Writing Resources from Fifteen Minutes of Fiction
The Shelter"We're getting new residents today," Maria said.
I looked up from my computer. Today was my volunteer day at the women's shelter. My presence there meant that Maria could answer fewer phone calls, deal with fewer problems, and maybe even sneak away for a bit and have some quiet solitude.
"Oh?" I replied.
"A woman from South Carolina," she said, "on the run from an abusive husband. Drove here last week with her six year old daughter, without even telling her family and friends where she was going. They’ve been living out of her pickup."
I would have said: "What is this world coming to?" except it had already been said so many times before, and we both knew it was going through our minds without saying it aloud. Instead I said, "I'll buzz you when they arrive."
I was just finishing up a phone call a couple hours later when the doorbell rang. I peeked through the curtains before opening the door. The woman standing on the porch was of medium height, and bordered on emaciated. Her face was pale, her eyes were sunken and her hair was long, greasy, and tangled. Though it was not easy to do, I could imagine that – at some time not too long ago – she might have been an attractive woman, but now physical beauty had been chased out by fear, hunger and desperation.
The daughter stood close beside her, with one arm wrapped around her mother’s leg, and her face peeking out from behind her mother’s coat. Her clothes, her face and her hands were all dirty, and her jacket was far too thin for late December weather. I smiled at the little girl, but received no smile in return. Knowing a bit of her history with the men in her life, I found myself wishing that Maria – or one of the other women - could have been there to greet them.
I introduced myself to them, and ushered them in, holding my hand out to the mother. She clasped my hand briefly, but her grip was limp and cold, and she let go very quickly. I said, "Have a seat, make yourselves comfortable; I'll let Maria know you're here. She'll have some paperwork to go through with you."
As I buzzed the apartment to let Maria know they had arrived, Maggie stood in the middle of the kitchen and looked around her with bemusement. I recognized the expression; it was a look I had seen before from other women who had expected to find bare white walls and metal cots and dormitory housing. Instead they discovered a house which looked more like their own homes than their mental image of a shelter. With pictures on the walls, plants on the sills, hastily scribbled coloring book pictures stuck to the refrigerator, and the cheerful sounds of Rudolph and Hermie the elf coming from the cluttered living room, it was hard to think of this house as a place of crisis.
"Jenny," I said, pointing through the doorway into the living room, "there are some Christmas videos playing on TV, if you want to watch those." Jenny looked to her mother for permission before walking with a slow, quiet dignity toward the sound of Hermie's nasal "Why Am I Such A Misfit". She sat motionless in front of the television and maintained an expression of stoic indifference throughout the silly adventures of Rudolph and his pals.
I found her quiet movement, her silence, and her expressionless gaze disconcerting in a child who should have been laughing and prancing, looking for mischief. But I was growing to understand that in a society of ever increasing violence toward women and children, it is no longer the Jenny's of the world who are the misfits.
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