Friday, June 11, 2010

CHARITY CASE

My #fridayflash came through after all.


CHARITY CASE


Gina stared at Max's armpits. The black curly hair looked damp. “I saw a beggar today,” she said.

Max got the remote off his nightstand, resettled against the headboard. "The one-legged guy?” he asked.

"Which one-legged guy?"

"The one at the Hudson bridge. He's out there every day."

"Do you give him money?"

"Damn straight I do! He's a veteran, lost his leg defending America." Max raked his fingers through this unkempt hair. "I admire him. He's at his spot every day, standing there with his sign. Society fucked-him over, but he found a way to say 'fuck-you' back. Made it his job. I'm proud to support him every day."

"Every day? You give a total stranger money every day?"

"What of it? He lost a leg defending me!" Max increased the television volume. "We owe him, Gina. He deserves our support."

"I wasn't in Hudson." Gina entered the bathroom. She shouted, "The one I saw had two legs."

She opened the medicine cabinet for her night cream. The new Right Guard Sport still had the plastic top. The Quattro razors were still sealed. So was the purple Trojan box. She slammed shut the mirrored door.

The opening music to Leno blared from the bedroom. “So where'd you see your beggar?" Max shouted back.

Gina went to the doorway, ignored the pile of dirty clothes on the carpet. "Trust me, he's not my beggar."

Max shifted to make room for her on the bed, then returned his gaze to the television. She breathed through her mouth as he crossed his arms behind his head.

"He was at the traffic light out of the Whole Foods' plaza. You know, catching all the shoppers, trying to make 'em feel guilty after spending too much money on grass-fed beef and organic chocolate chips."

"Is that where you shop? At Whole Foods? No wonder you always complain about money."

"No, that's where my dry cleaner is and Home Depot and Border's and, anyhow; I was doing my errands and I saw the this guy in an overcoat, sitting on the stone near the traffic light. The light changed to green and the SUV in front didn't move. I beeped and then saw the guy go to her window."

Max asked, "Did you give him money?"

"I didn't have to; the SUV in front of me did. The light changed to red and green again before she handed him a bill. She caused a back-up."

Max muted the television. Gina watched black bars bounce on a wild girl's chest. "While she was fumbling, someone yelled 'get a job fatso,' but the beggar didn't flinch. He just stood patiently as soccer-mom fumbled for her money."

"You mean someone heckled a homeless guy? That's low."

Gina winced. "I know! But, this guy sort of deserved it. His open coat framed a pot belly—a huge one. His cardboard sign read 'Hungry, Please Help.' My first thought was, 'how hungry can you be with a gut like that?'"

"How non-judgmental of you," Max said. The Tonight Show logo filled the screen. Max un-muted the television.

Gina fluffed her pillow, settled under the covers. "Today was the first day over 60 degrees and almost everyone walked around in shirt sleeves. People were all giddy and friendly and commenting that summer had finally arrived and then I see this guy, just sitting under the bright sun in a bulky gray overcoat. He stared at everyone with this expression... Max!"

"What?" He turned his head to her, but his eyes still focused on the screen. "You saw a homeless guy today, and had no empathy. You don't get the Nobel Peace Prize this year, big deal."

Gina reached across him for the remote. His once hard abs felt spongy under her forearm. She muted Jay's and an aging actor's repartee. "Why should I feel empathy for a guy with a beer gut holding a 'Hungry' sign? 'Liar,' that's what the sign should have read! He should have been job hunting instead of sponging off strangers."

Max frowned at her. "Don't tell me; you're the heckler?"

She stared pointedly at Max. "Well, instead of looking for work, he was looking for charity."

Max returned her stare. His stubble accented his clenched jaw-line. "Is that what you think I am? A charity case?"

"Come on Max, that's not what I said."

Max got out of bed, put on the jeans from a pile on the floor. "But that's what you think."

She didn't look at him. "Well, I am the only one supporting this household. I mean, you're out of work, but you could be doing more." She pointed to the clothes pile. "You could be helping with the household chores. Shaving. Showering. Doing something to say 'thank you.'"

Max held her stare, his resentment battering her. "Thank you," he said through his still clenched teeth.

"Max. I... I'm sorry."

"I am too." He left the room. She heard the screen door slam.

~~

Gina drove to Whole Foods' plaza, stopped at the traffic light. The sedan behind her beeped its horn. She rolled down her window, waved at the man in the dirty gray overcoat. He gazed at her, his expression still. "This is for you," she said, waving a wad of bills. The man put down his cardboard sign, braced his palms on his knees to rise. The car horn behind Gina beeped again. The homeless man limped to her window, his reek overpowering. She pushed the bills into his hand, held his stare, waited for acknowledgement.

The light changed to red. "Thank you, ma'am," he said, accepting the money. She tried not to flinch as his fingers brushed hers. Gina watched the light instead of the beggar, wanting to feel anything but his resentment.

27 comments:

Diandra said...

First thing that came to my mind - what a jerk. (^v^)

Linda said...

