The Way Things Were

Every day was the same, now. At first, she’d refused to move, to eat, to anything. She resented having to go to the bathroom. She would all but bare her teeth at anyone who got too close. As time went on, a schedule grew up around the facts that were, for the moment, immovable.

This was the way things were.

She would get up at a patently unreasonable hour and pick up all the newspapers, print the overnight newsfeeds, grab any new tabloids or magazines that seemed relevant, get a pack of smokes, two coffees, a greasy paper bag of breakfast things that would stop someone’s heart just from looking at it.

She would sit in the same chair, chewing on a pencil, holding a cigarette in one hand, a pen in the other, making notes. She stayed, working, as long as she thought she could, before she had to go out and make money. ‘Active panhandling,’ she had called it. ‘What, like busking?’ he had once asked. His scorn, however playful, had been scalding. She would dump the wallets and cards in different locations, busing around the various boroughs so she wasn’t ever in one location for too long. Not many people carried cash anymore; it wasn’t as easy as it used to be. Sometimes it was watches, jewelry, full-on purses. She had more than one fence now — she’d had to, after the police picked up her favorite on a long-ago pedo charge.

If it hadn’t been for him, she wouldn’t have been trying so hard; shelters sucked, and the world was cold in winter, but she wouldn’t have had to keep up with rent and utilities. She couldn’t leave the place to nothing — what if he –? What if?

When she scraped enough for the day, she would go back, exhausted and drained, and she’d shower, and maybe manage to eat, but whatever the state of things, she was always back at the same time, at the same place.

It was the same feeling she got — a mix of dread and hope, a weird butterfly feeling, warm and queasy, wonderful and awful all at once — every time she came in, every time she saw him. She sat next to him and stared at him, and stared at the machines, and the IV, and the thin blankets, and his pale skin, and the scruff at his lip and jaw, and the tousled hair, and the closed eyes.

She stripped off one of her gloves and laid her hand next to his, fingertips barely touching.

Except for the string of fiery invective aimed at an errant cabbie who barely missed her coming around a corner a few weeks ago, she hadn’t spoken in three months.

Didn’t look like it was going to change any time soon.

She curled her fingers around his and laid her head on the edge of the bed, watching him.

She wasn’t much, but she was loyal.

This was the way things were.

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