I never give money to the homeless people you see on the streets, never! I mean I'm sympathetic to their plight and I know from experience that we are all just a couple of bad breaks away from being on the street ourselves but half of those people you see begging for money have more money in the bank than I do! For many it is just a scam to make easy money and to avoid paying taxes! Now, I live in a relatively small town so you don't see the homeless very much but I still hold to my principles.
I had noticed the two of them when I entered the grocery story, a youngish woman, probably the mother, with a young girl that looked to be twelve or thirteen and who was most likely her daughter. The mother was holding up a cardboard sign that read: Will Work 4 Food! As I walked through the store selecting my normal weeks worth of food for some reason I couldn't get the image of the young woman and her daughter out of my mind. I don't know why but all I could see was a long dark haired woman wearing barely serviceable clothes holding the hand of a waif like child and looking totally lost. I paid for my groceries and wheeled the shopping cart out of the store, my eyes avoiding the pleading eyes of the mother, as I walked to my parked car. I loaded the groceries into the back of my Ford Explorer and started to get inside when in some small dark recess of my conscientiousness something kicked in and I took a deep breath and turned and walked back towards the mother. I fished inside my right pants pocket and pulled out my money clip and took out two twenties then put the money clip back. I walked up to the mother and held out the money. "Here you are lady, go on and get some food for you and your daughter." She didn't take the money; she just stood there staring at me and then said,
"I don't take charity mister, but thanks anyway." She turned and walked away.
I was flabbergasted! I followed her, "Look lady it isn't charity, I want to give you the money, your daughter looks hungry ... and do you for that matter, now take it!" She turned around and looked at me.
"Mister you seem real nice and everything but the sign says 'Will work 4 Food' and if you have some work, fine but if not - just keep moving."
Fuck, what a head case! I stuffed the money back in my pocket and got all the way back to my car and then I changed my mind again. I walked back up to her, "Okay fine lady, do you clean houses?" She looked at me with some interest.
"Well I have a three bedroom place about a mile out of town. I live alone and it's a bit messy but if you want to clean it I'll feed you and give you the money — deal?"
"You — live — by — yourself?"
The way she said it, real slow like with the words prolonged, the implication was clear. "Oh Christ lady I'm not going to rape and kill you if that's what you think, now get in the car or I'm gone!" I watched her whisper something to her daughter and her daughter nodded her head.
"Okay, but be careful, I carry a knife for protection."
I shook my head in frustration. "Fine with me!" We walked over to my Ford and I clicked open the doors and the woman and her daughter slipped in the backseat behind me tossing in a gym bag that I hadn't noticed before. I looked backward and I'm sure she could see the confusion on my face.
"We prefer to be back here ... just incase you have something else on your mind other than cleaning your house."
I nodded — I understood.
"Hey mister, are you rich or something?"
It was the girl. "No, not by a long shot ... what made you ask that?"
"Well you got this fancy car and a house too, so you gotta be rich."
I laughed, out of the mouths of babes! "Look, what's your name?"
"Well Beth I drive a seven year old Ford Explorer with a hundred and twenty thousand miles on it because it's paid for and it gets fair mileage and in this area I need a four wheel drive vehicle in the winter. I don't own a house, I'm buying one — which is different — and it's almost a hundred years old, was repossessed - twice, and I got it cheap and I'm trying my best to fix it up. Any more questions?" I looked in the rear view mirror and saw her shake her head no. We arrived at my house and I grabbed a couple of the bags of groceries and we walked up to the back door and I opened the screen door and held it open for them. Inside I saw the girl staring at everything while the mother just stood there. "What?" I asked the mother.
"Just thinking about what has to be done, first you give me the forty dollars and then I'll get started."
So much for; 'Will work 4 Food'! I reached into my pocket and took out the two twenties and handed them to her. She took the bills, checked them out like they might be counterfit, then folded them into a small square then stuck them inside her bra and started walking through the house, checking out the two bedrooms, the third room I used as an office, the kitchen and the small family room. Soon she was back in the kitchen.
"Look mister, we can't clean this place in what's left of the day but ... if you'll let us sleep in the spare bedroom tonight I'll get up early and make sure we're finish before we leave tomorrow. I don't need any more money from you but a dinner for Beth and I would be real nice. Deal?"
I thought about it for a minute then nodded my head. "Deal, but if we're going to be together this long I think we need to get acquainted, my name is Jack Fletcher." I held out my hand and she shook it ... tentatively, but she shook it.
"I'm Lauren Jessup and you've already met Beth. Now Jack Fletcher, show me where the cleaning supplies are and we'll get started."
I showed them the cleaning closet inside the mudroom and while they started cleaning my bedroom I started fixing lunch. I made a bunch of tuna fish sandwiches and around two o'clock we sat down to eat.
"Are you married Jack?" Lauren asked.
I looked at her quizzically. "I already told you that I live alone, why would you ask me that?"
"I saw the picture of a very beautiful lady in your bedroom and it looked like you two were more than just good friends. Of course it's none of my business but I was just curious."
I took a bite of my sandwich and didn't answer until I swallowed the food then I sighed and said, "That's a picture of my ex-wife, Claudia. We're divorced!"
"Hummmm ... I see, but you still love her; I can hear it in your voice."
I nodded my head up and down. "Yea, probably. We were married for twelve years."
"What happened, if you don't mind me asking?"
I wasn't sure why I wanted to tell her, I just did. "I was very much in love with Claudia and I thought she was in love with me too then I came home sick one day around lunch and there was a strange car in the driveway. You can probably guess the rest; Claudia was in our bed with a man I had never seen, a young man about twenty. I went crazy and screamed something, I don't even remember what, and they jumped out of bed. He grabbed his clothes and ran out to his car. I went into the kitchen and I don't have a clue where Claudia went but I sat down at the kitchen table and cried for a while and then I opened a bottle of Jim Beam. When I finally came out of my drunk Claudia's mother had called and told me that Claudia had told her what happened and she was going to stay with them until I got everything sorted out. Fortunately I have a profession; I'm a licensed nursing home administrator, and I called a headhunter friend of mine and he found me a job here in Miner City, Montana. I packed my Ford with the clothes I wanted and drove here from Charlottesville, Virginia and I've been here now for four years. I gave my attorney in Charlottesville everything he needed to get me a divorce. I gave her the house and everything in it, hell I didn't want anything we had bought together, I just wanted out. That's my story, as ugly as it is, so now tell me yours." I watched her thinking about it and for a minute I didn't think she would tell me.
.... There is more of this story ...