By the Grace | Gayle Bell

I was covered in potato chip crumbs, stuffing baggies while Ms. C the volunteer monitor/shelter resident at the soup kitchen barked orders to the guys milling around smoking cigarettes, washing down containers and the truck for the soup delivery. I was sitting next to a chatty com/serve girl who didn’t take one breath filling us in on her life. My newfound sista friend and I rolled our eyes and looked to the girl with compassion and mild amusement.

Every now and again the sista would take her key out her pocket and say she was afraid to lose her key. Seeing as she was in a bit of distress about it, I offered to give her one of my numerous huge keyrings on my own massive keychain full of trinkets and a handy light. She thanked me profusely and told me this was the first key that she owned in 12 years. She wasn’t gonna lose this key and a few chips missed their target while my eyes misted over at the implication. While I took a minute to take a sip of coffee and composure she took a bag of chips, water, cookies, and a Dr. Pepper, made with real sugar, girl, to take back to her home.

They are making me do 90 in 90, I’ll get my 90-day chip then.

It’s all good, said Chatty Cathy, not realizing what she missed. Me and Sis were talking about the spirit at that point, the ice being broken and the more than one makes an AA/NA meeting, experience, strength, and hope, and all that. I gave her a micro-drunk/high along and told her I have been clean and sober for 16 years. Well, asserted Cathy, I don’t believe in any of that stuff. Just what’s in front of me is what I believe.

By the time the Soupman© and volunteer sergeant agreed to take Cathy for a ride in the Soup Mobile® to make the deliveries, me and Sis breathe a quiet sigh of relief and silence. Now be careful Ms. Lady, make sure you close those bags real tight before you put them in the bucket. Don’t want the birds getting too many, they’re fat enough. Anyway, the spirit is the important thing, you don’t have to be religious to be spiritual. I wholeheartedly agreed and gave my tired old speech about the gang affiliation that I find most religions to be. The spirit is why we were both sitting on picnic benches on a beautiful spring day stuffing buckets with donated chips, gummy bears, and cereal bars along with the soup that keeps most of the homeless folks from dying that day.

I was told by one of the guys leaning on the fence that the gummy bears and bags of cookies are traded for cigarettes for the folks on the streets with kids. Sis told me that a couple of occasions she wanted to commit suicide while she was out there. I told her my attempt with a bottle of my ex-husband’s nitroglycerin pills washed down with a pint of Southern Comfort; seeing my Guardian Angel step through the wall in a bathrobe and hair curlers pissed at me because I disturbed her on her day off. By the end of my monologue, several of the guys holding up the back fence were quiet, coughing and placing nervous glances my way.

Miroslava Panayotova

My angel is 8 ft tall with a large sword, armor all over his body, when I was gang raped, he kept me from getting killed, her smile closed, a window with the shades drawn, glimpses of shadows. The men buzzed around us trying to be useful, finding cigarette butts to pick up, and offer sodas and smokes to me and her. There were water buckets to clean up, sounds of chips being crammed into baggies, soup buckets to wash.

©2021 Gayle Bell
All rights reserved


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