Tim Timmons finally got rid of his white horse. No more black tar. No more brown sugar. No more junk. Piss as clean as his bank account.
In a few weeks, he’ll be wearing the scrubs again. ER, dialysis, hospice, something somewhere. No worries. The money will roll in. In the meantime, he’s pinching his pennies tight enough to make Abraham Lincoln scream. Last night he discovered $3.30 in sticky silver coins in the console of his truck and felt an excitement he hadn’t known since his first childhood allowance. Relatively speaking, he was rich. Three cherries on the homeless slot machine.
Tim–tall, skinny, and emaciated from a private addiction and painful recovery–had been listening to a violent thunderstorm of hunger rumbling through his stomach when he discovered the quarters, nickels, and dimes.
There are plenty of places to park and go unnoticed in Montgomery but the graveyard isn’t one of them. Oakwood Cemetery is huge. Days earlier, he had navigated the curvy narrow lanes to the hinterland of the burial ground where a dirt lane dips between a steep rise on one side and a cliff hidden in the trees on the other. Many of the stones in that section have fallen to pieces with the passing of time and it suited his mood perfectly. Every marker dates back to the nineteenth century. No one would bother him there–that’s what he thought–until the old man in a straw hat. Tim was stretching out in the bed of his truck on pillows and sheets when movement caught his closing eye. He assumed the man was homeless at first because of his tattered clothing and walking stick–or maybe a ghost–until the handheld radio hinted otherwise.
“Can I hep you find someone?”
“Nah. Just taking an afternoon nap.”
With a shaky edge in his voice, “You need to git outta here. Your kind don’t b’long hang’n out here.”
“And what kind might that be?”
“Are we gonna have trouble?” He threatened the radio to his mouth. The police station and jail–both are literally right outside the front gate.
“Nah. Only if you keep talking.”
Tim jumped from the bed of the truck (the man stumbled back, fearing an attack) and commenced to fold his belongings with his back turned to the old scarecrow.
“List’n buddy, I bin where you bin–you need to git a job.”
Tim thought it best to say nothing but didn’t resist the urge to gun the engine and leave the man tasting some dirt. It was a mean thing to do to someone whose purpose in life is to guard the dead from the napping.
There are many boarded houses in Montgomery. It’s a rickety place and a house flipper’s paradise. Tim entered one not far from Oakwood, hoping to squat there, but the energy in the air was alive with something not very comforting. Everything had been abandoned. There were clothes on the floor, a smashed cabinet, an upturned couch, a nasty spotted mattress, and a basket of books. The books were a mix of health and wealth secrets. Most disturbing was a fat book of incantations and spells.
For the past week, he’s been nesting in the back lot of The Arc of Alabama. “The Arc promotes and protects the human rights of people with intellectual and developmental disabilities and actively supports their full inclusion and participation in the community throughout their lifetimes.” Not a single soul had entered or exited the building since his arrival (likely another Covid closing) and soon Tim was confident enough to give himself a promotion.
Less than twenty-four hours ago, he sat in the Executive Director’s space, fingering the change and pondering an arc of another kind–the story arc of his life– three acts (the beginning, the middle, and the end) or, more accurately, one with a never-ending continuity of personal failures, no change in his character, sad episodes without end.
He thought, too, of Noah’s Ark. Even in ancient times, he would’ve been an outsider. The LORD Himself had shut the door and locked His chosen family safe inside. He imagined himself begging to board along with everyone else as the great floodgates of the sky were opened and the frightening fountains of the deep reached the necks and nostrils of humanity.
Tim sneezed and the muscles of his abdomen spasmed and knotted into a painful golf ball cramp that lasted a minute or more. A sign and symptom of dehydration. He kept a plastic bottle but filled it only once or twice because Alabama water from a filthy gas station bathroom sink tasted gross and made him gag. The sink’s hand sensors drove him crazy, too. He wondered why the spigot lasted for a mere three seconds and the soap dispenser was always empty.
That’s when he knew. Sudden wealth is dangerous and one must spend responsibly. Tim opened the console again and retrieved one penny, adding it to the silver. He walked McDonough to the bottom of the hill. The change jingled merrily in the pocket of his weather-soured jeans. Gravity tugged at his boots with an invisible hand so that four city blocks didn’t seem so bad. The Circle K gas station waited for him in less than half a mile.
