.  Some of those here needed everything.  Leon only needed a meal and a warm place to sleep.

The line took a step forward. 

The front door of the shelter swung open and let in the frozen December wind.  A family of four came in.  They looked lost and half starved.  The father shut the door again as quickly as he could manage.  He turned to face the room and gathered his family together in his long arms.  They huddled together for a few minutes until a shelter worker approached them with a warm smile and four Styrofoam cups of hot chocolate.  They exchanged a few words and the volunteer led them to a crowded school lunch table.  The mother and children sat down on the narrow bench while the father remained standing.  He looked as if he were guarding them.  In a way, he was.

“Hey old man, get to steppin”  some crack-head startled Leon out of his reverie.  The line had taken a couple of steps forward.

“Oh, yeah, yeah.  Sorry,”  Leon replied.  He could remember a time when young people respected their elders.  Days long forgotten it would seem.  Leon could remind this youngster about respect, but he learned long ago that it’s not worth it.  Two stab wounds in his belly has taught Leon to bite his tongue.

Leon finally reached the counter.  He picked up a tray and waited to be served.

“Well, hello Mr. Robinson, and Merry Christmas!”

“Hello Sylvia.  Thank you.  And Happy Hanukkah!”  Leon smiled at the short and round lady behind the counter.  Leon and Sylvia have known each other for some time now.

Leon has been homeless for quite a while and has always come to the Forty-Seventh Street Shelter.  Sylvia has been a volunteer here for over fifteen years.

Sylvia came to America with her husband, Karl Steinman, in the winter of 1939.  The rise of the Nazis in their homeland caused them to flee Europe.  They found a good life in America and through all of their years together they have tried to give back every chance they could.

“Thank you,” said Sylvia.  “What will it be tonight, ham or turkey?”

“A little of both if you can spare it, please,”  Leon replied.  He didn’t like to ask for too much but it had been days since his last meal.

“Of course dear.”  Sylvia placed a slice of ham and a slice of turkey on a plate and handed it across the counter to Leon.  He smiled appreciatively.

“Thank you so much Sylvia, I am much obliged.”

“Oh, don’t mention it.  There is plenty here for everyone to have seconds, maybe thirds.”  Sylvia returned Leon’s smile.

“Well then, thank you for your kindness and your warm smile,”  Leon said with a wink.

Sylvia blushed.  Leon moved down the counter and filled his tray with corn, stuffing, cranberry sauce, milk, and a slice of pumpkin pie. The shelter must have raised a lot of money to be able to put out a spread like this,  Leon thought.  He was glad for it.

With his tray full, Leon turned to face the room and search for a seat.  The shelter was so full, and far too full for Christmas eve.  He spotted a seat next to the family he saw come in earlier.  He walked over and sat down.  The father had taken a seat too.  He must have decided to relax a little.