A Spoonful

Pregnant, like one of those sagging dogs around a dumpster, the woman had found her way to the alley where, like that dog, she had caught the scent of life, the promise of warmth, and, maybe, food. Also like that dog, her desperation overpowered her fear, and propelled her toward the sliver of wavering light ahead and its almost certain peril or disappointment.

Rats even more desperate than her scurried in swarms along the edges of the littered and glistening alley, alert to her, their longtime enemy and food source, less the first, still, potentially, the latter. The woman had found nothing to eat for three days, and among these ruins only a little rainwater pooled on the lid of a dented oil drum that she dared drink, and until now, no sign of human life.

She approached the light bleeding through the crack in the canvas and dancing on the oily pavement. She stopped, listened, heard some soft sounds, clinks and bumps, but no voices. Then she knelt and listened some more. Trembling, she reached out and pulled back the canvas and saw them, sitting on cardboard and rags around a stubby candle on a box. Their blank faces registered no surprise or threat as they stared at her, the yellow light flickering in their eyes.

She crawled inside.

Life, yes, but the warmth was lacking—and the food? The situation did not look promising.

They were a group, maybe an actual family, a concept that would have filled the woman with pain, if she could have spared the energy for concepts. A man, two children, and a woman holding a corroded tin can over the weak flame, stirring what was in it with a blackened spoon. The woman who had entered sat in an attitude that, even though her silent hosts offered no overt resistance, acknowledged her peripheral status. After the initial staring, those four looked away from her, as though they could not squander their stamina on even the recognition of her presence.

The woman ceased her stirring and turned with the can to the girl child. She tilted the can sideways and carefully dipped a level spoonful and brought it with extravagant care to the girl’s mouth. Blankly, the girl opened and swallowed. The woman crouching beyond the pale watched and caught the smell. Then the woman doled out a similar spoonful to the boy child, then one to the cadaverous man.

Now she had to tilt the can almost completely on its side to scoop out the obvious last spoonful. Or almost spoonful. She dribbled the last few drops from the can into the spoon and then, holding the spoon, at last looked at the woman and their eyes met.

For a moment something reminiscent of emotion, a sort of food itself, passed between them, then the woman raised the spoon to her own mouth and took it all.

No more eye contact after that. The newcomer looked around at the four faces, emotionless now, dull and matter of fact.

The part of the woman’s mind that imagines, that projects, that fabricates supposition in that non-existent realm called the future, had shut down.

She, carrying life in the midst of death, didn’t wonder what is the point, because the point lives in the future too.

June 6, 2019

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