It was early afternoon when Tim stopped
by to tell me about Samuel. I’d just finished a
can of chicken noodle soup for lunch. Tim’s
eyelids appeared puffy. I suspected he’d had a
“Good morning, Mary,” he said, quietly.
“It’s afternoon,” I told him, without raising my
He lifted his wrist, letting the hand hang limp,
to consult his watch.
“Yes, I suppose it is.”
“Look, I wanted to let you know, Mary.
Samuel’s moved up.”
The news made my right temple start to throb.
“To here,” Tim said, jabbing his index finger
toward his feet. “I found him last night.”
Still standing in the hall while I held onto the
open door, Tim looked down.
“I mean, this morning. When I got home.
Samuel was right here.”
He made more stabbing motions toward the
floor with his fingers.
“I see,” I said, unable to come up with
anything more substantial.
“What are we gonna do, Mary?”
“I don’t know,” I said and let out a rather too
All year, Samuel had been our chief headache.
Right before Christmas, Alan had found
Samuel crumpled against his door on the first
floor, when he arrived home late from the
office. Alan shook Samuel awake and ordered
Man, it’s cold, Samuel argued.
The temperature outside was close to freezing.
Alan could smell the alcohol on Samuel’s
Okay. Just tonight, Alan said. You need to be
out of here in the morning.
The next night, Samuel was back.
The morning after Tim stopped by, I found
Samuel sleeping in front of my second floor
flat. With the door open, I stood staring at this
large black man, then reached across him for
my paper. He smelled of stale wine and
clothes that needed a good washing.
Every night after, I heard a thwack against the
door and knew that Samuel had come back.
Mornings, I found his long, wiry body in a tight
ball, asleep, on the floor. He never woke up
when I reached for the paper or stepped over
him on my way out. Afternoons when I came
home, he was gone.
One morning, several weeks after he’d first
moved up, I reached across his body and he
suddenly jerked up.
“Oh,” I said, startled. “Hello.”
He stared at me without opening his mouth.
“I’m Mary. I live here,” I explained.
I pointed into the flat. He continued to stare.
“You’ve been sleeping in front of my flat for
I waited but he refused to say a word.
“You’re here every morning when I come out
for my paper.”
Samuel’s eyes took up too much room in his
face, giving him the look of a startled child. He
sat up and anchored his right elbow against the
floor. He had on a navy blue ribbed wool cap.
Several stray curls were attempting to escape
out the side.
His skin was the shade of partially seared
charcoal. He probably had once been a nice-
looking guy. In addition to those large dark
eyes, he had a delicate mouth and high
cheekbones above a slender jaw.
He nodded his head and then shook it from
side to side.
“I haven’t got anyplace to go,” he declared,
and resumed staring at the floor.
He laughed, more a cackle than a belly laugh.
“What’s so funny?”
“I don’t know, lady. It just seem funny to
He started laughing again.
I didn’t feel afraid, which surprised me.
“When you leave here, where do you go?”
Samuel quit laughing and went back to
studying the floor.
“I go downtown and I get the breakfast free. I
like the raisins.”
“Raisins? They give you raisins?”
“The raisins I like. With the milk. The milk is
I held onto the door, ready to slam it shut,
even though the soft spot I’d always had for
people was urging me to keep it open.
“You drink, don’t you? Isn’t that why you have
no place to live?”
“Oh, yes. That Samuel. He sure do like to
drink. Sometime he like to drink too much.”
He sounded like Harry Belafonte.
“Where do you come from?”
“I come from Jamaica. Long time past.”
“Why are you here?”
Samuel giggled softly and sighed.
“I come for love.”
A whiff from Samuel’s rancid clothes hit my
nostrils. I pressed my curled fingers to my
“You need to go,” I instructed him in a firm
voice, afraid if I removed my fingers I would
“Samuel will go. Samuel will go and have his
He slammed his knuckles against the floor and
pushed up. As he rose to his full height, I saw
what an awfully tall man he was. Fear started
chewing on my gut.
“I mean, you can’t sleep here anymore.”
“Samuel will go,” he brazenly asserted, raising
his voice. I suddenly felt as if I couldn’t get
enough air into my lungs.
