I took three days off work so I could stand by the road and beg for money.  My face, plump from years of abusive prosperity, lacked the appearance of homelessness, but I hoped dirt smeared and two days’ stubble would deflect my audience.  I misspelled enough words on my sign to add ignorance to my implied list of woes.  Our town only has one bum, and being the non-competitive sort, I decided to drive 50 miles away and set up shop.  I took no identification, no money.  I left my car in a Piggly Wiggly parking lot.  When I was in grad school I learned the Piggly Wiggly was the first supermarket to offer shopping carts for their customers.  Until that time, a customer presented a list and the clerks went off to hunt, or the shopper carried a small hand basket.  The hand basket was popular since the social contract commanded women to shop daily for their family’s food.  The shopping cart made it possible for women to buy more than one day’s worth of food.  Suddenly, women had hours per day available for Soap Operas, gossip and eventually the Equal Rights movement.  If something called Piggly Wiggly could enhance the social position of women everywhere, surely my car would be safe in its care.

I stood there for ten minutes before a person looked me in the eye.  I avoided the distant stare or sunglass-covered method used by so many of my potential brethren.  I wanted them to look me in the eye.  And I, them.  He was in a pick-up truck and bobbed his head to music I couldn’t hear.  He stopped bobbing long enough to nod at me.  I nodded back.  He drove away.  The next driver didn’t look up from his cell phone long enough to notice me.

It was then I thought about stepping out in traffic.  The feeling of metal on flesh sending me reeling backwards.  Concrete scraping my head as I fade to black.  A stranger’s voice being the last voice I hear.  He just stepped out!  Nothing I could do!  What the hell? The image of Hell coming clearly into view.  Satan and my old sixth grade teacher standing there egging me across the threshold of eternal damnation.  The local paper reporting “local homeless man commits suicide”.  Then they find out.  He wasn’t homeless.  He worked over in ________.  Fine, upstanding citizen, really.  Dressed as a bum.  Begging for change. Working for food, or beer, whichever is cheaper on you.  The mild scandal back at the office.  My God! Did you hear?  Yeah, I heard.  Standing on a corner, begging…?

I laughed out loud.

An hour later someone gave me two dollars all waded up like from a dryer.  She was a pretty girl who smelled young and sparkled when she smiled.

Here you go sir.  God Bless you.

I’d practice no response to the giving.  My mind focused solely on the action of waiting for pity.  I came up with something I thought proper.

The End is Nigh!

The pretty girl with her smells and sparkles hopped back in her car quick.  Nothing scarier than a homeless End Times nut.

A policemen stopped by and waved me into the parking lot of the abandoned convenience store in which his car idled.

What’s your name buddy?

The End is Nigh!

For you it might be.  What’s your name?

William Henry Blank.  My friend’s call me Billy.

I ain’t your friend.  We’ve got an ordinance (he pauses to take a drag, exhales in my face) against panhandling.

I’m handling no pans officer.  I’m simply standing here with this sign.

Well you can’t do that.  Not here.  Where’d you come from?  Never seen you ’round here. Hitchhiker?

I live in __________.  Own a small law practice there, actually.

I bet you do.  I’m the King of Columbia too!

Columbia has no King, officer.

Look, you keep being a smartass and I’ll take your dumbass in for resisting, vagrancy…

You’ll do nothing of the sort.  The End is Nigh, I tell you.  My car is at Piggly Wiggly, that bastion of Women’s Rights.  I’m William Blank.  I own a law practice in _____________, and have no interest whatsoever in listening to your harassment.  Your town ordinance specifically allows for signs seeking donations for worthy causes.  Ambulance.  Fire Department etc.  Food is a worthy cause.  Alcohol is a worth cause.  And I’m asking for nothing more than what the signs says…  Give What you can.  Hungry.  God Bless.

The officer eyed me a minute more.  He squinted, as if he was thinking or trying to become capable of thought, I’m unsure. 

