A large, black woman stood outside the subway station wearing what looked like a small man's London Fog stretched tightly around her mountainous shoulders. She leaned beneath the ledge, just barely out of the rain. "Spare any change, Mister?" she said, holding the raincoat half-closed over her wide bosom with one hand while extending the other out to me. The sleeve pulled back almost to her elbow. I just smiled, not breaking my stride. I always used to give money to street people, or at least felt uncomfortable when I didn't. But now I never handed over as much as a dime. I suppose my restraint was for the same reason I didn't pray anymore, either. I didn't have to: When you're inside the flames-- that is the heart of God. The idea of petitioning Him didn't even occur to me. Gusts of wind heaved across the empty, tree-lined pathways of Boston Common, made the silvery sheet of rain sway and billow like an enormous theater curtain draped over the city. Silent, black waves rippled across the shimmering puddles I sidestepped on my way to work at the shelter, that final night. Still, the air was cool enough to hold my breaths in moist, dense clouds for a few seconds, just before being snatched away by another abrupt draft; much like hope is at times, or the person you once were, or believed yourself to be—just gone in one swift motion. This day had gotten off to a miserable start. It began with brunch at The Boston Harbor Hotel with my cousin Pam. A restless nap ended the first half of the day, interrupted by another bad dream. In so many of my dreams my brother Mark came to me as a little kid. Only this time his face was all blue, like when I found him. I finally dozed off again and slept so deeply that I awoke already twenty minutes late for work. The Park Street Church clock was at a quarter to one as I emerged from the park. Shit. Forty-five minutes late, now. The tightness in my chest urged me to walk even faster. At least it was Sunday, I reassured myself while waiting to cross Tremont. With the liquor stores closed, I wouldn't have to contend with so many drunks. I slid one hand high on a lamp post while waiting for a break in traffic. The wet steel was cool beneath my palm, and oddly comforting, the way a damp cloth feels to a fever. On the opposite sidewalk, I watched my reflection pass in the dark windows of a closed Walgreen’s. My hair was completely soaked, blown to the back of my head from the wind into which I was directly walking. Even in these murky shadows I looked drawn and tired. A string of cars passed and I turned to follow the slick black tires roll by. I thought again of Mark's little face all blue as it was in the dream. I tucked both hands inside the pockets of my windbreaker, clenching them into fists not quite tight enough to force the picture of him from my mind. When I turned the corner off Church Street onto West, I saw the blue fragmented beams of a police cruiser sweeping in and out from the alleyway between the back of the old Opera House, and the crumbling Congregational Church. The shelter was housed in its basement. I let go of any hope for a less-than-eventful evening.
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