by Angela Carlie
The boy chomps into a sandwich. Flecks of oat and seed crumble from the bread, showering the picnic table. Cora would trade her good pair of gloves, the red ones without holes, for those precious pieces of nourishment forgotten by the boy. She ate her last full meal two days ago at the Share House in Vancouver. If she hadn’t hitched a ride with Dumb-head Jude, she’d probably be there now enjoying mashed potatoes or hot soup, instead of drooling over crumbs in Portland.
“I’ll take care of you, Cora,” Jude had said. “I’ve got a place lined up and everything.” Jerk. He ditched her at this park for some skank willing to put out, which Cora would have, too, if not for her little Blueberry. She can’t risk the diseases Jude most likely has. Not now.
A kick to the lungs. Cora gasps. Blueberry must be hungry.
Cora plows through the open garbage can, keeping one eye on the boy at the picnic table. He sets the sandwich on a napkin and then gulps liquid from a paper cup. Heat whiffs from the lidded container like smoke from a chimney on Christmas morning.
Her stomach rumbles. Dirty napkins, greasy paper plate, cracked water bottle, broken eye glasses, half-full tube of sunscreen, paper bag with soggy French fries inside. Cora stuffs a fry into her mouth—cold potato turns to mush between her teeth. She forces the remainder of grease-sticks down her throat, and then scrapes starchy film from her tongue with her three good teeth.
Pain zaps her lower back, another kick. Blueberry must be happy.
Cora lifts her duffle bag, her entire world, from the wet cement and waddles to a bench across from the picnic table. She tries to pull her coat tight around her mid-section, too large for the zipper to do any good. A one inch gap of Blueberry covered only by t-shirt remains exposed to the cold air.
Dozens of pigeons bobble on the sidewalk in front of the bench. Silly birds. If they knew anything, they’d be begging Sandwich Boy for his crumbs. Not a girl like Cora. She would love to share with them, but she has nothing to give. Besides, all her sharing has been with Blueberry lately. She can’t afford a single crumb for the birds, even if she had one.
A grey squirrel dashes through the orange and brown leaves clinging to the ground. It climbs a tree holding on to as many memories of summer as it can. But summer is over, and rain has stolen most the evidence of its existence.
Cora used to climb trees, a time ago, when her family had a home, and when she had a family. That was before the fire; Dad lost his job, Mom killed herself, and before Blueberry. Cora scaled giant trees along the creek with her sister. Mom called them her little monkeys.
They spent hours hanging from sturdy branches, talking gossip. Her sister was rumor central back then. If ever you needed the latest dirt on someone, she could give it to you. Cora loved her sister. She still does, if only she could find her.
Sprinkles from the sky create muffled music on the trees looming over the park bench.
Sandwich Boy jumps to his feet.
“Hey! Wait a sec.” Cora waddles across the marshy ground to the picnic table. “You gonna eat that?” She points with grubby hands to the crusts of bread the boy tossed aside after eating the important soft portion of his sandwich.
“No.” Finn pulls a hood over his head to keep his hair as dry as possible. Wet hair is bad. Especially with the amount of gel and time it takes to create such a masterpiece.
The girl with tattered clothes and a rotten stench snatches the remains of his sandwich from the table. She ravishes the bits of bread like a starving dog would a steak. Finn can’t help but notice her belly protruding from her open coat and remembers his brother they buried last year. His mom had no business trying to have another kid at her age. Heat rises under his collar.
Finn opens an umbrella before lugging a messenger bag over his shoulder.
“Thank you.” Rain drips over Dirty Girl’s grin and she shuffles back the way she came.
Finn turns to leave, he’s got to get to class, but stops. He wishes he had some spare change, some extra food, something to give to her. What good would that do, though? She’d probably buy cigarettes or drugs with any handout. She needs to get a job. Most likely, she’s in the park looking for an easy way out, for people to feel sorry for her so she doesn’t have to work. Well, Finn works. He works and goes to school. Nobody gives him money.
Finn bolts across the street. With the amount he pays for tuition, he can’t afford to be late again, not unless he wants to fork out another wheel barrel full of cash to retake the class. A truck whizzes by, creating a wall of flying water that hits Finn’s backside. Great.
She should go home to her parents. Teens run away for the dumbest reasons. Sure, he hates living with his parents and abiding by their rules, but he has to if he wants a roof over his head. Give and take. Give some freedom for shelter, food and a warm bed.
Finn steps off the curb at NW Davis and 11th. His foot descends into a puddle, soaking his canvas Brewshoes. “Damn it.” They really should clear the leaves from the gutters.
Late by two minutes, Finn sneaks into the back row of the auditorium. The chair squeaks from his weight.
“Welcome, Finn.” Mr. Shaw throws a dramatic wave of his hand toward the back row. All heads turn. Nice.
Maybe she should go to a shelter. Portland has to have a place to house pregnant teens. All big cities have services like that. She needs to take the initiative to find a place for that baby. It’s not like she’s going to be able to pop it out in the middle of the park.
The class ends before Finn realizes it began. Well, that was lame.
Clouds share the sky with the sun. It sometimes does that here, usually just before sunset, like now. Water evaporates from the sidewalks, creating a fog that clings to the ground. An eerie energy fills the streets.
Adoption. That’s what she should do. Give the baby up for adoption. There are plenty of rich couples who would fork out a ton of cash to house and feed her until the baby comes. Then she repays them with the baby. Perfect.
Finn strolls through the glass doors of Pizza Country. He hates delivering pizza, especially in the winter time. At least they give him a dorky hat to wear so his hair doesn’t get wet.
Garlic, oregano, cheese, spices. Warm air wraps around Finn, comforting him. He wishes he didn’t have to go back out into the cold. He would live in the pizza restaurant if they’d let him.
Two orders wait for him under the heat lamp. He stuffs the boxes of pizza into insulated bags, ladles steaming chili into a large paper to-go cup, and then wraps several hot breadsticks in foil.
A giant plastic bag in the basket protects all the food from rain which has decided to dump all over Finn. He pedals faster and hits green lights on his deliveries.
Dirty Girl shivers on a park bench sheltered from the rain. The glow from a street lamp illuminates a make-shift bed. Finn steers toward her and stops once he reaches the bench. Her gaze doesn’t shift from the ground.
Finn climbs off the bike and opens the plastic bag containing bundles of nourishment. “Excuse me, Miss?”
Dirty Girl sits up with a start. She wipes her eye with a red gloved hand.
“What you need is a nice hot meal.” Finn gives her a cup of steaming chili and foil full of bread sticks.
The rain suddenly stops. Breath billows from their noses. Crickets chirp in the distance. Traffic buzzes by the park, splashing through puddles.
Dirty Girl smiles. She pops off the lid to the chili and slurps it into her mouth. One hand holds her belly. She laughs.
Baby must be happy.
© 2010 Angela Carlie