I had breakfast with Mary Jones today. I wrote about her a month ago when she invited me to share her table at a chicken restaurant, and we ended up having a good conversation over many French fries. Today she showed up at the coffee-and-bagel place with her backpack and bandolier, ski hat, two sweatshirts, an anorak, and bright yellow galoshes.
“It’s the French gentleman,” she said brightly, “named after a chateau. Or maybe a wine, I forget. One of the two.”
She sat down across from me, arranged her belongings in a neat pile and looked at me with the smallest of grins. “I was going to have a small cup of hot chocolate…”
We went up to the counter. She ordered two large hot chocolates, an everything-bagel, a cheese soufflés and an egg and croissant sandwich. Then she ordered three chocolate chip cookies to go. I paid and she thanked me. “I should run into you more often,” she smiled.
Mary is not quite homeless. She prefers to call herself ‘in transit.’ She lives in a welfare motel a couple of miles away and gets by on Social Security, a small retirement check, money from her ex-husband’s retirement, and occasional checks from her grown children. “He was in the military,” she says of her ex, “but then he dumped me.”
She pulled out a cell phone. “May I have your number? You know, in case of an emergency.”
I gave it to her and got hers in return.
The last time I saw Mary, she was wearing a badge-festooned Girl Scout sash. She’d found it in the street, she told me, and hoped that by wearing it openly, she might run into the Scout who’d lost it. I asked her if the owner had recovered it.
She speared a forkful of soufflé into her mouth and shook her head. “Nope. Well, actually I don’t know. Maybe. I returned it to the Girl Scout headquarter, downtown in DC.”
I vaguely remembered that was on Connecticut Avenue. “I took the train,” she said. “It was a nice ride. They promised to try to find the owner. They said they could maybe do it with the badges.”
She finished the first cup of hot chocolate. “So what’re you doing for Christmas?”
I told her I wasn’t sure. Most of the people I know either do not celebrate or are out of town.
“I am going to eat like there’s no tomorrow,” she said. She pulled a folded sheet of paper out of a pocket.
“These are all the local churches that have Christmas Eve and Christmas day dinners. And there’s this place in Falls Church, a sobriety club that has an all-day meal. I’ve been going there for three years.”
She buttered a piece bagel. “Should’ve gotten cream cheese.” I stood up to get her some but she waved me back to my seat.
“Anyway, what I do is hang out at that club, and at the end of the meal, they let me and some others take all the leftover food we want.”
She looked up at me. There was a bagel crumb on her upper lip. I struggled not to wipe it off with a napkin. She must have noticed and did it herself.
“You should come, if you don’t have anything else to do.”
I said I just might.
I searched my pockets, found a $50 I was going to spend on Christmas presents and gave it to her. She didn’t remonstrate, but she offered a wide smile.
She asked what I had planned for the day. I told her I was having eye surgery next week and needed some lab work, and that I would be meeting writer friends later that morning.
She smiled. “Writing. Writing is good.”