The Other Side
He held his head in the palms of his hands, a newspaper spread out on the table before him, ignoring the pitying gazes of the other patrons seated throughout the diner. They were on the other side, believing it couldn’t happen to them.
He’d been on the other side once. Not all that long ago, he’d passed a disheveled man sitting on a street corner. He’d fished a handful of spare change from his pocket and dropped it into the stained Styrofoam cup at the man’s feet. He shook his head as he’d walked away. Drugs, alcohol, gambling. People like that brought this upon themselves. Still, he’d been taught to have pity on those less fortunate. He’d worked hard his whole life to have a nice house and a family to go home to. He was on the right track. Things like that didn’t happen to guys like him.
Then, the diagnosis had come. “Childhood Leukemia,” the doctor said, the words resonating in his head like nails hammered into a coffin lid. Their only daughter, seven years old, condemned to a life of chemotherapy, hair loss, and living in hospital rooms, until her battle sapped her will to live. Cancer stole her childhood, and then it stole his only daughter.
She’d been the center of their universe, and her death drove a wedge between him and his wife. She moved in with her sister after the divorce. He was too proud to tell her when he lost his job. Too many missed days, poor work productivity. The bank foreclosed on the house soon after. Too many medical bills. He managed to pay for a one room apartment for a while, but when he couldn’t find a new job, he fell behind on rent one month too many. He opened his door one day to find an eviction notice taped there, the letters emblazoned in red like a fatal wound. His life had crashed down around him so fast he hadn’t seen it coming.
A couple stopped in front of him today. The man dug some loose change from his pocket and dropped it into the empty Styrofoam cup he’d plucked from a trash can. The woman with him shook her head. “You should buy him food,” she said. “Never give them money. He’ll just spend it on cheap liquor.”
He bought a cup of coffee with the change and a few hours of warmth in the diner, but he would have to leave soon. The shelters were all full tonight. He would take the newspaper left at the table by someone before him and use it to line his jacket against the cold and cover the holes worn into the soles of his shoes. The rest would serve as his pillow on a hard park bench until the police told him to move on. Then, he would find another place where people would pass by on their way home—people on the other side, believing it couldn’t happen to them.
Brandy Bonifas lives in Ohio with her husband and son. Her work has appeared in anthologies by Clarendon House Publications, Pixie Forest Publishing, and Zombie Pirate Publishing, as well as the online publications CafeLit and Spillwords Press. To find out more, visit her at http://www.brandybonifas.com or follow her on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/brandybonifasauthor/