From where Raoul was sitting, the small room looked even worse than usual. It might have been nice a long time ago, as the wood paneling heroically attested. However, the countless scratches, names and obscenities carved into it told another story. Over the years, the emotions of hundreds of homeless kids, men and women had seeped into every crack of it. Now they were oozing out, like water from a seeping sponge. The coarse, wooden floor once was adorned by a carpet, its outline still visible by a slightly lighter hue of the boards. A single window opened onto the street outside but it was blocked by black metal bars. Whether to prevent someone from the outside to get in or the other way around was an even guess. The old cast iron radiator underneath the window sill heaved a hissing sigh. It was fighting a losing battle against the blustery winter chill outside.
Raoul sighed almost in unison with the radiator. He was sitting on an old armchair that could barely accommodate his 6 foot frame, head in hands, weighed down by the conversation with his last client and his own problems. Physically, he seemed at odds with the rest of the room, a stark contrast to the dilapidated atmosphere of the room, Raoul commanded the easy handsomeness of a Latin male model taken from an aftershave commercial: hair pitch black, nose finely chiseled, skin olive with an impeccable five day beard framing his cheeks and chin. He was one of those specimens where Mother Nature had splurged.
At right angles to Raoul’s chair was a shabby two-place faux leather couch. A coffee table in front of him was strewn with paper that had spilled out of a manila folder, as if caught in the act of running away. Understandably so. Because it held nothing but suffering. Some as consequence of bad decisions, some brought on by knowing the wrong people. But all of it pretty much foreseeable. A story set apart from all the others that had made its way across this table by only the name printed on the folder’s tab: Cynthia “Dawn” Ramirez.
Cynthia was 19 years old and born in Revere, just north of Boston. Her parents split up when she was 6 years old. She stayed with her mother who got into drugs when the load of being a single mother, working two jobs and not being able to make ends meet became too much. Cynthia quit school, left home and shared an apartment with another girl her age in one of Jamaica Plain’s run-down low rent areas. That was three years ago, she had just turned 16. Hanging out with the wrong crowd got her into drugs. One thing led to another and she started working the streets to be able to afford the drugs. Just two months ago she got pregnant. Five minutes ago, she had been sitting on the couch in the stingy room across from Raoul, her heavy makeup smeared by tears, spilling her heart to Raoul who had done his best to counsel her.
Raoul shook his head and sighed again. There was very little he could do. Sure, he could get Cindy a place in a drug program. He could get her a room in one of the homes run by the church in an effort to extract her from the company of the people who got her into this. He may even help her find some kind of job as a start. But it would be difficult with a baby. Impossible even, if Cindy was not fully determined to come clean and turn her life around.
Cindy told him that she was going to get an abortion and Raoul had tried everything to change her mind, even knowing that it would be twice as hard with a baby. But the Roman Catholic Church did not endorse abortions and as an aspiring priest, Raoul abhorred the notion of killing an unborn life. It went completely against everything he valued and believed. He knew what was going to happen next: Cindy couldn’t afford the money to go to an abortion clinic. She would see someone doing it quick and dirty, probably trying to trade her services as a hooker for his. It was going to be her first abortion but it would not be her last. Of that Raoul was sure.
Slowly he lifted his head off his hands and started to herd the loose pages of Cindy’s file back into the folder. He looked at his watch: 4:30 pm, this was his last appointment for today. He felt weary and frustrated for not being able get through to Cindy, make her turn her life around. He put on his heavy down jacket, zipped it all the way up, then slung his backpack over his shoulder and left the room, locking the door behind himself. On his way out, he passed an open door.
“Hi Rita, I’m done for today. Here is Cindy’s file back.” He poked his head inside, put the folder on the desk next to the door and smiled. Rita was the receptionist/secretary/ assistant/office manager, all rolled up into a substantial black woman of 40, with long curly hair and a gigantic bosom that seemed to be in constant danger of escaping its confinements. Rita looked up from the screen and flashed a seductive smile at Raoul. She always flirted with him and had made so many passes on him in the past that it had turned into a running gag between them.
“Hey, cutie, feeling lonesome by any chance? Wanna make us happy?” He was never quite sure who she was referring to when she spoke of herself as “us”.
Raoul laughed, “Not more than usual. But tonight I couldn’t make all of you happy. I’m just not up for it. Can I take a raincheck?”
“Sure. Just put it with all the other ones”, she laughed. “Here, take one for the long way home”, Rita said and leaned forward toward Raoul who shirked back, not quite knowing exactly what Rita was offering him until he noticed the Snickers bar in her hand.
“Thanks, I can use that. I missed lunch and am ravenous.”
“You take care now and remember to be ravenous when I see you back again tomorrow.”
“Count on it”, he laughed.
That’s the start of Chapter 2, with Raoul entering the plot. Raoul, too, has had a strange experience the night before. Something that his mind can’t let go of. The rest of the chapter tells part of his background story and then has him meet Liz for the first time.
I planned the chapter differently in the beginning. The first scene would have been set the previous night, and then, right afterwards, he would have met Liz. The background would have been woven into the plot towards the end of the chapter. I had already written about a page of it when I realized that this wasn’t the best track to take. I learned that actually deleting even only two pages of solid prose takes guts. But eventually I just closed my eyes and did the right thing. A man gotta do what a man gotta do. I started over.
Hope you like it.