Along the way, a man by the name of Jazzy was sitting on the cold concrete sidewalk and asked Tim if he could spare some change.
To which he answered, honestly, “No.”
To which Jazzy responded, “Thuck you, anyway.” Out of hearing range, Tim laughed at the man’s creative response, pleased by something different–a kinder, gentler F-bomb lobbed with a wry half-smile.
Shauna asked for his license and scanned it. A tall can of Natty Daddy (a gross beer but with higher alcohol) would slake his thirst, soothe his hangry belly, and help him fall asleep. Cost: $2.20. And a scratch off lottery ticket (Lucky Pants) that sells for a buck eleven. Altogether: $3.31. The exact amount.
Pockets officially empty, he returned to the truck (home sweet home), and sat on a silver tool box in the bed (which houses two pillows, four blankets, one sheet, two winter jackets, and jumper cables). He sipped the beer and it was good even though it had warmed on the walk. Halfway through the tallboy on an empty stomach, he was buzzing nicely and brave enough to see if he’d wasted his last dollar. Under a pregnant fall moon, he scratched the card with a key. 9 and 24 were his numbers. No nine or twenty-four until the final gray square. Number 9 won him one hundred dollars.
Without comment, he chugged the rest of the beer, crushed the can, and coasted on an empty tank down the hill again. Only twenty on pump 5–just enough to get the needle floating again. Smoothing the palm of his left hand along the dented edge of his beloved truck, Tim spoke kindly to her. “Only one beer for you, too, Missy.”
Two blocks up the hill, he located the man who’d asked for change and gave him a five dollar bill (wishing it could’ve been more). Then he opened the tool box and offered Jazzy a blanket and one of the two winter coats, the longer, heavier one.
“God bless you, man.”
No one ever asks Tim for his name on the street but the beggars always offer theirs (usually accompanied by a crazy story). The latest being a white bearded man with sad blue eyes and visible black dirt caked on his tattooed papyrus skin. He (whoever he is) is on the street because he never received a birth certificate and “everything hinges on that” he said.
Maybe that explains why this particular homeless man never offered his name.
“Yeah, life’s impossible when you haven’t been born,” Tim joked.
“All I know is that I’m from Indianapolis, Indiana. That’s all I know. And I live in an outdoor prison.”
A black pit bull, chained to a light pole, was ripping a carpet mat to shreds.
“That dog yours?”
“Yeah. Bitch is tearing up what I gave her to sleep on. She sleeps better’n me and that’s the thanks I get.”
“Is that really her name?”
“Yeah, yeah, yeah. Black Bitch. I can say it and it don’t cause me no trouble because she’ll tear up anyone who comes near me.”
“Well, you may not have been born but at least you have a family.”
Tim’s heart ached when he said this, remembering a perfect soul he’ll never stop loving. Fear seized him as a vision of the future without her was becoming a daily damning reality because her genuine sacrificial love had been thrown away. He should’ve never left. He’d broken her beyond repair. What a fool. Eyes sadder and heavier than the sidewalk man who hadn’t been born, Tim was afraid to study himself in the mirror, afraid of who or what he’s becoming.
Her last words to him were these: “Goodbye amazing friend. I love you.”
Tim Timmons is driving 85 North to Ann Street on less than a half tank of gas. One headlight is out, a tail light is broken, and the front left tire is leaking. You can tell a lot about a man by simply looking at his vehicle. Tomorrow he’ll donate some plasma at the CSL around the corner and put another seventy bucks in his wallet, then spend some quality time in quarters at a local laundromat, and drive into the unknown wearing clean clothes.
Tonight, for fifty-nine dollars, he’ll be sleeping in a soft clean bed in room 111 at the Red Roof Inn. He took his time with the three S’s. He brushed his teeth and tongue repeatedly. He sipped hot coffee while scraping his face with a cheap disposable razor and couldn’t stop staring at his holocaust rib cage.
Now he’s sitting all soapy clean in a comfortable chair, drinking ice cold beer and forking sardines into his mouth. This meal combination is Dollar Store dining at its finest and chosen in the spirit of John Steinbeck’s Cannery Row which Tim is also devouring. Beautiful prose.
For the moment, everything seems alright.