Beau and Jack

by Sophia Hoover

    Winter was the worst. There is always sleet or snow or rain all over the sidewalk. If you think about it, itís funny how Christmas songs talk about sleet and snow like itís something to be happy about. Itís really not. There are fewer places to sit for one thing, with all that stuff on the ground. That makes it harder for sure. And even though itís the giving season, all those folks that pass by donít seem especially generous. What, do they have to save up all their precious pocket change for one of those Tonka trucks for some nephew they have never met? Every cent counts, which isnít exactly a new concept to Beau and Jack. They had a whole shopping cart of empty bottles to prove that.

    It was next to his shopping cart that Beau sat, with a loyal Jack always by his side. Cardboard lay beneath his tattered trousers, worn to threads at the seat. Hostile wind swirled around his boots, numbing his toes and rustling the patchy mahogany fur on Jackí back. Beau snatched at his sweatshirtís hood, willing it closer to his ears with shaky fingers, and watched his breath rise into the air until it dissolved in the wind. His striking green eyes challenged the pinkness of his coarse face. They shifted and fell upon Jack, who looked so determined to not let the wind break him. Jackís eyes lingered on every one of the holiday shoppers that passed by the Toys"R"Us that his master leaned against. His eyes were mismatched, one brilliant blue the other brown, surprisingly beautiful.

    The wall they sat against was the west wall of the ToysíRíUs on Broadway Avenue. It was a dusty white, two stories high at least with no windows, with two sets of sliding glass doors and a glowing sign towering above. Beau and Jack both knew better than to sit too close to the door, for only last Thursday the manager escorted them off the property for "ruining the friendly environment that ToysíRíUs is so famous for." A bright yellow raincoat bounced into view which covered the shoulders of a small girl no older than eight years old. Her shiny buckled shoes stopped inches away from Beau and Jack. Her face suddenly went blank as she stared straight at Beau. He looked down intently on an old piece of gum blackened now on the sidewalk, but her feet did not move. Cautiously he peeked at the girl causing a shadow to fall over his lap. She did not blink, but continued to stare sourly at his unwashed face. He dropped his gaze quickly as a woman in a thick wool coat click-clacked to her daughterís side.

    "Itís not polite to stare, dear," was all she said as she snatched her daughterís arm and jerked her away towards the holiday music playing inside the store. There was a business man with them as well, dressed in a snappy suit with a steaming Starbucks cup in his left hand.

    "Happy holidays," he said with a small grin as he passed Beau the crimson cup.

    "Thank you sir, thank you. God bless you, sir, and happy holidays!" Beau returned in a gruff voice and eagerly took the cup. His clammy hands were shocked with warmth as he clasped the cup, and his tongue sizzled as he gulped down black coffee. He licked his chapped lips, popped the lid off and positioned the cup in front of Jack as he lapped at the coffee. Beau beamed down the stretch of cement as he watched the man enter the store and disappear. Jackís black nose came up dripping with the liquid, and satisfied, he laid down, resting his heavy head on Beauís thigh. Beauís dirt-lined fingernails once again scratched behind his only companionís floppy ears, and he sighed. He wasnít sure why he had even said ĎGod bless youí to that man; after all he had given up on God years ago. But it was what people wanted to hear, wasnít it?

    Beau awoke with a start and worriedly glimpsed around at his surroundings. The sky had turned a dark grey that had swallowed the little sunlight of the day. His body involuntarily shuddered at the stingy gust of wind that soaked into his skin. A store employee was babbling on to the store manager and jabbing her finger in their direction. He jumped up awaking Jack, gripped the cold plastic of his Walgreens shopping cart and the two stumbled into the parking lot. The managerís shrill voice could be heard behind them declaring his authority and blah blah blah.

    The street lights swept yellow light over the sidewalk as the two trudged through the urban jungle, searching for a place to sleep that night. Cars rushed down the street with only their soft rumble and slight whoosh as they sped past. Hunger snapped at them, and Beauís empty pockets weighed his legs down, pulling him down with every step. Their eyes were cast down in gloom and despair, and their legs shook from exhaustion, threatening to give out with every breath of wind that was hurled at them.

    They reached the corner of Howe Avenue and took the sharp turn down to the napkin factory, its workers long released from its sturdy brick walls. The cart rolled to a stop directly in front of an archway over the heavy iron doors of the factory. Beau dragged a forest green sleeping bag from the packed cart, making sure not to break his prized banjo, and uncovered a thick stained grey blanket. He plopped onto the frozen cement underneath the archway and pulled the insulating material over his bony body. Jack collapsed onto Beau and the sleeping bag, and closed his mismatched eyes. Beau draped the blanket over Jackís thin limbs and patted his back.

    "Trash cans tomorrow, big boy, what do ya say?" Jack only sighed in response and drifted to sleep.

    The chill kept Beau from falling asleep. He thought back, to when he had a roof over his head, and a job, before he had been laid off, before he drank away those problems only to be drowned in new ones, before the failure of those Alcoholic Anonymous meetings. When everything was alright and when...His exhaustion finally got the better of him, and he drifted off to sleep.

    A sudden flash of bright light ate away at Jackís insides, moaning at each bite of flesh devoured, screaming him awake at the crack of dawn the next morning. Thursdays meant garbage cans were out and even better, so were recycling bins. He feverishly licked Beauís face until he finally rolled awake. Still groggy, Beau slowly packed up his few possessions and stuffed them into the metal caging of the cart. The cartís wheels squeaked painfully like an old car with bad brakes and stopped at the first dumpster, only about a block away. Glass bottles glimmered in the early morning light, which were snatched up by thirsty hands and were pressed into a Walgreens cart. The pair of man and manís best friend patrolled the streets, and found forty-three bottles and cans, three takeout boxes with remnants of someone elseís dinner, a few bruised apples, a half eaten bag of Cheetos and a bottle of hot sauce that was almost all the way full. They started toward the recycling center to trade in the cans and bottles for some much needed money.

    With the combined cans and bottles from the previous days, they were able to make four dollars and seventy-two cents. They found an empty bench and scarfed down the food that was uncovered that morning, half for each of them. There was something joyous in the air, a life that had not been there before. Beau suddenly had the inspiration to play that aged banjo, something he hadnít done for months. On that bus stop bench, in the middle of a city, he began to play. Jackís ears perked up at the sound, and passersby paused in the morning chaos to listen to the marvelous music coming from no other than a homeless man. Coins dropped into his crimson Starbucks cup with clanks and rattles, and Beau grinned and glanced down at his best friend, whose tail was wagging like no other at this joyous environment. Then something occurred to him, there on a normal bench on an average street corner: maybe, just maybe, everything was going to be alright.