By: Chris Milam
The S-10 finally ran out of gas on Route 4. It was done. The mimicking of its owner was complete. I coasted onto Hensley Avenue and parked the way a vehicle should be parked. As if everything was fine, just a man taking a respite from a long drive through the city of Hamilton. I sat there for a couple of hours unsure of what the next step should be. No money. No job. No mailbox or doorbell. No friends left because I frequently played on their sympathies for infusions of cash. Or just screamed at them like a busted lunatic. No unburned bridges. I was a sinking H: hungry, hopeless, helpless, homeless, hot, and a habitual piece of shit. I focused on the first H.
I found a few nickels, dimes, and pennies in the truck and walked to Kroger maybe a quarter of a mile away. I didn’t exactly know what to get with such a small amount of change. Suckers? Gum? Plain bagel? Fast forward a year or so and I would have just pocketed something, probably a block of cheese. Through all the years of my on again/off again affair with homelessness, my cheese obsession stayed relentless and true.
I decided to go with Ramen. Buying one pack of rock bottom noodles is more than a little embarrassing, it’s a lot embarrassing. I slipped on my detached face and sailed through the line. On the way back, I stopped and picked up a handful of cigarette butts in the parking lot. I used the reaching-down-to-tie-my-shoe ruse to snatch the longer ones from the ground. Also, this would qualify as a lot embarrassing. I eventually made it back to my comatose truck.
I was lacking a microwave. And a pan. Boiling water. So I tore into the pale brick like it was a thick cracker, the hard noodles grinding like a wood chipper in my mouth. It tasted of nothing. Dry, crunchy nothing. I couldn’t finish it because I had nothing to wash it down with so I smoked some stubs and just sat there staring out the windshield at various grey buildings and empty, wooden pallets beneath a darkening sky, one a similar shade as my mood and outlook.
Out of the driver side mirror, I saw a cop car creeping up behind me. Fuck. Come on.
She could’ve been a model. As awful of a position as I was in, I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t instantly enamored by her beauty. Blonde and bronzed with a smile that probably left piles of men’s bones scattered throughout Butler County. I wouldn’t be shocked if guys sped or ran a red light intentionally just to get pulled over by her. Even her badge was all, Mr. Tin will gladly pin himself to your uniform. It would be an honor.
The Vogue Magazine police officer sniffed out my predicament rather quickly. Maybe she saw the cheap Ramen with a bite taken out of its raw flesh. Maybe my hollow eyes told a story. Or my addiction had a stench that she was well-nosed in. Or just sitting in my truck for no actual reason tipped her off. Whatever it was, she knew I was in trouble. Honestly, I could’ve cried in front of her that day. I don’t quite remember. I cried often back then, it didn’t require much of a push to uncork the tear hydrants.
I told her I ran out of gas, which was a problem because I was also out of money. She asked if there was someone I could call. No. Do you have somewhere to stay? No. Are you hungry? Yes.
She said she’d be right back. She wasn’t gone ten minutes when she rolled up again and walked to the driver side window with a McDonald’s bag. Quarter Pounder, fries, and a Coke. Talk about losing it emotionally, damn. It was such a nice, selfless, beautiful gesture, I was dumbfounded. She said don’t worry about it, just eat. You can eat it right now, I’ll wait for you. Cliché or not, she was my sweet-souled angel.
After I finished, she talked to me about going to a shelter because there was one not far down the road. She said my truck would be fine where it was for a few days. I wasn’t sure what to do. I’d never been to a shelter and didn’t want to live in one for some unknown reason. Maybe the stigma. Maybe it would legitimize my failures. But she insisted in a kind but tough love type of way. You have to help yourself. She even offered to go in with me to officially check in. That’s exactly what she did, too. I answered tons of questions, signed a bunch of paperwork, and tried to keep track of all the rules for living there. Finally, they welcomed me and handed me a plastic bag with a few personal toiletries.
And that’s the last time I saw her. I walked outside with her to smoke a stub. I thanked her a dozen times, told her she was the most thoughtful and caring person I’d run into in years. She summoned that heartbreaker of a smile, then eased her body inside the cruiser and drove off.
I went back in the shelter, headed to the sleeping area. I found my tiny bed, stripped off my jeans, and climbed onto a thin mattress that felt like a dollar store rug. The rot of desperation, body odor, and man gas hung in the air like smog in downtown Beijing. Once again, I wanted to cry until I flooded the entire room. Instead, I turned over, slammed my lids, and thought about that altruistic supermodel cop, my compassionate savior. My brief friend.
Chris Milam lives in the bucolic wasteland that is Hamilton, Ohio. His stories have appeared in Lost Balloon, Jellyfish Review, Moonchild Magazine, WhiskeyPaper, Molotov Cocktail, and elsewhere. You can find him on Twitter @Blukris.