This piece of flash fiction is for Elle. She suggested dollarweed as inspiration for a story. It may have been suggested tongue-in-cheek, but I accepted the challenge. Thanks Elle!
It Takes a Village
Looking over town square from my second floor loft, steaming coffee mug in hand, I watch Marge, eating weeds as fast as she can pick them. On my way out the door to join her, I grab a couple bottles of water, two bowls, two forks and a bottle of Italian salad dressing.
“What’s on the menu today Marge,” I asked.
“Dollarweeds and dandelions Sissy,” she said, filling the two bowls with fresh greens. “You’re gonna like the dollarweeds, they taste like cucumbers. Dandelions are always a good bet. They’re full of vitamins and minerals. How do you think I stay so healthy? And there’s plenty of the them right now.”
I sit next to Marge on a park bench, eating my salad. We have the same conversation every day. We talk about the weather, the condition of the park, what weeds are best for harvesting, who she saw cutting through the park, and what treasures she found in the alley behind restaurant row last night.
Marge opens a bag from the bakery. “Looks like raisin scones today. You want one Sissy?”
I look over at her, remembering Marge floating across the football field on the back of a convertible, an ear-to-ear smile, waving at the crowd. Homecoming Queen 1989 blazoned across her chest on the white satin sash.
“No thanks Marge. I had one for breakfast. It was still warm from the oven. So yummy! Your gonna enjoy them.”
* * *
Unofficially, the town square is known as Marge’s Garden. Marge is our resident, homeless veteran. She served during Desert Storm, returning home in the mid-1990’s. She keeps the town square weeds in check and helps the squirrels survive and multiply.
After graduation Marge enlisted in the Army. It was so unexpected. Colleges and universities courted Marge for her track skills. She turned down offers of scholarships, housing, and private tutors; whatever she wanted.
“I’m carrying on the family tradition. I will be the fourth generation of women in my family to serve in the military,” she said, hand over her heart, tears of pride welling in her eyes.
* * *
Marge prefers to live outside now. She turned down the offer of a one-room, garage apartment across from the square. If someone brings it up, she whispers in a gravelly voice, panicky eyes darting in all directions, arms shaking from the shoulder, leaning forward, “Walls close in and I gotta get outside to breathe. Gotta breathe!”
Strangers passing through town see Marge sitting on a park bench feeding squirrels and they look away. Some are embarrassed. Others are just rude and say, loud enough for Marge to hear, “Why in the world doesn’t someone kick her out of town? What an eyesore! Such a quaint town square ruined by a homeless bag-lady.”
* * *
Marge is one of us. She is right where she belongs. The public restroom on the other side of the square is left open all night. Elementary school kids help Marge put in a vegetable garden every spring. Blankets and towels show up from time to time, donated by the women’s club. A roll of quarters can be found on the washer closest to the door on Tuesday, Marge’s laundry day. The fitness club lets Marge in the locker room to shower. She has her own chair at the library. Our town is too small for a soup kitchen, so the restaurants take turns leaving a container of food in a cooler by their alley door.
We don’t get snow, but a few weeks out of the year it does get cold enough to freeze. In 2004, the Town Council received an anonymous donation to build a gazebo in the square. It’s made of cedar. It has a tin roof and windows with screens. There is no electricity or running water. We refer to it as “The House of M.” It’s a place for Marge to get out of the cold or rain, a place with no walls. It’s a place to breathe.
There is one more story idea in the queue. Put your ideas in the comment space below. You never know where I might take it.