He took one step and then stumbled into
another. I was relieved a minute later, when
he grabbed the railing and started stumbling
down the stairs. I pressed my fingers against
my nose, my left hand in a tight fist at my
side. The sour smell lingered even after he’d
I closed the door quietly, leaving my fists
pressed for a moment against the wood. The
kettle was making a low, spitting sound in the
kitchen. I wondered if I left it there, whether it
That afternoon, I stepped across the hall and
knocked on Tim’s door.
“He was here this morning,” I said.
Tim didn’t invite me in.
“You saw him?”
“Yes. And guess what he told me? He said he
came here for love. What do you think
happened to him?”
“Who knows, Mary? Who cares? I hate to be
crass, but he’s a homeless drunk. They all
have stories. Love, families, kids. They start
drinking or doing drugs and that’s the end of
everything. The important question is how are
we going to make him leave?”
“I don’t know,” I said, shaking my head. “I
told him he couldn’t sleep here anymore. I’m
not sure he was listening.”
The first few months after I retired from thirty-
seven years of teaching high school English, I
stayed busy. I’d lived alone so long, I didn’t
think I’d grow bored or terribly lonely.
But then a dull, quiet flatness set in. Mornings,
I rattled around, straightening the throw
pillows on the couch and dusting knickknacks
I’d already wiped off several times. When I
couldn’t think of another chore, I headed over
to the park, two blocks up Frederick and three
over on Stanyan.
The morning after I told Samuel to go, I made
the short trek to the park and wandered
around a lovely display of pink, purple, yellow
and white flowers spilling down the chartreuse
lawn. For a few moments, the beauty helped
scatter the gray clouds that had gathered in
Stepping past the gardens, an old memory
surfaced, as they had started to do lately with
all this time I was spending alone. I
remembered that Robert used to write poetry
about this park, and he would read to me,
when we lay next to one another on this lawn,
in the sun.
Like Samuel, Robert was a foreigner from a
tropical place. Tight black curls framed his
lovely heart-shaped face.
One unseasonably hot afternoon, he moved
into my flat, carrying cardboard boxes filled
with books. We slept on a mattress, so thin my
bones ached from being pressed against the
hardwood floor. Every night, we made love.
A few months later, I walked in when Robert
was talking on the phone. The soft sweet tone
in his voice was one he used when we made
love. He hung up as soon as he noticed me.
It must have been about a week later that I
saw them—lying on an olive green army
blanket in the very same spot Robert read to
me. She had long red hair and Robert was
twirling a strand of it in his fingers when he
turned and saw me.
I got up early the day Robert planned to move
out and drove south, on the treacherous,
winding highway that snaked down the coast. I
kept my hands gripped tightly on the wheel
and my eyes pasted to the road. One too
sharp turn might send me hurtling onto the
I pulled off at a beach Robert and I liked. The
tide was out, leaving shallow pools connected
by pathways of slick wet rock. I stepped from
rock to rock. Rain mixed with the tears sliding
down into my mouth. Pink and purple
anemones waved as the water was whipped by
wind. Looking up, I could see that furious
waves the shade of wet concrete were heading
my way, getting ready to batter the shore.
By the time I got home, it was dark and the
rain had stopped. I hurried from room to
room, assuring myself that everything
belonging to Robert was gone.
I heard Samuel cough as I opened the door. It
sounded as if his insides were being hacked up.
I looked down. He was curled over himself,
like a seed in a pod.
My first instinct was to close the door and wait
until he’d gone. The hat was missing from his
head. About half of his thick nappy hair was
streaked with white.
“You’re sick,” I said, as soon as his coughing
“I wait to die,” was all he said back.
“Is that true?”
“I wait for the cancer to eat me alive. If I was
home now, they would say I got the evil spirit
“You have cancer?”
“That is what they say. I say that one day my
life was cursed.”
Then he laughed.
“Everyone else say, ‘Samuel, he like to drink
too much. He deserve whatever he get.’ They
are right, I think.”
I tried to convince myself to close the door. I
felt a thickness in my throat, a sign I might
start to cry.
“You should go and get your breakfast,” I said,
as I stepped back to close the door. “Before
it’s too late.”
That night, Samuel’s coughing woke me up. I
tried to will myself back to sleep, but I lay
awake for hours, drowning in morbid thoughts.
I tried to move my mind to more pleasant
subjects. But I kept coming back to Samuel
growing thinner and thinner, the cancer slowly
The next morning, I heard the thump that told
me Samuel was on his way out. I grabbed the
paper, stepped over to the staircase, my left
hand grasping the railing as I went down. On
the first floor, I felt the breeze sneaking up.
