It would not be long for old Ella, Joe thought.
Slumping, with hunched shoulders, she rocked gently on the hard bench. With her only warm garment being a bright red scarf, she averted her eyes from him, hummed a broken tune, and shuffled her feet in an effort to outrun the cold.
Joe said to her “I’ll be gone for about half an hour, Ella, but I will come back with something to keep us warm.” Used to empty promises, she chuckled sardonically and idly waved him away. Joe was hoping the last dumpster he had seen on his travels had not been emptied as of yet.
True to his promise, he returned with a sheet of dirty foam rubber and a discarded reel of wire. These he spread out on the sidewalk. “Ella, I want you to lay down here. I’m gonna keep you warm for the night.” “You crazy?” she said, but, before she could protest further, he picked her up, laid her down on the foam sheet, and rolled her up as neat as you please, her scarlet scarf visibly entwined between the layers. With the wire, he tied up the package in two places, just below her feet and around her shoulders. “There you are, the human Jelly Roll! Or….or….a winter cocoon, soon to be a summer butterfly! You warm now?” Her sad eyes said a thank you, and there was a thin lipped smile. She made as if to sleep.
Joe boxed himself in the thick old appliance carton he carried as a backpack, did up the buttons that still remained on his jacket, and tried to settle in for the night. Within ten minutes, he knew it was no good. The wind had picked up, and fingers or toes would be frostbitten by the morning. He got up, and went hunting down the steep slope of the ravine not far from them. As Heaven would have it, someone had ignored the NO DUMPING sign and he found a green garbage bag full of discarded clothing. It was his turn for a wan smile, and, before long, he was snoring in his own cocoon.
Our curtain now closes on the darkling scene: A sleeping jellyroll dozing on the park bench, grateful for the warmth. A crude igloo of cardboard beside her, all hands on deck, all blinds drawn. If one peered into the waning light, one would see, through glittery snowflakes filtering down, the word REFRIGERATEUR on his side door, shown out by the fizzling beam of a faulty streetlight.
previous Joe stories are