The little girl with blonde braids tugs at her mama’s hand as they pass me.
“But I bet she’s hungry. Can’t we give her some money?”
The hushed, hissed response from her mother, “We can’t. We don’t know what she’ll do with it.” The woman pulls the girl along and I watch the girl's skinny legs hurry to keep up. Her mother's head is bent down as she continues speaking. “So many of these people …” The mama’s voice fades, but I can fill in what I miss. So many of these people, honey, are drunks and addicts. Criminals. That homeless woman would probably take our money and buy alcohol, sweetheart. It’s what they do.
Now, hours later, this woman is different. She stops and steps aside, so as not to interrupt the flow of Detroit sidewalk traffic. She looks right at me. I don’t know why she sees me. I will never know what makes her reach through my shroud of hopelessness to find me.
She crouches down, resting elbows on knees, and I have to look at her through the swirling snow.
“What’s your name?”
Sometimes I don’t know my name. Just as I grasp it, it flies away.
“I see you here every day. My name is Valeria. What’s your name?”
“Rosie.” I remember now.
“Rosie, do you have any place to go? Do you live somewhere?”
I laugh in spite of myself. If I lived somewhere, would I be nested with thin blankets in this doorway like that old man I used to skirt around each day? He was invisible, just like I am now.
The woman waits. I am not invisible to Valeria.
“I stay at the shelter on 4th.”
She reaches around and unshoulders the bag she is carrying. “Here, would you please take this?” She pulls a zipper and unfolds the bag, and it is a coat, a long, puffy, nylon winter coat that looks warmer than the one I left behind. I had a closet full of coats.
I nod, letting her place it on my lap. Thank you. I try the words but my throat is thick with tears.
The woman reaches out and pats my arm, a jolting sensation. I don’t think I’ve been touched in months. Not like that. “It’s okay,” she says quietly.
I nod again, swallowing hard. “Thank you.”
Valeria stands after giving me the coat, stamping her feet to rid them of snow. I see that she is young, maybe my age or a few years younger. Her brown hair is pulled into a ponytail, she wears no makeup, but her slacks have a sharp crease, her shoes are clean. Is she on her way to work? Or home? Why did she see me?
I pull on the coat, putting it between me and the cold concrete that seeps into my bones every day. Sometimes I wonder if I will ever be warm again.
She pauses for a moment, quiet. “I’ll see you again tomorrow.”
(This is a short excerpt from my story THE SLIDE, published in eFiction magazine. THE SLIDE was written as my silent nod of respect to Detroit’s Empowerment Plan, and Veronika Scott, the woman behind the amazing endeavor to benefit a forgotten population.)
Commercial women's fiction author. Debut novel THE FALL OF OUR SECRETS E-Lit Books