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The Church of St. John the Baptist, steadfast reservoir of comfort, grace, and absolution for the city's better families, only lets me in on Tuesdays and Fridays, early, before the tourists arrive.

They don't like that I bathe in the women's restroom. Right, bathe. I'd kill for a real bath, but at least there's water and a lock on the door. The mirror is moldy and cracked, and the light bulb is probably only 10 watts, but I don't want a good look at myself anyway.

They say I take too long.

And I smell. They don't come right out and say that, but I can read their pulled-in noses.

When I ask the gift shop workers for the key, they always whisper, "Well, alright, dear, but, well, it's a bit awkward," as they stroke the arms of their cashmere sweaters - cashmere, that time-honored talisman against decay. I thank them, but I want to say, "I know it's a bit f-ing-sorry-gosh-darned awkward, but you see, the shower in my cardboard box is still broken."

I expect they've all heard that Jesus said, "The poor you have always with you," but they never imagined being with them quite so often nor quite so close at hand.

Story by:

Mary J. Breen

12 October 2012