Good story, Peg. You captured so much so well: how unemployed men have a tough time picking up the household slack (another blow to their masculinity); how homeless folks often appear a condundrum of hypocrisy; how difficult it is for us better-off to give for fears our money's wasted on booze and drugs; how we feel resented when we do give due to the pride factor of the person asking for alms.

Very, very provocative. Peace...

Marisa Birns said...

Provocative and powerful in all its sentiments!

Linda's comment left me thinking that perhaps if men did NOT consider household routines as a blow to their masculinity, they would be the better for it.

John Wiswell said...

Back from Venus to some unhappy terran life. Homelessness always scared me the worst as a child. Even now, when I don't have much, I'd like to do more for them. Conversations like these are never fun.

Oh, and hey! I don't consider household routines a blow to my masculinity. I do the dishes, vaccuuming, and am mostly paper-trained.

(noticed Whole Foods/Whole Foods' became Whole Food's in the second to last paragraph. Don't have that store here, so I don't know the correct spelling, but thought I'd point it out.)

Timothy P. Remp said...

Hi Peggy,

This was very real to me. I followed everything they were doing and caught all the underlining meanings.

Again, another very well written slice of life piece and for the record, I do chores around the house.

-Tim

quin browne said...

I love the inhabitants of Eldridge Way.

Michael Solender said...

your piece begs the oft researched question why do people give (or not) it is said that it's really more about them and their guilt/need to feel better than any sense that they are truly altruistic, I don't know and typically give a dollar or 2 when in that situation. thoughtful write peggy.

mazzz in Leeds said...

What Linda said - you've captured it all in one piece of flash. Good work.

KjM said...

Excellent. So much being not said between these two. Excellent use of dialogue to indicate the underlying tensions. You built a powder keg here. I wonder if it will defuse in time...

I got caught in a time loop when I read the final section. It felt as if we had revisited Gina's first encounter with the homeless man and, in fact, it was she who caused the back-up. Re-reading cleared that up for me.

Really well done.

Matt Merritt said...

There was a lot going on here, and it worked beautifully. The things you didn’t say sold the piece.

Heather Lloyd said...

A thought provoking story in many ways. I like how both the homeless man and the unemployed partner are made to feel in some way emasculated
by the protagonist, and how their similarities and differences make her consider some uncomfortable truths about her own nature.

Eric J. Krause said...

Good story. It's an uncomfortable subject--multiple aspects in this story--and you handled them very well. Hopefully Max will get it through his thick head to start helping around the house.

G.P. Ching said...

I spent some time with homeless people as part of my mental health unit in nursing school. A large proportion of homeless are mentally ill and therefore do not act normally or make good choices but of course they do not deserve their fate. I love how your MC was a good person underneath and just cracked under the pressure of feeling like the only "provider". Lot's to think about here. Complex portrait of the individual, the relationship, and the community. Nice job.

PJ said...

I like the juxtaposition of the two men ... As the others have said, this deals with some very interesting issues. Nice job.

Bukowski's Basement said...

Peggy this is perhaps one of my faves from you. A really rich and well-written piece. Multi-layered.

Alan W. Davidson said...

You skillfully used the description of the bedroom and bathroom and the inaction of Max to show their situation. (note: you call him 'Matt' in one parapraph near the end).

And since we're doing an unofficial poll...I do all the grocery shopping and my share of the laundry and vaccuuming (though I don't cook very much).

Well done, Peggy. Thought provoking and controversial. A timely piece with the current economic situation.

Sam said...

I really like how this story made me think, and about what it made me think about.

ABSOLUTELY*KATE said...

Peg ~ From the armpit to the medicine cab and the remote remote ~ so much was expressed, so well - dialogue speak and innuendo's far greater tell.

GP Ching rings humanity true on the homeless ramifications of "why?" (my daughter's the administrator at a shelter and shares the way the world sees with different eyes - you conveyed that.) and how your Gina reacts - true. Much thanks to KJM for shining the "ta dah" on what I was wondering as well in the timeline loop. DAMN - that was done cool.

Most of all, got a kick at how most guys owned up their chores to you. That's some kind of authoring-response! ~ Absolutely*Kate

Mark Kerstetter said...

Your labels are entertaining too: armpit stink, Whole Foods. If Gina goes to the trouble of buying their food at Whole Foods, the least Max could do is clean up and make himself presentable.

I find the juxtaposition of those who give and those who do not fascinating - it's a rich topic, as you indicate here.

burtong said...

希望是風雨之夜所現之曉霞 ..................................................

Al Bruno III said...

Well written and rich story...

ganymeder said...

Wonderfully powerful story. So many layers of meaning.

Karen from Mentor said...

This piece begs to be read and re-read. You've provided wonderful character insights without preaching or battering the reader over the head with them.
Damn fine work here Peggy.

淑娟 said...

人生是故事的創造與遺忘。..................................................................

Laurita said...

So many layers in this short piece. Pointed but not preachy. Excellent.

Rebecca said...

I really enjoyed this. Interesting characters, very well described. Max seems a bit of a nightmare to live with. I was so hoping he would have a wash!

Kevin Michaels said...

Excellent story Peggy. Good dialogue and great descriptions - you made it poignant and interesting from beginning to end.
K