This story deals with homelessness and death.
The Tumbleweed had blown into the bar. It was a busy Friday night because the “somewhere” in the phrase, “it’s five o'clock somewhere” was finally here. Men in fancy button downs with watches the size of their fists approached the women with bright, red, glossy lips who flipped their hair extensions over their shoulders lazily at them. Music blared loudly. But not as loudly as some of the women attempting to laugh at lame pick up lines. This modern saloon was an oasis for all gathered.
The bar keeper had noticed the Tumbleweed, but only once he was done serving specialty cocktails in tiny glasses to the blondes and brunettes with long legs who dotted his bar. He lumbered over to the corner where the Tumbleweed remained tucked into a shadow and hollered with frustration. He stared down at the Tumbleweed. The bar keeper’s calloused fingers of his right hand ensnared the Tumbleweed, dragging the nuisance across sticky, black floor-through peanut shells, burger wrappers, and human saliva from loud conversations and the one bar fight that broke out late last night. All the patrons watched in discomfort, nibbling on nails or looking intently at the floor in an attempt to look anywhere at the Tumbleweed. The left hand slammed the worn, wooden door open and then closed.
The Tumbleweed landed on the sidewalk in the heat of the autumn sun. The Tumbleweed rested. And then, a breeze began pushing the Tumbleweed along the concrete. The Tumbleweed tripped over small racks and stones that lingered from days past. The air was perfumed with the scent of barbeque from the restaurant across from the bar. The Tumbleweed was blown into the back alley.
Large, green trash cans loomed over the Tumbleweed like skyscrapers. Their contents festered and rotted in the warmth of the day. Insects and street rats had found a paradise in this alleyway. They dove, deep, into the mountains of trash. Their leathery tongues reached out for a sip from hot, brown beer bottles. They bred in passionate pools of water. The Tumbleweed remained pressed against the heat of the metal. Echoes of laughter and conversation danced out into the alleyway. As the sun began to fade long, spindles of light began to fill the alleyway. They reached out each time someone opened the doors of the bars, the boutiques, and the restaurants who stored their trash in this alleway. Each of the doors slammed shut, quickly to not allow the stench of their own waste, into their paradise. When the door was closed, the Tumbleweed was left, abandoned in darkness.
There was a soft thump as three more big, black bags with thin yellow ties were added to the pile of the can that the Tumbleweed now called home. The bar keeper kicked at the Tumbleweed, wedged into a corner. The alleyway came to life as the creatures who called it home dove away from the tyrant raging above them. Each blow grew stronger in anger and disgust as he began to yell obscenities. In one instant, the alleyway had turned into a scene from a monster movie with innocents dodging giant’s footsteps raining down from above. The bar keeper’s thick, rubber soles destroyed the sanctuaries of warm puddles. His broad shoulders knocked into the trash cans, sending trash rushing down like avalanches on the sleeping rats.
The Tumbleweed began to drift down the dark alleyway and the barkeeper threw open the back door; his long list of clean up tasks wouldn’t be completed tonight. The floors would never really be swept and mopped. The bar would be wiped down with an old, smelly, gray rag. The bar keeper knew he’d use the same one to wipe out the cups. But, hey, at least he managed to deal with the trash.
It was nighttime; the wind had begun to blow cold. Young couples cuddled together. Men wrapped their sports coats around the silken, supple shoulders of their partners. Some of the women stumbled slightly in their stiltesque high heels. Alcohol had warmed their bellies and impaired their judgement.
The men jeered at the Tumbleweed. They pulled their women out of the Tumbleweed’s path, clutching at their thin waists while their women squealed like stuck pigs. Nonetheless, the wind pushed the Tumbleweed along. The starry night sky was a secret hidden by the intense street lights and bright billboards advertising food, drink, and beauty. The night waned on until all the young couples had retired to their bedrooms and the Tumbleweed was left alone with the crickets who were chirping softly. Most of the mosquitos had left after the frenzy of feeding at dusk, but some lingered, finding late night snacks on the backs of innocent birds or the occasional squirrel hurrying home for the night.
Main Street was no longer bustling. The occasional vehicle wooshed by the Tumbleweed with a blinding flash of light. The gust of warm air pushed the Tumbleweed forward, faster than the night wind. Occasionally, if the Tumbleweed was trapped at a stoplight, the driver’s window would slowly open, exposing a wrathful face which would jeer before the engine would roar to life.
Morning arrived gently. She was an angel who tugged at the sun; slowly, waking up the world as she danced across the sky. High in the trees of the city park, birds began their morning songs and their morning hunts. The Tumbleweed was the silent guest at their breakfast tables as they devoured worms and insects. Their wings spread out wide against a cloudless sky as their beady eyes searched the ground of their next meal.
