With every decision, we turn a corner.

The Corner: O’Reilly

Homeless man gesticulatingO’Reilly stood in the middle of the street with blaring car horns assaulting him from all directions. A few irritated glares shot out from behind windshields while mostly indifferent expressions turned away. He waved his arm like shooing unwanted pets. The vehicles swerved around him and went their less-than-merry holiday way without giving him another thought.

“Swine poop patties, cialis usa pilule ” he roared at their taillights.

O’Reilly’s speech was, cialis canada if anything, colorful. I shook my head and argued with myself not to get involved. I didn’t have the patience for downtown Denver’s rush hour traffic let alone O’Reilly. This find promised to ruin dinner and go downhill from there. Someone in the melee of backed up traffic let off steam by laying on their horn. At who, or what was anybody’s guess.

I pressed Shannon’s name on my cell then waited for her to pick up while I scanned the busy intersection. At the moment, the derelict wasn’t in immediate danger. The light had turned and the flow of traffic had come to a stop next to him. I inched my car closer, threw it in park and thought to hit my hazard button. Scarlet flashes lit him up like a cheesy Christmas decoration.

“Brian, I really can’t talk at the moment,” she said. “I’m stuck in traffic and fighting to get back to my office.

“I found O’Reilly.”

At her shriek I jerked my cell away. “Oh my God, where?”

“Thirteenth and Speer. What do you want to do?”

“What condition is he in?” Her clinical voice kicked in, her one personae that I often clashed with.

O’Reilly teetered back on his heels then blinked and absently rubbed his shoulder through the filthy layers that in a previous life resembled clothes. From the vacant expression, he didn’t know where he was.

“Not in this galaxy would be my guess,” I said but a heartbeat later he made me a liar. His eyes cleared as he straightened his back and looked at the car idling next to him. The Christmas music that penetrated the windows must have scratched enough memory neurons to trigger his here and now. With one foot planted in reality, he skirted out of the way of traffic and ended up on the sidewalk overlooking the Platte River walkway below us.

The light blinked from red to green and a bleat of a horn came from behind me. Apparently the driver didn’t understand that blinking red meant something was amiss. Must be epileptic, I reasoned trying to keep my irritation in check. I rolled down my driver’s side window and was slammed with a blast of frigid air across the side of my face. I stuck my arm out and waved for the traffic to go around since they couldn’t figure that piece out for themselves.

“We need to get him out of the cold,” she said.

Translation: ‘we’ meaning me. I inwardly groaned. Shannon was so much better at this part. I managed a pizza franchise and dealt with complaints of cold orders and delivery kids too high to drive, much less be able to make change. An out-of-his-mind derelict had not been a part of my Business Management 101 class in community college. Shannon was the saint-on-wheels social worker. In my hardened heart of hearts I knew she was right. An arctic weather front had descended upon the city earlier in the day with temperatures expected to dip well below zero within the hour. That sort of thing turned her world into hyper-drive.

At my hesitation, her voice drew a desperate edge. “Please Brian. I really need your help with this one. No one deserves to freeze to death,” said her clinical voice, the one that kept me waiting at restaurants alone and made us late for rendezvous’ with friends. I’d never figured out a way to separate her clinical from the heart. They flowed between like conjoined twins. Lately I’d convinced myself we’d have a future if she’d only give up her job and find something that wouldn’t suck her dry on a daily basis for so little return.

“You owe me,” I said getting out and held the phone so she’d be sure to catch my slammed door.

“I love you more at this moment than you’ll ever know.”

My steps came to an abrupt halt at her use of the elusive L-word. Before I could probe, she broke the connection.

“You’re going to the shelter tonight, O’Reilly,” I said once I got his attention. “Spare me and the rest of Denver from finding your popsicle corpse on this corner in the morning.” I blew on my hands and rubbed them together, pissed off that my gloves sat on the dining room table at home. When I saw his exposed fingers turn a deeper purple before my eyes, my temper simmered into regret that I had nothing to offer him. “Where are the gloves Shannon gave you?”

“Martha,” he mumbled.

They’d gone to an elderly woman with schizophrenia, abandoned by her son after he got caught cashing her social security checks. “Guess mom wasn’t of use to him anymore,” Shannon had said as casually as commenting on the weather.

Her ability to shrug off the worst of humanity made me wonder about the family she’d never talk about.

The air hung heavy from the exhaust as the squeeze of atmospheric pressure settled upon the city. I swallowed a curse at the storm that chose to show up like uninvited family for the holidays. “My job is to get you off this corner,” I said prodding to speed things up.

“It’s my corner,” O’Reilly said. The anger returned to his eyes on the heels of his tone.

“I’m not taking it from you.” I held up my hands in surrender and stepped back to prove my point. Shannon had warned me that O’Reilly had a thing about personal space, only it varied as often as his moods and you’d never know if you violated it until he started swinging. Lucky for me his rheumatoid joints slowed him down.

O’Reilly became distracted by the lamppost and stroked it like a lover’s thigh. I contemplated on what his life might have been like before the universe’s planetary shift brought him to this corner to battle the elements twenty-four-seven and grow numb to society’s distain. By the time Shannon found the real estate challenged, they were so far gone she often couldn’t get enough info to search for family members. “I get to know them as a shell of what they once were.”

