© Mary M. Cushnie-Mansour
Frederick had lived on the streets for years. This past winter had been particularly difficult, for two reasons. One, there had been an over-abundance of snow, which had made it difficult for him to get around, the other––Tracey.
He’d come upon Tracey one cold December night. She’d been curled up in his spot, sound asleep. At first, he’d been angry and had been prepared to give her the boot out, but then, as he stood watching her…
She was wrapped in one of his old tattered blankets. Her face was mottled with bruises, her eyes were swollen, and red lines of agony rippled down her cheeks. Her fingers were blue, nails bitten to the quick. He saw the soles of her feet through the over-worn runners.
Even he had boots, retrieved from the Goodwill Will bin. It was getting hard to salvage nowadays because the bins were emptied more often. Frederick did have a friend on the inside who watched out for some of his needs, though.
“Maybe I’ll drop by today and get the girl some things,” Frederick mumbled. He leaned against the wall, reached into his coat pocket and pulled out a bottle. It was just pop tonight––that was all he’d been able to find in the garbage can. He reached into his other pocket for his cigarette. It was three-quarters smoked––by someone else. He couldn’t figure out why someone would have thrown it away, but hey, who was he to question. He let it hang from his mouth, breathing in the taste; he had run out of matches.
Frederick awoke just before noon. The girl was gone. He cursed because his bones were brittle from the position he’d slept in. However, being a street veteran, he knew she would return to this spot at some point. He headed off to the nearest Goodwill Will bin.
“Good morning, Frederick,” a cheery voice greeted him as he walked past the store door. “Look’s like we’re in for another big storm.”
Frederick gazed at the sky. He shivered at the thought of another storm so soon.
“Want a coffee?”
“Sure, Meg … got any matches?”
Meg disappeared into the store and returned a couple minutes later with a coffee and a pack of matches. “Thanks … any new stuff in the bin?” he asked as he lit his cigarette.
“Not sure … I just started my shift. Take a look before Mike gets out there and empties it,” Meg smiled.
Frederick rummaged through the bin. He found a pair of winter boots, a coat, a hat, and some gloves; and then, his eye caught something pink in a black garbage bag. He pulled the bag apart and it revealed a beautiful quilt. “Well, I’ll be,” he smiled. “Just what she needs.” He wrapped the treasures in the blanket and headed home.
Along the way, he stopped by the french-fry wagon; Mildred always gave him a sampling. Sometimes the potatoes were a bit hard, and they hurt his gums, but they were free and filled that emptiness in the hollow of his stomach.
When Frederick arrived at his spot, there was no sign of the girl. He set the things down and wandered. At his age, it was important to keep moving, stopped the body from seizing up. In the evening, when he returned, he found her sitting in his spot, wrapped in the pink blanket and wearing the clothes. “Thank-you,” the girl whispered when she saw him.
“No problem, girlie … what’s yer name?”
“Don’t yu have a home?”
Tracey looked away. Frederick sat down beside her, and they talked deep into the night. The wind picked up; snow pellets began to fall. He listened … she was 16, pregnant, and had been kicked out of her home because of drug use––her parents didn’t know she was pregnant. When she had told her 21-year-old boyfriend, he’d gotten angry. They fought, verbally, and then he started beating on her.
She had nowhere to go, no one to turn to. She’d burned a lot of bridges. Frederick mentioned a place where she might go––better than the streets––a place where they took in young girls who were in trouble. She smiled and thanked him, then pulled a couple of chocolate bars from her pocket. When Frederick awoke the next morning, Tracey was gone.
Winter became spring, and then summer. Frederick was rummaging in the trash when he noticed the newspaper and the birth announcement: Frederick McCrew, born June 21, 2008, to Tracey. Many thanks to the nurses at the BGH, and to a friend, Frederick, who was there for me when I needed a shoulder to lean on.
Frederick grinned as he ripped out the notice. He folded it neatly and placed it in his pocket. As he headed home, there was a lightness to his step that had not been there for years!