Loony June

Loony June looked forward to Saturdays. Saturdays meant weddings and weddings often meant new flowers for her treasure box. She stuffed the old army blanket into her Winn Dixie shopping cart before the young policeman down the street could tell her to move along. He'd been kinder than most though, not bothering her while she was still sleeping, or using his boot to wake her up.

She pushed the wire basket of hoarded valuables, eying passersby with fear and suspicion while muttering at them to stay away from her belongings. Nobody could be trusted. Not the city gents with their rolled-up umbrellas and bowler hats, not the pretty ladies who stood on street corners at night...and certainly not the children who called her ugly names, grabbed handfuls of her her precious things, and then made off with them far too quickly for her sore, swollen legs to give chase. It was the children who always hurt her the most.

Loony June hobbled toward the sound of church bells. She was lucky today. The happy couple were being showered with rosebuds and tiny mesh bags of bird seed, instead of the customary rice which June considered worthless. She waited beyond the fringe of onlookers until everyone had gone and then painstakingly collected the best of the crushed flowers and as many intact pouches of seed she could find.

It was a long and laborious task. By the time she was done, her back ached unbearably and her arthritic fingers throbbed, but the bounty was worth the pain. She struggled with the wheels of the obstinate cart until she managed to turn it in the direction of the park. Along the way, she gathered food for herself and the creatures who didn't care that she was only a homeless old woman not quite right in the head. She foraged half a loaf, an undercooked hamburger, and an aluminum pan containing fragments of banana nut bread...the squirrels would have a feast with that!

Loony June sat down on her usual bench. She put the foil container on the ground by her feet and sprinkled seed and breadcrumbs on the grass for the sparrows and pigeons. After devouring the almost-raw hamburger, she moved aside the many layers in the basket until she unearthed her box of priceless treasures. She balanced it carefully on her knees. "Cream of Tomato Soup" was printed on each side, but Loony June didn't know that...she had never learned to read. After meticulously arranging and rearranging the newly-acquired blossoms to her satisfaction, she took out a picture. It had been ripped from a magazine years before and had been folded and unfolded so many times, it was beginning to tear.

Sniffling and swiping at her running nose with a filthy, fingerless glove, Loony June babbled words of adoration to the infant whose chubby face beamed up at her from the page. It could have been her very own child...the one she had never seen because they had taken it away without even telling her if it were a boy or girl. She was no longer exactly sure what the baby's father had looked like, but she knew he had been handsome and strong...and she remembered his name.

June covered her ears to obliterate the dreadful sound of the screeching voice, which still echoed shrilly after more than three decades. "Conniving Irish Mick!" her mother had shrieked, pummelling June with a broom handle. "Full of blarney...and you fell for it, you disgusting trollop!" June had cowered in the corner, covering her head. "Retard!" her mother had shouted. "You'll not make a laughingstock out of me because you didn't have enough sense to keep your hand on your ha'penny!"

June had protested, in her own quiet and mild way, telling her mother that his name wasn't Mick, but William..."Sweet William." She tried to explain that he called her his "June Bug" and that they were in love! June had been viciously backhanded for that comment.

June didn't know why, but neither William nor anybody else had ever visited her in that terrible place where the constant screaming would have driven anybody insane...where they had stolen her dear little baby and then kept her locked up because she was "an immoral and uncontrollable slut." They had finally released her some thirty odd years later, saying it had all been a terrible mistake and she was free to go. Since the age of thirteen, the institution had been her home. Loony June didn't understand. Go? Where?

She had wandered the streets for a few months and then returned, only to find the building abandoned and a group of boys pitching stones at the windows. In all innocence, she had expected them to be friendly. Telling them her name, she had asked if they knew where everyone had gone, but when they found out she used to live there, they had laughed uproariouly and wouldn't give her an answer. Pointing fingers and throwing sticks, they had called her "Loony June from the loony-bin." The name had stuck like glue. It was always the children who hurt her the most.

For a while, tears drizzled from her rheumy eyes and settled in small, salty puddles within the deep wrinkles of her papery cheeks. Then, Loony June smiled and, humming a tuneless lullaby, rocked back and forth. The adorable baby nestled in her arms was sleeping peacefully, and Sweet William's arm around her shoulder made her feel safe, warm and loved.

Loony June loooked forward to Saturdays so very much. Saturdays meant weddings...weddings meant flowers...and flowers gave her a real good reason to open her treasure box and dream of what might have been.

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