The American Gleam
Michael A. Ferro
As she strode over the broken styrofoam cups, cracked snail shells, and wet, grime-soaked cardboard, her high heels speared through the rubbish like a trash kebab. She smiled at the onlookers with her shockingly bright teeth exposed, showcasing a glossy enamel one might liken to the icy coating on a white stone monument after freezing rain. The disheveled hobos and hobettes each set down their bags of garbage and stood to give her a round of applause as she walked by—all the meanwhile her head teetering back and forth like a metronome, her wide grin gleaming like the nighttime ocean reflecting a lighthouse beacon.
She hadn’t been back to this particular vagabond camp that she once called home for many years. When she walked toward the meeting space at the center, marked by three flaming trash barrels, she did so with an assertive pep. A small girl with mud on her face ran to greet her and the woman stopped, bent over, and gently wiped the young child’s face with a twenty-dollar bill.
Huddled around the fire were the camp elders: two hoary, weather-beaten men with mangy gray hair and antediluvian beards and a middle-aged woman with vermilion curls and nictitating eyes. They turned toward her, watching as those surrounding finally ceased clapping and took their seats, returning to their scrounging.
“Well, as I live and breathe,” said one of the men. “If it ain’t the gal who went and done something with her life.”
The woman looked up and raised her hands defensively in a cutely coy manner.
“Here I am!” she exclaimed. “And I just can’t tell you how good it is to be back!”
“We sure’ve missed you,” said the other man.
“I know, I know,” she said, “but I’d just had my fill here. I figured it was about time for me to pull myself up by my bootstraps and get a piece of the pie!”
“Some bootstraps indeed, honey,” said the elder woman pointing toward her feet. “Sure is some fancy boots you got there.”
“Ah, yes. Manolo Blahnik,” she replied. “Cost a fortune but worth every penny, I say.”
She winked and all the elders nodded in appreciation.
“So, what was it again? You went back t’school and got a degree in international business? Got that gravy job at SC Johnson?”
“Indeed! I mean, you’re all great here, don’t get me wrong, but it was just time for me to move on and start contributing to society. I was so tired of holding myself down.”
“Mm-hmm. That’s good on you.”
The woman ran her manicured fingers down her Gucci suit and flicked a butterfly from her skirt to the ground.
“Have any of you also considered getting out of here?”
“Cindy over there just put in her application to Yale,” the man said pointing toward a woman sleeping up on a small mountain of empty ammunition boxes. She was wrapped tightly in voluminous pink fiberglass insulation. “Figure she’ll be leaving us soon, too.”
“How marvelous!” exclaimed the woman as she wiped soot from her Prada sunglasses with a microfiber cloth.