You wait here.

I’ve no intention of doing anything but.

He returned to his car and spoke into his radio.

Here I reminisced on the day I last worked.  Routine day in many ways.  Coffee.  A brief review of pending cases.  I answered a few calls, returned a few.  An old friend sent a letter asking me for legal help, pro bono.  I dashed off a resounding Yes and gave it to Mary for mailing.  The doctor called and offered his diagnosis.  Stage Four.  Something about a few months.  It is said by many that a person’s reaction to such news impacts their recovery as much as all the power of Medical Science combined.  I sat there for a moment and briefly wondered if it would’ve not been better had he told me to come in, instead of saying it over the phone.  Potential litigation there, I reflected.  I thanked him for the phone call and agreed to come in to discuss our options.  Our options…as if…We had Cancer…

I returned home that day and fed Sampson after putting him out for bladder relief.  In the living room is my Father’s old chair.  It was brown, leather high back with blackened arms.  I lit a cigar and waited for a response from myself.  None came.  I suppose I’d known for years.  All the drinking, eating and smoking.  There was part of me waiting to die long before the news hit.

Well, you seem to check out.  There is a William Blank over there and no one has seen him for a few days. The lady there, Mary, described someone just like you.  Down to the know-it-all attitude.  What are you doing Counselor?  Out here like this.

The End is Nigh!  People should be warned and… 

I could think of nothing to say.

He stared at me, then said,

Right.

I returned to my post.  Across the street and down four houses, a child was playing in the yard.  There was plastic pool in which the child screamed and laughed while splashing water.  There was a woman nearby watching the child and laughing.  I waved when she glanced my way.  A moment later she carried the child inside.

The high clouds darkened bringing the smell of rain.  I supposed more money would come my way in the rain.  No.  I made my way back to the Piggly Wiggly, sloshing my feet as a child might in the puddles.  I kicked the water high thinking I might been a field goal kicker had law school not offered such profitability. Sports pays well but only to those determined to be the best. Even a mediocre lawyer makes a decent living compared to most. At best I was a step above mediocre and such acknowledgement satisfied me.  My nose never longed for a grindstone, my stomach felt no craving for an early morning worm.  Such clichés of success seemed hollow as a balloon.  My practice would die with me.  This too, seemed oddly comforting.

My take for the day was six dollars, mostly in change.  Twenty-eight cents of which I found along the sidewalk while walking.  The downpour continued as I reached the parking lot.  I went in the store to buy whatever six dollars would bring.

Excuse me, I said to the cashier.

Beer is over there, she said pointing behind me.

Ah, no thank you.  I’m wondering where the little cheap cakes are, you know the boxes of them?

That way.

I followed the line of her finger and located the section quickly.

I stood outside next to a broken mechanical rocket ship and devoured the Cake Rolls.   As I ate, an older woman walked up and handed me a Five dollar bill. 

No ma’am. Thanks.  I’m off the clock.

She huffed a ‘God Bless You’ my way and kept walking.

I shoved the money in my pocket.

The rain let up some so I headed out to my car.  As I approached I realized my keys were still in it and the door locked.  I laughed at the idea of getting arrested trying to break into my car.  I walked back to the store and used my silver earnings at a pay phone.  I picked up the receiver and realized I had no one to call.  No one that would consider bringing me a spare key to my car.  Not a soul that would drive 50 miles to help me out even though I had cancer.  No one knew I had cancer except me and the Doctor.  I called the Doctor.

Doctor Thomas?  Yes sir, this is William Blank.  I need your help.  I’ve locked my keys in my car over here in _____________ and need you to bring me a spare set from my office.  Yes, it’s about an hour or so drive. Weather is rather crappy, yes.  But see. Yes I do have friends, I suppose.  But see.  No, I can’t call the police.  Funny story, that.  Over here.  Well, I’ve spent the day panhandling and now they think I’m a bum and if I call them to ask them to open my car…yes, you see the problem?  Good.  You always struck me as a sharp tack overall.  You’ll come then?  I see. Yes, I understand.  Being with family is important, no doubt.  Thanks.  I’m sorry to bother you.

