Tales of the Storage Space, Part 31

The Storage Space was quite astonished to find itself pondering, of all things, the city of San Francisco.  The Storage Space knew it existed, of course, some rough space where an unemployed gold miner…so uncouth that he referred to himself as “Jack” instead of John…fancied himself literary because he told a story about a dog going wild.

Really it was too, too much!  All so tiresomely absurd.

But truly the question was, why was the Storage Space deigning to even think of such a muddy camp?

And why, pray tell, was the San Francisco the Storage Space envisioned no longer muddy?

And why, pray tell, did the Storage Space somehow find this new San Francisco, of all things…comforting?

Utterly perplexed, the Storage Space concentrated.  Windows.  Huge windows that covered entire walls.  The Storage Space was envisioning this New San Francisco through windows from across a bay.  A simile came to mind, something about the fog marching between its towering spires of glass like fuzzy giants on a really old projection TV.  But the Storage Space didn’t even know what a new, let-alone an old, projection TV was.

“Sorry, bad simile.”

The Storage Space would have leaped out of its skin, if only a building could leap.  If only a building had skin.  For those three words about the simile had not been spoken aloud.  Nor, as was all too tragically customary in this place, were they the thoughts of a…the Storage Space was loath to even think of such things…ghost.  Nor did they have anything to do with whatever Le Grand Rat was doing in the hall.

But they were from someone alive, alive but who must somehow be very sympathetic to the poor, long-suffering Storage Space, such a profoundly sympathetic soul that the Storage Space could actually hear…her.

It was that Karen.  Perhaps the Storage Space was hearing her thoughts because she’d been there for so long.  Perhaps the Storage Space was hearing her thoughts because she…unlike the others…had depth.

“Do I?”

Again the Storage Space would have leaped out of its skin, if only a building could leap.  If only a building had…  But, never mind.  What was this?  A horrible, sickening wave of self-recrimination was washing over the Storage Space, something about that horrid Martin…naked.  The Storage Space would have shuddered, if only a building could…  But, never mind.  Now there was piercing pain, something the Storage Space had never experienced like this, as if the Storage Space was some kind of animal with soft skin.  And now there were tears, as if the Storage Space was capable of producing fluid, and a whole torrent of soft, animal-based memories.

The Storage Space would have done its very, very best to think of something else…anything else…but those soft, animal-based memories were so deliciously, almost excruciatingly sweet.  Feeling the sun on one’s arm.  Running one’s fingers over thick velvet.  Giggling.  Then, suddenly, they were gone.

“How could I?  How could I have betrayed everything I am?  And caused someone’s death?”

The pain was excruciating this time.  If only a building could cry out, if only a building could say, “No, you didn’t.  Everything you are is still inside you.”

“Really?”

She heard?

“Really?”  She asked it aloud this time.

More soft memories.  Digging one’s toes into warm sand.  The sun setting in…was that the Pacific Ocean?

But suddenly all softness was gone as the door to her storage unit rattled open further.  Le Grand Rat!

“Who’s in there?”

Tales of the Storage Space, Part 30

Alex planted a long, lingering, tender kiss on the forehead of the bloody old homeless woman he was carrying back to his place, where he had all the medical supplies needed to attend to her wounds properly.  He dropped his voice an octave, to the gentlest purr.  “You have nothing to fear from me.”  Then he pulled his head back slowly, not wanting to alarm her with any sudden motions…as if she were the bird with a broken wing Alex had rescued the week before.  Studying her, he looked deeply into her still beautiful eyes, hoping his words had had the desired effect.

They hadn’t.  She still looked at him warily.  It cut Alex to the quick, and he had to fight back a flash of his infamously uncontrollable anger.  Why didn’t any one understand him?  Why didn’t any one see the kind of person he really was?

But he caught himself this time, able to appreciate that with all this poor woman had undoubtedly suffered being homeless, it was understandable that it might take a while for her to believe in Alex.  Eventually, though, she would.  Alex would see to that.  “How could I?” he purred to her.  “How could I have failed to notice your need immediately?  I’ll take care of you, attend your wounds.  Don’t worry.”

