I rush to catch the streetcar
before it pulls away from the intersection
of Canal and Carondelet. I'm at the Don't
Walk sign when I see the doors close. The
bell rings, and the streetcar leaves.
Knowing I'll be late for work anyway I dig
through my purse for the change to get a
newspaper. My lipstick falls out and rolls
toward the wall of the Katz and Bestoff building.
I push the rest of the stuff that's trying
to fall out of my purse down inside and I
hurry after the lipstick. It continues to
roll down the sidewalk toward a huge cardboard
box that's covered on top with tarpaper.
The box has a newspaper curtain taped at
the top of a cut-out.
The lipstick rolls under the newspaper and
into the homeless guy's home.
I've avoided looking at the homeless guy
for months. Sometimes I think I have the
worst luck in the world. This particular
homeless guy is convinced he knows me. When
anyone else passes, if he happens to be sitting
outside his box, he holds a tin can up to
them, but he doesn't look at them. "Help
the poor," he says in a monotone voice.
People react in different ways, but the important
thing is that some drop money into the can.
I've never wanted to encourage begging so
I don't look at him. Not even when I think
he's talking to me.
"I know you," the monotone voice
says. I pretend I don't hear it. Even when
there's a crowd of other people standing
at the corner waiting for a Walk sign I know
he's talking to me.
"You know me, too," the voice says.
I want to scream, "No! I don't!"
But then I'd be talking to him and I won't
Today he's not outside. I watch the lipstick
roll inside but I stop. I'll get another
lipstick. I'll go inside K&B and get one
"Come get your lipstick," the voice
said. "Don't be afraid. You know me."
How can he know it's my lipstick? Can he
see through the paper covering the door?
I turn to rush into the K&B.
"You used to wear pink."
I stop. My breath catches. My back is to
"Now you wear reddish brown. I like
it on you."
I twist around. He rolls just outside the
box. I turn away from him quickly.
He has no legs. I've watched him in the past
when his back was to me. His legs are not
there from his upper thighs down. He sits
on a thick piece of wood that has four casters
on the bottom. He rolls himself around using
his hands. On the side of the box a sign
says, VIETNAM VET.
I remember fifteen years ago when some of
my classmates went off to the war. Not many,
but a few. Some never came back. I had read
about them in the newspaper. There were others
but I never heard what happened to them.
I assumed they had made a life for themselves
as the rest of us had.
I'll have to look at him now. There's no
avoiding it. I can't be rude. But I can't
turn around. Something frightens me about
him. Since the first day when I saw the scars
on his face, his eyes down, focusing on the
pavement in front of him, tin can lifted
toward the people passing by, I knew I couldn't
look at his eyes. I only watched him from
I keep my eyes above his head. He turns and
lifts the newspaper and rolls back inside
but holds the paper open.
"No--can you just roll it-- or-- never
mind, I don't want it back."
"You're afraid of the truth."
I feel a burning in my eyes. I quickly scan
the people walking by. Nobody seems to notice
me. I bite my lip and look up at the sky
for a moment. Someone once told me that's
the best way to keep from crying.
My knees shake. I want to walk away but I
know this time I can't. His voice compels
me in a way I don't understand. It isn't
rough or aggressive or frightening anymore.
I kneel on the sidewalk in front of the door.
His hand moves the paper away. I stare down
at the ground.
I crawl inside and sit on a quilt that's
folded at one end of the box. I look up at
the eyes that search my face. The steel blue
eyes that used to smile at me when I looked
at him and then past him to the trees outside
the second story English classroom--the blue
eyes that smiled when he talked about fishing
and hunting and outdoor things to me.
"Go hunting with me," he'd say.
"I'll teach you how to shoot."
And I'd say no because I was going steady
with Ronny. But I'd say it with regret. I
can't speak. He takes my hand and puts the
lipstick in it. I close my fingers around
"You know me, Cindy."
"Yes, I do." That's all I can say.