Wednesday, February 19, 2020

WEP - Café Terrace Shantytown






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


Read more WEP entries HERE!









61 comments:

  1. Such a poignant but heartwarming tale. I really liked the subtle way you've woven the political issues into this flash. And delighted to read you at 2, just like old times! :)

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    1. Thank you, Nila - issues that affect all of us. A scary premonition. It's great to be back.

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  2. Heart warming and heart breaking at the same time. A glimpse into a very possible future

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    1. So true, Jemi. Already happening around me. Although some prefer murder/suicide before they are ripped out of their home.

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  3. Wow, what an emotional story! Even more so because this is the reality for so many people. There are several homeless people in my small town and it breaks my heart to think of them sleeping out in the cold. It also angers me that they face prejudice from ignorant people who don't even view them as human. This piece is a good reminder how fast you can go from being secure and fairly affluent to owning nothing but a handful of keepsakes. They say everyone is only a couple of paychecks away from the same situation. Although it was a heartbreaking story, I'm glad that the couple had each other and their happy memories to make things a little more bearable. Great work!

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  4. Such a heartwarming and emotional tale. :)

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  5. In my arms you'll always find warmth. What a beautiful line that was. Your piece had warmth, love and the bitter truth...All in one. Such a stark reality of our lives. Wonderful piece of writing!

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  6. Beautifully done, kiddo. Your piece is well-written and delivers a poignant message, as well.

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  7. Oh, perfect! It brought tears to my eyes.
    Homelessness is such a tragic and unnecessary problem. I feel that a society that allows homelessness has failed. Not that the homeless should be punished, mind, far from it. Everyone deserves shelter, regardless of their ability to work. A society that fails to provide this has failed.

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  8. Hi,
    Universal medicine that never came, Medicare that went bankrupt and the sinking standards of living when you can no longer work, speaks of the society that we’re living in. The ending is a true reality that is happening now on this earth.
    Well done! You touched my heart.
    Shalom aleichem,
    Pat G

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  9. Hi,
    Universal medicine that never came, Medicare that went bankrupt and the sinking standards of living when you can no longer work, speaks of the society that we’re living in. The ending is a true reality that is happening now on this earth.
    Well done! You touched my heart.
    Shalom aleichem,
    Pat G

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  10. Oh, this is so sad. Beautiful but tragic. They should've moved to Canada. I hope our medical system never goes the way of the American one. The worst medical system in the developed world, this one, with its cosmic prices and disregard for the poor.

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    1. You are very lucky, financial ruin due to medical costs happens daily. Thank, Olga.

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  11. This is a beautiful, love filled heart wrencher. My misty-eyed self thanks you.

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  12. This story is so heartbreaking, and also far too realistic. So many people do everything they're supposed to do in life to make themselves secure, but they can still end up destitute. It's absolutely wrong, and while we could as a society do something to prevent outcomes like this, I fear we won't.

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  13. Tragic and beautifully crafted with a clever though sad use of the prompt-picture. It feels so real too as the cost of surviving spirals out of control and the cardboard box looms for too many of us. There are too many days when I miss moving from the UK to the US.

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    1. Yep, we used to play in such cardboard boxes. I see it coming full circle one day. Thanks, Roland.

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  14. Renee, so you've gone with non-fiction too? No, I didn't misread your story - it definitely is not fiction to so many. No 'rich' society should suffer homelessness, but manages to by demonising the homeless. An issue close to my heart. How I hate heartless governments. At least this couple had each other. Many homeless are single, especially divorced women who didn't keep up their careers and therefore lack superannuation - not sure the US even has that. We live in a global society. Many countries take the lead from the US with their cruel 'medicare' system. I hope Aus never follows you down that cruel road - we actually have public hospitals for all and turn no one away.

    Whoops. Didn't I get carried away? I'm glad your brain went down this road for Cafe Terrace! So good to have you back you can't imagine my joy! x

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    1. You always make me smile. Thank you, you don't know how good it is to get back to it! I'm as passionate as you are about the state of things, and to see what is going on daily in our own government offices. It's beyond sad.

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  15. Aw! So sad, and yet so sweet. Perfect ending.

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  16. I had to re-read the start several times as I didn't want to believe that they were living in the cardboard box. So sad. They had their memories, they had each other but what a twist to the prompt. Almost as sad as van Gogh's life itself. Great story, very well written.
    I'm so grateful to be living in a country which has a social safety net.

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    1. Thank you, Carole. I found your poem just as moving!

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  17. Oh, how sad! It turned so unexpectedly, but so well. Great take on the prompt.

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  18. Lovely!!

    It is so sad that so many people are homeless, living in cardboard cities, right here in America. There is no such thing as affordable health care.

    Thanks for the sweetly beautiful story Yolanda. Loved every minute of it.

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  19. A good end to a.good life. These are the thoughts that preoccupy us as we get older in a society where there are no guarantees. Beautifully written, capturing their joy in each other, without dwelling on the difficult.

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  20. Hi Renee - gosh ... I'm sure so true of many - and they probably made the right decision to just go. Times are mighty tough for many ... we have them here and I'm sure in the larger cities it'd be desperate. I know the churches open their doors on the really cold nights.

    But I could feel their way of life ... their drifting off with little food or comfort yet able to remember those loving days they had together ... well done - poignant ...cheers Hilary

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    1. Hi, Hilary, in the end it's all we've really got - memories - but then again, some don't even have those.

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  21. What a beautiful and sad story. A bit of a cautionary tale and a whole lot of a true blue romance- a love story to the end. Thank you for sharing it.

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  22. You made me cry, Yolanda. It was very touching and I loved the two characters who found each other in their youth and still had such love to share.

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    1. Hi, Lee! Thanks, it was almost too easy to write.

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  23. A story far too common. Our ‘warming shelters’ are overflowing, plans to build alternative housing flounder, and somehow we lose sight of the suffering your story brings to light. The latest failure in our policies to prevent homelessness is the rising number of bankruptcies related to high health care costs. A tragedy on more than one level. So, that expensive print eased their suffering. Van Gogh would have understood.

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    1. Homelessness, I think is due to the cost of health care. Sure, some choose it, but many don't. Poverty, hunger, a lack of health care. Unforgivable, and yet folks still call us the richest nation, the most advanced nation, etc. Ridiculous!

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  24. This is lovely and sad and heart-breaking. You brought tears to my eyes. Glad to see you back.

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  25. Such a unique take on the prompt. Not to mention a story that has it all--love, loss, tragedy.

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    1. Thanks, Donna, and I didn't murder anyone! :) Can't say the same for society / government though!

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  26. That's sad. No one should end up like that. Even if they still had that painting.

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  28. Such a heart wrenching story, it brought me to tears, Yolanda! A testament to your powerful writing skills. This shouldn't happen to anyone! As someone who lives in a country with universal healthcare, it boggles my mind that people can and do end up this way.

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    1. Hi, Debbie!
      Thank you. It's a horrid state of affairs.

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  29. Dear Yolanda, thank you for your story, so beautifully sad and well composed.
    Angry that your great country is slowly slipping away into social injustice, an unbreachable rift between rich and poor. Where is the forefathers’ hard won democracy been buried? My heart and soul go out to you in these unseasonable times. Thank you again for visiting my blog again this month.

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  30. This felt way too real for fiction!

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