Wednesday, October 15, 2008

The Past Haunts

Roger stared at the paper cup in front of his legs. A few pennies lined the bottom of the cup, not nearly enough for even a candy bar out of a vending machine. Damn inflation. He hunched his shoulders under the down jacket he found in a dumpster and pulled the red wool hat, his one belonging that he had been able to salvage from the wreck of his life, further onto his head. No one was feeling very generous today. Of course, the economy was bad for everyone, people losing their life savings, no one wants to give what could be their last dollar to some homeless stranger huddled in a doorway.

The cool breeze brought out a pink tint on Roger's nose and cheeks, reminding him that winter's coming. He looked around at his doorway, a door to an abandoned bank, actually. The bank had closed back in 1963, but with the economy in the dumps, it's just as well. The doorway too, was soon to be abandoned, as there was no way Roger was going to stay there for the coldest months of a New England winter. He wasn't sure yet what his other options were, but snow would soon be piling up on the step, taking up room and not leaving him alone.

A dark red leaf from one of the trees across the street landed in front of his cup. Following it was a little girl, maybe 3 years old, dressed as Cinderella. She carried a small pumpkin-shaped bag, already sagging a bit from candy. She bent over to pick up the leaf, saying, "Pretty!" Roger stared at her, his dark brown eyes wide and his mouth open behind his shaggy brown and gray beard.

"Lisa....?" He croaked.

"Penny!" What had to be the girl's mother came and grabbed her gently by the arm. "Honey, slow down."

Penny showed the leaf to her mother. "Pretty."

"Yes, that's very pretty. Now let's go get more candy. Trick or Treat?"

"Treat!" Penny shrieked happily, and waddled away with the woman.

Roger didn't move for a long time after the little girl disappeared down the sidewalk. "Lisa," he whispered. Penny had brought with her ghosts of the past that were now flooding his brain. The man in the black ski mask. The marble floor, slippery with dark red blood. The small hand visible, but lifeless, through the crack in the bedroom door.

He blinked and it all cleared away. In front of him, he saw children dressed in Halloween costumes, now crawling the neighborhood for the stores that gave away free candy in honor of the holiday. The kids also traversed the residential neighborhoods nearby, known for its generosity to the young costumed cohorts. But to the homeless man sitting in the doorway, nothing.

Sometimes Roger feared that everyone knew his past. People read the papers. They could know what happened all those years ago. But, at the time, he was clean-shaven and handsome. Arrogant. Thought he owned the world. Now he was bearded and scraggly. Time in prison, and on the streets, will do that to a man.

Prison. He shivered at the word. Nope, not thinking about it.

Was it worth it?

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