They grew fond of each other, he and she, over the course of a few months . . .
He had been a former English professor. She had been a blossoming artist . . .
Their first chance encounter wasnít anything memorable. Both ate at the same table at the Angel of Mercy Soup Kitchen, and each so intent on savoring the warmth of the room and the unfamiliar comfort of a filling stomach, that they barely noticed each other.
In their former lives,
he would have been clad in a casual sport coat with an open-collared expensive dress shirt and coordinating slacks and loafers. His wife had laid out his clothes for him each morning, he being coloróand styleóblind; thus, he was known as the best-dressed literature professor on campus.
she would have worn loose-fitting jeans, an oversized paint-stained tee-shirt and canvas sneakers, with her ponytail pulled through the exit hole of her favorite Yankee baseball cap. Although her achieved casual persona had been effective in certain gatherings, a closer look revealed skillfully applied make-up and an even, perfectly shaded tan. At elite art showings, she turned into a tailored, well manicured and coiffed beauty who turned more than a few heads.
On the second anniversary of his wifeís death, he had finished up his dayís classes at the university, picked up his alligator briefcase, and instead of heading to his luxury sedan as usual, had walked to a nearby park. From there, he had simply disappeared into a society removed from society, composed of lonely misfits, disillusioned deadbeats and otherwise homeless, wanderers.
Glorified success wasnít as sweet as it was touted to be, she had found. Her works drew acclaim and an abundance of boyfriends, who had passed in and out of her life trying to live out their fantasies through her achievements. Finally, living in the fast lane caught up with her as partying all-nighters gave way to compulsive shopping binges that left her drowning in a downward spiral of self-absorption and self-destructing behaviors. She consequently lost all her possessions to bill collectors and liquidation proceedings and saw her friends desert her one by one as she was unable to reciprocate favors. Then a former colleague was killed in a car accident, and fear and grief took their toll. Not wanting to burden her parents or siblings with her failures, she had spent her last forty dollars on a bus ticket to nowhere in particular. And, as she walked away from the bus at its last stop, something inside her soul snapped and she had just kept on walking . . .
After the soup kitchen incident, they were again thrown together when he observed a rough character trying to rob her of her cart of discarded treasures. Half an ounce of chivalry stirred somewhere deep in his gut, and he intervened on her behalf, muscling the shiftless drifter away. A tiny spark of gratefulness from her still gorgous eyes, and budding feelings, long-forgotten, enveloped them both.
After that, Bookworm and Sketcher managed to share the same table at Angel of Mercy meals and accompanied each other to all the other necessary haunts for survival in their sphere of existence. Their cardboard makeshift homes were separated only by a hairsbreadth and they looked out for each other on a daily basis, receiving companionship and acceptance.
Occasionally, he would find an abandoned bouquet of flowers that he would place outside her fold-out door, or she would find a trashed novel to place at his. Neither discussed their former lives, not needing laurels or failures of their pasts to tarnish this unique relationship, a relationship stripped of ordinary social barriers of race or age or religion that was strengthened by bare-bones living and adversity.
Once she traded her latest penciled drawing on a scrap of paper, for some cold medicine for him, and maneuvered him closest to the burning barrel fire, chaffing his hands and remaining at his side the better of two days as he fought a fever . . . another time, he sweet-talked a hospital volunteer into getting her sprained ankle treated by an intern, fearful though he was of going into public. Friends wondered how either of them could ever survive alone again.
Bookworm and Sketcher were found five days after the Great Blizzard of Ď94, behind the Angel of Mercy Soup Kitchen, enveloped in each others arms. A bouquet of frozen lilies-of-the-valley were wrapped under her many layers of sweaters and a book of Emersonís poetry wedged between their bodies.
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