The angel at the table glares back across the clutter. Dirty dishes,
candy bar wrappers and tuna tins. Self-rolled cigarette smolders
on a side plate, the ashes of those before spilling over. Ignored.
Kitchen bulb, harsh and bare, casts bearded shadows across
the squalor. Joni Mitchell crackles from the speakers — a record
once played for a daughter — offering only the slightest comfort
needed on a day like today. A day where she
could use a friend as much as a fix. Depression familiar
to women who’ve lost a child, a fortune fit for no one.
A decade has passed, but not the pain.
The philandering husband who chose to grieve in other ways,
salt in a wound that never heals.
First doctor prescribed, then vintage imbibed. Now whatever
is there, whatever it takes, whatever she can find. She can
ill afford to be picky. The dollar-store diet, fortified by
middle-of-the-night gas station cravings, her pallid skin and
coarse complexion more becoming of an anorexic,
or crack whore.
Years of low-wages, welfare, and tricks turned in-between.
Home is now a third-floor walk-up furnished with a bed, table,
two chairs, a suitcase, and an old stereo. Nothing much.
Not even a photograph.
Inconsequential items pawned off, lost, or left behind.
Addictions, afflictions, and poverty can prune away all that
does not matter, and all that does not belong. Stagnant air
seasoned by sour milk and cigarettes, and bed sheets soiled
by the sweat of men who visit. It should never have been.
The angel has watched it all unfold.
Of course she cries, but only to herself.
Who else will weep?
A random ambulance screams into the night, flashing lights
animate the roomful of nothing. Street-level shouts from
a crowd of drunks, the white noise of her dark days. Searching
for a vein between the scabs and bruises, lesions that mark
a dead-end journey, finding space at the elbow’s crease
next to the ripening furuncle. She ties off and with hinky hand
stabs the needle into a tiny patch of waiting flesh.
A fervent rush consumes her entire being. Staring back at
the angel’s emerald eyes, her vision goes from transparent
to translucent, and then, not at all.
The angel wistfully watches,
a scene played out countless times before, shakes her head,
rises to her feet and shuts the battered door.
© 2016 j.g. lewis