Homeless Donna - A Short Story
Homeless Donna sat on a cold, concrete curb. Her battered cardboard sign with letters long faded away laid beside her. She hadn’t found a marker in the garbage, or within the litter accumulated on the roadside with enough ink left inside to refresh the sign’s asking letters. It was a warm night, but it was still cold. The nights were always cold for Homeless Donna, colder than the days.
A car drove by, and then another with a passenger window rolled down and a small voice from within that happily said, “Hi Donna!” Everyone in town knew Homeless Donna. Lake City is one of those cities that isn’t big but it isn’t small either. There is a Walmart, but no Whole Foods; there is an Applebees, but no Cheesecake Factory; there are many businesses and office buildings, but no skyscrapers. It is between Fort Worth and a much smaller town divided by a lake named Esel.
Brake lights lit the night air red behind a truck, and at first Homeless Donna thought the driver was stopping to offer change, or maybe a couple dollar bills. She had already eaten - two greasy fast food tacos that put her back a dollar and seven cents after the tax, so she wasn’t asking for anything, just resting, delaying the lonely walk down Main Street from the convenient store to the park, to the spot within the tree line where she laid her head at night. Her bed beneath the trees was colder than the curb.
The truck hadn’t stopped to offer money she wasn’t at the time asking for.
“Get a job you skinny bitch!”
Everyone knew Homeless Donna.
She knew them just as they knew her, and Frank Mosal’s truck was very familiar. Partly because of its size—taller than necessary to navigate any of the off road trails in North Texas; a bigger rear axle and two extra tires designed to pull a trailer—a trailer never trailed Frank’s truck; retractable rear view mirrors that were never retracted, stretched out in order to better see the invisible trailer. A white sticker stuck on the back window, an offensive acronym that was popular in his high school days. Frank’s truck was also very familiar because it always stopped but never for donation.
She waved and he drove away.
Homeless Donna picked up her modest pack of belongings and walked the lonely walk. The night was darker inside the park, within the old oak trees that kept her safe. The vigilant trees listened when she needed an ear, kept her dry when she needed a roof, they even seemed to talk sometimes, when she needed a friend. Her bed was a donated sleeping bag with a zipper that stopped working halfway down the track, and her bedroom the woods. As she laid, she thought of what she had been, and wondered if she would ever become anything again.
Inside the dark, empty park Homeless Donna slept.
* * *
“Donna . . . Donna wake up!”
It was Matthew Hilliard. He was nice young boy of twelve who visited Homeless Donna at the park sometimes, always with an extra red delicious apple. He ran towards her wooded bedroom. His excited legs moved so fast underneath him that it appeared he might lose them. There were many more Matthew Hilliards in that town than Frank Mosals. The boy had no apples that morning.
“What is it Matthew? What brings you here so early this morning?”
“Oh I just couldn’t wait any longer!”
“Wait for what boy?”
“Mr. Dickerson, you know, the owner of The Eagle’s Nest grocery store over in Esel . . .”
“Yeah, I know him. He’s a nice fellow.”
“Well . . . you gotta come with me. Come on!”
Little Matthew grabbed her hand, tugged and said “Come on!” until Homeless Donna got up from her sleeping bag and followed him up the winding, concrete trail to the park’s parking lot. Too excited to walk, Matthew skipped ahead of her. A small crowd about the size of two parking spaces was gathered. All smiles. Mr. Dickerson, owner of The Eagle’s Nest grocery store over in Esel, stood at the forefront.
“What’s this all about?”
“Oh Donna, you’re gonna love it!”
“Tell her Mr. Dickerson!”
“You’re no longer sleeping in this park, on the cold dirt.” Mr. Dickerson said. He pulled a shiny object from a pocket of his khaki Dockers and tossed it to Homeless Donna. It was a key that said “T” for Toyota.
When she did she saw a shiny, silver Toyota Corolla. When she followed the little boy up the trail to the congregation of happy townsfolk, she hadn’t really noticed the car sitting in its spot. It had been only a car, nothing to beguile her attention. Now, as her heart tightened and raced inside of her chest at the same time, it was much more than a car. It was opportunity. Homeless Donna’s back was to Mr. Dickerson, Matthew Hilliard, and the rest of the townspeople, but she felt the warmth of their love radiate through her old hoodie, and tears began to race each other over and down the rosy flesh of her cheeks. She faced them. Four of the women’s faces, and one man’s, also hosted aqueous competitions.