I passed the three neighboring white stucco
apartment buildings. At the corner, the bus
was idling at the light.
Fiddling for change, I stepped up the bus stairs
and finally scooped up six quarters from the
bottom of my wallet and slid them into the
narrow metal slot. The seat closest to the
driver wasn’t taken, so I sat down. Just before
the bus took off, I turned to look out the
window. A whir of brick and glass passed
before my eyes.
In the men’s department, I held a red wool
sweater under the bright lights. The high neck
folded over twice.
Styles had changed a dozen or more times
since I’d last bought clothes for a man. I
preferred not to dwell on the number.
It was crazy, I knew. Even sillier that I
planned to look at jackets next. I had no idea
what mistakes Samuel had made in his life. I
couldn’t begin to imagine the wrong turns he
had taken or the people he’d hurt. I guess I’d
finally gotten too old to care.
Tim said we needed to call the police.
“We don’t need to call anyone,” I responded.
“What are you saying?” Tim asked.
He held a cup of coffee in his right hand. It was
Sunday afternoon, a few minutes past two
o’clock, and he was still wrapped in his gray
“He’s going to stay.”
I turned and looked out the kitchen window.
The sun was out. Spots left by rain-dampened
dust were dulling the shine.
“Samuel’s going to die. We can’t force him to
Tim had watched his partner Larry grow thin
from AIDS, until he was so frail he could barely
sit up. Tim stepped across the kitchen to the
“I’d better wash this,” he said, sliding his finger
down the window. “Pretty soon, I won’t be
able to see out.”
Tim traced his finger through the gray dust,
leaving one bright clean line.
“You buy this for me?” Samuel asked.
The sweater was loose but it still made his
eyes light up.
I nodded and felt my face grow warm.
“Yes. You’re sick and you shouldn’t get cold.”
He pushed against the floor three times before
he managed to stand up. His breath rattled
like a window on a stormy night.
“How do I look?” he asked.
It was the first time I’d allowed myself to stare
at Samuel full-on. His thick, nappy hair
resembled a collection of wire-mesh scrubbers.
His skin had a dirty gray tone.
“You look like Christmas,” I told him.
Tuesday morning the following week, I
reached over Samuel to grab the paper. As I
stepped back, I noticed that he smelled
especially bad. The hallway reeked of urine.
I walked toward the kitchen. Sun coming in
the living room window was flooding the hall,
like light does at the center of a cathedral.
When I reached the kitchen, I stepped out the
back door onto the deck and looked up at the
sky. Two wispy clouds thinned as I watched.
Blue barreled right through, after vanquishing
“You say he slept here for three months?” the
young police officer asked, a few minutes later
when he arrived. He was handsome in a steely
way, with close-cropped hair and cocoa brown
skin. “Weren’t you afraid?”
“At first, yes. But then I realized that he was
I told the police what I knew, which wasn’t
much. From information they pieced together,
the police concluded that Samuel had lived on
the streets most of his adult life. They found no
records of Samuel having been married,
fathering any children or holding down a job.
“He traveled light, that’s for sure,” the police
officer said, when he came back to see me
after Samuel was buried. “He seemed to be
completely alone. The only things he owned
were on his back.”
A therapist once told me that even the ending
of a bad relationship can bring grief. I wouldn’t
dare go so far as to say that I cared about
Samuel or that he and I were friends. But at
this point in my life, I do not take a single
Samuel is gone. A quiet loneliness has slipped
back down over my life.
Mornings I scoop up the paper from the empty
space out front. I grab the handrail and slowly
make my way down. After stepping out onto
the sidewalk, I turn right and head up the
Even in summer, the mornings are foggy and
cold. To keep warm, I wear an oversized red
sweater when I go out. After I pull it over my
head, I turn the collar over twice.
Patty Somlo has been nominated for the Pushcart Prize three times
and was a finalist in the Tom Howard Short Story Contest. Her first
collection, From Here to There and Other Stories, was published by
Paraguas Books. Her work has appeared in the Los Angeles Review,
the Santa Clara Review, the Jackson Hole Review, WomenArts
Quarterly, Guernica, Slow Trains and Fringe Magazine, among others,
and in several anthologies. She has work forthcoming in Evening
Street Review, Shaking Magazine, Kudzu Review and Slow Trains.