“Shannon is worried about you,” I said.

“Shannon?” He peered at me from behind slits and his nose crinkled as if giving the name some real thought. “She gave me this.” He rubbed a grimy hand on his coat that in its better days had probably been worn by a business man who took pride in his appearance.

“Yeah, that’s right. She did.” I stuck my needle tingling hands deep in my pockets. “I was with her when she gave it to you.” What made this guy different from all the others, I thought. From the moment he got on Shannon’s radar, she’d become obsessed with him. For the last two weeks she’d been freaking out because she had lost track of him and put me on O’Reilly search duty whenever I was out and about or had a moment to spare.

“Brian!” Shannon ran toward us with rosy cheeks and excitement spilling from her dark eyes. Her boot connected with the thin layer of ice on the sidewalk and she grabbed my sleeve to steady herself.

“You got here fast.” I scanned the area. “Where’s your car?”

“I was only a block away and parked in the grocery store lot.”

“Why?” O’Reilly said in the gruff reprimanding voice of a parent. Shannon didn’t respond while she stared as if uncertain what to say.

“Why what?” I asked more to keep him alert and with us than to fill the uneasy void that passed between them.

“Why are you here?” he tossed in Shannon’s direction.

Tears pooled in her eyes. “You’re worth it.” Her teeth chattered and she hugged herself.

“You don’t know me,” O’Reilly muttered. “You don’t know anything about me.”

Shannon shook her head. “You’re wrong. I know how you came to be here. Let me help you,” she said and placed her hand upon his arm.

O’Reilly’s personal space thing reared its head. He jerked away and straightened up, looming over her. His eyes darkened. “Leave me alone,” he roared, “go away.” He stumbled backwards while battling the air.

I grabbed her and pulled her back. “Shannon, be careful.”

He calmed. “Shannon?” O’Reilly’s eyes darted to her flaming hair.

She gently nudged me to the side and took a step toward him. “When was the last time you ate?” O’Reilly didn’t answer and leaned against the concrete bridge. She fished a granola bar out of her pocket and opened it, pulling the foil wrapper back to the sides. When she offered it, he looked at it like it was a poisoned apple. “It’ll tide you over until we can get you to the shelter. Then you can get a warm meal.” He raised a tentative hand toward it but stopped before grabbing it. “It’s already opened. You don’t want to waste it, do you?” When he didn’t move, she broke off a piece and stuck it in her mouth. “Mmmm, it’s the soft kind and tastes like my grandma’s oatmeal cookies. Grandpa loved raisins and I’d sneak two scoops in the batter instead of just the one. Grandma made the best cookies ever.”

“I like cookies,” O’Reilly said and licked his chapped lips.

“Then you’ll love this.”

He snatched it out of her hand and it disappeared in two bites. She offered another one and this time he didn’t hesitate. The surrounding traffic couldn’t drown out O’Reilly’s growling stomach as it rejoiced in the first real food he might have eaten all day, hell maybe since they’d last seen him. Shannon fished a bottle of water out of her pocket and offered it. He grabbed it but fumbled with twisting the cap off in his stiff fingers. She reached for it and he pulled it away, unwilling to give up his prize. Her Mother Theresa smile did the trick and he handed it to her. She opened the bottle and gave it back to him.

O’Reilly emptied it in gurgling drawn-out swallows. He wiped the drizzle from his mouth with the stained sleeve of his coat and held onto the empty bottle. A moment later, his color returned to his face. He inhaled deep then released a sigh offering his cares to the wind. “I miss you,” he said softly in the midst of a silent conversation with himself.

Shannon grew rigid. “Who? Who do you miss?”

“My wife. She had cancer.”

Shannon gasped as tears dampened her cheeks. “I miss her too, grandpa.”

I stared at her, convinced she was playing along, yet the love on her face was unmistakable. A million questions brewed but not one breeched the surface of my lips. On instinct alone, I gestured toward the car as every fiber of my being prayed this man would come with us, but O’Reilly didn’t budge. Shannon gripped my forearm. If her eyes could speak, hers screamed for help. My throat tightened at not having a magic word to set their world right. I left them and hurried over and opened the back passenger door. Heated air escaped in a transparent cloud and I motioned as if warming my hands.

An eternity passed before O’Reilly took his first step, and then another, alternating between reluctance and need. He got in and I shut the door.

Shannon joined me in the front. I hit the master lock and turned on my blinker. “I’m not taking him to a shelter,” I said and gripped the wheel at the ready for the inevitable argument.

She squeezed my arm and gave me the most loving smile I’d ever received. “The second I got off the phone with you, I called DGH psychiatric ward. They’re holding their last bed for him.”

“You look like her,” O’Reilly muttered from the back seat. He yawned then laid his head against the headrest and stared at the ceiling.

Shannon smiled. “I wish I had a nickel for every time you’ve said that grandpa.”

“Who?” I asked.

“My grandmother.” She rested her burnt-orange hair against my shoulder. “I love you,” she said for only my ears.

“Love you more,” I murmured as a kind-hearted driver waved for me to pull into the lane ahead of him.

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