It was already hot and muggy even though the sun was just breaking over the roof tops of the East End. Dani shuffled behind her grocery cart with its wobbly wheel, mismatched clothes draped over her frame as if carelessly tossed there by a passing giant. All her worldly possessions were tucked inside and covered beneath black garbage bags and a tattered tarp. She headed away from the camp and toward St. Agnes’ Kitchens. Dog-tired, she felt light headed; her last meal had been sometime yesterday morning. The thought of a strong cup of coffee and the relatively fresh toast which Aggie’s was noted for perked her up a bit. If she was early enough she may even manage to score an orange or an apple.
Dani scanned the length of the alleyway before entering the short cut, even at this time of the day a girl couldn’t be too careful. A quarter the way through she spotted a bag lying on the curb. When she scooped to pick it up the weight surprised her. It was heavy. Inside and pulling the bag down taut was a brand new hammer with the tags still plastered all over it. The cover of a small yellow book also peeked out. She perked up when she saw the crisp pages, but when she read the title, Pocket Handyman’s Guide, her shoulders sagged. She was too tired to even rustle up a smile for the irony.
Hefting the hammer in her hand once, she thought that perhaps she would be able to trade it for something useful. The price tag read $69.99. Who in their right mind would pay seventy dollars for a hammer? What is the world coming to, she thought. She hammered an imaginary nail once before she stuck it inside the bundle in her cart and then moved on.
That evening when she returned to the homeless camp located under the scant protection of the freeway overpass she checked to see how Sadie was feeling before she hobbled to her site. There was nothing much to indicate that someone had been using this space as home for nine months, perhaps the flattened ground beneath the thick brush, or the circle of blackened rocks and cold coals. It was only when she pulled out her sleeping bag and the hammer fell an inch from her toes that she remembered it.
Clouds had been building all day and now the sky was already black even though the sun had just set. Soon after Dani snuggled into her covers a drizzle began to fall in thick, warm, oily drips but she managed to stay dry until after midnight. When the sound of thunder reverberating around the concrete bunkers woke her the skies opened up and it began to pour. She squirmed farther under the thick branches, hugging her clothes to her body and pulling the plastic over all the exposed areas. But the water seeped in anyway.
The next morning dawned blue and sparkly clean. Dani sat on a large black boulder down by the river and steam rose off her wet clothes when the sun finally cleared the treetops. Her expression was blank as the sluggish current rippled by unconcerned with her predicament. Black circles were painted on the thin skin beneath her eyes.
Someone once had asked her if she liked her lifestyle. “It must feel pretty free not to have to worry about the daily grind,” the twenty-something guy had said, sounding a bit envious.
“As if this is fucking freedom,” Dani said out loud. This wasn’t a fucking choice. She didn’t pick this lifestyle over the drudgery of modern living. And she wasn’t a crack whore with only the next hit to live for. It had either been this, or a death sentence at the hands of her unhinged husband.
The barrel of a 45mag had rested against her forehead one too many times. Nine months ago she had fled with only the clothes on her back and no shoes on her feet. And because he was the “big man” in charge of the departments which oversaw all the homeless shelters, that avenue was closed to her.
Dani sat on her boulder hugging the hammer to her chest and while her thoughts revolved in bitter cycles her gaze moved past the campground and settled on the industrial dump on the other side of the fence. It was only after a good five minutes of looking at the stacks and stacks of discarded broken pallets lying a few dozen meters away that a sudden thought leapt into her head.
Quickly she dug though her bags and pulled the small booklet out and opened it to the first page. “Are you tired of having no control over your life?” it asked. “Welcome to your new independence and life of self-reliance.”
Dani hefted the hammer in her hand, then looked at the piles of waste materials, and finally at the handyman’s guide in her hand and she smiled.
“Hammer” by HomeSpot HQ . flickr.com. Some rights reserved.
“summer house with a roof” by Joan. flickr.com. Some rights reserved.