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THE BAG LADY'S CHRISTMAS  (revised vignette)

© by Pam Barletta

I saw her from across the street
digging through the garbage pails.
I felt my heart retreat a beat;
sucked in wails, repressed the cries
that rushed like sprinter's thighs inside my chest,
needing to be expressed in some fashion.

I succumbed to mixed compassion and disdain,
allowed hot tears to drain down my cheeks
and drip onto what was left of my Danish.
Appetite gone, I choked and coughed on the bite of roll.
Wished for sweet air to breathe!
Wished she wasn't there to see me.
Wished I didn't care what she saw!

I dared myself another look through the diner window,
paused to straighten my backbone.
Paused to flank my rage.
How had this character come to be on my story's page?
I was, admittedly, my own worst captor.
Perhaps I'd only dreamed this chapter?

Something about her...
I sensed a connection,
something in the distance, maybe,
but she had caught my raptor in one brief instant!
By chance?

What was it that made me recall my first waltz;
The dance of a lifetime,
my kindest Love, our wedding day,
Memories fast asleep; forever to keep in a shroud
as she forced them back into a foggy cloud of remembrance.

My rage began to ebb as I saw them all,
Dead! Dead! Dead!  My husband, my children
had died in their beds the coroner said.
Painlessly, shot in their heads, I was told,
as though that would quell my delirium;
forgive the scum who had killed them...
Painlessly!  They said!                                    

The memory vanished like a magician's staff.
To hold it any longer would have meant my certain death,
though I endlessly wished for it!

Finally, I did glance in her direction.
There was no deception here!
She, was still digging through the scraps.
Then without warning held up a can of beer,
suddenly stopped and looked right back at me!
Startled, like a frightened doe, I stared at
her demeanor.
Distraught, I fought the anguish in my thoughts;
I knew her fear,
knew her heart begged and rejected simultaneously.
Yet, I was sickened by the sight of her!

Filth embraced her wrinkled face;
nose and cheeks red-purple frozen,
Winter frost had spoken.
Teeth all lost to malnutrition,
Was there no redemption?
How could she dig like a sow through swill
for a morsel tossed out from a garbage pail?
I would starve, or steal!  I thought.
But part of me knew those options weren't real.

She studied me, hauntingly.
A chill shot through my body.
Christmas eve; cold, I thought.
But I needed her to stop!
I heard voices of caroler's in the distant night.
"Oh come all Ye Faithful, Joyful and triumphant..."
Oh, how I hated that song!

Just then the Diner lights went out.
Thank God! I wanted to shout!

My reflection in the glass disappeared
as I silently went on digging about, when Eureka!
a stale, half-bitten biscuit appeared
to save for Christmas Dinner...

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