The aged wooden bench just outside the old public library entrance was a bit cold when she first sat down, but luckily it didn’t take long for her body temperature to make sitting there bearable in the chill of the autumn afternoon. Betty would have much preferred to stay in front of the courthouse on the much nicer contoured fiberglass bench donated by the local art school, but the longer she lingered there, the more uncomfortable she felt. She couldn’t help but feel the eyes of people who noticed she didn’t have anywhere to go.
The day from Hell had already turned into the week from Hell, and now it was beginning to look like the month from Hell. In fact, this was beginning to look like a permanent condition. She sighed and slumped down slightly on the bench, hoping to look like she was thinking about something, or perhaps waiting for someone, rather than fighting of the hopelessness she actually felt. For the umpteenth time she recounted her downfall, wishing there was someplace where she could slip into the past and figure out how to stop the madness before it could run its course. It barely felt like any time had passed since she had come home to her apartment to find it half empty. When she reported the break in to the landlord, he informed her that her ex-boyfriend told him she allowed him to come back and retrieve the last of his belongings. Apparently, her landlord was oblivious to how unamicable their break-up really was. The constant yelling and verbal abuse Betty had endured in the last weeks of their relationship hadn’t phased him in the least.
She thought her life had hit an all-time low as she spent hours at the police department filling out forms and going through all the red tape of the police reports. When she lost her job at the county records office in a thinly veiled act of nepotism, she wished things were as simple as filing the police report again. But when the gas main break in her neighborhood caused an explosion that set her apartment ablaze, she began to wonder if she wasn’t downright cursed.
It was incredibly difficult to come to terms with being suddenly homeless. Betty didn’t even want to allow the word to enter her thoughts. How could it even be possible? She’d always been very independent. She’d been estranged from her parents for a very long time. She didn’t even know if they were still alive, let alone where they might live now. She had no brothers or sisters, and her only real family was her grandmother, who she had taken care of until she passed away four years ago. With no close friends to speak of, there was no one she could turn to, or even talk to. She shifted uncomfortably on the bench. As if echoing her thoughts, the streets and sidewalks around her were devoid of any people just then. The word ‘alone’ seemed so inadequate.
She tried to force away the lonliness for the moment to take advantage of the few moments she could be sure no one could see her. Stupid damnable pride. She wasn’t dumb. She knew there were people and organizations that would be willing to help. But to seek them out would be admitting defeat in Betty’s mind. She rubbed her eyes to make sure the tears she was holding back hadn’t escaped. She was strong, and if anyone was going to pull her out of this mess, it would be her and her alone. Shelters and charities were for people who needed them. Not her.
The glass and metal doors behind her gave a short, jovial squeak as a gaggle of giggling librarians left the building, happy their shift was over for the day and they could speak above a hush again. The ones that caught sight of her smiled and waved as they passed. Betty screwed up her determination and did an admirable job of smiling and waving back. As the flock of women continued on to the parking lot, one of them paused a few feet away from Betty’s bench and reguarded her.
“Are you waiting for your ride, dear?” she asked in that friendly, helpful voice that seems to be a prerequesite for a degree in library science. “You can use the phone at the desk if you need to.”
“Oh, no, that’s allright. I’m sure it won’t be much longer,” she bluffed. “Thank you, though.”
“Are you sure,” the woman began. Betty cut her short with a friendly nod and a smile that was harder to manage each time she tried. “Well, if you change your mind, don’t hesitate to ask at the desk. Have a good day, dear!” And with that, the straggling librarian jogged to catch up with her cohorts. Betty watched them until they were out of sight.
When she was sure they wouldn’t come back for anything they might have forgotten, Betty casually got up and walked away from the building. She scolded herself for staying in one place too long. If anyone caught on, she would die of shame.