He reached his trick corner, where he could always loose anyone following him…and he knew he was being followed.  That young woman with the twitchy lips and sharply straight, dark hair.  In shoes way too dressy for daytime but with heels that clattered over the sidewalk such that it was easy to gauge her distance and rate of approach.

Alex listened to those shoes, slowing slightly before turning the corner.  He didn’t want to allow enough distance between them that his follower would think he’d made it to the end of the next block and turned another corner.  On the other hand, he did want to maintain enough distance between them that she would think he’d had enough time to disappear into one of the buildings on that block.

Instead, as soon as he turned the corner, he ducked into the all-but-unnoticeable space between the first two buildings where he knew a hole in the back fence would allow him to escape to the block behind.  A little power walking and he’d backtracked to a completely different block.  Through all of this the homeless woman he carried wrinkled her brow, but Alex was gratified by her clearly visible wonder when he carried her inside the building that was his alone.

“All that stained glass…original Tiffany, is it not?”

Her voice was even more beautiful than all the sunlight streaming through his helter-skelter collection of stained glass that was, in fact, original Tiffany.  Alex beamed, his heart leaping when he saw her astonishment replaced by a huge smile of sheer delight.  “I’m a bit…Noveau Victorian,” he demurred, “as you’re about to see from my library.”

With a bit of flourish, he swept her into a dark-paneled room with a huge stone fireplace and floor-to-ceiling bookshelves.  But the expected leather-bound books were not there.  Instead, his eclectic found-object sculpture dripped off the shelves, along with such an extensive collection of high-tech gadgetry that he liked to think he put Q in the latest James Bond movie to shame.

“You’ll be comfortable here,” he purred, laying her out gently on a huge, commodious, chase lounge.  “I’ll be right back.”

In moments he returned with water, a collection of delicacies for her to eat, and his medical supplies.

The homeless woman looked him up and down.  “Clearly, you’re not really homeless.”

“No,” he acknowledged with a laugh.

She looked puzzled again when he brushed some feathers aside from his medical supplies.

“A bird with a broken wing that I rescued last week.”

She smiled broadly.  “May I see it?”

“Sure.”  He retrieved the bird’s shoebox, meticulously lined with soft cloth.

“But…”  She seemed troubled.  “It’s dead.”

Now it was his turn to be puzzled.  “Of course it’s dead.  I had to kill it when it pecked me.”

Tales of the Storage Space, Part 29

Karen sat up with a jolt.  Frank was furious with her!  She could feel it in her bone marrow.  It reminded her of sitting on a hill above Sausalito at sunset and feeling the mist that seemed to swirl about not just around but inside her.

Frank inside her…

She blinked, trying to take in her surroundings.  They were at Frank’s place, weren’t they?  Hadn’t they just made love for the first time?  Hadn’t her climax been so thunderous that she both screamed and wept?  And even started to laugh, manic, until he pulled back and locked eyes.  Then, transfixed by his eyes, she imagined new dimensions opening before her, one after another, like flower pedals.  A fourth dimension.  A fifth dimension.  A sixth dimension.

Martin.  That shallow nobody.  No, that wasn’t fair.  Martin was her friend.  But Frank was furious at her because of Martin.  So furious that he must have killed Martin.

That thought was like a bucket of cold water dumped over her head.  Her eyes had been open already, but now she saw.  No, they weren’t together in Frank’s apartment in Sausalito, looking through his huge windows at San Francisco across the bay.  She was alone in a teeny storage unit in Brooklyn with no windows at all.

Karen whimpered feebly and started to sob as she looked down at herself then, insanely, started to laugh.

She was sitting up.

She was alive.

She laughed and laughed as a whole lifetime of memories washed over her.  She was alive.  Whatever her present circumstances, she would find beauty again.

She started to scramble out of her storage unit but almost fainted.

But not that alive, she amended to herself.  Not yet.

She sat back, surveying her surroundings.  Her stomach clenched when she remembered mistakenly dipping the French fries in Martin’s blood instead of the ketchup.

Poor, poor Martin.  Who was she to think him shallow or to use him for sex that would be free of emotional pain because, truth be told, she couldn’t love him.  Poor, dear Martin.  He had been her friend.  More importantly, he had been alive and was no longer.  Karen was so very sorry.