“I . . . I don’t know what to say.”
“It isn’t brand new,” Mr. Dickerson began, “but it’s damn near. She’s a 2015 with only …”
He was interrupted by a gracious squeeze and a kiss on the cheek before he smiled and continued.
“It only has twenty-one thousand miles. Marty over here gave us a hell of a deal. He knew I was interested in buying you a dependable vehicle and gave me a call as soon as it rolled off the car hauler’s trailer and onto his lot. The registration and sales tax are taken care of, and the title is in your name. I’ll pay for the insurance myself for now, until you can afford it yourself.”
“Thank you Marty! Thank all of you! So very much.”
Homeless Donna passed out hugs to each of them gathered there that day.
“Go on Donna, get in! Take her for a spin!”
* * *
Homeless Donna was homeless no longer.
She wasted little time and found employment at Lake City Mobility. Saleswoman Donna sold handicap accessible vehicles to those in need. She sold vans with ramps and trucks with lifts; she even sold a foot controlled steering wheel to a man without arms. She sold so many converted vehicles to veterans wounded in our wars, to parents of children who suffered from Cerebral Palsy, to parents of little boys with Duchenne muscular dystrophy who rarely lived beyond their teenage years, that she quickly promoted to Sales Manager.
Even as the calendar’s yearly number grew, Sales Manager Donna never forgot those lovely people who helped her when she’d learned why they call the cold and lonely bottom rock. She made sure they remembered her gratitude as well. Each year at Christmas time they received a gift from No-Longer-Homeless-Donna, which was how she signed her name at the end of the note, that explained to them how it had been because of their kindness.
* * *
Seven years after she was given the Toyota that happy day in the park General Manager Donna found a familiar name on the desk in her office. Lake City Mobility was in need of another technician to keep up with its recent growth, and General Manager Donna created an ad on Craigslist with letters asking for a skilled individual to join the team. The name she recognized was Frank Mosal. She felt again the hurt that pained her each time Frank stopped his big dually truck only to curse her, or throw out a half-eaten fast food cheeseburger. In a fit of anger, she fed the paper shredder at the end of her large walnut desk its favorite meal, and she waited for his application to exit the machine in pieces that couldn’t be discerned - the way his heinous words had made her felt.
General Manager Donna lunged for the outlet on the white wall behind her and unplugged the thing. It only ate an inch of the job application before she stopped it. She took a deep, restorative breath and set Frank Mosal’s paperwork on the very top of the applicant stack.
* * *
“Come in Frank.”
His bright, ready eyes dropped to the floor the moment he recognized her. There was something different about the man, she thought. He didn’t even drive up in an oversized, bellowing truck.
“I didn’t know you worked here.”
“Well, I knew it was your application as soon as I saw your name,” she said.
“You did? Why did you have me come? To humiliate me?”
“I’m sure you know all about the oil field. The layoffs.”
“Yes, I’ve heard.”
“I’ve been without a job almost a year now, and I don’t want to end up on the streets like …”
General Manager Donna raised her eyebrows and waited for Frank to finish.
“Look, I’m sorry about before. I’ll just go.” He turned around and began to open the office door.
“Have a seat Frank.”
He hesitated at the halfway opened door.
“So, you got laid off?” She asked in a softer tone.
He released the door and took the seat she offered. He sat across from General Manager Donna and looked her directly in her eyes for the first time ever.
“Yes. They’re cutting men like old race horses out in Midland.”
“Your application says that you were responsible for troubleshooting and commissioning rig control systems. Ten years of experience. That’s impressive. I think you’d be able to learn how to maintain our inventory and repair our customer’s vehicles very quickly, given your oil rig experience. Are you still interested in working here?”
“I treated you so badly. Why would you hire me?”
General Manager Donna set the paperwork down and smiled.
“Frank, everyone deserves another opportunity. Now, you can take this job and work for me. Work hard for me. I’ll pay you well. Not oil field money, but well. That’ll make up for all those nasty things you said and did back then. Or . . . you can walk out of here. But if you walk out of here, I doubt you’ll ever forgive yourself.”
* * *
General Manager Donna and Service Manager Frank worked together until Retired Donna moved to Destin, Florida, where sometimes she chose to sleep outside on the warm, beach sand.
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