bum story fragment

Tuesday, January 27, 2004

The stench of the street filled the train. Samantha studied the cover of her novel and traced the drawing with her fingertips. She remembered a time when she did more than just stare at the covers of books. She looked around at the thought, sure that they would know she was trying to recollect. She pulled her oversized pocketbook closer to her chest. A young couple stood up and moved down the train, expanding the envelope between her and the rush-hour traffic. Fuckers.

The gravity of her feet drew her eyes past her bulky jackets. Both ankles were bloated with pink bruises and veins like lightning bolts striking down the side of her foot. Her sneakers were ripped open to expose layers of unmatched gray socks. Samantha reached down through the layers and scratched an itch under her anklebone. Her fingers came back wet and she sniffed them, enjoying the coffee-like smell of dried sweat stored in damp cotton.

The train stopped in the tunnel with a slight tilt and the standing passengers leaned left to compensate. She closed her eyes in the sudden darkness. All too soon, the lights flashed and the train jerked forward. She woke up confused. It took her a few minutes to realize the train was in Brooklyn. She ripped the cover off the book and left the book on the bench. She picked up her shopping bags before stepping off the train.

Why is Samantha a bum? Perhaps she is mentally ill. Why else? She was writing an article on the homeless and was doing research as a bum. That was her original plan. She lost herself a while back, forgetting it was just research, or perhaps remembering it, but not being sure if it was just a delusion.

How did this happen? While sleeping on the street, she was mugged and beat up, losing her memory in the process. Since then, she has lived the life of a bag lady, knowing there was something wrong with this life, but not sure why.

How else could this have happened? She lost herself in the world of the bum or she decided to remain there, deciding that their life was preferable. It was more real. Originally, it had given her more time to think, to understand life. Living on the street allowed her to escape from a job she hated. She only did it to pay the bills. She had wanted more, deserved more. After a while, she didn’t even want to remember her last life.

How did this make her feel about people who lived in that life? She was not jealous of them. She pitied them and didn’t understand why they didn’t escape from that life, like she did.

How can she live like that? She found a way to remove herself from her bodily concerns. She didn’t even think about them.

What did she do? She traveled from shelter to shelter in the city. Judging all the people she came across, especially the social workers that tried to help her.

What was her motive for doing this—it can’t just be her desire to escape real life? She also wanted to escape something horrible in her life. Perhaps her husband beat her, or her work didn’t respect her. She was always a bit mentally unbalanced.

A young man greeted her as she disembarked. ‘Ms. Carlson, we’ve been waiting for you,’ he said. ‘If you wouldn’t mind stepping this way, we’ll get you cleaned up.’

Samantha studied the man. He wore wing-tipped shoes with gray socks.

That’s all for today. (I have to stop starting stories and never finishing them.)