Have you ever wondered what goes through the mind of a homeless person? Why they are the way they are? The forgotten society makes little splash in the media unless they either do something newsworthy, or are the victims of some grievous crime. The guy sleeping on a sidewalk, whom everybody thinks is a passed out drunk; the person sitting in the park mumbling to himself: who are they really?
I wondered as well about those people who have no support, or don’t want any support and why. So I wrote this as a short story to remember them and what I think goes thorough some of their minds. They number in the hundreds of thousands, and we can’t ignore them. But what can we really do to help them? It’s a question society needs to answer as a whole.
The man woke earlier than usual and knew something was different. He was totally aware of his surroundings, and though he could not define the difference he felt, he knew it was there. He tried to pull it out of his subconscious mind into his conscious, but couldn’t. They told him it didn’t matter, but he knew instinctively it did. As he lay on his mattress, he listened carefully to the outside environment and heard the usual clatter: a siren in the distance, a dog barking, the screech of brakes and a horn honking, but no voices. He rarely heard voices; where he lived other humans had avoided for years.
He slowly lifted the blanket he always covered his head with when he slept and saw it was starting to get light out. He looked around at his surroundings. He noticed nothing amiss, nothing out of place. All four walls intact; his collection of paperback books still carefully stacked no more than three high. His three exits, each secured and unseen by the outside world. They told him that was as he would find it. But he knew deep down something had changed. He knew deep down they were wrong this time. But no matter how hard he tried, that something alluded him.
He remembered back many years ago when a man or a woman told him they were not real. Unless he recognized it, they would take over his life. He knew they were not real, but he still listened and conversed with them. He did not know who they were, or even if they were ghosts of his past, but still he listened and conversed. He accepted the situation because that was the way it was, and it kept him safe.
When he found this place many years ago, they told him he must enclose himself in a quiet atmosphere. So much so internal noise must be forbidden, and he complied. Nothing in his space was allowed that made sounds. He’d carpeted the floor with layers of foam and soft cloth, and had tried many kinds of shoes until he found a pair that allowed him to walk without hearing anything. He was good at finding things people threw away.
He knew enough to allow a free exchange of air so he wouldn’t die from carbon monoxide poisoning, but didn’t know how he knew. Outside sounds were allowed because they could warn him of impending danger. He vaguely remembered a time when some people used the area downstairs one night. He sat quietly in fear of them finding him, but they never did, nor did they ever come back.
His memory was sporadic at best. Sometimes he could see himself sitting in a large chair, with two small children bouncing and laughing on his knees. Sometimes he saw a beautiful woman leaning over him and saying something he couldn’t hear. He sometimes remembered times when noise was good, and he was surrounded by it. But now he avoided it, and didn’t know why, except they told him to.
His world was set: he woke up at the same time, although he didn’t know what time; he just knew it was always the same. He left, never using the same exit two days in a row, and did his daily business in another abandoned building close by. It still had running water. He would then make his way to his usual route, collecting food a few of the merchants always left for him. He never spoke to or thanked them, and they didn’t seem to mind; it was as it was, and he didn’t question it.
He walked the same streets and avoided people whenever he saw them, which wasn’t often. Once and awhile a police car would stop and the policeman would ask if he was doing okay. He would always nod yes, and move on. He remembered one time when a policeman started questioning him, his partner stopped him and they left. That bothered him, but they said not to worry; he’d done just fine.
On this different day, he waited until he thought it was time and left to do his business. He looked carefully at the outside world, looking for that difference, but noticed nothing. After finishing up at the other building, he started his routine, and all went well. He was happy the merchants left him food, and made him think he was wrong about it being different that day. He walked the same streets in the same pattern he’d walked for years, and noticed nothing different. He stopped at the same park he stopped at every day and ate part of his food, saving some for later, and some for the same dog that visited him every day there. He never talked to the dog, and the dog didn’t stay long. Just enough to eat and receive a few scratches from him.
