A Second Chance
By Dawn Natelle
Judging by the comments, people are very interested in Gary. So it is fitting that today’s chapter deals with him, and not a day in Rachael’s life (although she does show up at the end): Dawn.
On Saturday morning, Gary Sovey woke up feeling better than he had in years. His mind was not clouded in an alcoholic haze, and his hands no longer trembled. He looked around his hidey-hole. It was in a culvert under the street where the power transmission easement passed, leading from one side of the road to the other to provide drainage for the area. The drainage ditch below him had less than a foot of water in it, although in the spring the water had been as high as a foot away from the ledge of concrete that he slept on. He had a bundle of blankets stacked there. At this time of the year he slept on top of most of them, with just a light sheet over top. In the winter he had slept on the concrete, under all of them. He had still been cold, but it was much warmer under the road than it was out in the open.
In a pile there were his winter clothes: a massive army surplus coat, and a heavy pair of snowmobile boots. There were two apples next to them, and when Gary looked at them he smiled. The angel had given them to him. She said he should eat them if he couldn’t get any other food. That was good, because he knew there were no soup kitchens open on Saturdays. He probably would go hungry, if the angel hadn’t left him the apples.
He thought about his meeting with the glowing angel. She was beautiful and tall in his memory, all dressed in white. He recounted every word she had said. Then he started thinking about what she had not said. What did she want him to do? Why had she appeared to him?
He finally came to the conclusion that she wanted him to help people. For years he had been nothing but a drunken burden on society. She would want him to reverse that, and become useful. But what could he do?
He looked at the old broom that he used to sweep out his hidey-hole. It was the only tool he had left. He vaguely remembered a time when he had a lot of tools, but now there was just the broom. He picked it up and wended his way out of the hidey-hole, making sure that no one saw him come out onto the easement.
This was where he had met the angel. She had come from the shops over there. There was one shop that was still empty, and it had a faucet on the side. Gary went over to that faucet, and turned it on. First he washed his face, getting his neck and arms clean as well. He couldn’t remember the last time he had washed. Now, with clean hands, he cupped them and brought water to his mouth. It was delicious. The angel had told him it would be. He drank deeply several more times, filling his stomach with the delicious water.
Then he took his broom and went to the shops. He started to sweep the sidewalks in the early dawn light. It took about a half hour to clean in front of all of them, including the empty store. There was a book place, a fruit and vegetable store, a bakery, and the two new places. He didn’t know what they were for.
Gary went back to the easement and sat on a stone near where he had seen the angel yesterday. She had said she wouldn’t come back today, so he just waited to see what would happen. Eventually a man came and started putting fruit and vegetables out in front of his store. Then a pretty blonde lady came by and went into the bakery. Gary was intrigued to see her walking down the street. She reminded him of the angel, although less beautiful.
Anthony DaSilva finished his outside display. It was one of the key lures the shop had to get customers into the store. He looked about, and saw that the sidewalk had already been swept. Tony was on the ball this morning, he thought. He walked back into the store, where his son was setting up some of the internal displays.
“Good job on the sidewalk,” Anthony told his son in Italian. “Very nice. Very clean.”
“What?” Tony answered in the same language. “I haven’t been outside yet. I will get the sidewalk swept when I finish in here. I know you like it clean.”
“It is clean already,” the father said. “I wonder who swept it?”
In the bakery Geoff came out during a gap between mixing sweets for the store, he had learned to time it so he could spend five minutes giving the storefront a quick sweep each day while goods were baking. He did it early, because if he did it later someone would come by, and want to chat. That meant the baking might burn. When he first opened, sweeping wasn’t part of his routine, and the store quickly started to look shabby without a morning sweep.
He stepped quickly back into the shop. “Maria, you shouldn’t sweep the sidewalk,” he said. “There is more than enough to do in here in the morning.”
“I didn’t sweep it,” she said as she sliced the fresh bread. “I noticed it was swept when I came in. I assumed you had done it earlier.”
“I wonder who swept it,” the baker said, mimicking the words of his neighbor, although in a different language.
Gary sat on his stone, disgusted at what he saw as the morning went on. People were constantly throwing rubbish on his sidewalk. If it was something big, like litter, he would get up, go and pick it up, and carry it to the big bin behind the fruit market.
Smokers were the worst, he decided. They would just flick their ashes, and even cigarette butts anywhere. Once it left their hands, it was gone, to their minds. But it was not gone. It was on his clean sidewalk, cluttering it and offending the angel, he was sure.
At about 10 a.m. he got the broom and went back, sweeping the sidewalk again. He was noticed by the woman in the bakery, but not by anyone in the market.
