Café Terrace Shantytown
“You remember, don’t you? That week in Paris?” James asked as he put a cup of hot cocoa to his wife’s lips. “Take a sip, it’ll warm your insides. Just like that hot toddy that evening in Paris.”
Jeana smiled. “That’s so good, did you slip some brandy in it?” She winked then sighed. “How could I forget about our honeymoon? We were so young, so in love. Foolish really, but despite our missteps in life, I’ll never regret one day, not a one!”
“You’d wanted to have a drink at an outdoor terrace, just like in the Van Gogh painting, The Café Terrace. Then you just had to have the print. It cost almost as much as one night at the hotel,” James said as he held his wife close in their handmade haven, a cardboard box.
It was the deluxe model. Its former occupant had been the latest in cold food storage. The Viking Professional 5 Series 48-Inch 29.05 Cu. Ft. Built-In Side-By-Side Stainless Steel Refrigerator/Freezer.
The Stewarts have always had the best. He’d worked in retail all his life, and she’d taken time off to care for their young but put her time in as a clerk in an accounting office.
But now that fancy house was gone. Their twenty-year-old car had finally given out, and while social security came in monthly, it had been whittled down to a little more than an allowance that allowed the Stewarts a few morsels of food and kept Jeana supplied with medication. Universal health care, the promised solution never happened, and Medicare had gone bankrupt years earlier. Every hospitalization whittled away at their savings then took their house and belongings. All they had left were each other, a few blankets and cherished mementos, and the cardboard box they now called home.
Under the bridge near a slow-moving river, they shared the area with twenty other individuals. Each family had a cardboard box covered with a plastic tarp. A makeshift outhouse had been created for everyone’s use, and for the most part, neighbor supported neighbor.
Jeana scoffed. “Ever the penny pincher, but that print has graced each of our homes, even this one.” Her eyes wandered to the print of the Café Terrace, salvaged from their house before foreclosure. “I can still hear the bells, see the Eiffel Tower, and taste the eclairs and wine.” Jeana giggled. “I think it’s the first time I ever got drunk.”
“All it took was one glass.” James laughed.
“That never changed, but I’ve always felt safe with you.” She blinked away tears. “The fun we had James, such wonderful memories.” Jeana looked into the tired eyes of her spouse. “We had a good life, didn’t we?”
“The best Jeana, the absolute best.” James kissed the top of her head and resituated the blanket around her frail body.
“How cold is it going to get tonight?” she asked.
“They’re saying well below freezing. We need to move outside with the others at sunset, near the fire. If we stay here, we’ll die in our sleep.”
“Not the worst way to go. Don’t you just fall asleep?” she said, her voice barely a whisper.
“What are you thinking?”
“Just that I’m tired. So very, very tired.”
James sighed. “I know, sweetheart. I know. You rest, I’ll keep you warm. In my arms, you’ll always find warmth.”
After the ground thawed, a hole was dug. James and Jeana Stewart, still in their cardboard haven, were buried on the outskirts of the cardboard shantytown.
587 words / FCA
Yolanda Renée © 2020
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