Tales of the Storage Space, Part 28

Martin was starved.  He’d had bugger all to eat.  Rifling through the frig, he was finding a lot more meat than he remembered buying, but the real question was what he could cook fastest.

Meat…  Meat…  Finally he grabbed the thinnest piece.  Canola oil in the frying pan.  Didn’t even bother to wash the meat, just tossed it in the pan to sizzle.  In so much of a hurry that he dropped some on the floor.

Hands shaking, Martin leaned over to pick it up.  Funny, the floor was solid black, not the vintage linoleum he’d paid so much for online.  And he couldn’t find the meat he’d dropped until he reached under the stove and pulled out a slab of Karen’s face.

Martin sat up on his mustard-colored, vintage Danish Modern sofa and screamed at the top of his lungs.  How could he have allowed himself to fall asleep again?

Jennifer’s phone.  He remembered the ringtone.  Somewhere on the sofa.  Ringing again.  Maybe it was Ms. Morales from work again.  Maybe calling to say the tall man with the gun, looking for him…and Frank, who he’d killed…was gone.  Maybe they’d had him arrested.

Martin scrambled to find Jennifer’s phone, wondering why Ms. Morales hadn’t called him on his own phone, since they’d talked before.  Found it between the cushions just as it stopped ringing.

Bloody hell!

Maybe Ms. Morales had called Jennifer because she couldn’t reach him.  He checked his own phone for voicemail.  Battery was dead.

A beep from Jennifer’s phone.  Martin picked it back up and saw a message about new voicemail.  But how could he get it without her bloody password?

He called her voicemail and tried “Jennifer” for her password, and all possible permutations of her birthday, without success.  Then inspiration hit.  He typed in “Martin.”

“You have six unheard messages.”

None of them indicated that the tall man with a gun had been arrested.  The second to last message was from a dry cleaner complaining that he, Martin, hadn’t picked up Jennifer’s dry cleaning…which she hadn’t yet asked him to pick up.  The message that had just come in was from a collection agency.  It said they had tried unsuccessfully to reach Martin about paying her bill…which she hadn’t told him about either.

Bloody fucking hell!

Martin sat on his expensive Danish Modern sofa, stained with the sweat of his nightmares, and stared down the endless road of what his life imprisonment by Jennifer was going to be like.  Could serving the time in a real prison really be worse?  Tortured by frustration and helplessness, he clicked around in her apps, idly noting the stupid games she played.  Really by mistake, because his shaking finger hit the wrong thing, he clicked into “Notes,” then started reading…eyes widening.  Suddenly he heard something he hadn’t thought he’d ever hear again:  his own laughter.

Tales of the Storage Space, Part 27

Jennifer couldn’t stand it.  Simply couldn’t stand it.  She could have screamed at the top of her lungs.  She, Jennifer, had wasted her time being nice to another person.  And a homeless person at that.  Jennifer had actually asked her questions, like her name, and given up the last clean edge of that miserable tablecloth to clean one of this Amelia’s wounds, when it could have been put to much more important use cleaning Jennifer’s shoe.  All for no other reason, of course, than because Amelia had lied to supply an alibi for Jennifer to that cop.

And it was only after Jennifer had wasted all that time being nice, thinking she was buying Amelia’s continued support, that it came out that Amelia’s support had already been paid for.  The only reason the bitch had lied about Jennifer not being in the storage space the night before was because the bitch didn’t want Jennifer bothering her about the phone she stole from Jennifer.

Smug, that’s what the bitch was.  Smug.  Jennifer could see it in her face, a face that said that she, a ratty old homeless person, felt sorry for Jennifer.

People were so unreasonable.

But Jennifer considered:  a charge against her credit card for a new phone or a charge against her for first-degree murder.  It was one of the hardest things she had ever done but she managed to twist her lips into a smile.  “I’m going to have to leave now, Amelia…but I’ll come back…and help you later…if you still need it.”

Bitch looked even more smug, as if she pitied Jennifer for stuttering through her last speech.  But how was Jennifer supposed to know what to say when pretending to be nice?  Meanwhile Amelia even had the nerve to reach up and touch Jennifer’s lips, as if trying to straighten them out.  “Relax, Sweetheart.  You need not trouble yourself.  I’ll be okay.”  And, speaking of smug, there it was again.  That beautiful voice.  “You need not come back.”