Upon returning to his room, he felt that same sense of difference he felt that woke him up early. They told him it was nothing to worry about, so he tried to put it out of his mind. He settled down for the night, choosing his copy of John Steinbecks “Travels With Charley,” a book he’d read many times, but forgot soon after. He read two chapters, being extra careful to make no noise turning the pages. He finished the food the merchants left him, put the book away, lay down and covered his head with his blanket. He felt more tired than he’d felt in a long time. He soon fell asleep and dreamt there was a beautiful woman standing over of him, smiling down, with two small children holding her hands. He knew they looked familiar, and a feeling of joy washed over him as a spark of recognition started entering his mind. He heard both girls giggle as they held out their hands to him. He reached up, knowing in his heart something wonderful was about to happen, and took their hands in his.
“Have they identified the man yet?” asked the reporter.
“Yes, his name was Roy Sternman. He was the husband and father of the wife and two daughters killed in that home invasion ten years ago. He arrived at his home just as the killers were leaving. They shot him in the head, but he survived. The doctors said there was some brain damage, and thought the loss of his family plus the damage to his brain pushed him over the edge. He disappeared not long after, and hadn’t been seen since. He evidently passed away in his sleep. One of the policemen, who knew his routine, reported not seeing him for a week.
One of the merchants who left him food knew about where he stayed, so we sent a team out looking and found him in a hidden room on the second floor of an old abandoned building. The smell led us there. We found his old drivers license with him, and, after checking it out, figured out who he was. We checked his finances and found he was well off, but never used any of it. We’ll bury him next to his wife and daughters. A sad ending to a sad life. Sometimes life just sucks.”
A short story I wrote some time back after reading about a man who suffered severe depression after losing his wife. So I wrote this because sad endings suck. And no, it wasn’t about that Sarah. It was fleshed out before anybody ever heard of her 🙂
Darkness had invaded my life. It pervaded every aspect of my being. All windows shut, all blinds closed. I cared about nothing and no one. I cared even less about myself. Sunlight touching me was like a torch on my skin. Thoughts in my mind turned into black tunnels, where demons and other foul creatures could hide and work their evil on my soul.
It started the day she passed away. I knew she was dying, but I had convinced myself that it would never happen. She was my life, my breath, my very soul. Without her, I was not a man; I was an empty shell. To lose my wife was to lose my life.
When she did pass, I fell to the ground and cursed the very God she loved so deeply. I ranted and raved until my mind was a blank slate, and my soul was empty. The darkness had already started to descend, and I didn’t know it.
Contempt became my sustenance; bitterness my wine. I slid into myself and hid away from everything and everyone. The demons came then, and I thought I had met my masters. My dreams were full of frightening images, my waking hours full of misery. I came to long for them to invade my sleep and fill the emptiness inside me, even if it was all ugly.
I lived with them for many years. I would only go out to buy food and other necessities. The insurance money I got from my wife’s death made me self sufficient. I had no need to work. Fortunately, we never had children. I would have been unable to raise them in my condition.
I always walked to the grocery store, usually in the evening, after the streets were mostly empty, and always passed a pet store on the way. I never really looked at the pets on display in the window, but on one particular evening I did. I noticed a white kitten looking at me with sad, bright blue eyes. I suppose it was seeing the same sad eyes looking back.
I saw the same kitten every time I walked passed the store, and I always stopped to look at it. It always had the same, sad expression on its face. On this one day, though, I smiled when I saw it. The kitten immediately jumped up and came to the front of the cage. The sad look instantly changed to one of curiosity. That intrigued me. How could a kitten respond to a smile? I thought. Was it really my smile it was seeing?
Over the next few days I walked to the pet store just to look at the kitten. I tested my theory by some days just looking at the kitten, and some days smiling. Every time I smiled, the same thing happened: the kitten would come to the front of the cage with the same curious look on its face.
I finally went into the store and asked the proprietor about the kitten. He said he had been unable to sell it because it ignored every person that came in to look at it.
I walked over to the cage and smiled to the kitten. It came to me, rubbed up against the cage, and meowed. I reached my fingers through the wire of the cage and scratched it. The kitten started purring right away.
Visibly taken aback, the proprietor said, “I don’t believe what I am seeing, sir. The kitten has never shown an interest in anyone. How is it that it responds to you?”
“I don’t know, but every time I smile, it seems to know. I believe I will purchase this kitten. Please see I am supplied with everything necessary for its health and comfort,” I told him.
“The kitten is a female, sir. I have not named her, so the honor will be yours. I will gather up everything you will need and supply you with the bill when I am done. Is that satisfactory?”
“Quite, sir,” I replied.
