“Angel & Avatar” (short story) / by Tom Evans

As promised in a post (“Avatar”) 10 months ago I finally completed my story. But is it ever really finished I ask myself? Probably not this one, but I’m putting it out there for anyone who wishes to read it. I’d love any kind of feedback you’d like to give. Well, here goes.

“Angel & Avatar”

He purposely lived in the worst part of the largest city in the country because he knew that’s what Jesus would do.  He slept under a particular bridge near Harlem in good weather and wherever he could in bad. Lest you think he was some kind of superhero, dilettante, or saint that was not the case. It was where he wanted to be, where he’d aspired to be since he could remember. You see he actually believed the words he had heard in church as a child, had read deeply in the poets, philosophers, and scriptures of many countries and religions as he grew older, finding everything he first heard in the Bible corroborated throughout, which made his belief even stronger.

He kept body and soul together by begging or doing odd jobs when he could get them, as everyone else in the neighborhood did. Strangers who saw him undoubtedly thought poor man, he’s deranged, bereft because of some awful misfortune in his life, which, again, was not the case.

He had long auburn hair and a beard, favored blue jeans and white work shirts, brown sandals in summer and black boots in winter, and always managed somehow to look clean and healthy. As with most wise men people were drawn to him; they wanted to find out who he was, often offering him jobs for which he was hardly qualified, inviting him to their homes, even to their beds.

He often did things for others less fortunate than he, modest perhaps, nothing earthshaking, some food, money when he had it, a kind word, a clean blanket, a sponge bath as it were, even just checking in on people he knew were in dire straits, little niceties rarely seen these days but greatly appreciated by all he helped.

Then one day he became terribly ill. It seemed like he was not long for this world, which was a pity as he was only in his mid-thirties. He managed to drag himself to a laundromat where he often washed his clothes, hoping to find some spare change lying around in the machines and the pay phone, even better hoping he would meet someone kind, someone he could relate to, someone who wanted nothing from him, who himself was so giving.

But mostly he wanted to feel better. It was a weekend so he hadn’t seen the usual professional people he knew down on the Bowery, doctors and lawyers and such, and he didn’t feel much like walking or searching someone out. Let that person come to him was his thought, he’d recognize them instantly. It had been this way his whole life, he giving all he could, living a meagre existence, and up until now, thriving to his way of thinking. But now, sick, weak, finding himself more vulnerable than he had ever been, it was time for someone to step up and help him out, someone preferably with a medical background, but he realized he couldn’t be that fussy, then wait a minute, yes he could, he deserved someone just right, a person he had been waiting for all his life. That wasn’t asking too much was it? Wracking his brains through all the ancient lore he’d taken to heart he couldn’t think of any worldly reason why not.

Then suddenly the door opened and a statuesque woman with black hair dressed to the nines entered. The first thing he noticed and thought odd was that she didn’t seemed to have any laundry. Since the laundromat was empty he couldn’t imagine why she’d even come in but his question was answered when she walked right up to him and introduced herself as thou. He shook her hand but said nothing, just gazed intently at her. You seem to be about the same age as my son and you don’t look well, she said, that’s why I came in here, I spotted you immediately and since my husband is a doctor thought I’d see what was wrong.

For some reason after she said that he became like a child, something he’d never felt he’d been before, even when he was one. He melted when usually he was so reserved, and then she held her arms out and clasped him to herself and he held on for dear life, taking in her scent, the contours of her body, already feeling much better. He’d never felt these feelings before because he’d never had- needed- anyone until that very moment. And he truly did need her.

She was so warm, smelled so good, and seemed genuine to him though obviously wealthy. This was different from anything he’d ever experienced; all the people he’d helped or met in his life prior to this were strangers at best, one-night stands if you will. When they finished their embrace he wondered what would happen next but didn’t have to wait long as she asked him if he wanted to come to her hotel room. The spell was instantly broken and he didn’t know what to say; the woman grew flustered and he didn’t help her, remaining mute. He thought she might change her mind and withdraw the offer, until she repeated it and he immediately assented. She led him outside, where the rain had let up and the sun was struggling to peek through the clouds. It isn’t far she said, pulling him with an urgency that surprised him but which he thought he understood. She doesn’t want me to change my mind, he thought, and picked up the pace until he was abreast of her.