Oh, so that’s it, thought Jennifer.  Afraid that if I come back I’ll have worked up the nerve to ask you to give me my phone back?

But no helping it.  Jennifer had no choice but to put her never-adequately-cleaned shoe back on, get to her feet, and head back to Martin’s where all her precious stuff was.  Including all her boxes from the storage space except the one Martin had sent her back for because he said he’d left it.

Martin…  She was so proud of herself for blackmailing him into taking her back.  Good thing he’d killed that Frank so she’d had something to work with.  Maybe things weren’t so bad:  It would be nice to upgrade her phone, and Martin would pay for it.

Phone…  She was halfway down the block before she remembered just what she had on her phone.  Stuff she absolutely, positively couldn’t let anyone else see.  Jennifer wheeled, not even caring that she scraped her shoe in the process, and started back to get her phone from Amelia after all.

Another homeless person…  Out of thin air…  Judging from his head-to-toe layer of garbage, she’d guess he’d been dumpster diving out back somewhere.  Tall, not at all humble, somehow very menacing…  Standing between her and Amelia…  Staring straight at Jennifer…

A cold shudder went up Jennifer’s spine.  She pretended to check her scraped shoe, not even caring anymore when she discovered it was ruined.  But she was trying to look casual, unafraid, while she strained to watch this tall guy in her peripheral vision.  Go away, she thought at him.  Go away so I can get my phone!

But he didn’t.  He just stared at her, starting to approach.

Another shudder went up Jennifer’s spine.

“Excuse me.”  It was that beautiful voice again.  Amelia.

The tall man spun on a dime, arms positioned funny, like he was trying to be The Karate Kid or something, then squatted at Amelia’s side.  “How could I?  How could I have failed to notice you and your need?”

Jennifer risked looking straight at them.

The homeless man gently examined Amelia’s injuries with an expertise that suggested medical training, then scooped her up in his arms and started to carry her away.  But he paused to look down at her.  “Whoever did this to you will be forced to eat several dinners consisting of their own body parts before I allow them to die.”

Jennifer could see that even Amelia shuddered at that one.  But, again, Jennifer had no choice.  She followed them.  She just had to get that phone back.  At least, she consoled herself for the time-being, it was password protected.

Tales of the Storage Space, Part 26

The Storage Space simply couldn’t tolerate Irwin Le Grand Rat a moment longer.  It would have screamed at the top of its lungs, if only a building could…

An intruder!

Out back with all the bags of trash.  The bags of trash that appallingly inadequate Irwin hadn’t taken to the dump yet.  Including the bags with that Frank’s body parts in them, which Irwin had actually used to conceal some other bags that presumably contained something even more dreadful or incriminating.

No one but Irwin was ever out back; it wasn’t possible for anyone else to gain access.  Yet this man wasn’t Le Grand Rat!  Perhaps…were it even possible…this intruder was an even grander rat.

Tall, clad quite literally in rags that whirled around him like a thick fog.  Tattered hood concealing most of his face.  The poor long-suffering Storage Space strongly suspected he smelled even worse than all the garbage combined.

But there was something peculiar about what little was visible of his face.  That goatee was rather impeccably groomed for a bum.

He was going through the garbage bags, one by one.

Again it was strange that he tossed aside a potpourri of fresh food in one bag.  Any self-respecting bum should have been delighted!

He started opening the first bag with Frank’s body parts.  The Storage Space would have held its breath, if only a building could…

What?  The bum tossed what was obviously part of a human leg aside without the slightest reaction.  Other bags of body parts got the same treatment until he got to Frank’s head.  The bum was about to toss that aside, too.  But suddenly he caught sight of Frank’s face and did a double take.  Then he slapped a hand to his forehead, knocking the tattered hood off to reveal a look of almost comical disbelief.  Next he sank into a seated position, completely ignoring the gore and garbage in which he sat and still held Frank’s head.

“How could I?” the bum asked aloud, addressing Frank’s head.  “How could I have thought…”  He bowed his head before looking back up at Frank’s head with tears in his eyes.  Then he looked back at Irwin’s whole collection of garbage bags, face hardening, before springing to his feet.

