Helpless

The rain and cold deterred Ryan from walking to the meeting. She had dined at a cozy Italian restaurant around the corner, maybe a five-minute walk away, but had decided during her second glass of wine to drive.

Ryan saw the weather-torn blue tarp flapping under a flickering streetlamp when she turned onto 20th Avenue on the border of Portland’s Nob Hill neighborhood, considered one of the more desirable parts of the city, depending on who you asked.

Or, more accurately, what your situation was.

She found parking half a block from the meeting spot, which she was thankful for due to the weather.

Ryan hoped no one caught her scanning the area, as the wine club’s gossip had her on edge lately. She slowed after spotting a few hooded figures in Couch Park, pronounced “cooch,” huddled together. In the middle of them was a flame struggling to stay lit. Ryan assumed they were having difficulty lighting their crack pipe, then quickly reminded herself to quit making assumptions after smelling their joint. She would be doing the same thing once she got home.

Ryan shook her head and brought herself back to the present moment. She hurried over to the meeting spot and was about to enter until she was told, “Hold on.”

“Okay, it’s cold,” Ryan said.

“I know.”

Ryan almost apologized, but decided to leave it alone.

She heard the back of the tarp open and close before getting invited in, then was greeted by a whiff of human waste.

“Hi, Tim, I brought you something.”

Timber accepted the takeout box and thanked her. She didn’t bother asking Ryan if she brought a fork and began clawing out and stuffing her face with mushroom and sausage risotto. Hunched over, Ryan searched the sidewalk floor for a napkin, cursing herself for forgetting one again. She settled on what looked like was once a to-go coffee cup sleeve.

“Here, Tim. You got some on the corners of your mouth.”

Timber thanked her with a mouthful of food.

The community called her Timber because she never took off her green and yellow Portland Timbers scarf. She knew next to nothing about the city’s beloved soccer team, but wore it proudly.

“How are you managing lately?” Ryan asked.

“Huh?”

Ryan caught herself before sounding frustrated.

“Have you been able to stay warm and fed?”

“I’ve got my scarf. The Trader Joe’s is still giving food.”

“Are the others letting you keep it?”

“Uh—yeah. When they can.”

She let out a sad sigh Timber didn’t notice. Ryan pestered her with questions that received brief, mostly one-word answers. She waited until Timber finished her meal to make her exit.

“Okay Tim, I’ll be back in a couple of days for lunch. Does any time work?”

She felt silly for asking, but confirming their meetings made them feel more like outings.

“Uh huh, any time—yeah.”

“Okay, Tim. I’ll see you soon.”

“Good night.”

Ryan bundled up and started for her car. When she was in with the doors locked and heater blasting, she broke down.

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