The blare of an alarm clock jolted Joshua Bristol out of a deep sleep. He fumbled for the clock. With a swift whack, the incessant beeping was replaced by silence. He rubbed his eyes to clear away the strange dream that had been playing in his mind. While details escaped him, the feeling of unrest lingered. Rolling to his back, Joshua stared at the ceiling in an attempt to recall the dream which now eluded him. If it was too odd to remember, it was probably a blessing to have been interrupted.
Vivid dreams were common for Joshua. Not so common was the inability to recall the details, even less so was a such a disturbed feeling after waking from a dream he could not even remember. Hoping his normal morning routine would provide some comfort, he stood and stretched to his 6 foot 2 inch frame. He drew a quick breath through his teeth as a sharp pain stabbed from his right shoulder blade down the entire length of his back. That dream must have been intense. Rubbing out the spasm, he walked to the window of his small bedroom and opened the curtains.
The sun was just rising to greet the cloudless sky, casting a violet hue over his neatly manicured back yard. In the distance, birds greeted the morning light with their cheerful song. Their twittering cheerfulness seemed a strange juxtaposition to Joshua’s mood as the illusive dream continued to prickle his mind. Maybe coffee would help. After a visit to the restroom, he sauntered down the hall to the kitchen. As the pot grumbled to life, he returned to the bathroom for a hot shower.
A quick glancing in the mirror and the weary man staring back demanded closer inspection. His medium length, dark brown hair was usually worn swept lazily to one side. This morning it was disheveled and tangled. He must have been tossing all night. That would explained the exhaustion evident around his gray eyes. He was not necessarily a young man, but not old enough to warrant such an appearance after a full night of rest.
When an attempt to recall any details proved unsuccessful, he gave up and stepped into the steamy warmth of the shower. He lingered, letting the heat relax away the stress-induced spasms in his back. Attempting to shake the uneasiness, Joshua forced his mind to focus on the day ahead. He was a regular attendee at the church a few blocks away in his small town. Last Sunday they had asked for volunteers at Practical Hope, the homeless shelter in the city. He had worked there a couple of times and enjoyed meeting both the other volunteers and the people who came there for a hot meal and warm place to sleep. Joshua was intrigued by the life stories many of these people would tell, given a willing listener, even if they weren’t all true. Today would be the first of a four-Saturday commitment. Giving up a beautiful day didn’t compare to the opportunity to brighten someone else’s otherwise difficult existance. He would gladly trade this for getting caught up on a “To-Do” list or a few rounds of golf with buddies.
The shower seeming to work. He felt energized and expectant for the day to come. Joshua quickly finished getting ready for the day. He filled a travel mug with coffee and pulled his Ford Escape out of the attached garage. It took at least thirty minutes to get to the city limits. The shelter was located on the opposite side of the city from Joshua’s house. Usually he drove around the downtown area to avoid questionable areas. However, because of the time spent shaking off his troubling dream, Joshua did not have the extra time. He decided to take the more direct route through downtown.
He was making good time until he ran into a construction area. Friends had complained about the congestion caused by the construction, but he had forgotten about it until it was too late. Frustrated, he waited impatiently for his turn to move. He didn’t really want to be stopped here longer than necessary. Two or three story buildings lined the roadway. Most of them consisted of barely maintained store fronts with barred up windows on the first floor and apartments above. Every third apartment window was either missing or shoddily covered by various cheap fixes.
In the early morning, people were scarce. This part of town came alive only during the hours when most people were home sleeping. The people out now appeared to be left overs from the revelry of the night before. A man appeared to have passed out on a bench, probably hung over from the night’s festivities. A couple stumbling by looked like they had not slept all night. They walked arm in arm more to hold one another up than because of some mutual affection. On the corner ahead, provocatively dressed girls lingered outside a small night club. He drummed his fingers on the steering wheel with impatience, hoping traffic moved quickly through that intersection. Being on the outermost lane, he wanted to avoid any possible advances from one of these girls. Just as he approached the light, it betrayed his hopes with a red signal. As he waited, he couldn’t help but glance at these women, not out of lustful desire, but with compassionate sadness. His mind wondered about the families that might be missing these girls and what brought them to choose such a shameful trade.
His musings were interrupted when one of flipped her hair with dramatic flare. Unconsciously he had been staring through them as he wondered about their pasts. She returned what seemed to be interest with a seductive smiled and he quickly looked away. He had noticed her long enough to note that there was not much girl left in her anymore. Though she was certainly younger than Joshua, it could not have been by much. She had long blonde hair, and pale skin, no doubt from her nocturnal lifestyle. He had seen her long enough to notice that she would be quite beautiful if it weren’t for the heavy mask of make-up she wore. Graciously the light turned green and he quickly left this embarrassing exchange behind.
Though Joshua arrived at Practical Hope a few minutes late, the staff understood the delay. Small maintenance tasks had been neglected because the man who normally volunteered for such jobs had been having health issues. This left a lot of physical work to do and they were happy for anyone willing to help. Though the morning’s pain still crept down his back from time to time, Joshua poured himself into each task. The exchange with the prostitute haunted him throughout the day. He repeatedly found himself thinking about her, despite attempts to focus fully on the work in front of him. Before he knew it, the day was gone and night was approaching.
Climbing into his Escape, her face flashed in his mind again. That smile spread across her lips. He realized now that it wasn’t the seductiveness that he remembered. What struck him was deep sadness that she was not quite successful at covering up. Unsure of his own motives, Joshua impulsively took the route home that would take him passed that little night club. Arriving there, strange relief wash over him when he saw her again. Without thought, he pulled his Escape into a parking lot.
Since it was now dark, she was working the line of club-goes waiting for entrance. He watch with pity and frustration as she worked her way down the line. Each time she was turned down, he was astounded and elated.
When he realized she had found a willing john, he clenched the steering wheel to fight the sudden urge to jump out of the vehicle. He watched her walk down the street arm in arm with a man she had never met and the muscles in his jaw twitched. Suddenly, he threw the Escape into drive and sped out of the lot toward home. If he didn’t leave now, he might do something he would regret. She glanced his way as his tires squealed on the turn. He did not look back.