Like greased lightning he put everything he’d tossed aside back in its garbage bag, cleaning up all evidence that he’d been there.  Then he stood back, squinting at the arrangement he’d recreated accurately with the bags of Frank’s body parts shielding some of the other bags.  Frowning, he opened one the concealed bags, carefully digging beneath the unremarkable trash on the top till he pulled a neat bag of ripped-up paper from the bottom.  Wiping his hands clean on his clothing first, he delicately pieced together some of the ripped-up papers.  His first reaction was dumbfounded shock.  His second was a huge, evil grin.

Tales of the Storage Space, Part 25

Atta’ girl! 

Frank pulled his misty-green punch, intended for the guy with the misty-green sword that was only a stage prop, and used it to highlight the open water bottle that butcher Irwin had left behind.  Karen should probably get some fluids in her first after all that blood loss, before she went for the French fries.

The only-a-stage-prop sword, blunt as hell and inexpertly swung, hurt like hell.

But how could that be?  What the fuck!  Frank knew he was dead.  Nothing could have made that clearer than watching that fucking butcher Irwin carve his body up with a fucking chainsaw.  Frank looked down.  The only-a-stage-prop sword had cut him in half at the waist.

How was that possible?  What the fuck were the physics of being a green mist?

Frank headbutted the other guy, but his head just passed through the other guy’s head…

Switzerland.  1898.  Yearning.  For a woman.  A flurry of men in top hats, women in long skirts, and horses whinnying and clamoring over cobblestones.  Couldn’t find her.  Agony.  Fucking bonkers.

Then Frank’s head came out behind the other guy’s.  And the other guy seemed to wither and finally slink away, out of Karen’s storage unit, like a green snake.

Karen…

Frank swirled around Irwin’s open water bottle again, doing all he could to attract Karen’s attention to it.

No fan of that fuck Irwin.  Had appreciated the other green mist’s sharing Frank’s outrage when Irwin cut up Frank’s body.  But Irwin had done two things right.  He hadn’t noticed Karen wedged in the back of her storage unit, or who the fuck knows what he would have done with her.  Good thing he hadn’t bothered to clean up Frank’s blood inside her storage unit, just the hall.  And he’d left his water and lunch just inside her storage unit.

Karen’s outstretched hand shook and dropped.  She couldn’t reach the water.  Fucking A!

The physics of being a green mist…  Could Frank move it closer?  He balled himself up and tried.  Nothing happened.

Karen’s eyes closed again.  She was going to fucking die.

He had to.  He fucking had to move that water bottle.

A monster truck rumbled over a monster pothole just outside, reminding Frank for a moment of how his crazy partner Alex drove.

Karen’s eyes fluttered open as the water bottle moved an inch closer to her.  Had Frank done it or the truck?

Karen reached, shaking fingertips threatening to knock the bottle over when she made contact, then passed out again.

A thought cut through Frank far more painfully than that blunt sword.  It was:  Karen, how could I?  Frank fucking had to move that water bottle.

Something happened Frank didn’t understand at all.  For a moment he wasn’t in Karen’s storage unit anymore.  He was home, inside her, the first time they made love.  Then he was back in her storage unit.

The water bottle, the French fries, and even Irwin’s sandwich were within Karen’s reach.  Slowly, very slowly, she managed to eat and drink some.  Woozy as hell, she got confused and dipped a French fry not into the ketchup but into a huge glop of Frank’s blood on the floor.

Frank wasn’t sure what to think, watching her struggle to get that French fry dripping with clumps of his blood into her mouth.  Much-needed protein?  What the fuck.  Wasn’t doing him any good any more.  He swallowed heavily, then thought, eat up, baby.  It’s the very least I can do for you.

She wrinkled her nose and licked her lips thoughtfully, before her eyes widened in horror.

Uh oh, thought Frank.  She’s figured it out.  It’s okay, he thought at her desperately.  It’s okay.  He had trouble with the next words; they weren’t words he thought often, no matter what he felt.  But they burst out of him:  “I love you!”

The word he then saw burst out of her, however, was the only word capable of destroying a love even death hadn’t ended.  It was, “Martin!”

