The homeless man in our basement sneaks upstairs once he’s sure we’ve gone to bed and microwaves a half-dozen Jimmy Dean Griddlecakes Sandwiches for his dinner.  The dogs jump off the bed and scratch at the bedroom door as soon as they hear him in the kitchen and they whine until the stench of cheap microwaved sausage has faded into a sort of damp, mildewy smell and he has gone back downstairs.

Kevin said, “If he lives in your basement then he isnt’ really homeless, is he?”

I think about this for a long time; months.  He is homeless because, if he is not, then my home is also his home and not just a place for him to stay while he goes through the SSI odessy.  And if this is his home, I can never say, “Okay, you got your first SSI check, time for you to move out now.  Good luck.  Take care.”  And I need to know that some day I will be able to say that, or I will come running down the stairs one night, no longer able to take the reek of his Stouffer’s Family Sized Meatloaf that will linger until the smell of the morning coffee overpowers it.

*   *   *

For our dinner tonight, I made a sort of cheap and dirty cassoulet.  White beans in a rich duck broth with ham from Mike and Donna Eisenstat’s farm, potatoes, leeks, and carrots from Reed and Kathy Evans, herbs from my garden and the one next door, and an artisnal sherry that my father gave us last year.  We ate it with a baguette from A New Day Bakery and Bûche Noire from Firefly Farms.  There was more than enough.  I could have, probably should have, invited the homeless man in the basement to join us.  For the first year he lived here, I often did.  But the quality of mercy has grown strain’d. 

It is one thing never to take responsibility for something.  It is something entirely different to put it aside once it becomes burdensome.  I am not generous enough to invite the man in the basement to join us at the dinner table, but I am also not so stingy that I would throw him back onto the streets.  It could take another few years for his SSI to come through.  We all know this now, though none of us did when this arrangement was first conceived. Until then, we are all just trying to hold on to the moral middle ground.  We gave up trying to walk the high road a long time ago.

  1. James Cobb says:

    Sarah, it has been a year since I discovered your “Fabulist” website while stuck in an air terminal in Delaware. I guess it is only appropriate to discover the end of the Fabulist, and find this new site as I attemt to leave from California in the same manner.

    Although I grimaced while reading your posts regarding political affiliation, I look forward to reading more. Take care.


  2. Is this for real? There’s a homeless guy living in your basement? And you call that the “moral middle ground”? You are way over the middle, woman… you are a saint. Makes me think of the essay you submitted to the CNF Conference back in February… did you ever submit that for publication? It was really good.

  3. sarahemc2 says:

    Hi James! Keep on keepin’ on.. and, c’mon, it would be a sure sign of the end times if I went Republican. I have a hard time voting Democrat most of the time. Not this time, which is this amazing, wonderful thing… but most of the time!

    Susan–I am most definitely not a saint, and I don’t think it would be very interesting if I was. I also don’t think I’m interesting enough for a memoir, so while there is one (the CNF essay was really a first chapter), thank God it’s more about the other person in that piece than about me.


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