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Small Miracles

Fat raindrops plopped onto the wooden slats that lined the floor of the bar, spreading in dark stains. Cal shuffled in half-inch by half-inch, head lowered. He felt bad about the wood, but he felt worse about himself, and the shivers wouldn’t stop. While nobody was looking, while he still could, he leaned against the wall and caught his breath, wrapping his arms around his soaking jacket to try and generate some body heat. His fingers were icicles against the dripping fabric.

A waitress approached. Cal felt her gaze and met it, his jaw shaking as he tried to form words. “I’ll be gone in a sec,” he said. “I just… I need to warm up just for a few minutes.”

She looked at him dubiously. Cal was aware that the bar must see its share of drifters trying to get warm on rainy and cold nights, but before he’d staggered his way to the door he’d seen white patches in his vision, and it hadn’t been because the rain had turned to snow. “Just a minute,” he said.

“We have a five-dollar cover charge,” the waitress said, but her tone was wobbly and Cal knew she wasn’t about to sic a bouncer on him. Not quite yet.

“Th-th-thirty seconds,” he begged, and his cold-induced stutter was enough to make her turn her back and leave him be.

Thank God. The police had come by every night for the past five, breaking up the huddle of homeless who made their beds under the First Street bridge and warning them it wasn’t a place to keep their things. Cal had no idea why. Probably because the bridge was close to the train station, and they wanted to keep the area clean. “Clean” meaning you couldn’t see the fact that people were actually homeless in the area, that the shelters couldn’t take everybody, and that sometimes you were just S.O.L. in this bizarre world. The loss of his usual sleeping grounds had left Cal wandering all night long, stealing two-hour patches of rest in the public parks before he was shaken awake by noise or a policeman’s stick. He was used to lack of sleep and lack of food, but the torrential rain tonight had caught him by surprise, and he knew fainting in the rain would put him face to the sidewalk, inhaling every germ the city had to offer. He couldn’t afford to get sick on top of starving. Desperation had driven him inside the bar, and he would probably fight to stay. Worst that could happen was a disorderly conduct charge, and at least jail had meals and medical care.

The waitress was approaching again, and Cal gritted his teeth, ready to fight. “I swear, I just need a few more minutes,” Cal said, holding out a hand. It still felt like an icicle, and he could see it trembling in front of his face.

She smiled. “No,” she said, “you can come in. Your cover’s been paid for.”

Cal blinked. Small miracles happened every so often, and after depending on them for so long, Cal had learned not to ask questions. He stepped forward, following her wordlessly to the bar, where an affable-looking bartender was setting out a cocktail napkin for him. “What’ll it be, sir?” he said, ignoring the grime that smeared Cal’s face and the soaked crumple of his clothing.

“Water would be great.”

The bartender raised his eyebrows. “You’ve got a drink paid for as well,” he said and nodded down the bar. “ID?”

Cal shook his head. “I don’t—no, just water,” he said. He struggled to focus. The bar was crowded with people, most watching the game on the TV sets (beaming live from someplace it wasn’t raining cats and dogs) and some flirting or just talking with other men and women standing at the bar. In the center was a group of young men—not much older than college age—huddled around a guy with a starched white shirt, dark-brown hair, and a beer mug raised toward Cal. His vision swam before his eyes, and he wondered if he wasn’t passed out on the sidewalk dreaming this whole thing after all. “Um,” he said, and faltered over the word. The bartender leaned in to hear him better.

“Can you ask him if it’s okay to order food instead?”

The bartender looked at him as though he’d just spoken Urdu. “Sure,” he said and moved down the bar to talk to Cal’s benefactor. A moment later, the guy was excusing himself from his company and approaching Cal. Close up, Cal had a better look at him, and this seriously did have to be a passed-out delusion, because he was just like something Cal would have dreamed up in his private moments. Before he ceased to have private moments.

“I’m sorry” were the first words out of the guy’s mouth. “I should have guessed you were hungry, but I didn’t want to assume anything. I’m Matt. Matt Kirkland.”

Small Miracles

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