Block and Strike(2)

By: Kelly Jensen

Jake pushed open the front door and stepped into the narrow, dimly lit corridor. The odor of egg rolls, oil, and wilted broccoli permeated the air. He used to like Chinese food. He reached back for his gym bag and froze. A smear of red ran across his hand, from the soaked cuff of his long-sleeve T-shirt all the way down the side of his thumb. It had already seeped into the lines of his skin and around the flattened crescent of his thumbnail. Jake’s stomach flipped and folded.

Then he recalled the labored breathing and all too familiar snuffle and rattle of spit. The lingering scent of copper under the puke and piss, the mottled appearance of the bum’s face and the way he groaned and listed to the side. The absolute lack of alcohol fumes.

The guy on his doorstep wasn’t a drunk. He was… “Oh, shit.”

Jumping over his bag and down the three steps, Jake landed in the alley with a slap of sneaker soles. He dropped to one knee beside the crumpled figure of a man who, in the faint light now trickling through the open door, looked like he’d been beaten within an inch of his life.

“Fuck, fuck, fuck.”

Panic kicked up his pulse until his heart hammered against his breastbone. Instinct begged him to run. No, he hadn’t smashed this guy’s nose or smacked his head into the wall. He hadn’t pulped his face or laid into his ribs. Guilt had a way of elbowing into every situation, though. Even three months released, Jake still flushed at dark thoughts, or the urge to cross a street against the light.

He couldn’t go back. Not ever.

He couldn’t ignore the broken man crumpled against his stoop either.

Stitched letters over the breast pocket of the man’s polo shirt caught his eye. Wawa. He must work at the convenience store three blocks over. Or maybe the one down on Lincoln. Couldn’t walk a mile in Philly without tripping over a Wawa. Jake peered into the purpling, swollen face and quickly decided that one, he didn’t recognize “Wawa” and two, he had to get him to the hospital. Except dropping Wawa off at the hospital would be about as damning as dragging him out of the alley. There would be questions and requests for identification. A possible call to his parole officer.


His frustrated yell echoed dully from the brick wall. Guilt slithered into the quiet pause, poking and gnawing. Jake wanted to do the right thing. He had to, for himself and for Wawa. But, Jesus H. Christ. He pulled his cell phone from the other pocket of his sweats and dialed his sister. Willa would know what to do.

“YOU FOUND him where?”

“In a heap by the front steps. Like someone had just tipped him there.” Which, in Jake’s defense, described the posture of most homeless folks.

Willa shook her head, her blonde bob twitching back and forth, and blew out a short breath. Gray eyes, same as his, pinned him with a look. “I wish you hadn’t moved him.”

“Well I couldn’t leave him out there.” Stinking up the alley. No, much better to carry him upstairs and have him stink up the couch. “I thought it might help to clean him up a bit.” Jake gestured with the blood-soaked rag in his hand. “His face is a mess.”

“His nose is probably broken.” His sister crouched in front of the couch and ran practiced hands over Wawa’s neck and shoulders. He didn’t move. He didn’t even groan. In fact, he’d done nothing but breathe in an awful, choky manner since Jake had carried him inside.

“He’s breathing okay,” she said.

Right. “Can you, ah, fix him up?”

“God no. He needs proper medical care.” She indicated his scuffed and stained polo shirt. “Someone has really worked him over. He’s out cold, and a concussion is probably the least of his problems. He needs….” She rattled off a series of tests or something, all of which sounded dire. “We should take him to Nazareth.”

Willa worked shifts in the ER at Nazareth Hospital, about a mile away.

Jake grimaced. “Willa.” Frustration and lingering panic left him with a tight sigh. Do the right thing, Jake. Help this man. “I….”

Wawa groaned and opened his eyes. Blood ringed one and the other only made a nasty slit in the swollen skin of his beat-up face. Willa put a gently restraining hand on his shoulder. “Shh.”