Tales of the Storage Space, Part 24

Karen felt something, a weak fluttering under her cool, clammy skin.  Fast.  Was that…her pulse?  Her eyes seemed to be open.  Through swirls of green mist, she thought she saw the fingers of one hand resting on the inside wrist of her other.  Was it minutes, hours or days later?  Karen was so confused, and grasping for breath.

The green mist swirled, hypnotic, adding to Karen’s dizziness and nausea, even though she was lying down.  Still, weakly, her stomach also grumbled with hunger and she smelled something.  French fries.

And ketchup?  And something else, something metallic…

Her hand…  Had the bleeding finally slowed?

Karen tried to flip her hand over to check, only to be met with waves of wooziness.  Silence.  She was alone in the back of her storage unit with no phone.  Karen opened her mouth and screamed for help but couldn’t even hear it herself.

Was it already too late?  Even if the hand she was too weak to flip over had finally stopped bleeding?

A summer’s day…

Half the green mist now swirled around Karen’s face.  Sunlight sparkled through it.  Karen’s eyes closed.  She saw a summer’s day with flowers starting to bloom as a man’s elegant and melodic voice spoke of “the darling buds of May.”

Light!  The light became so bright, and Karen longed for it so.  She strained to reach it, to reach the sun, her feet seeming to leave the earth behind her.

“No, Karen, no!”

Frank’s voice pulled her back.  Her eyes fluttered open.  Two separate green mists seemed to be at war with each other in front of her.  Karen struggled for breath.

French fries.

Karen’s fingers twitched.  It seemed all she could do.

Ketchup.

Her stomach heaved with nausea, but then it grumbled.  Ever so slowly, Karen slid her arm across the floor.  

Tales of the Storage Space, Part 23

Martin was sweating, slobbering, begging.  Bloody hell.  Bloody fucking hell.

Was it another dream?

Bollocks.  No dream could be as realistic as this.

Martin watched the fountain of blood twist and turn.  Insanely, its motion triggered a memory of how the water had gurgled out of his father’s garden hose when he watered the flowers back in Canterbury, Kent.  Until a twist sent the blood splattering all over Martin’s face and into his screaming mouth.

He awoke to find he was drenched in sweat and his phone was ringing…somewhere.  His starburst wall clock said it was 10 o’clock, but it was still light.  Funny, this wasn’t Scotland…

He found the phone under his thigh.  Strange that it wasn’t vibrating.  Even stranger that it wasn’t ringing.  And it wasn’t his phone…

Broad daylight…

Shit!  It was 10 o’clock in the morning and they were calling because he was late to work!  He must have dozed off.  But why that literally bloody nightmare and whose phone…

Then he remembered Karen, and Frank.  He clung to Jennifer’s phone, trying to figure out how he’d know if the cops had responded to the anonymous tip he’d called in on her own phone and picked Jennifer up for the murders he had committed.  Or at least caused indirectly in Karen’s case.  But what matter?  One murder was enough…  Martin broke out in another sweat, shuddered, shivered, and finally cried.

His phone again.  Wherever it was.  Then a short pause.  Then Jennifer’s phone, still in his hand.  He jumped, dropping it as if it was the murder weapon.  It must have hit something just right.  It answered.

“Jennifer, pick up.  Pick up!”

Martin was silent.  He didn’t even breath.  But, damningly, his phone started to ring again in the background.

“Jennifer!  Pick up!”

Martin knew who it was:  Ms. Morales, their boss from work.

“Jennifer!  Dios mio!  We have to find Martin…”

Ms. Morales trailed off.  Martin could hear a man screaming something in the background.

“Jennifer,” Ms. Morales whispered, “there’s a tall man with a goatee here looking for Martin, and some guy named Frank.  Do you know who he is?  He’s got a gun!”

Tales of the Storage Space, Part 22

Jennifer was still shaking, and it wasn’t from sitting outside for so long.

“The officer is gone, Jennifer.  And I think I convinced him you hadn’t been in the storage-space building.”  The homeless woman’s voice…already the most beautiful, melodic stuff Jennifer had ever heard…resonated with the richness of a new dimension when she lowered her voice.  “Not even last night.”