When they reached the hotel, the Lafayette on 5th Avenue, they went up the elevator to her room on the second floor. Sit anywhere you’d like, she said, I’m going to refresh myself. He sat on a blue divan, relieved to be alone, even if only for a brief moment. Looking at himself he was ashamed of his worn outer clothing and realized he’d like to get freshened up also. To that end he went into her bedroom and stripped, leaving his clothes on the floor where he kicked them aside. He headed for the bathroom and knocked softly on the door. Come in, she said, and join me, the waters’ fine. He did as he was told, not hesitating a moment, sliding the shower curtain open ever so gently, amazed as he behold her naked body, bronzed and fit, and, as I said before, statuesque.

Let me bathe you, she said; and I you, he replied. They washed each other very gently, thoroughly, starting with the soles of their feet and working their way up, then commingling under the streaming water for what seemed like a blissful eternity. When it was over she said, I’ll get out first before I turn into a prune. He parted the curtain for her and she stepped out and draped herself in a thirsty towel. He continued to wash himself thoroughly, then stood under the water for quite a while, letting the steam absorb into his pores, knowing he might not have another shower for a while.

When he was finished he turned off the shower and listened, but heard no sound. He wrapped a towel around himself but when he went into her bedroom saw that she was gone. He quickly went into the outer room and looked around but there was no sign of her, she was definitely gone. When he went back into the bedroom to put on his clothes he saw they were no longer there and in their place was what looked to be a note. He picked it up and read the note written on plain hotel stationary, I’ve sent out for some new clothes for you, I hope you don’t mind. I hope you feel better. He folded the note carefully and placed it on the nightstand then lay down on the bed while waiting for his clothes to arrive and fell asleep.

He awoke when the clothes were delivered, completely refreshed, as if he’d never been sick at all. He opened the paper-wrapped package and found two pairs of levis, a white and a blue work shirt, a couple of bandanas, two bags containing underwear (briefs) and undershirts, some socks, a sturdy pair of brand-new Wolverines, and lastly a knapsack to put his things in. Everything fit perfectly and as he closed the door behind him he felt like a new man. God bless her he said as he walked down the stairs, and now I must be about my business. Stepping out onto the familiar street he put his hand in the pocket of his new jeans and pulled out a crisp one-hundred-dollar bill. He stared at it a minute, nodded his head, folded it into a miniscule triangle, then put it back in his pocket. He began to set out on his errand of mercy just as he always had before but his legs immediately felt so weak he thought he would collapse. He sank to his knees, then to the sidewalk, where he sat with his back against the wall of a building. He pulled out one of the bandanas and mopped his perspiring face. Maybe I’m getting sick again, he thought, but I can’t afford to, I have to be on my way, too many people are counting on me and I’ve disappointed them enough already. He tried to recall what day it was, how much time he’d lost but he couldn’t. For the first time he felt the absence of hope, something he’d never experienced before; he’d never questioned his purpose, it had never even occurred to him to do so, he just did what he was called to do. But now that he was questioning it he was scared, also for the first time in his life and didn’t know what to do about it.

