She pulled him into the clean and empty dining room then encouraged him to sit at the elegant mahogany table. As he sat, his head bowed, he murmured an apology. Words reminiscent of shame and disgust, warnings of people like him being brought into a woman’s home, tumbled from between his lips then lay in the vast silence between them. Unbearably awkward, feelings of unworthiness crawling over and inside him like a pestilent infestation, he dared a glance at her. There was no derision or fear in her eyes as she looked upon him – just a softness exuding warmth and compassion.
Without a word she moved away from him, the faint squeaking of the oven opening and closing followed by the whisper of her slippers gliding across the wood floor. As though she were a maître d she walked slowly and steadily toward him, ready to serve the vittles resting high upon the plate of china she carried. It was gently placed before him, followed by the quick appearance of silverware and a cloth napkin. There were no words spoken between them as she seated herself to his right as though waiting for him to begin feasting. He looked down at his hands, pulled off his gloves, and saw they were still layered with the filth of the streets. Christopher knotted them into painful fists and thought about his hands, covered in dirt and slashed with black streaks of grit, handling the frail beauty of the dish now sitting before him. His stomach rumbled and growled, a roiling of acids set on consuming the aromatic food, and asked if he might use some soap. The water running into the sink became muddy as layers of filth were scrubbed away.
Grasping the thick hand towel that appeared next to him, he looked up and saw her watching him studiously as he carefully pressed his hands dry. He almost wept in gratitude, but instead heard himself muttering another thank you before taking his place at the table.
The utensils felt strange in his hands; cool, sleek, polished. Foreign. As he held them, hovering above the food, a fine tremble shook his hands. He chanced a glance at her, saw her nod that was both encouragement and directive, and began cutting the turkey into small pieces. Christopher devoured the food so beautifully arranged before him and thought of how it could have been fast food, frozen treats or fried starch, and he would have been grateful but instead he was feasting on turkey and lump free gravy, stuffing with only a hint of marjoram, and fresh green beans. She even offered him dessert, pumpkin or apple pie. He chose apple. The bounty weighed heavily in his more often than not bereft stomach causing it to angrily cramp making him fear losing all he had been given.
When it subsided he asked her name and she, very gently, replied: Susan. She asked him questions he both would have expected and was surprised by, but with her it felt as though it were a normal conversation. Even as he told her why he was in this condition it felt as though he were weeks and months from being on the streets- instead of minutes or hours. He found himself not telling her a lie, as he often felt inclined to do with the condescending and haughty individuals, the ones who felt big by giving him a word or even a dollar he owed them an explanation, but telling her about the accident. He told her about the grief and how he had lost everything he truly valued; how he had wanted to die too and, in some ways, how he still did.
Susan remained silent and he thought her taken aback by his honesty, the veritable outpouring of inner most emotions and thoughts making things awkward, until he looked up and saw the tears hanging from her dark lashes. She spoke not at all as she rose from the table and gestured for him to follow.