Sissily sat on the wet cardboard box, flattened against the cement sidewalk. The sun was just starting to go down behind the grocery story building on the corner. She waited for the last dump of food for the day, her chubby legs crossed at the ankles, and a half smoked cigarette butt in her hand that she found on a walk through the park. Now she waited for Ernie. Ernie owned the grocery store. He always kept the good stuff for the end of the day, because he knew she was waiting in the alley for scraps to make a meal.
Sissily didn’t always sit on sidewalks and wait for food. She used to work, hard, at the coffee shop down the street. She cleaned the floors at the back, made them spotless, proud of the shine they had when she was finished, until that day.
“What’s this?” she took the envelope Carlos gave her with a chapped red hand.
“I don’t know,” was all he said, but she knew that he did know. Carlos did the hiring and firing, though he always laughed and said, “don’t shoot the messenger” in a thick Spanish accent. She tore the envelope with her teeth, and pulled the letter from inside. “Services no longer required.” That’s the line that stuck out. Ten years of her life spent the same, every morning, and then again late at night. Mopping, cleaning. And now, they all of a sudden didn’t need her anymore.
Sissily heard Ernie open the back door, clanging the tin lids. He always made extra noise so she’d know when to check. Every now and then, he set aside fresh bread, or apples, or sometimes a cake with the frosting just added. When the door closed behind him, Sissily got up off the cardboard and made her way toward the garbage cans.
“Hey,” she heard from behind her. “Where you headed old lady?” The voice was young, high, the sound of a boy. She turned to look and as she did, felt a sharp sudden pain on the side of her head. The next thing she knew, she lay awake on the ground, staring up at a dark sky. She raised herself slowly from the ground, rubbing the spot that throbbed now, pulsing pain through her whole body. Sissily dragged herself over to the side of the building and leaned against the cold brick of the wall. “Why Lord?” was all she said, over and over again, pale lips moving slowly to form the words.
Later that day, she managed to make her way to the park across the street. She lay on the bench and let the sun warm her body. People walked by her and no one said a word. They knew Sissily. They knew some of the other street people. And for the most part, let them be.
“Hey lady,” a police officer knelt down beside her. “You gotta move ma’am. C’mon now, you can’t lay here all day.” He gave her a playful poke in the side, but she didn’t respond.
“Hey lady, c’mon now, get up.” He pushed against her to help her sit upright. But still no movement.
Sissily opened her eyes to see light coming in from a window. She felt the cool white of sheets around her skin, and an actual bed was holding her body in such comfort. Her eyes focused on a white figure beside her bed. “Time for your medication.” She spoke with a soft voice. The glass in her hand held cool clean water. Sissily took the pills and swallowed the water as if it were the best of wines.
“How did I get here?” she asked the question, her eyes darting around the room, searching for a little bit of memory.
“You’re fine to go home today,” the nurse said. “The doctor will clear you soon.”
Sissily sat again on the flattened cardboard, legs crossed at her ankles, and waited again for Ernie. This wasn’t the life she planned. But it was the life she could live. Her eyes kept closer watch now on the events around her, and a dull bladed kitchen knife from the hospital tray lay tucked in her waistband.
She listened to the clang of the garbage can lids as Ernie filled them up. This wasn’t the life she planned. But for now it would have to do.
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