A digital image of someone dropping a coin into a homeless womans cup. They are wearing a blue sweatshirt and she is wearing a pink sweatshirt and red beanie.
Clio Reese Sady

The following narrative could be fictionalized or could be truth. The protagonist could be anyone. It could be me; it could be someone I know, it could be someone I made up, it could be you…

Melinda Thompson suffered a brain hemorrhage at nineteen. It rendered her face partly paralyzed, made her speak with a strong lisp, and made her unsteady on her feet. Most people took her for being dumb and an alcoholic—but her intellect was top notch, and she didn’t drink or do drugs. Yet this misperception made her un-hirable—causing her to struggle with poverty. 

Yet, the 50-year-old, petite and frail seeming person had learned to find happiness in many things most people find mundane. Melinda loved to go to Buck Palace, where every item was priced at a dollar-ten. 

Toward the end of December, with a new year approaching in ten more days, Melinda was happy with what she’d found at the store. 

Melinda paused with an anxious twinge in her gut. She counted the number of items and struggled to remember her bank balance. Did she have enough in the bank to cover everything? Or would she become overdrawn because of a few too many items—and invoke a ruinous amount of debt in overdraft? 

She stood near the front of the store, careful not to block anyone’s paths. She counted and recounted the items in her cart. She used the calculator in her outdated cellphone. She sweated.

Melinda heard some whispering. She looked up and realized that several shoppers were looking at her. She began to hyperventilate. The store manager showed up. 

“Madam, have you been drinking?” 
“No sir, I am not drunk, and I am not on something. I’m simply trying to estimate the total.”
“But your speech is slurring. Why are you slurring if you are not drunk?” 
“Sir, I assure you I am not drunk.” 

Melinda was panicked and outraged and decided to leave. 

“To hell with your store sir. Do you want me to put the items away where they were? Or can I just leave here and never come back?” 

“Please follow me to the security office. Do not try to leave.” 

Melinda was soon in a detainment room facing a blank wall. She sat there for forty-five minutes until the store manager entered the room. 

“One of my cashiers insisted that you are disabled and live on a modest income, that you are not a shoplifter or drunk in public. I apologize for this. You are free to go. But I suggest in the future that you make certain you have enough money to pay for what you’re getting.” 

Melinda replied, “That’s okay. I’m not coming back to this shithole of a store because your regular customers and your cashiers are going to stare at me and whisper from now on. This has been an all-time horror, and I thought Halloween was two months ago.”

Melinda went out into the parking lot and discovered that her car had been towed because of being parked past store closing time. Her outdated cellphone wasn’t modern enough to summon an Uber, and she did not have bus fare. The walk home was two miles. It was much to long a walk, especially at night. 

Melinda dialed her sister. She noted that the battery on her phone was at thirty percent. She heard the ring at the other end. One ring, two, three…She got the answering machine.

Then her sister picked up the phone. Melinda was frantic and told Sherry what had happened.

Sherry said, “Start walking home. You can’t stay in that parking lot. Take Stanwell Drive because it is a main street and well lit. I’m on my way and I’ll find you. I’ll call when I’m close. You’ll get through this.” 

Melinda hung up and began toward nearby Stanwell. Walking was always difficult. Sherry spotted Melinda and picked her up. Melinda was fortunate because a hundred yards back were two muggers on foot who had spotted her, cased her, and had been following.

Melinda arrived home to her modest apartment, turned on a lot of lights, heated some water for tea, and was happy.

Jack Bragen lives in Martinez with his wife, Joanna Bragen, and sells his books on LULU.com.