Suddenly he remembered there was a park nearby. There was bound to be someone there who knew him, and, if not, he’d make new friends in that familiar bower, surely he would. It had always been a place of respite, of contemplation for him; he’d even sometimes spent nights there in good weather with the other denizens. The weather being only so-so (it was on the cusp of autumn) he wasn’t sure where he would go next, he’d just see what happened. As he neared the park and went through the iron gates surrounding it the park seemed deserted. Wait, there was a policeman, he said to himself. I’d better steer clear of him, there’d been trouble at many of the parks throughout the city. It seemed the latest succession of mayors had been trying (unsuccessfully) to rid the park of people such as himself: bums, vagrants, hobos, drug addicts, and just plain homeless, who really had nowhere else to go. He needn’t worry, though, the police never bothered him as he could often pass as normal, especially since his most recent thorough cleansing and spiffy new clothes. Gathering strength, he thought of his recent encounter with the woman (he never got her name); it seemed so long ago; he couldn’t help wondering why it had happened, what it meant, not sure how he even felt about it.              On that particular day, however, he noticed the policeman watching him, and wondered why. He kept going, hoping to encounter Pete, Larry, Frank or Joe, whom he was close to, buddies almost but not quite, seeking them out in their usual haunts underneath the stone bridge, in the public toilets, or the gazebo by the arboretum, but saw no trace of them. Strange, he thought, he hoped they weren’t among the ones rounded up in the last sweep of the park the police had carried out, which wasn’t long ago if he remembered correctly. Suddenly he thought of Sadie, his favorite, whom he hadn’t seen in a while. He’d known her the longest of any of the myriad unfortunates he’d encountered on the streets. She was a diminutive pale woman but deceptively strong in body as well as mind. She’d shown him the ropes his first few days in the city, even offered him her abode under the bridge that was now his home base that first night. She left shortly afterward, going back to one of her old spots, saying to him, Got to shake the dust off, keep moving, don’t know why, I just do. If you don’t keep moving you’re finished. But I reckon you’ll do just fine; look for me when you can, and I’ll do likewise. Gotta look out for one another, we do, it’s all we have.

He thought of shouting out for all of them, his voice would surely echo over the deserted park, but decided against it, remembering the policeman at the gate. Just then he approached the huge locust bush Sadie could usually be found, often setting up camp in the heavy undergrowth behind it. He paused for a minute as he thought he heard a noise, a faint cry for help perhaps. He listened closely trying to make it out and gradually he heard the voice say help me, help me please. He quickly parted the dense branches of the locust bush and saw Sadie lying on the ground, bleeding profusely from a deep gash on her forehead. Sadie, he said, it’s me, and bent down to cradle her head in the crook of his arm. She looked up at where the voice was coming from, unseeing, and mumbled something unintelligible over and over again. He gently shushed her and told her softly not to talk. He could tell she was hurt badly and wanted to go get someone to help but didn’t want to leave her side.

He looked around in desperation and saw the policeman coming toward him, relieved that help was on the way yet a bit unsettled because it seemed he’d been followed. Still, he had to do something, he thought, and got to his feet. The policeman took the long way around the bush and when he got there told him to step away from the woman, which he was unwilling to do. He could see the wheels turning in the policeman’s head as he assessed the situation. I’m going to have to ask you again to step away, and answer some questions, the policeman said authoritatively, his hand feeling for his nightstick as he didn’t want to take his eyes off him. When he finally had it secured he ordered him to get up slowly and put his hands in the air.

Do you know this person, the policeman asked him. He could see where this was going but answered anyway, Yes I do, and she needs help right away. I‘ll call it in but I’m also going to have to take you in for questioning, the police officer said. He heard an ambulance wail and saw it enter the park, larger than life, incongruously straddling the macadam walking path. The EMTs lifted Sadie gently onto a stretcher, inserted her in the ambulance, and sped off, siren screaming. Immediately replacing the ambulance was a police cruiser, its red light flashing but thankfully no siren.

He was then unceremoniously cuffed and stuffed into the back of the police car. He was outraged at the injustice of it all; why the police had probably done it themselves, he thought as the car began a U-turn to exit the park, but he decided to suffer in silence. Just as they were making the turn he wrenched his neck around when he thought he saw some movement behind the locust bush. He could barely make out the face that popped up over the bushes but thought it could very well be Pete, Larry, Frank or Joe. As the police car exited the park he somehow knew he’d never see them or Sadie again. Regardless of what happened next he was glad they’d been spared; now all that was left to do was pray for Sadie’s recovery. That wasn’t asking for too much, after all, was it?

©Tom Evans, 2016