Nighttime in the Rain ~ A Short Story by Allen Kopp
They converged on a bench in the park. Rufey took a little pack of crackers out of her bag that she got from the vending machine at the bus station and shared them with Peach.
“Where’d you stay last night?” Rufey asked.
“Had to get out of the rain,” Peach said. “I stayed with some friends in the warehouse.”
“I wouldn’t go anywhere near the warehouse,” Rufey said.
“Had to get out of the rain.”
“They set fires in the warehouse. The whole building is going up in flame. Nobody will get out alive.”
“We all have to go sometime, but I don’t want mine to be in a fire.”
“You go quick, I think, if the smoke gets to you before the fire.”
“How about you?” Peach asked. “Where did you stay last night?”
“I got into the Christian shelter,” Rufey said. “Stood in line for a couple of hours, but it was worth it to get out of the rain.”
“You got a bed?”
“I don’t like the shelter,” Peach said. “It stinks and there’s a low class of people there.”
Rufey laughed. “Can’t have everything, dearie.”
Peach was an alcoholic and had been a bum for over two years. To get warm or to get in out of the rain, she hung around in the library, in different churches, or in the bus station. In fair weather she sometimes she stood on the street corner and asked pedestrians for money. More often than not, they’d give her at least a quarter and sometimes the sharp edge of their tongue. “Why don’t you get a job,” they’d say, or, “Have you no pride.”
Rufey had been on and off different drugs but had never become what you would call an addict. She had been married three times, to the wrong type of men, and had never been able to make it work. She was a bum mostly through bad luck and faulty judgment. During a gambling streak in her earlier days, she lost everything and was in debt to loan sharks. She went incognito to keep them from breaking her legs, or worse. Her being a woman didn’t matter; they’d give her the same rough treatment they’d give a man.
Rufey and Peach had been friends since they started seeing each other on the streets almost every day. At first they were rivals, but, in a world where true friendship is rare, they soon saw the good sense in forming an alliance. They spoke almost every day, sharing their triumphs and disappointments. When Peach scored a fifth of whiskey, she would gladly share it with Rufey. If either of them ever had enough money to get a room for the night or a good meal, they invited the other along.
One of the things that Peach and Rufey had in common was that they were both waiting for something. A stroke of good luck. A large sum of money from an unexpected source. A duke or a prince who would spot them on the street and propose marriage. Living on the streets was only a temporary setback, a bump in the road, an illness that would pass if one only waited it out. Everything would work out in the end.
They whiled away the afternoon in the park and then evening was upon them again, threatening rain.
“What now?” Rufey asked.
“The worst time to be a bum,” Peach said, “is nighttime in the rain.”
“Maybe we can get a room.”
“Do you have any money?”
“The last time I noticed, it took money to stay in a hotel.”
As they were leaving the park, they found a wallet on the ground just inside the gate. Peach scooped it up before anybody saw it or claimed it.
“Quick!” Rufey said. “Look inside!”
The wallet contained a hundred and nine dollars. Peach took the money out and tossed the wallet away.
“Now we can have supper and get a room,” Rufey said, her eyes glistening.
They ate their fill in a cafeteria, enjoying dishes they ordinarily didn’t have, such as bread pudding and chicken livers. When they were sated and happy, they went down the street and bought a fifth of whiskey and a bottle of wine and then on to the Hotel Bijou.
The desk clerk made them pay in advance, but they didn’t mind. Peach counted out the bills on the counter and waited for the key.
“Checkout time is noon,” the clerk said.
“We’ll leave one minute before,” Rufey said.
They made themselves comfortable in their room on the fourth floor. They luxuriated on the bed and, listening to the rain, began drinking: Peach whiskey and Rufey wine.
“This is the life,” Peach said.
“Just listen to that rain,” Rufey said.
“I’m going to rest for a while and then I’m going to get up and have a bath,” Peach said.
“I could get used to this kind of life,” Rufey said.
They continued drinking and listening to the rain until they fell asleep.
In a room two floors below them, a drunk by the name of Vin Nickels had just returned to his room after a night out on the town with his pals. He took off his pants, shirt and shoes and got into bed smoking a cigarette. He passed out without thinking to extinguish the cigarette.
At three in the morning the first of the fire trucks arrived, but the hotel was already lost. Rufey and Peach didn’t know a thing. They heard nothing and saw nothing. They died happy, in their sleep, along with forty-one other nameless people. Dispatched to a better place. We saw them come and we saw them go.
Copyright © 2017 by Allen Kopp