I hung up as the voice was asking for more money.  For three more minutes, please deposit seventy-five cents.   Funny how money buys the most meaningless things like more time on a phone.

I stood there for a moment checking my options.   I could call Mary and use my pull as employer to get her over here.  I’d have to pay her I suppose.  I ventured inside and asked the clerk.

Is there a locksmith service locally?

As she explained about her brother-in-law and how his neighbor knows a guy, I realized my pocket was empty and all proof of financial solvency was an hour away.   The bank was closed.  Shit.

I bought a cheap cigar and got a light from a construction looking guy walking in the store.   When he came back out, he handed me a quart of beer wrapped in a brown bag.  I accepted but promptly threw it away when he drove off.  The rain let up.  Night drifted in and soon the air was cold.  It was mid-week so the parking lot of Piggly Wiggly remained mostly empty.  As time went on I decided to break out my rear, passenger window and get into my car.  Cost be damned.

I used my elbow at first and finding that too painful, decided to use an odd metal pipe I found near the dumpster. I swung and the window shattered.  I popped the automatic locks, got in the driver’s side and drove off before I realized how comfortable it was to be in my element again.  The road opened quickly though the darkness gave me claustrophobia.  I tried to laugh at the course of my day but found humor supplanted by a desperate fear. No one to call to help.  No one knew I was dying.  No one.

The mood mellowed as I came closer to home.  I thought on which Bourbon to sip.  I had several chapters left in a spy novel I was reading.  After a warm shower, I’d settle into my old chair and relax.

My mind seemed empty at the police check point.  I had nothing they requested; no identification, no license.  No worthwhile explanation about why my rear, passenger window was busted out and a bum seemed to be driving such a nice car.  One officer recognized me and convinced the others to let me through.  I asked if one of them had a smoke.  None did.

My neighbor, Mrs. Callaway, always irritated me.  She was nosy, smelled of flowery perfume and spoke with a question mark at the end of her sentences.  The royal We was employed by Mrs. Callaway, in an attempt, to me, of sounding cultured.  Silly.

As I returned home she met me near my door.

Mr. Blank, I see we’ve had a rough day at the office?  Perhaps you work too hard?

I yelled.

I’ve got Cancer you sanctimonious bitch!  You happy?  Tell the whole fucking’ world if you want…the old bachelor lawyer is dying!

She stood there as a tree just before I collapsed on her shoulder sobbing.  I felt her pasty hands on my back as all the madness unloaded.  She helped me in to my home.  I questioned for years whether Mrs. Callaway would break into my house to snoop around.  As she deftly moved through the house retrieving towels I felt grateful for her busybody zealotry and disregard for state laws.  She rubbed my head dry as my hands shook violently.

No one knew.  No one to call.  I blathered on like an idiot. Spilling my cancerous guts on her sagging ears.

She took my hand and began to pray.  I leapt forward and tried to kiss her, grabbing her 62-year-old breasts.

A smack across my face and she was gone.

Cancer or no, you’re not to treat me like a whore!

I dried myself off, showered, and dried off again.  I sank into the chair with my book and bourbon and tried to clear my mind.

I felt the tears well up behind my eyes.  I called Mary at her home and informed her I was closing the practice for a while. 

Personal reasons, I said when she asked why.

You know Mr. Blank, things are tough everywhere.  My daughter told me today about some man begging near her house.  He kept saying The End is Nigh, The End is Nigh. People are crazy these days, sir. 

I laughed.

I’m sure I’ll open up again soon Mary.  I’ll have someone send over two-months’ pay to your house.

Thanks, Mr. Blank.  Anything I can do?

No. Thank you.

I hung up and fell asleep before finishing my drink.

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