My #fridayflash came through after all.
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.