Not even last night?  Jennifer darted a look at the homeless woman before returning to the seemingly endless job of cleaning the blood off her shoe.  But Jennifer was in the storage-space building then; it was only this morning that she hadn’t made it into the building because she’d tripped over this already blood-covered homeless woman.

Was this woman so out of it that she thought she’d been awake all night to vouch for Jennifer instead of passed out in what was undoubtedly a drunken stupor?  Or…  Was that why she’d dropped her voice before saying, “not even last night,” because that was her way of letting Jennifer know that she knew that part wasn’t true?

Why?

Jennifer shifted uncomfortably on the hard sidewalk, looking at the bloody woman lying beside her.  Horrible.

Why had this woman protected her?

What did she want?

Jennifer opened and closed her mouth a few times, struggling to find the right words.  Finally they came to her.  It was hard to do, since her expensive shoe still wasn’t free of the blood that would undoubtedly now dry hard and fast, ruining it forever, but she made a point of setting her shoe aside and addressing the homeless woman.  “Thank you.”  The words almost hurt.  But she smiled after saying them, quite proud of herself.

The homeless woman started to smile, too, but stretching her lip cracked open a wound that started to bleed.

Jennifer sighed, this was really, really hard, but she sacrificed the only remaining clean piece of the tablecloth…that could have been used to finish cleaning her shoe…and used it instead to dab at the homeless woman’s cracked lip.  “What’s your name?”

“Amelia.”  Miraculously the name sounded absolutely gorgeous, even half-muffled by the tablecloth.  It was that voice again.  Like an entire symphony orchestra.

Jennifer spotted a twig under Amelia.  Would that help get the blood off her shoe?  She was about to snatch it up.  Oddly, something stopped her.  She looked at the twig more closely.  It had wedged itself into a cut on Amelia’s arm.

Jennifer had an epiphany:  that twig wedged into that cut on Amelia’s arm must be hurting Amelia!

Gently…very carefully…Jennifer removed the twig.

“Thank you.”  That beautiful voice again.

Jennifer refrained from using the stick on her shoe, carefully setting it aside for the time being.  Instead she frowned, concentrated, and then asked, “How did you get to be homeless?”  Too late, it occurred to her that maybe she should have asked about Amelia’s current injuries first, but Jennifer was still delighted by her own kindness.

“Do…you really want to know?”

“Yes,” Jennifer said.  “I…actually…really do!”

“Would that I could provide a rich and entertaining history of a great family gone to ruin.  But what’s great is the mystery, because nothing is known of my family before the birth of my mother in 1898.”

“1898?”

“Yes.  My poor, frail, delicately-wrought mother gave birth to her only child in 1948, at the age of 50.”

“Your father?”

“I was born out of wedlock.  My mother never deigned to mention him.  And she never knew her own parents, or anything about them or any other family members.  She was raised in a nunnery in Switzerland where all, apparently, had been sworn to secrecy.”

Jennifer struggled to remember the original question.  “So…you became homeless because?”

“Possibly my own just desserts for being an incurable romantic.”  Amelia’s injured lip warped her rueful smile.  “But my excuse is my mother’s medical bills.”

“Aren’t there social service agencies that cover those kinds of things?”

“They try.  And they do a lot.  But there are limits.”  Amelia stiffened her jaw.  “My mother’s health was never good.  After my birth it was a disaster.  She once told me our roles had all but reversed by the time I was two.  Prior to her death, at which point I’d already declared bankruptcy, I couldn’t remember a time when my life wasn’t devoted to taking care of her.”

Now Jennifer really didn’t know what to say.  “Well…your injuries…I should get you some help.”  With that she fished into her purse for her phone, but it wasn’t there.  She darted another look at Amelia.

People were so unreasonable.  Somehow, when Jennifer wasn’t looking, this stupid homeless woman had obviously stolen her phone.  Jennifer should have just kicked her again.  Repeatedly and hard enough to silence her forever.  Instead she’d stupidly wasted time bullshitting her with some snow job to try to keep this woman who probably knew Jennifer hadn’t been to her storage unit last night from blowing her alibi.

Jennifer sighed heavily.  All this time wasted…  All this time that could have been spent saving her shoe.