Sunday, December 9

advent 2007

Jimmy shuffled his feet along the sidewalk in the dark.

It was cold, and the bitter moisture seeped into his tattered Adidas like poison. His toes were numb, anesthetized. He was almost afraid to take the shoes off, afraid that his toes would be blackened and shriveled and dead, afraid they would all just break off in his hands and scatter lifelessly into the street.

Things had been hard ever since he was fired from the bowling alley. He wasn’t bitter about it. He knew it was wrong to drink at work, and he’d been warned before, but the booze kept calling to him in the dark. Jack Daniels whispered his name every night, and he had resisted but it had been too much in the end.

Jimmy had been drinking the night that kid got his hand stuck in the ball retrieval. The boy’s hand was bleeding and he was crying and the kid’s parents were screaming at him, laser eyes pinning him to the wall like some wriggling insect, and he knew he’d be axed right then. Knew he’d messed up. He’d been there before, at Allgood’s and the grocery store, and so it was no surprise when Mr. Kleinfelter took him into the office and said he was being “let go.” Just like that, as though his grip had been released and Jimmy would now be allowed to spiral from the Land of the Employed into the abject Wilderness of the Destitute.

Which was exactly where he found himself now.

Christmas was coming, and it was cold even in Savannah. He had the stained Army surplus jacket and that ugly camo Bass Pro Shop hat on and the golf gloves he’d picked up at Goodwill, which didn’t fit but kept his fingers warm.

Need to get new shoes, he thought, and the image of broken-off toes swam back up in his head like some nightmare creature plumbed from the corrupted depths of his subconscious. He banished the thought but he had seen it nonetheless, lurking. Waiting.

The J.C. Lewis Center had been a godsend, though. He had been tired of sleeping on benches and in doorways, his head resting on his battered bag. The cold drained him like a vampire, sucking the life out of him, and the soaking rains had only made it worse. He had been beaten up and chased by dogs and nearly killed once, when he was sleeping in a dumpster and found himself tumbling headfirst into a garbage truck. But that had landed him a trip to the ER, and after a few days in Memorial to treat his pneumonia, he had been sent to J.C. Lewis Center for further recovery. And he got better. Stopped drinking. Got over the nasty cough and the bone-racking fever that he had secretly imagined would kill him before too long.

Jimmy was convinced that the J.C. Lewis Center had saved his life. He was back at the shelter now, but Jimmy remained obsessed with J.C. Lewis. He simply had to know more about the man whose shelter had brought him back from the dead. One of the other people at the Lewis Center – the skinny blind guy they called T.K. – had told him that Mr. Lewis was a “philangelist.”

“Mr. Lewis died last year. You know he went to church right over there off Chippewa, at that big Baptist church next to Independent. The one with the columns,” T.K. had said. His eyes were opaque and milky. He stared sightlessly out of the window as he talked.

“What’s a philangelist?” Jimmy had asked.

“One of those people who loves to be an angel for others. You know, like Philadelphia, the city of brotherly love? You’ve got the phil part and the angel part. Philangelist.” Jimmy smiled. “I’ve never heard that one,” he said. “You need to read more,” T.K. said.

So now Jimmy stood in front of J.C. Lewis’s church on a cold December night. His feet were something he didn’t want to think about and his hands were cold but his heart was warm.

He was about to find out something about his personal philangelist.

The door to the church was open, and there were lights inside.

He could hear a choir singing.

They sound like angels, Jimmy thought, and he wondered if T.K. might have been right after all.

(to be continued)

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