My name is Darnell Lamm, that's Lamm with two M's. I'm a clerk at Bradley's Super Market downtown, or I was at the time this story begins. This is my incredible story.
"Okay, Sam, I'm on my way, and I'm walking not driving, so don't worry about me, okay. Sheesh! You're worse than my mother, rest her soul," I said, as I exited the Iron Skillet. Sam watched me go out and smiled; he could smile; he had my back, read looked out for me almost every night.
The Skillet was my favorite watering hole; hell, it was my only watering hole. I was a regular there after work almost every night. Since I lived and worked but four blocks away, I never had a problem with drinking and driving. Tonight, though, I would normally have driven: it was thirty-one degrees and brother that's cold, especially with a twenty knot wind adding the wind chill factor.
I was shivering and cursing myself for being too cheap to call a cab. Well, next time I'd remember—probably.
The street was dead mortal silent. No cars, no hubbub, just silent. As I passed the doorway to Jed's market, I heard something. It was like—chattering. "I looked more closely. Huddled in the doorway, as far back as it was possible to get, was a woman, no a girl.
I stared at her. Homeless, I figured. Homeless, hopeless, and freezing to death.
"Miss, are you all right? Can I help you?" I said. She just stared back at me. She said nothing. "Miss, you can't stay here; you'll freeze to death."
"Huh?" she said
"Miss, let's go down to the all night donut shop," I said. Well, I couldn't just walk away and leave her there could I.
She looked at me strangely, like she had just thought of something. She struggled to get up, and she came with me. I helped her walk; she was stiff as could be from laying there in the cold. And, I could tell by the look of her, as she stood, that she was just skin and bones. This was not good.
We made it the one block up and one more over to the donut shop. We took a table with fixed chairs in the back—I hate fixed chair seating, but it's what they had.
"Hot chocolate?" She nodded. I ordered two and a couple of chocolate éclairs; this girl needed the calories. I paid, and brought them back to her. She was rubbing her hands together desperately trying to warm up.
I looked her over closely for the first time. A teenager, I thought: thin, raven hair, sunken eyes, and a pasty complexion: this waif was not going to survive another night like this. Her clothes weren't exactly ragged, but all she had was a light windbreaker, sneakers, and a dirty print sundress; not exactly winter wear in Columbus, Ohio.
"Say, what's your name? How long have you been on the streets?" I dared ask her.
"And, how old are you?" I added, thinking I already knew the answer.
"Carmela, Carmela Long. A few months. I'm twenty-four," she said, her teeth still chattering. She saw the surprise on my face when she announced her age, but she said nothing.
"I take it you have no place to stay?" I said, realizing how obviously ridiculous my question was before it was even out of my mouth.
"No," she said.
Okay, she was homeless, and she'd been that way for months! I had to get her out of there, and safe.
The walk to my place was short, four blocks, but I didn't relish the idea of trying to get this little bag of bones that far on foot with her stumbling along at a snail's pace. I pulled my cell and called a cab.
She didn't struggle. She was going to the home of a complete stranger, and she said absolutely nothing. She just nodded when I'd suggested it. I wondered if she were at all afraid of what some strange man might be trying
to do to her. But, no, I think all she was thinking about were the éclairs she was wolfing down and staying out of the cold.
The cab ride was short, but I still had the walkup to negotiate with my little victim of the night.
Struggling a little, I was able to get my new boarder upstairs to the apartment; it was a three story walkup, and I was on the top floor.
"Okay, Carmela, I am going to put you to bed. It's almost 3:30AM," I said. I laid her on my queen size bed and took off her shoes. Her socks were filthy and they smelled something awful, and they were full of holes. Jesus, how could a nation as rich as the USA allow such misery to be. Damned Wall Streeters, I thought.
I pulled the comforter up and around her and she snuggled under it. Her eyes flickered, a hint of a satisfied smile flashed in my direction, and she slept. I headed back out through the kitchen and its small dinette which flanked my tiny living room and its skimpy complement of furnishings.
It wasn't much, my place, but it was warm and cozy and, well, it was home.
I sacked out on the couch; it was but a few feet from the door that separated me from where my guest was sleeping soundly.
