UNITED STATES—Mary Reno twirled her heels on the baking sidewalk. She was still smarting from the loss of the figs. Yes, she was. Add to that the nagging hunch that something else was wrong. Mary had lost the bundle that had her money folded up in one corner. A coolness pervaded her toes through the open toes of her ragged shoes. That was good. The promise of coming cool helped prevent getting a yarn hooked on that simmering malaise and unraveled the sweater of small securities that outweighed the swarming horde of insecurities.

Then a dark puddle glided along the sidewalk’s ridges and granular surfaces. At once, Mary glanced up to the cloudless skies. There was no UFO causing this deep ovoid shadow that flit across the sidewalk.

Out of Mary’s mouth burst a sound between a scoff and a chuckle. The traveling black puddle belonged to a short-haired mastiff. It’s tongue was lolled out as it trudged in the heat, panting.

“Dio,” she called out for Diogenes. But it couldn’t be her dog. He was dead after being caught inside when her tent was torched. In a flash both the dog and it’s shadow were gone. The brownish white glare from the sidewalk blinded her. Heatwaves a stirred her scraggly, greasy hair.

Through the radiant waves and blinding white-gold light, Mary Reno glimpsed a patch of green. Living on the streets sharpened Mary’s reflexes. She knew to lunge before her brain fully grasped the dimensions of a new possibility. This included the possibility that her personality as well as her brain were disintegrating.

A memory flickered like a breeze through a crack in an underground cave. “Can an insane person be a true judge of their own insanity?”

Mary remembered how she’d gone to a brilliant lecture in Boston or New Haven. The speaker was so compelling in drawing the contradiction between insanity and being a competent judge of insanity. Brilliant as the talk was, Mary remember the murmurs of the bored that rose from the lecture hall’s fringes.

Mary looked down at the sidewalk and saw several green bills pinched between her fingers. She was rich.

For a moment, she saw the utter silliness of fretting over the bills folded in the lost bundle. For a whole quarter of an hour, Mary did not grieve for her lost dog. She was flush with money from heaven. By instinct, she took out only one bill. The fifty went into the pocket.

The rest went into the snug, sweaty space between her breast and bra. The nights at the shelters quickly taught her not to entrust cash to the elastic band of her socks.

Something tugged on her like that chain that pulls a rollercoaster up the incline of the highest dip. She headed to toward the place where there would be some food left. She guided herself back to that concrete step next to the juniper planter.

On the curb was a brown-paper bag. Inside was a container full of Caprese salad. It was from a fashionable eatery, and Mary appreciated the treat of mozzarella, basil leaves and heirloom tomatoes. At her feet she saw this same gift spurned. The torn bags and spilled white cheese and cherry tomatoes told a story of rejection from other roofless people.

She didn’t know who she was, but she knew many were different from her. She forked the Caprese salad and ate with relish.

To be continued...

Graydon Miller is the  Wizard of Fiction.

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Hollywood humorist Grady grew up in the heart of Steinbeck Country on the Central California coast. More Bombeck than Steinbeck, Grady Miller has been compared to T.C. Boyle, Joel Stein, and Voltaire. He briefly attended Columbia University in New York and came to Los Angeles to study filmmaking, but discovered literature instead, in T.C. Boyle’s fiction writing workshop at USC. In addition to A Very Grady Christmas, he has written the humorous diet book, Lighten Up Now: The Grady Diet and the popular humor collection, Late Bloomer (both on Amazon) and its follow-up, Later Bloomer: Tales from Darkest Hollywood. (https://amzn.to/3bGBLB8) His humor column, Miller Time, appears weekly in The Canyon News (www.canyon-news.com)