From as far back as I can remember,
until I reached 12,
every Thanksgiving and Christmas,
after he’d delivered groceries
to the people on his part
of the Sunday School’s list,
Dad took me with him
to see his “unofficial friend.”
We drove down an alley
far behind the foundry,
bearing four bulging bags
from the local Jitney Jungle.
Mrs. Shorty, two heads taller,
had the shadow of a dark moustache.
Smiling as for a family portrait,
the Shorties stood stiffly
under soiled Christmas cards
strung four ways across the room.
“They get them from trash cans
a year ahead of time,
Dad explained to me later,
“and put them up just
to make us feel welcome.”
“That shore is a pretty child,” Shorty would say
as he reached to pat my head.
Dad beamed, and dug
into the paper sacks, proudly.
The Shorties had built
their home of cardboard
tacked to scraps of wood and tin.
The earth floored them.
“Whenever it rains,” Dad continued later,
“I know I’ll see Shorty and his wife
plundering behind my hardware store
to get the fresh, big boxes.”
Most dry days Shorty preached
on the Court House lawn.
The summer I was 18, I went back,
tried to find him there.
Others concatenated the despair,
But Mrs. Shorty and Shorty had died.
Sweating with the crowd in the Alabama sun
the soiled Christmas cards,
my tight belt, and waiting for
the over-seasoned turkey to bite back.
— Louie Clay