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I Just Need a Shower

by Michael Crone 2 months ago in Short Story
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Surrounded by a world full of people, yet never more alone.

I awake from a beautiful dream. The usual. Hurried footsteps clacking on pavement. I peek my head out from underneath my shell of warmth and watch as the people rush past. Most of them ignore me. A few of them make eye contact but barely linger long. I know a few of them wish they could help but life drags them onward. I wonder if any of them think of me throughout their day? Maybe they feel guilty for not dropping a coin. Maybe they think about how they could have saved the sandwich they just tossed in the trash. After their brief moment of empathy, they move on and forget.

A warm breeze. The first signs of spring. My body aches for it. After months in the cold, the slightest change in temperature is welcome. This winter I was lucky enough to have a sleeping bag. It used to be my friend Lucie's. She died last year. Pneumonia. It’s been lonely ever since. One would think being in the city would make my situation easier but, to be honest, people don’t care that I exist. A few give me money. Mostly because they want to feel good about themselves. I can see the judgmental look in their eyes as they do. Wondering why I can’t find work and need to bang on some drums. That’s the usual judgment cast on me when people see my scraggly beard and take a whiff. Same reason I can’t get a job. Too many thoughts. Forget this. I’m too drained to think on humanity right now. I need to get moving and see what I can make of the day.

“I told you if you came in here again I’d be calling the cops!”

“I just need a shower, man.”

“Last chance. Get the hell out or spend the night in jail, Pal!”

That was a bust. Guess I won’t be showering. That means no job interviews. How do I even find a job? I don’t have the internet or a phone. Maybe a library? I’m sure they have public access to the internet. I could set up an email. Then I’d have to make sure I can check it. Am I allowed in the library? Where is the library? It all seems so daunting. Especially with my stomach roaring at me. I could focus on jobs later. Right now I needed to get money so I could eat. I used to make money playing guitar but frostbite took a few of my fingers last year. I’ve switched to bucket drums. I’m not as good, so not as much cash in it, but better than just completely begging. The least I can do is work for my money. If I show the universe I’m willing to work, maybe something good will come of it. Maybe I’m just overly optimistic. For now, I’ll just let the beat travel through me and out onto my drums and hope for the best.

The warmth of the chicken sub and the crisp water make it hard not to be grateful. I savor every bite. My stomach hasn’t been this full in some time. I count the rest of my change. Enough for a subway ride downtown. It’s always a blessing when I can find a way to get to the busiest areas. Sleeping on the subway for as long as I could rejuvenated me a bit. The sound of the rails always soothes my mind and people usually avoid me. After being kicked off, I search for a good spot at street level. Underground is not the safest. Easier to hide up top. I find it next to a ventilation shaft spewing warm air, tucked away in a corner. As I wrap myself in my sleeping bag I listen to the song of the city. Car horns honking. An alarm in the distance. A couple laughing as they walk by, lost in their bliss. I drifted off to sleep thankful for today.

It is Mid-spring. The trees are blossoming and the days grow longer. The city begins to thaw from its winter slumber. I’m still on the streets. It doesn’t seem to matter how much I try… how much work I put in… how grateful I am! Nothing changes. I earn money but it fluctuates. Somedays I make enough to eat three solid meals; Other days I barely make enough for one. The people who give, give what they can. The ones who could give the most don’t give at all. I watch them as they speed past me, briefcases in hand, suits and ties looking sharp and clean. I try to ask them for help finding a job. They look at me as if I’m speaking another language and bury themselves deeper into their phone conversations. Cursing at me as they go. You get used to the same types of people. My positivity fluctuates almost as much as my money. Some days it is easy to see the beauty and be thankful. Other days not so much. Sometimes I think it’d be easier to end it all.

I’ve recently been getting kicked out of my usual spots. When tourism picks up the cops say I’m a nuisance. I should have prepared better this year. Instead, I allow myself to get pushed to the outskirts of the city. During the warmer months, the center of the city is packed with tourists. Unfortunately, the police make it almost impossible to get downtown and the officers are looking for reasons to fill their quotas. A lot of us never make it back from being pushed to the outer limits. No money means no food or the means to travel. People starve. Most die from sickness or infection. Some are arrested or they just get stuck. I’ve been lucky enough to make it back every year but these months take so much out of me. By the time winter arrives, I feel like I’m back at square one. I still try my hardest though. All I need is enough money for a night in a room. Then I could shower and get my life on track.

Summer has arrived and it is blistering. The metal buildings reflect the sun in every direction and ground level feels like an oven. Even at night it is hard to get away from the heat. The humid days are the worst. Smothering and hard to breathe. I’ve started saving money for a hotel. Unfortunately for me, that means less food. I know the sacrifice will be worth it. I look for something to take my mind off the endless hunger.

“I’ll take it over the cold any day.” My buddy says, slurring his words and nodding off. He is less of a buddy and more the monkey on my back. Heroine. It takes the hunger and the sadness away. Unfortunately, it also takes my money… but I keep coming back. It starts the same every time. A free sample and I’m hooked. Not this time though. No. This time it will be different. This time I’m not using because I’m addicted. This time I’m using because it takes away the hunger. It’s a tool to keep me moving. Just like medicine. It will allow me to save more money in the long run and then I’ll be able to get that room… that shower… that job.