“The sweeping mystery is solved,” Maria mentioned to Geoff as they passed in their duties. “There is an old hobo out there with a broom right now. I wonder if he is hungry?”
“Well, if he does it again, give him a couple stale rolls,” Geoff suggested. “I hope it won’t make him loiter around though. He might scare off the customers.”
Gary went back to his stone, and sat again, watching passersby continue to throw their filth around without a care. He decided to sweep again in mid afternoon. His angel would want the sidewalk clean, he was sure.
This time the Italian lady in the market noticed him, and she was about to come out and shoo him away until she saw what he was doing. She went back into her shop, a little confused.
Further down, as Gary was finishing up in front of the bakery, the lady who reminded him of his angel came out. She handed him two large fresh rolls, and said she would appreciate it if he didn’t eat them in front of the store. He popped one in each pocket, and then continued to sweep the other storefronts.
It was three when Gary decided to make another clean sweep. The rolls had been filling, and he was still a little hungry. This meant he wouldn’t eat the angel’s apples, since she said they were for a day when he had no other food.
This time when he swept, the Italian lady came out, with three over-ripe bananas. They wouldn’t be salable on Monday, and she had enough for her Sunday baking without them, so she decided to give them to the sweeper, instead of throwing them in the bin out back. He accepted them politely, and then continued to sweep.
The pretty lady in the bakery saw him, and smiled at him. Gary felt pleasure. He couldn’t remember the last time a pretty woman had smiled at him. Usually he only saw looks of revulsion and disgust. He held his head a little higher as he went back to his stone, where he sat and ate the bananas. He felt full for the first time in a long while.
He did his last sweep in the late evening, just before dark. The bakery was closed, as was the market. He could hear music from upstairs at the market, a radio or television, perhaps. The upstairs of the bakery, and all the other shops, was dark and quiet. When he was done, he took his broom down into his hidey-hole. He felt proud of himself. He had kept the sidewalk clean all day long. He felt sure that his angel would approve.
Sunday morning he awoke to the same routine. Today none of the shops were open, although he could hear sounds above the market again. He didn’t care. He swept up at dawn, and twice more again in the morning. Not so many cars went by, throwing trash from their windows, but those that did he picked up after.
Just after noon he went out again, but was dismayed to see a woman with odd-looking hair painting the window to her shop. He couldn’t sweep with someone painting. The dust would ruin the work.
Not that the painting was going well. The woman was clearly not used to painting, and was pretty much making a mess of it.
“Can I show you how to do it?” he asked.
The frustrated, but pretty woman looked at him and smiled. This made Gary feel happy. He took the brush from her hand, and showed her how to do it. “Like this, with long flowing strokes, not short stubby ones. You need to let the paint do the work, not the brush.”
“You are a painter?” the woman asked.
“I was, once. A long time ago,” Gary said, remembering into his cloudy past. “Among other things.”
“Could you paint this?” the woman held out a computer printout of the window, with a wild-looking design on it. “It was so easy on the computer, but I just don’t have the talent. I want to paint over the entire picture window. Ladies in a salon don’t like people looking in on them, and I thought this would be better than just a curtain. Besides, I can’t afford to buy a big sign yet. I will pay you for it.”
“The angel wants me to help people,” Gary said. “I will paint it for you. But you need blue paint. You have yellow and red, and I think that will be enough black. You won’t have enough yellow though. You need another pint I think. And two quarts of the blue.”
“Thank God Home Depot is open on Sunday,” she said. “Can I go get paint while you try to salvage this mess?”
It was nearly an hour later when Ariel returned with the paint, along with a selection of brushes, paint thinner to clean them, and painter’s tape. Gary accepted all of it politely, but refused the painter’s tape. He said it was easier to just paint carefully rather than mess with tape.
Ariel was amazed at what he had done in a short time. The sign was about a third done, and she watched with amazement as he copied the printed plan, drawing the curves of the font perfectly by eye.
She then heard car brakes slam on the road behind them. She turned, and the car that had stopped backed up, and then pulled into a parking space. A woman and her daughter got out.
“See Mom,” the girl said. “This is the new shop I was telling you about. Are you opening soon?”
“Tomorrow, I hope. Now that I have the sign being done for me, everything is ready for then. I want to start at 9 a.m. and will be open until 6.”
“Can I make an appointment for, like 4?” the girl said. “I get out of school then. Unless I can skip school and come in earlier?” She looked hopefully at her mother.
“Not a chance,” the mother said. “You can book for 4, if that time is open.”
“It is all open,” Ariel said. “The appointment book is empty right now. In fact, if you want I could take you right now. It would give me a chance to test out all my equipment and how it is arranged.”
“Oh, Mom, can I?” the girl gushed.
