Submitted into Contest #96 in response to: Write about a character who has to rely on the hospitality of strangers.... view prompt


Contemporary Fiction

Caution suicidal thoughts but happy endings:

It was another dismal day and Jake was annoyed. He stood watching the seashore aware of the turmoil inside him; realising that with every wave broken at the water’s edge, his breathing was slower. Huh! who was he kidding? It was the cigarette periodically between his lips and mostly between his fingers! It was the only thing keeping him warm and stress-free. Even in this, he was confused. Another job interview was over another waste of time. No one wanted a broken has been of a man of no fixed address and who managed to shower before the interview, but that would be it for a while. If it were not for the Salvation Army shelter… Jake was depressed, his budget could not afford a beer. At forty-five with qualifications hidden in the battered suitcase; which were of little use to anyone, and experience and trials behind him, he now could not get a job as a storeman, let along the chosen path he knew and loved. He watched the waves gently touch the sand and considered his options. Wouldn’t it be easier to end it all? Was it not better than sleeping under the stars amid the rubbish and others in his position? What manner of man would stoop this low and survive? He simply couldn’t take anymore.

An hour and two cigarettes later, Jake was walking towards the pier. He had made his mind up. He would be a different kind of statistic, but no one would care; least of all the ‘princess’ in his life, his former wife, Yonah. She who professed to love him, ran off with another, who, gossip had it, was a successful entertainer. To Jake’s mind, far more glamorous than nursing. He took a last loving look at the beach knowing full well that the discovery of a body would have the media in a frenzy. He nearly laughed but proceeded to the pier. Edging closer to the spot, he was distracted by a woman, whom he was judged middle-aged, seeking attention, and in a panic.

“Help! Oh, Help me.” that frantic feminine pitch accentuated the panic. The woman had a child beside her, a little boy who also looked bewildered and guilty.

“Help,” she said again, “my granddaughter… over there, she fell, into the water, she’ll drown.” she pointed a little further down from where Jake stood. Taking his jacket off, he jumped into the water heedless of his best clothes. He swam strong strokes, and spotting the little girl, lifted her and brought her back to the pier. She was close to lifeless. Placing her gently on the pier floor he picked up his jacket and pushed it under her head. The woman had a jacket ready to put over the little one, but too shaken to assist. Jake looked up to the gathered crowd.

“Will someone call an ambulance please!” An onlooker nodded and spoke into his mobile phone, the woman watched on, teary now, and only just managing to keep it together.

Jake, on automatic pilot, performed CPR without hesitation. A crowd had gathered. Given his obvious dishevelment, he could imagine the sly looks, or the careful nose rubs indicating the pungent aroma that enveloped him. He was now cold but persistently carried on with the task at hand. Eventually, the child took a breath, followed by another, then her eyes fluttered. Meanwhile, the ambulance had arrived. An officer was watching. She tapped Jake on the shoulder.

“Well done! Where…?” she gasped “Why it’s Jake… Jake Carson.” He looked at her. So, she was still an ambo, brave girl.

“Hullo Coral” there was awkwardness “um the patient?” his look spoke volumes.

“Yes, thanks again; she will be okay having been in your care.” Coral looked embarrassed as she took over and made the child as comfortable as possible.

Jake stood still watching proceedings, long-forgotten memories washing over him. Well, he had saved a child’s life perhaps that made up for… He sensed that there was someone behind him.

“Well done, Jake” it was a familiar voice, one of the other people from the shelter.

“You need a good meal inside you after that and a sleep. Come with me.” the man laughed “I think you need a new suit too.” Jake nodded still in a state of shock.

“What were you doing on the pier?” the man asked

Jake just looked at him, embarrassed and ashamed.

“Oh mate, is it that bad?” the pastor was visibly shaken “come back with me to the shelter, is your stuff still there?”

Jake nodded “Who has the reprieve?” he wondered.

Jake Carson was once a nurse at a major hospital. He was very happy in the job and took extra shifts where practicable. He kept himself to himself, had a reputation for having a good rapport with staff and the patients in his care, except one who blamed him for giving the wrong medication resulting in a medical setback. Jake was simply doing his job, but the culprit got away and the patient was someone important. He was unceremoniously dumped, could not meet his financial commitments and had nowhere but the shelter to go to. He was not to know then just how much life would change.

 Joyce Mason sat beside the patient, relieved that they were approaching the hospital. Beside her, Paul watched his sister anxiously then began to cry.

“What’s wrong Paul?” she asked

“We were fighting, Grandma. She could be dead.”

“She’s not dead mate,” said Coral who had been watching Paul “the man who looked after her, saved your sister’s life. She could have slipped accidentally into the water, you may have done nothing. We now need to know how badly she has been hurt. Grandma will look after you, while I look after your sister.”