Tonight we are lucky enough to find a spot in the park to sleep. Most of the time the officers will kick us out. This time we’ve tucked ourselves amongst some trees and bushes so nobody will bother us. A few stars peek through the treetops. It’s not often that I see them through the light pollution. A glance of heaven; Peace in the city. I surrender and drift off to nothingness. Sweet nothingness.

Fall. I’m going through withdrawals. I’ve got no money saved. My plan has failed. I don’t know why I thought I could handle it differently this time. I thought I was using it for a purpose but in reality, I was just addicted again. I lay on the side of the street shivering and shaking. I go through cold sweats and hot flashes in a matter of minutes. I hallucinate people as monsters and demons and cry out in fear. People believe I am insane. A few of them chuckle to themselves or laugh at me with their friends. People film me on their phones. I beg for help but no one seems to hear me. Some of them even run away scared.

After a few weeks, I’m finally sober. Not feeling the greatest. My energy levels are low and my mind is still twisted. I have a constant voice in the back of my head telling me to use again. Thankfully the logical voice in my head has returned and is louder than the drugs. I realize how much time I’ve wasted. I also realize winter is coming. My sleeping bag got stolen. I must have lost it at some point during my withdrawal. I am much more frail and weak than in the spring. I’m worried I won’t survive. Only a couple of months to raise enough money to get my life on track. I needed a miracle.

As another month goes by I decide to swallow my pride and begin going to the shelter. To be honest, I never wanted to take advantage of it but I have no choice. Food is rare. I’m only allowed to stay two nights a week but the extra meals and comfortable bed are well worth it. I visit the hotspots as often as I can, even if I have to walk to them. I work throughout the night and early into the morning. I am constantly exhausted, constantly hungry and I feel winter growing near. The warm days and cold nights have left me with a nasty dry cough, which means more people avoid me. I’ve started attending church. They have lunch on Saturdays and kindly welcome me. People avoid me here as well. I don’t mind. It’s been nice to get some spiritual nourishment after years without.

As winter arrives I find myself praying a lot. My cough is wet. The first month goes by and I don’t have enough energy to carry my drums. I resort to begging but my cough makes me a leper. My chest grows tighter. Every time I breathe I feel like someone is squeezing my airways. The shelter turned me away because I am sick. I didn’t know where else to turn so I headed for the church.

I don’t remember falling asleep or being carried inside. I tried to open my eyes but the lids barely lifted. I felt one thousand pounds on my chest. I passed in and out of consciousness a few times before allowing myself to succumb. They had a doctor come and check on me. I already knew I was dead before he announced it. Severe pneumonia. Just like my friend Lucy. The pastor who found me stayed beside my bed until I passed. They did everything they could for me. I hold no grudges. They helped me when nobody else would and for that I'm grateful.

I think back now on what I could have done differently… I just wasn’t built for this world. Maybe I was just a tool to test humanity's empathy and compassion and that’s why I encountered so much resistance. Maybe it was God’s way of trying to build an unbreakable faith. Or maybe I was making up for a horrible past life. Whatever the reason, I try to take solace in the fact that I looked for the beauty in life and kept faith in humanity, even when it was hard to find. Unfortunately, my story ended like so many others. Surrounded by a world full of people, yet never more alone.

Short Story

About the author

Michael Crone

Fiction, Poetry, and everything in between. Hints of life and love in every story. The world we share comes to life within the words of the page. Thank you for taking the time to read and enjoy.

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Excellent work. Looking forward to reading more!

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  1. Heartfelt and relatable

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Comments (9)

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  • Adam Stanbridgeabout a month ago

    Well done. This story was exceptional. It reminded me of the friends I've had that ended up homeless and how close I came quite a few times. Fortunately for me, I had friends that would always give me a couch to crash on. But it was close so many times and that was a worry. I was hoping against hope he'd get that shower but that's not always the way the world works and this story reflects that. Bravo well done.

  • Daniel Joseph 2 months ago

    This is so nice

  • Mary Haynes2 months ago

    I’m so glad I took the time to read. The writing is tight and the imagery palpable. I empathized with the storyteller, but also liked that you included his perspective of what others thought when they encountered him.

  • Georgenes Medeiros2 months ago

    Very good. Keep writing. You're great..

  • Lisa Ayala 2 months ago

    wow...I had so many emotions reading this story. I truly commend the author for not holding back on the cold hard truth of how it really is for a person whos homeless. You are so brave! I'm 27 yrs old and living out of my car. its been about 8 months, and I can definitely relate to how this man is feeling on most aspects. You have gained a subscriber out of me! If anyone likes, I too have slowly been working up the courage to share my story. Except mine are my journal entries I have written since the time I began experiencing homelessness , up unto this very day.

  • #KristinaWrites2 months ago

    OMGoodness… This is so very well written! Thank you for sharing this.

  • test2 months ago

    Really really enjoyed this. It had such a sad, heartbreaking ending, but it's a good reminder to think more about those around us!

  • Michelle Fowler2 months ago

    Your story is beautiful. It can be hard for me to stay focused on a story, but yours had me captivated. Well written and thought provoking.

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