Exposure (Continued)

Continuation of previous post that had been written on separate paper and wasn’t attached to the first paragraph

She huddled in a thick fur coat on the corner of the street, leaning on the edge of the old brick building that leaned over the street like a giant, a watching giant. She shivered against the cold masonry that touched the back of her neck and calves: bare, except for the tattered fishnet stocking that did little for her chills. Her toes ached from the pointed heels that gleamed from their plastic sheen. The hot pink color looked too perky to her; too girly in the dull gray of the cement and the smudged bricks in the background; too springy for the middle of winter. Spring, with its real warmth and comfort, was what she yearned for, not the coddling of faithless husbands and lonely men that left her colder than she was before. Warmth was what she, like all the street crawlers and walkers, craved: real, living warmth. Something more than a coffee, the heat of a department store visit, the quick touch of a stranger, the warmth that became present when the chilly air didn’t blow, when the subways let off their heat through metal grates. They wanted something like the warmth of a real home, a real lover, a real meal every night. Even for a moment to feel like they could obtain this, this was better than a temporary sensation. Their hope was the strongest thing for them. She wrung her gloved hands, shifted, left foot, right foot; feeling her silky black dress try to cling to her fading curves. The hunger each day brought was beginning to feel normal to her. She never thought—those few years ago in a cafeteria every day—that hunger would be so prominent in her life. The wind hit the street in cold, crisp squalls. She turned her head to take the blow.
He glanced up as the howls of the subways turned into harsh calls of nature’s breathing. He saw a woman down the sidewalk, hiding in a dark fur coat from the passerbys that paid her little attention. The black nets on her legs, stiletto heels, and the fringe of a silky black dress showing underneath the coat revealed what she was to him but he didn’t care. He had no pay for her wares no desire; that had gone out with the money, and the warmth. No, he looked at her and saw something, someone like him: torn, cold, hungry, desiring only of the most basic of human needs, wants, what at this point could be called passions. If only he could have those passions again.
She opened her dry, red eyes and saw the man huddled in layers by the trash bin on the corner of an alley a few yards away. He was looking at her with sad gray eyes; grayess that felt so much more alive than his graying layers, the graying bricks, the unending grayness. They didn’t look with lust like some men’s or primal hunger like others or disgust like most everyone. They were looking with the feelings she felt, just to be full and warm for a moment, for a night. Not to feel used or to feel useless. Not to feel stepped on or stood up, even if it were part of the job. They were eyes that wanted companionship and a future but right now all they needed was warmth. She didn’t want a calloused, clammy hand against her cheek; not some body heat against her leg or whiskey breath upon her neck. Just pure, unpaid for warmth, and caring.
He saw her blue eyes tinged with faint pink, dryness from the wasted tears, tears that no longer healed or cleansed. They were tears that just came. He could see wisps of graying blonde hair underneath her black knit cap, hairs that should not be graying yet. He could see her ashy cheeks and forehead fold in thought. He could see her contemplating him, not like the passerbys or the pigeons contemplated him.
She straightened her back, stood almost apart from the wall but keeping her shoulders on it, and took a step sideways toward the bum on the corner. Then she paused, why was she doing this? Why try to live? Why try to find a moment of warmth? Comfort? The winter wouldn’t end for a few more weeks. Perhaps this moment could save her, at least get her by.
He saw her move closer; saw her look away as though she shouldn’t. He waved his hand in its rotting glove, felt the ache of arthritis and the creak of winter. He saw her inch a bit closer; her cheeks red from blushing and the frigidity of the wind. She looked as cold as he felt. In her skimpy clothing her skin faced the elements much more than his did hidden within his old clothing. He waved his hand again, motioning for her to simply sit beside him. They shared the street as their home, so why not share a seat?
Her heels clip-clopped in a sidestep along the wall, as though she was afraid to disconnect from the wall, as though she might fall off the earth or be swept up into the sea of the city to be lost more than she already was. She inched over to the bum in his tattered coat and gloves and stringy hair that snuck out of his hat. She stopped about a foot from him, looking down at him and smiled. Her lips were too dry and her throat to raw to speak but he smiled back and patted the freezing cement beside him and held out one of his torn blankets. She slid down the wall and scooted up next to him. Her hip bumped up against his fluffy coat. He placed the blanket over her legs and she leaned her head on his shoulder to wait out the cold night.

Creative Commons License
This work by Sarah Holmes is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.

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