“Well, I have some shopping to do at the mall,” the mother said. “But if you would rather be here I’ll come back and pick you up in what? A half hour?”
“Give me an hour,” Ariel said. “I’d like to try a few things with her, if she is interested.”
As the mother drove off, Ariel led the girl into the shop. “My name is Carly Henderson,” the girl said.
An hour later Mrs. Henderson returned. She was amazed at Carly’s hair. The once long locks had been cut into a radical looking style. For a minute she wasn’t sure about it, but then she realized that it was perfect for the shape of her face. Her daughter looked awesome.
“What is this going to cost me?” Mrs. Henderson said. “It looks like a million dollars.”
“Well, it won’t cost that much,” Ariel joked. “How about $40? It would normally be more like $60, for a full hour, but I was taking my time and such.”
“That is a bargain,” Mrs. Henderson said, pulling out two twenties. “Do you like it sweetheart?”
“I love it,” Carly gushed. “Wait till the girls at school see it.”
All three women walked out of the shop together, and turned around to look at the sign, which was nearly done. It was amazing. The cutting edge design that Ariel had made on the computer was duplicated almost perfectly on the window. Paint obscured the view in, and made an eye-catching display that was far better than any sign.
“You are a genius, Gary,” Ariel said. “What do I owe you for it? Would $200 be enough? You’ve worked on it all afternoon. Maybe $300.”
“No money,” Gary insisted. “My angel wants me to help people. I helped you.”
Ariel was aghast. How could this impoverished looking man not want any money?”
“How can I not pay you?” she said. “I have to give you something.”
“I am hungry. If you have a little food, that would be nice,” Gary admitted.
“I’m on it. If you finish before I get back, wait here for me,” Ariel said getting into her car and driving off.
A half hour later she was back, and Gary was cleaning the brushes. The sign was finished, and Ariel thought it was spectacular. And the take out meals she had in the bags had only cost her $30. She had two bags. One was for her to take upstairs to her little apartment for her supper. But the other one, with a double order was for Gary. What a wonderful bargain. She knew she owed the man more, but didn’t know how to get him to accept it. She would let everyone she met know who had done the sign. Maybe he would get more work. But if he refused to take money …? She was stumped.
“Here Gary, this is for you,” Ariel said, handing him the takeout bag.
“That smells wonderful,” Gary said. “Thank you so much. I have cleaned all the brushes, and sealed all the paint cans. The black one was empty, so I threw it in the bin. Keep the others in case we need to touch it up.”
“You are a doll, Gary, thank you so much.”
“It is all I can do for my angel,” the man said, walking towards the easement. “She wants me to help people.”
“Well you certainly helped me,” Ariel told him before he was around the edge of the buildings.
Gary went to his hidey-hole. It was getting late, and he couldn’t sweep again without disturbing the paint. It would be dry enough in the morning, he hoped. He sat in his hole, and took out the meal. To him, it was a feast: a double order of open-faced beef sandwich, with the gravy still hot. There was a coffee there, but he drained that into the stream. He only could drink water. There were mashed potatoes, and mixed vegetables, also in double portions. He saved the two rolls, smaller and not as good smelling as the ones the bakery lady had given him. They would be breakfast.
The meal filled Gary completely, meaning the apples would sit on the pad for another day. His angel was changing his life completely. He was well fed, and he would feel pride every time he walked past Ariel’s window. It was all due to the angel, he decided.
Monday he was up early again. He gently touched the paint on the last part of the window he had done, and found it completely dry, so he made his first sweep of the street.
Later, the woman from the bakery gave him two buns. They were much tastier than the ones he had for breakfast from the dinner Ariel had bought. In the afternoon he only got two bananas, but they were bigger ones, and fresh too.
That afternoon he was dismayed to see a large group of girls congregating outside his window. He couldn’t sweep with them there, and some of them were littering his sidewalk. He just sat and fumed.
Then he saw her. It was his angel. She looked over and saw him sitting on his stone, and came towards him. She reached into her bag, and pulled out another of those delicious sandwiches, and another bottle of water.
“Are you hungry, Gary,” she asked. She remembered his name. He felt honored.
“A little,” he said. “I have been doing good. I keep the street clean, and I painted a window for the nice lady in that store.”
“You painted the window?” she said. “It is beautiful. I really, really like it. God has given you special talents.”
“Have you been drinking,” she then asked seriously.
“Yes ma’am,” he said. “But only water. Water is delicious.”
“Good,” the angel said. “Then I will bring you another sandwich tomorrow after school.”
Angels go to school, Gary thought? He didn’t care. He was ecstatic. The angel liked his window. She said God was happy. He didn’t think of anyway his life could get better as the angel walked back to the store with his window.
He turned and went to his hidey-hole. It would be another day without the apples.
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