When the shelter residents returned from searching for housing, work, help, whatever—they were told the girl was dead. But when asked by the investigators, no one had noticed whether she was not at breakfast, nor could they remember if the girl had been around the night before. No one noticed. It was the story of her life, as they say. No one noticed whether she was around unless it was some degenerate Fagin-like creep who saw her as a commodity. But they noticed her now, now that she was dead. The shelter where she was staying was called Avalon, a temporary shelter for street folks who needed a place to stay.
Mid-November was wet from the incessant rain and cold at night. Avalon was busy. Families with children or single women can stay at Avalon for thirty days. Then they have to move on—to permanent housing, to in-patient treatment, to transitional housing, to another shelter, back with relations or friends, or back on the street. Avalon has a dorm, one large room, known as The Suite. The space is made available for up to four women at a time. The unnoticed girl had a bed in The Suite and had been there three days before she was found dead in the alley. Mark Twain was quoted to say that the rumors of his death were greatly exaggerated. Not so with the girl. She was gone. Had the girl been able, she would have told them what happened, how it felt. She would have told them that dying was less painful than many things she had encountered in her young life. At least her death had been quick and of that she was grateful.
The first one to notice the girl in the alley was Ty. A decent sort, Ty returned from the Gulf War a different guy from the one sent. Ty never blamed anyone else for his situation. He had simply heard, seen, and smelled more than anyone should have to in this lifetime and he was haunted by what he’d been through. He tried to work, tried to relate to people, tried to quell the nightmares, but the memories defeated him and he toppled down like one of Saddam’s statues. Ty was a regular at Brooks House, the men’s shelter down the street. Actually, Ty was a fixture there. And because he was a decent guy and he didn’t have a temper, the staff liked him. Ty walked from the bus stop to Avalon every Sunday at five p.m. because Mike worked the Sunday evening shift. Ty looked forward to seeing Mike on Sundays. Mike treated him like a man instead of some wasted shell person. Mike didn’t divert his eyes when Ty looked him in the face and he greeted him when he saw Ty approach. Days could go by on the street without that happening. Ty and Mike would have a cup of coffee and visit like old friends. But on this Sunday, as Ty walked past the alley, he smelled it. He knew what it was. For a few seconds he was there in the smoke and the stink and the fire. He made himself approach the lump at the side of the alley entrance and saw that it was the girl. What was her name? Had he ever heard her name? he asked himself. He must have. Ty took in the ugly gash at the side of her head. It was just above her right ear but more to the front. Something heavy had slammed into the side of her head, cleaving skin, tissue, and part of the skull. There was a lot of blood producing the sour smell that had brought Ty to her. The blow or blows had missed her open right eye. The girl stared into hell without seeing or caring that she had arrived.
Two others came along minutes after Ty. It was Marco and Genevieve, known as the seniors. Marco spoke with an accent although he had been in the States forty years. Having never learned to read and write and with no driver’s license or Social Security number, Marco was like a ghost in that he was only seen in shadows. Marco’s friend, Genevieve had been married at one time with a family. She had four children with her husband and “functioned well” until the voices started to dictate how to raise those children. At some point, Gen’s path crossed with Marco’s. Marco didn’t mind that Genevieve heard voices because she helped him keep a stash of meds handy for his back pain. The arrangement worked for Genevieve, as well. Marco kept the street predators at bay and reminded Genevieve to eat. Marco and Gen had followed Ty from the bus stop. When they saw him enter the alley, they followed like lemmings. Ty called to Marco, “Hey man, go get Mike. Now, man, get Mike.” Ty didn’t consider whether Marco knew who Mike was or if he’d know where to find him.Marco and Gen had been on the streets long enough and folks on the street knew that Mike was the guy at Avalon. The pair stopped short of approaching the girl. Too intense, too much, they thought. Marco’s back hurt since he hadn’t had a pill since mid-day. Marco ambled toward the alley entrance and yelled for someone to get Mike. Gen was looking but not really looking. Don’t do it, she told herself. They both took cues from Ty’s demeanor. Marco and Gen could tell a hard rain had fallen. The Fates told them in their souls to be reverent because a fellow traveler had met with a bad end. Death, they knew, even of a disenfranchised soul, was sacrosanct. (*Copyrighted material. Do not reproduce without permission.)