In answer, Joyce took Paul’s hand

“Who was the man?” asked Joyce

“Someone I knew through work” answered Coral “Word has it he was unfairly dismissed, a trumped-up offence.” she looked up at Joyce “looks like he is not working now.”

“He should be,” said Joyce. “He saved our Pippa’s life.” Joyce could not get that thought out of her head.

It was all over the news, and indeed the newspapers. Jane was interviewed, Paul was asked a question.  Meanwhile, Pippa was observed overnight and her Mum, Emma, hovered anxiously. She was happy to hear that her little girl was well enough to be discharged in the morning. They went back to Grandma’s to find that Grandpa Frank was there too.

Over coffee, the previous day’s events were discussed

“How come you were at the beach Mum?” asked Emma “it’s not the weather for swimming.”

“Why does it bother you, Emma?”  Joyce sensed trouble ahead

“Well, it’s just that you know how I feel about…”

“It’s just you don’t like the idea of a stinky young man saving your daughter’s life is that it? Or that Grandma has proved too feeble to be a babysitter; in which case stay home, look after your children and let your husband be the sole breadwinner.”


“What?” it was the look from Frank that silenced Emma.

“We can give a donation to the homeless… I guess” Emma said as though thinking aloud.

“Which one is best; the homeless all sleep on the streets, and who can guarantee that this fellow would benefit?” Joyce knew she was dangerously low on patience.

“Mum, darling I have an idea. Why don’t we leave the kids with Dad until John comes, and poke around locally?  Is there a…what’s the word?”

“Shelter?” Joyce brightened “yes near the beach. What a good idea, Em. Frank?”

“I’ve got an idea Joyce but I will let you do this task first. Come on kids let’s go outside.” he winked at Emma as he left. It was time to get the wheels in motion.

They made enquiries in the village and saw the shelter. Not only did the staff know of the young man called Jake he was there. They sat quietly in the shelter’s canteen. Emma gave Jacob what she had in her purse promising more. He was close to tears looking sensing a new chapter ahead.

“Jake Carter?” said Frank “I wondered what happened to him.”

“Frank? Dad?” his ladies were agog

“He was the scapegoat at that hospital, that is now closed. The culprit was eventually caught but no one had the guts to make amends to Jacob. Joyce, Emma I have an idea.”

Frank made some enquiries. He also opened up the Granny flat at the end of their property. All it needed was a lick of paint. Meanwhile, he joined Joyce on her visit to see Jake.

“You have no idea what a pleasure it is to meet you, Jake,” said Frank “I understand you have fallen on hard times.”

Jake nodded tears close

“My wife and I would like to help you if we can; after all our granddaughter is hale and hearty. We have a tiny granny flat at the back of our property. It is yours if you would like it rent-free for a while if necessary.”

Oh, but you don’t know me. I…”

“I do know of you Jake. If you were the kind of man the board suggested, you would not have saved a life.”

“Frank Mason, the Frank Mason of Mason Electrics a board member.”

“Indeed, I am” Frank laughed “my father was well treated by you, Jake, he spoke highly of you. What do you say?”

“Yes, oh yes.”

The big day had arrived. Joyce looked out of the kitchen window, spotting Frank, tidying up, as he put the finishing touches to the Granny flat once used by her father-in-law for a number of years. It was repainted and almost ready; Frank was a stickler for things being tidy. Though tiny, the flat would be private. As theirs was a corner block, there was another entrance to the property, which would suit family members or any other potential tenant alike. Short term they had a plan, the long term was as yet unseen. Joyce and Frank were excited nonetheless.

 Joyce hurried outside, carrying two steaming mugs of coffee

“All done love?” she asked as she approached her husband

“Yep, come see for yourself,” said Frank smiling

Hurrying down the path up the ramp and into the flat, Joyce gasped. Frank had even found the cases with his father’s clothes, the best of these hung in the wardrobe. It would start Jake off.

“Oh Frank, he will love this. It is tiny but…”

“Compared with what he has had, Joyce, it will be a mansion.” he closed the door to the ensuite bathroom “he will be warm or cool at any rate.”

“I wonder what the neighbours will think?” mused Joyce

“I don’t give a fig, darl. Let them talk until they are blue. A judgemental lot of snakes live close by. They would not give you the time of day if your watch was broken,” he laughed “I would not be one bit worried about what the neighbours think, love!”

It was approaching midday. After a long walk pushing and carrying his meagre belongings, a young man gazed at what would be his home. Joyce saw a friendly face crossing the street towards the gate.

“Jake.” she hurried to meet him and hugged him. He was embarrassed.

“Come in, you remember Frank?” she asked

“Indeed yes.” said Jacob “how are you, Mr Mason?”

“Frank’s the name, mate, and this dear lady prefers to be called Joyce” Frank gestured towards the flat “Well, this is it for however long you need it, Jake,” said Frank

All three of them went into the flat smiling. What manner of people would offer a stranger a home? Those who see the pearl beyond the sand.

June 04, 2021 06:47

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