The scrapper was in the alley, dragging a great big piece of iron.
Holly the Witch was supposed to be taking a Zoom class, but she hadn’t been able to get in, so she was sitting around her house with nothing do, when she saw him. He had the bars from a metal bed frame over one shoulder, carrying them somewhere, not very fast.
She went out. “Do you want my cans?” She washes out all her ginger ale cans and saves them for the scrappers.
He did want the cans. She went to get them and handed them off over the fence. Up close, she could see the man was was sick: he was swaying back and forth unsteadily, pale, sweating.
“Sir, are you all right?”
The scrapper put down his burden. He sat on the porch step and rolled up his pant leg. “Ma’am, can you look at this for me? Is it all right?”
His ankle was white and too thin, but his calf was massively swollen, twice as thick as the ankle, and bright red. It was streaked with runners all the way up to the knee.
The scrapper muttered something about a spider bite. He said that Urgent Care told him it was fine a few days ago but now he didn’t feel well, what did she think?
Holly ran to get Reese, who came out immediately. But this wasn’t the kind of first aid she could do. “OK sir, you’re gonna need to go to the ER right now.”
“I can’t afford to go to the hospital unless it’s serious.”
It was very serious. They offered to call an ambulance, but the man turned them down. They offered to drive him to the hospital in their car, but he was too embarrassed to impose. “I’m too dirty.”
His daughter lived right up the street, he said. He would get her to take him. But he didn’t know if he could carry his scrap metal any further when he’d been out collecting it all day.
Holly said he could leave the scrap in a stack in her yard; he could come back and get it after he’d been to the hospital. She and Reese made a little cairn of cans and metal bars for him to pick up later, and he thanked them profusely.
The scrapper limped on his way up the Via Dolorosa, to find his daughter.
He didn’t come back that night.
This morning, Sunday, it started to snow in Columbus. The snow kept falling and falling until Holly couldn’t see the cairn anymore, but the man did not return for his burden, and she worried.
She got on her Facebook and told us all about her afternoon, which is how I heard the story.
Just when we’d all but given up hope, he was back, in front of her porch, healthy and out of danger, talking about his leg and the six hours of IV antibiotics. The emergency room doctor was very glad he hadn’t waited another minute. He would like to shovel her walk to say “thank you.” Holly didn’t know what to do except to pay him, and to run and ask her friends if anyone had the money to buy him a new pair of snow boots, which thankfully somebody did. He’s going to shovel her walk and her neighbor’s all winter.
Sometimes these stories have happy endings.
I’ve been thinking about this all day.
It could be that when Jesus said “surely I am with you always, even until the end of the age,” that wasn’t a cheerful reassurance.
It could be that he meant, “I am here with you, always, walking past your house with my cross on my shoulder, and how you respond to that is up to you.”
Mary Pezzulo is the author of Meditations on the Way of the Cross, The Sorrows and Joys of Mary, and Stumbling into Grace: How We Meet God in Tiny Works of Mercy.