Copyright November 28, 2011 by Elizabeth Clark-Stern

As we enter the holiday season, I have penned a very short story, in the spirit of the times.


Georgia sees the cardboard sign peering out from behind the bundle of Christmas trees: HOMELESS PLEASE HELP. Beside it sits a large woman in a red plastic mobile chair, her eyes a blur of brown, like watercolor bleeding into the landscape. Doesn’t look like a druggy, but you never know, Georgia thinks, passing her as she enters the blast of warmth inside the super market. Georgia pauses before the cascading display of honey crisp apples. Maybe I’ll give her something on my way out.

Fred doesn’t see the sign until he is right beside the woman in the chair. HOMELESS PLEASE HELP, the letters in jagged print. He is startled by her face, a woman with no expectations, yet here she is.  I’ve got no cash, he thinks. I could get some in the store. He enters the market, grateful for the warmth, the bright light, the canned rendition of Silver Bells. He thinks of the bump in his health care premium, his daughter’s tuition, all those attorney fees following the divorce. His mind erases the woman in the chair. He makes a note to exit by the opposite door on the way out.

Dorothy sees the sign from her car. Odd. Not often you see a woman, she thinks, but these are extraordinary times. She takes a five-dollar bill from her purse and presses it firmly into the woman’s hand.

“Bless you, honey,” she whispers.

“Thank you,” says the woman in the chair, her eyes blinking.

Dorothy smiles, and goes into the store.

Candy and her girlfriend are starving. The car wash raised tons for the marching band, but what a lot of work! What’s this? HOMELESS PLEASE HELP?

“What happened?” she asks the woman in the chair, “Do you have kids?”

The woman shakes her head, no, her eyes dropping to her lap.

“Bummer,” says Candy, fishing three dollars from her pocket.

A girlfriend chimes in, “Hey, that’s for the band–”

“Chill, “ says Candy, dropping the dollars into the woman’s lap.

“Thank you,” says the woman, raising her eyes slowly.
Candy’s smile fades as she looks into those eyes: a depth of sadness she has never seen before on a human face. Did this lady have a daughter once? Where is she now?

“You’re welcome, Mam,” she whispers, and followers her girlfriends into the market.

Leonard passes the sign without a pause. Inside he complains to the manager about the riff raff out by the Christmas trees.

Jacob stops in a heartbeat, carefully pulling a twenty from his wallet and pressing it into the woman’s hands. He feels a quiet anger. At what? The system? The indifference of her family? The injustice of a God I stopped believing in long ago?

“Thank you,” she says, with a hint of surprise.

“Wish I could do more,” he says, glancing at the other twenties in his wallet. How much do I owe her?… How much do I owe myself?

He looks in her eyes. He looks away. What brought her to this place? Where did she come from? Did she have a job? A family? Did she love someone? Was she loved?

An elderly woman walks in front of him, and presses something into the woman’s hand. “I don’t have money, but here’s a bus pass–”

“Thank you.”

Jacob shifts his weight from one foot to the other.

“I’m so sorry,” he says, I could give more…”

The woman feels her spine grow tall, an expansive breath coming into her lungs. It is a rare feeling, and she is glad for it. She holds up the twenty. “Go on now, sir. This is enough.”

“Thank you,” he whispers through tears, and moves on.

This story is dedicated to my cousin, David Gooden, whose simple phrase, “You never know,” taught me never to see every human being in a different light.

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