The sun is the only alarm clock that I own, and it worked perfectly today. The bad news is that I had to get up to turn it off. I pulled the curtains about half way closed and went into the kitchen to put the coffee on; I had a splitting headache, and the exercise wasn't helping. Looking at the wall clock, I noticed it was almost 10:30AM. It was then I remembered that my bedroom was occupied. Carmela? Right, her name was Carmela. I called down to the coffee shop across the street. It was late for breakfast, but I knew that Clyde would be there cooking. I called down to double my usual breakfast order, albeit three hours later than usual. I asked for it to be delivered; something I did from time to time when I was hung over, like now. I was glad I had the day off.
I knocked on the bedroom door. I heard some rustling around, and then some desperate running and coughing. "Carmela? Are you all right?" I said, listening closely at the door.
"Uh—uh—yes. Uh-uh—who are you?" she said. She was obviously confused. I smiled. This was going to be interesting.
"I'm Darnell Lamm. We met last night."
"Huh?" The door opened, and she was still dressed in last night's clothes; well, what else would she be dressed in."
"I'm Darnell Lamm," I repeated now face to face with her. "I found you last night. Do you remember?" I said.
I could see that she was processing the information I was unloading on her, and she wasn't sure exactly how to respond. I took the bull by the horns. "Look," I said. "Take a shower; you need it worse than I do. I've ordered breakfast up too. After you've cleaned up a bit and eaten we'll talk, okay?"
"Okay," she said. She was clearly very timid and unsure of everything.
After the shower, she emerged looking refreshed. But, she was again dressed in her filthy clothes; I'd be getting her some new stuff. The food arrived just in time. I paid the delivery boy and spread the Styrofoam takeout containers on the table. I'd set the coffee maker up some minutes before and it was almost done brewing; it smelled good.
We looked at each other, and I wondered about her past, why she was on the streets, where her family was. So I asked.
"Where's your family?' I said, sipping the black elixir.
"Don't want me. They took my baby away from me: it was illegitimate in their eyes, so they took it away from me," she said. "I left after that."
"I see. No job obviously?"
"No, I had one, but the manager kept hitting on me, so I left. I should've let him screw me; it's been tough," she said.
We talked for some time. "We've got someplace to go," I said. Finish up.
"Where?" she said.
"You need clothes. I've got a little money saved. We'll get you fixed up," I said. She stopped chewing; her mouth was still full of food. She swallowed.
"You mean it?" she said. Twenty minutes later we were standing in front of an ATM. I had five hundred in my savings; it was all of the money I'd been able to save—what can I say; it costs a lot to live in the city. I pulled out four hundred and handed it to her.
We headed to the strip mall a few blocks up the street. I told her to knock herself out that I'd wait in the Denny's across the street. She smiled at me and asked me a question.
"Mr. Darnell, I mean Lamm, is that a birthmark on your right cheek?" I'd seen her staring at me funny a few times, and I'd wondered why; now I knew.
"Yes, kinda unsightly huh?" I said.
"No, no, it's just kinda star-shaped and I wondered if it was an injury or something, that's all," she said.
"No, it's a birthmark," I said, repeating myself. She waved to me and left to shop. I never saw her again.
I waited for some hours before it became apparent that she'd disappeared on me. Well, no good deed goes unpunished, I guess. I headed back to my apartment. The manager's daughter was waiting for me.
"Mr. Lamm, my dad wondered if you could pay the rent today," she said, smiling.
Jenna Wilcox, my landlord's daughter, at twenty-two, was six years my junior. Pretty and sexy I had the hots for her and she knew it.
"Yeah," I said, "come on in." I wrote the check and handed it to her. She put it on the table, leaned forward, wrapped her slimjim arms around my neck and kissed me passionately. Six months later we were married.
Jenna and I got along good those first years. The sex was good, the marriage typical, and the economics of it maybe a tad above average. We had just celebrated our fifth anniversary when the shit it the fan.
I lay next to her now wondering what I had done. We had been married for five years. We knew each other did we not? I had thought so, but now I wasn't so sure. No, that's not right, I did know for sure, and the answer was that I, at least, did not know her.
.... There is more of this story ...