a bottle of our finest perfume

Posted on Sunday, February 19, 2012

The night reached a record low.  Snow flurries stuck to the icy ground and began piling the streets where he lay.  He lay with no shoes.  He lay with a tattered blanket whose holes invited in the frigid and windy night.  He lay motionless.  At first, I thought he was asleep, but how could one sleep in weather such as this?  Nighttime struck its most quiet hour.  When those in their flats have arrived to the climax of their dreams, where their toes are warm and their cheeks are blushed.  This man was a shade of blue with lips lined in icy purple stars.

I happened to be passing that night after a fight with my wife.  Walking was the best cure for me – where I could be alone, where I could finally find the space to think – where the city walls accepted me as I was.

Just as I was reaching forgiveness for our argument, I saw him in the corner.  He was a small bundle that looked like a rock.  As I approached, I stood by him and stared for a few moments, unsure what to do.  I stepped a bit closer, now noticing the dirt in his fingernails.  This poor man, I thought.  I bent down and checked his pulse.  He was lifeless and the color and temperature of his skin revealed that he had been there for quite some time.  I picked him up in my arms, struggling to peel him from the frozen ground.  Holding him in my arms, I wept.  I wept that his final breath was alone in a city where he was unnoticed.  He was a beggar robbed of a chance at a proper livelihood, but most of all, of a proper death.

As I arrived to the front porch of my home, my wife swung open the door.  She gasped, and without saying a word, led us into the bathroom.  I drew a hot bath; she returned with scissors and began cutting his garments from his lifeless body.  In silence, we worked.  In sadness, we moved.  In hope, we forgave – forgave one another for our meaningless disagreement, and for being “those people” that had ignored this man so many times.  Tears filled the tub as we dipped his cold body into the bath.  I wiped his head with a fresh, white towel.  The water turned a muddy brown from the many days he lived without washing.  The night was a cruel, black and the wind howled over the washing.  As we finished cleaning this stranger, we gently pulled him from the tub.  I wrapped him in one of our towels etched with our initials we received on our wedding day.  And I wondered, did he ever marry?  Did he have a family?  Why did I not respond to him each morning we passed?  I held him in my arms.  I sat with him on the floor, surrounded by water, and wept.

As the dawn began to break, my wife returned to the bathroom with a bottle of perfume, a candle, and her holy book.  She lit the tall candle in his honor.  “Everyone deserves a proper death,” she said.  And as she read a prayer, I caressed him lovingly with the finest perfume we had.


behind the scenes

This was a writing prompt in which I had 15 minutes to come up with an unedited piece of writing.


feature image provided by Zachary Malone

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