Bargit slurped the wine, making the last few ounces last. He stared at his makeshift tent, blankets over propped-up boards from a dumpster. It was empty. No food. No booze. Not even a cigarette. This was one of those days where he had to push away the memories of former lives and former names. He was Bargit. Just Bargit. Anything else would just show him how far he’d fallen. He gulped down the last of the wine, not enough for even a slight buzz, and tossed the bottle on the pile.
As dusk approached he wandered to the edge of the woods and looked out upon the Tranquility Groves apartment complex. It was too early to forage, but he was hungry, so he straightened his camouflage jacket and ambled toward the dumpster on the far end of the buildings. He was bashful about his jacket. Not because it was dirty, but because he didn’t earn it. When he went begging people always mistook him for a homeless veteran. He was a veteran all right—but not of any wars. These were nice neighbors, and he hated to deceive them.
A quick peak in the dumpster revealed that it was almost completely empty. It must be Tuesday, then. Just a few cigarettes would tide him over for a while. He could usually find a few butts nearly half unsmoked in the ashtray on Mrs. Jensen’s patio. She was trying to quit. He learned her name when the postman greeted her. She didn’t know it, but Bargit once cleared out a wasp nest that harried her, and sometimes he would chase raccoons away from her vegetables. She might not be home, yet. If he casually walked by…
He rounded the corner into the grassy yard between two lines of buildings. Syncopated Latino music played from one of the upper floors. The lady the kids called Mrs. Garcia leaned on her sliding glass door and spoke to a man with red suspenders. Bargit recognized him. He was the one who made off with her cooler of beer one night. He spoke Spanish with a silky melody, and Mrs. Garcia was clearly taken with him. Bargit growled quietly to himself, like a dog that sniffed an intruder. The man was bad. And Bargit had been counting on a few leftovers that night.
He didn’t want them to see him, so he circumvented another row of buildings to get to Mrs. Jensen’s. Three men carried a TV and some speakers from Jason’s apartment to a truck. Jason wasn’t moving. Jason was visiting his parents in Wichita. Bargit had no phone. He watched them stack things on the back of the truck while another pulled them in. Out came the Lazy Boy. Red leather and wooden armrests. When you watch a neighborhood long enough, you know people, and Jason loved that chair.
They set it on the end of the truck. After they went back in, Bargit ran with all his strength to the back of the truck, pulled the chair off, and tipped it over to rest the seat on his head, the top of the back braced on his ass. It was heavy, but he could manage. He ran for the trees. He heard the man in the truck yelp, but kept running.
Jason would be back in a few days. Bargit imagined himself lounging in the chair by his tent, snoozing and enjoying nature. He would enjoy the comfort and Jason would at least have his chair back when he returned.
He reached the end of the building just as five policemen came around the corner, stopping him in his tracks. He put the chair down and held up his hands. Vaguely aware of them reciting Miranda, he saw Mrs. Jensen peaking through her screen.
“Please, ma’am. Could I bother you for the butts in your ashtray?”
She looked at him with bewildered eyes. The officer cuffing him chuckled and shook his head. Mrs. Jensen’s mouth thinned in pity. She opened the screen, scooped up several butts and carried them over to him, slipping them into his jacket pocket.
“Thank you,” said Bargit. In this life—Bargit’s life—any little success was a win.