The snow and rain had stopped, leaving wet piles of dirty snow to clutter the narrow streets.
Grace could hear the cars barrel over it as they approached her.
She trudged through it, wishing she had been wearing better shoes the night she had been thrown out.
This was the factory side of town. These walkways wouldn’t be cleared until employees needed to maneuver through the snow in the morning.
Grace turned to see if she could recognize the approaching car. Squinting at the blazing beams, she drew back to avoid a dirty spray of the half-frozen puddles, as the car whizzed by.
But she wasn’t quick enough and there wasn’t any room to retreat. She looked down at her soggy, mud-stained clothing and wiped the tire-filth off from her face.
She leaned forward, propelling herself up the hill.
It was approaching midnight and she still had no place to shelter herself from the plunging temperatures.
She prayed as she continued her advance.
A bad day from the beginning, it had started without a meal.
Grace had been able to quell her hunger and panic, knowing that a life drawing modeling gig would secure her a few dollars for lunch and maybe even breakfast the next day.
Dinner was harder to organize, between the expense and time of day it was served.
By dark, Grace liked to have her sleeping place secured.
The surface of the road started to ice up, and now negotiations through the weather became even more of a challenge, as she began to lose traction beneath her feet.
“That’s the trouble,” She thought. “I can’t get a foothold.”
It was impossible to survive without a job.
And impossible to find a job without phone or transportation.
All social services had to offer an under aged teen was kid jail.
“Fucking Betty,” Grace swore out loud. When Grace arrived on campus for her eight dollar gig, Betsy, an art student confronted her before she reached the building.
“I’ll be posing today.” Betty asserted to Grace. “George needs gas,” She pointed her thumb at the VW in the lot behind them.
Betty had just lost a pile of weight and Grace suspected that the art student was looking for a little attention and acknowledgment.
Grace was too young and intimidated to do much more than turn around, and head to the cafeteria.
There, she spent her last forty cents on a cup of coffee.
She did have a class that day and the Community College was dry and warm inside the buildings.
Some days she was lucky and would run into someone sympathetic enough to let her crash on a couch or spare bed for a few days.
Some days her luck would run out and her choices were less appetizing.
Grace forced herself to stop thinking those unlucky thoughts. Instead, she thought about the last food she had eaten at the “Farm Shop.”
It had been a grilled cheese and pepper sandwich with a side of onion rings along with a paper ramekin of mayonnaise to dip them in.
Grace’s mouth watered and she fought off the terror induced by her empty teenaged stomach.
Today all Grace had for nourishment was that coffee and a few surreptitious squirts of milk she had pumped into her cup when no one was looking.
Her classmate Oliver, a retired engineer, likely had no idea that on some days those Farm Shop treats were the only calories Grace got.
Humiliated at her predicament, Grace tried to eat leisurely on those occasions as if she were just along to keep Oliver from boredom while he took his evening meal.
Try as she may, she was never able to leave a scrap on her plate even eating the garnish that adorned the sandwich.
“That’s Kale,” Oliver observed one day, as he watched Grace struggle valiantly to chew.
Grace learned to ask for a lettuce garnish.
Hearing the familiar whoosh of an approaching car she turned again to face it, hoping to recognize or be recognized.
The car slowed down and a thrill of fear shot through Grace as she drew near it, in the blackened night.
A friendly face peered out the passenger side as her ex-pastor Reverend Osgood leaned over to unlock the door.
Grace remembered as she slid in the front seat beside him, that he didn’t like that title and of course wasn’t even part of the church any longer.
The heavenly heat burned her wet frozen hands as Grace tried to thaw them out in front of the blower.
“Where to? Asked Osgood.
Grace was silent for a minute. She remembered that the ex-pastor had been divorced by his hippy wife after he lost his church.
It was ironic really.
Osgood’s ex-wife had was the one responsible for his clerical demise.
“Clark Hill,” Grace said finally.
Osgood was quiet as they drove, instead, he awkwardly fished a dry sweatshirt from the back seat and passed it to Grace.
Keep it, he told her.
Grace wiped her wet cheeks and rubbed the dry article through her damp hair. While it did nothing to actually reduce the moisture on her head, the attempt itself, made her feel a little more civilized. Comforted even.
Grace directed Osgood to an address that she dreaded to go.
But she had to be practical. As distasteful as it was, Grace needed shelter for the night.
They pulled up to a darkened house, but Grace could see the familiar glow of candlelight flickering in the bedroom window upstairs.
Her heart sank, but she opened the door to get out of Osgood’s car.
It was the end of her ride.
Osgood rested a hand lightly on her back like he used to as a pastor in Bible class.
He said, “I’ll wait to see you get in safely.”
Grace knocked on the door a few times timidly, praying that no one would answer, and finally returned to the car.
Grace was out of moves.
Osgood pulled out of the driveway wordlessly.
At last, he said, “My ex-wife is out of town and I can’t bring you back to my place.”
He said it more to himself, but Grace saw how impossible it all was.
They drove down South Main street and Grace spied her girlfriend’s mother getting out of her car in front of her house.
Osgood knew this woman well, he had taught her daughter along with Grace, so many years before.
When Grace got out to talk to the woman, Osgood pulled his car away.
He knew that Grace was Janet Lowrey’s problem now.
Grace stood silently in front of Janet, Clutching daypack in one hand, and the dry sweatshirt in the other.
“You need a place to sleep?” was all Janet asked. This happened frequently in her household. Her kids had a lot of friends.
Janet bustled Grace into the bathroom and gave her a nightgown, dry socks, and a robe. She hung Grace’s muddy things over an old-fashioned radiator.
When Grace emerged, Janet asked if Grace had eaten
“I don’t eat meat.” was Grace’s embarrassed reply.
Janet heated up some white rice, floating in margarine.
“The fat will help you sleep better.” Janet assured her.
The margarine hit Grace’s guts like an oil slick. It was just too rich for her empty stomach. Grace consumed the entire bowl.
Janet picked up the empty plate and told the teen which bed she would be sharing that night, and bid her a good sleep.
Grace could hear Janet on the telephone in her bedroom, talking to someone in a cheerful, flirty voice.
Janet had been single for several years.
Grace felt a wave of nausea erupt and she slipped into the bathroom and vomited her dinner quietly. She rinsed her mouth at the sink, smearing toothpaste on her finger, to wash her tongue and cupped water with her hands, to rinse the bile taste from her mouth.
She made her way into Martha and Andrea’s bedroom and climbed into Andrea’s double bed beside her.
“Andrea?” Grace whispered. “It’s Grace.”
“I know,” Andrea sighed, as she turned over and began snoring lightly.
Grace closed her eyes and tried to let go of that terrible, terrible day.
She tried not to think of her empty stomach, instead, she struggled towards the merciful oblivion of slumber.
And Grace slept.