I paid the bill and left with the kitten, plus all the items the proprietor had supplied me with. When I arrived home, I set up a food dish and the litter box. The kitten took off to investigate her new surroundings.
I would notice her checking out different rooms. As she wondered around the house, she would always stop and look at me. If I was smiling, she would come over and rub up against my leg. If I had my usual look on my face, she would ignore me and continue on her quest.
This went on for two days. She constantly moved from room to room, checking every corner, nook and cranny. Her expression told me she was looking for something in particular. What it was, I could only guess.
I had deliberately not named her yet, as I couldn’t think of a name. My mind was a complete blank and I thought nothing of it. Then one day she climbed on the dresser in my bedroom and stared at the picture of my wife. She looked at the picture, then at me, meowing all the time.
I got off the bed and walked over to pick her up. She kept looking at the picture, then back up at me. I told her the picture was of my wife, and she had died six years ago. The kitten meowed at me when I told her my wife’s name was Sarah.
I think for the first time in six years, I chuckled. I said “Sarah” again, and the kitten meowed again.
“Okay, my little friend, Sarah you are.” And the kitten started purring the most contented purr I think I have ever heard or felt.
From that day on, my life started to change. Sarah pretty much owned me. She would paw at the curtains until I drew them back. She would then paw at the windows until I opened them.
I would find her lying on the floor in the sunlight. She would move to follow the sunlight as it made its way across the floor. My Sarah was much the same way: she loved the sunlight.
Gradually, I started opening all the curtains and windows in the house every morning. I learned to love the morning sun. No longer did it scorch me. No longer was I afraid of it. My kitten had opened more than windows in my life; she had opened my very life.
I started going out and revisiting old friends. On early visits, I took Sarah with me. She seemed to stabilize me in my endeavors to reacquaint myself with the people I had known when my wife was alive.
As I moved along in rebuilding my social skills, and meeting new people, Sarah started acting like she wanted me to go out on my own. I thought this strange, and wondered if she was angry with me. But when I would get back home, she would jump up on my lap for some serious scratching. Her purring at those times was like a kiss from my wife. Many times I woke in the morning in the chair with the kitten still asleep on my lap.
I was eventually introduced to a very beautiful woman by Jerry, a man who had become my best friend and confidant. Her name was Victoria. She liked to be called Vicky.
Vicky worked for our city’s only newspaper. She wrote the food columns for the paper and specialized in restaurant reviews. I became quite taken with Vicky, and invited her over to my house for a home cooked meal. I was proud of my culinary skills and wanted to show them off to her.
When Vicky arrived, Sarah ran up to her and started to rub up against her leg. I started to say something, but Vicky picked her up and held her with one arm, while scratching her chin. Sarah looked at me and started purring.
There were many days, and nights, like that. Vicky became a regular feature at the house, and Sarah took to her like, well, a kitten to a beautiful woman.
Whenever Vicky left Sarah would come and sit on my lap, looking up at me and meowing. We knew Vicky belonged in both our lives.
That realization gave me pause for thought: The demons that infested me were of my own making. Sarah had taught me that. She had shown me many things. For a while, I thought Sarah was the reincarnation of my wife. But I came to believe that, while Sarah may not be a reincarnation, it was my wife who had put her in the pet store. The spirit Sarah had could only come from my wife. I knew then my wife was happy, and with the God she so firmly loved.
More and more, my world changed. The demons were gone. The sun shone bright on my life. I asked Vicky to marry me, and she said yes. Sarah was especially frisky that day.
After Vicky and I were married, and had settled into my home, Sarah changed. Not much, but enough that I noticed it. She would spend more time by herself, and less time with Vicky and me.
But on one particular night, I got up from the bed, walked out to the living room, and sat down in my favorite chair. Sarah jumped up on my lap, lay down, looked up at me and meowed. I scratched her in all her favorite spots, and when she started purring, I knew that all was well with her. Sarah was happy and content. She had done what she had set out to do: drive away my demons and teach me there was life after my wife’s death. I looked down at her, and said a final goodbye and thank you to a woman I had loved so dearly.
I picked the kitten up, put her gently down on the chair. She was asleep and purring still. I went back into the bedroom and climbed into bed to be with my new wife. I had gone from a lost soul to the happiest man on earth. All because of a little white kitten that liked my smile.