The Tumbleweed had landed in the dewy grass of a local playground area the evening before. Within a few hours, the park began to fill up. Families gathered, children began to chase each other, relishing in the lingering autumn warmth. The parents sought the park every morning as a new found part of their routine because it was an opportunity to let the little ones tucker themselves out. They didn’t notice right away that the wind had pushed the Tumbleweed beneath the water fountain. Maybe if they had, they would have walked by in their ginormous, black strollers covered in cracker dust.
Occasionally, children would bend down to the Tumbleweed. Their eyes, wide like saucers, would bore into the Tumbleweed. Their small, grimy fingers reached out, hoping for a touch. But like a sixth sense, the watchful eye of parents and nannies snapped up just as the hairs on the backs of their necks stood up. In an instant they arrived from their perch on the black, metal benches to rush the innocent away from the Tumbleweed. They were moved out of the way of the Tumbleweed’s path as the wind picked up again.
Night blanketed the Tumbleweed who had settled onto a local park bench. The Tumbleweed closed his eyes. He pulled his black sweatshirt, covered in holes and dirt, around his shoulders.
In his dreams, he was returned to the safety of the desert. Hawks soared above in deep, blue skies. The cacti, long and tall, replaced the trashcans of the alleyway as skyscrapers. At his feet he saw the long, green and brown bodies of lizards. The Tumbleweed was once again a limber child. He could bend down to inspect the pools of water from the night before. He could stretch his limbs and catch beetles in his hands. Small insects scurried over his toes, bringing laughter to his doe eyes. The Tumbleweed sat on a large, warm, sun-worn, red boulder. The sky was painted red, pink, and purple as sunset faded. When was the last time he had bothered to watch the sun set?
He was awoken by the club of a police officer who loomed over him in a blue uniform. The Officer yelled at the Tumbleweed who reached to gather his worn, black backpack. When the Tumbleweed looked at the boy, he found fear looming over trembling green eyes, beads of sweat gathered in the temples. His uniform hung loosely on his body and made him look three times skinnier than he actually was. He grabbed at the Tumbleweed, forcing him to stand. A well used ceramic cup shattered on the sidewalk. Tears filled his eyes as the sting of humiliation bore deep into his soul.
The Tumbleweed returned to wandering. His only friend for the past 25 years had been the wind. He left behind the park, feeling familiar hunger pains. All around him, large blotches of red, orange, and yellow filled the air. He paused to pick up one leaf, but groaned at the aches and pains emanating from his knees. The Tumbleweed crossed busy streets and shook a dirty baseball cap at anyone who was caught making eye contact. A few loose coins chattered against each other like teeth. Eventually, he stood in front of the old brick building that all tumbleweeds returned to in this town. The hairs on his arm stood up in the cold as he pushed open the front door.
A young woman with her blonde hair in a messy bun greeted him, “Sweetheart, haven’t seen you in a while. Let’s get you cleaned up.” She handed him a bag of toiletries and a towel. He followed her perfect white tennis shoes back to the showers, a trail of mud left in his wake. She offered to take his backpack, saying that they had just got in a fresh donation from the local church of gently used bags, coats, and backpacks, but he held tight to his old black one like a life raft in the raging sea of life. It was soaked within moments of turning on the shower. The Tumbleweed allowed the hot water to pour over his flesh, stinging the open wounds from his many sustained beatings. Afterwards, he stood at a steamy mirror, watching grease swirl in the pools of water in the cracks on the ceramic sink. He brushed his teeth and cried in pain as blood filled his mouth and he pulled out a couple loose teeth.
The woman had placed a sweat suit on a bench outside the shower. She had also placed a brand new, purple backpack beside it. The Tumbleweed shuffled into the baggy outfit and returned to the kitchen, his soaking wet backpack dripping on the floor. “Supper in an hour, love,” called the woman. He took a seat on a metal bench, watching as youths completed their volunteer hours dishing out green beans, turkey, and stuffing. Many leaves had blown inside and there were a few cheerful turkeys lining the walls; what’s so cheerful about dying, wondered the Tumbleweed. The cafeteria became crowded and hot as the homeless population shuffled in for Thanksgiving supper. The Tumbleweed was first in line to get his meal. He stood, trembling as the servers offered a bottle of water and a slice of apple pie for dessert. He smiled at the young girl with dark curls and a red ribbon. She cringed and turned her back on him. His smile faded. As soon as his belly was full, he felt exhaustion return. He sat, slumped against the white brick wall.
In his dreams, the Tumbleweed was returned to the desert. Only this time, he was a young man. The sun was bright and beautiful all around him. He was smoking with Delilah. She was laughing with him, kissing him, loving him. He closed his eyes to lean into her and the sky began to fade. Slowly, she began to dance away and he called for her, “I thought you were dead!” Delilah turned and smiled at him, her big, brown eyes filled with joy. She beckoned him. The Tumbleweed gazed at the horizon before him. It was a deep orange and bright yellow. He listened to the animals as they debriefed each other about their days. He walked into the sunset. In her embrace, he found warmth and peace for the first time in years.