I was coming out of the store with a few groceries and other items. Most of the other things were cleaning supplies, as my sister and my two nephews were due for their annual visit. I'll admit that this year I wasn't looking forward to her coming. I had been divorced for two months now. My wife had moved out several months ago and I was now living alone.
The house was in terrible shape. The curtains were just as my wife had left them. I swept when I started tripping over things. The windows had their winter grime on them. The kitchen stove was a mess, but I did keep the counters clean. The dining room table was cleared off for I worked on that. About the only things that I kept anywhere near clean were the toilet bowl and the tub/shower enclosure. The second bath, I suppose I should clean that too as that is the one Sis would be using. At least I had two weeks to get it ready.
My brother-in-law wasn't going to be with them. He had been activated and although he wouldn't be going overseas, he was to be away most of the summer training other soldiers. It was a good thing for he was more particular than my sister about keeping things clean. As I pulled up to the stoplight before entering the main drag, I saw a young woman in cast-off clothes standing by a hand lettered sign that said she would do most anything for minimum wage. "Need food."
She was dirty and dressed in a ragged pair of jeans, but she had a bright look on her face. The top she had on was just a heavy sweater, equally as dirty. I studied her as I was waiting in line three cars back. Something about her made me think I had seen her before. Making a snap decision, I pulled up beside her and spoke out the rolled-down passenger side window. "Do you do housecleaning?"
"My specialty. Don't ask for anything personal though."
"You're safe with me. I don't trust women much anymore. I do need my house cleaned, that's all. Get in. Do you want to inform anyone where you are?"
"Nope, no one to tell. Mister, if I'm cleaning your house can I use your washing machine to wash some clothes?"
"I guess so. Where's your stuff?"
"Down under the bridge at the interstate overpass. I have two garbage bags. I just hope no one has run off with them."
"We'll swing by. I have just one more stop to make myself. I live about five miles from here over by the school on the edge of town. By the way, my name is Hank Rawlings."
"You can call me Angie." No last name or nothing. I guess maybe there was more that needed washing than some clothes. There was a distinct unwashed odor about my passenger. She must have known it for she cracked the window and sat as far away from me as possible.
The town supported a large dollar store and I pulled into the parking lot. "Do you need anything?"
"Maybe a candy bar. You can take it out of my wages." I nodded as I got out of my truck.
I went in and went down the aisle that held women's underwear and socks. I even found a bra that was one-size-fits-all. There were some shimmery things that I guessed were worn over the bra, and I grabbed a couple of those as well.
I almost forgot the candy bar as there were some women whispering to each other as I was checking out with the unmentionables. As I left the counter, face red, I asked of them, "Do dollar store clothes feel good on a man? I have never shopped in one before." That might give the whispering bitches something to think about.
When I climbed into my truck Angie said, "I thought you didn't trust women. You left the keys in the ignition. I could have driven away and sold the truck."
"You didn't though. So I know one more thing about you in addition to your name. You're honest. Actually it is my heart not my mind that doesn't trust women anymore." I found the bridge and Angie scrambled out just as another homeless person was opening her garbage bag.
Angie screamed at him and the guy ran off as I got out of the truck. There was a mattress there, but Angie said it wasn't hers although she had been sleeping on it--ugg! We threw the two bags in the back and in five minutes we were on the way to my home. I handed her the candy bar which was a Snickers and she nibbled at it until the final large bite which she popped into her mouth. "That was heavenly. Thank you."
My house was a modest three bedroom. There was a two car garage with a loft that was empty over it.
"Would you show me where the washing machine is? My clothes are filthy."
"Wouldn't you like to take a shower or bath first?"
"I would, but I don't have anything to put on."
"I think there is still a house dress in the kitchen cupboard that my wife used and didn't take with her. Would that do?"
"That would be great."
"Good, I'll dig it out and put it in the bedroom. There are towels and soap and even some shampoo of hers that is left. The scent reminds me of her, but I can stand it for today. What size shoe do you wear? Your sneakers are about shot. There is a box of odds and ends of shoes out in the garage. I'll bring it in and you can look through it."
"You are being awful good to me. Are you expecting more than just cleaning?"
"No. You appear to be having a tough time at the moment. I just want you to be comfortable while cleaning my house. Everything I'm giving you would be tossed sooner or later. I'm glad someone can use it."
"Thank you, I'll accept."
I gathered up the house dress, found the box of shoes and laid the stuff from the dollar store out on the bed as promised. It was only ten a.m. but I surmised that Angie would be hungry, probably from missing breakfast. I mixed up some pancake batter and put bacon and sausage in the skillet. I waited a half-hour and I was putting the meat on a plate and had just turned the pancakes over when she came out of the bedroom.
She was eyeing the one place I had set. "Where do you want me to start while you are eating your breakfast?"
"I've had my breakfast. I suspect you missed yours. Why don't you sit down and I'll put this on your plate. I have morning coffee, but it is pretty strong."
"I'll drink it. Coffee is my weakness. I'm still wondering what all this is going to cost me, but--oh hell, I'll worry about that later." Angie was a dainty eater and savored every bite. Every once in awhile she smiled at me. Finally as the last pancake disappeared she sat back with the last of the coffee as well.
"Okay, I'm full now and I'm clean and I am going to have clean clothes to wear. By the way, how did you know what size to get me?"
"You are about the same size as my former wife. I was married to her for seven years. What I got you was cheap stuff, but I didn't think you would mind."
"Mind? They are much better than what I have been wearing. Would you tell me why your wife and you are divorced? After that I'll tell you the story of my life. I know I'm supposed to be working, but I'll work doubly hard this afternoon to make up for it. You know I'm not going to get all this done today?"
"I know. Would you stay until it is finished? I need it completed by the time my sister and her two kids arrive. That is in about two weeks. You can use the bedroom where you changed earlier. I sleep upstairs."
"Of course I will stay. I haven't had it this good since my parents asked me to leave. I'll get to that later, but it is your turn."
"Short version. My wife was cheating on me. She was cheating with someone who I thought was a good friend. I discovered this had been going on for more than a year. I still gave her a choice of staying with me and not cheating or our being divorced. They are living together at the present. The last I knew he hadn't asked her to marry him which upsets her. She was crying on my shoulder about it the last time we spoke. I think she wanted me to ask her to come back. I waved the final divorce papers I had in my hand at the time in her face and walked away."
"And how do you feel about that? Are you sorry for making that decision?"
"No, but I have a pretty lonely existence."
"No, not yet. Someday maybe. I'm twenty-eight and I would still like a family. It has to be with someone that won't cheat. How can I tell? I can't, so I've been putting it off. Your turn. How can a woman as young as you and obviously well educated, be homeless?"
"Made some wrong decisions and assumptions, that is how. I'm twenty-four and I graduated from a teachers college last year. I met a black man while in school and I fell in love. My parents hated him. Maybe not so much the man, but the thought of me giving myself to a black person. They kicked me out and I went to live with him.
"I was hoping for marriage and assumed we would tie the knot. I became pregnant, which upset him, and we started fighting. I fell down some stairs and he walked out after telling me he didn't want anything more to do with me. This happened when I was laying at the foot of the stairs. Ten hours later I aborted the fetus because of the fall. We were living half-way across the country from here and I was alone without friends with no one to turn to.
"So as they say, I hit the road and have been slowly working my way toward home. I have no idea how my folks are going to receive me when I get there. I guess this morning happened to be the lowest point in my life until you stopped to pick me up. I have met a lot of people in the last couple of months since I lost my baby. Some of them were pretty weird, but some were really nice. So far you have been the nicest.
.... There is more of this story ...