Big Sugar

—Streetlife, The Crusaders, featuring Randy Crawford.

Stella rolled her wheelchair slowly up Fifth Avenue and past Rockefeller Center and the huge St. Patrick’s Cathedral. It was 10:00 p.m. on Christmas Eve and the bone-chilling cold made her teeth chatter, as her fingers turned numb. She stopped the wheelchair for just an instant and stared at the church she was approaching—wondering if it was the church of St. Thomas or St. Paddy’s? 
As her wheelchair came to a stop in front of what appeared to her to be a looming, foreboding structure, and one of the churches, the fingers on her left hand turned blue and froze to the metal side of the wheelchair. She tried to close her fingers around the wheel but could not, as she couldn’t feel if the frozen appendages were closed or open. Her left stump felt as if there was a knife inside of it and she desperately searched through her pocket for a lighter she remembered picking up at the Port. She found the lighter and immediately began rubbing her right thumb over the striker but it was no use; it was dead, one of dozens of lighters that littered the stairwells, floors and hallways at the Port Authority Bus Terminal, discarded by crack-heads and addicts that used them to keep their pipes lit. Stella glanced around and saw an alleyway, dark and dangerous, as they all were in New York, but at least it would deter the biting, bone-chilling wind. She struggled with her frozen left hand but finally managed to roll in between the two large buildings and into the alley. She hadn’t eaten anything in over a week and was very weak and dehydrated, and her desire to live, which had disappeared the moment she had heard of Big Sugar’s untimely death—had never been lower, as she mumbled incoherently, talking to herself and to what she perceived as God; she was looking for God and, being a lifelong Catholic, she knew exactly where to look; she had to get as close as she could to a church.

As the night wore on and the bitter cold became even more unbearable, Stella Burke heard the clanging of bells and suddenly realized that it was midnight and that it was no longer Christmas Eve but Christmas Day. Her shrunken stomach trembled and she was suddenly awakened from her mental stupor and realized that she was hungry, then remembered that Father Hennessy always visited the Port Authority on Christmas Day; he would transport anyone that would go, to a shelter for a traditional Christmas meal and shelter for the night and she quietly pondered attempting to steer her wheelchair back towards the Port Authority.

She looked up, into the heavens, and saw only blackness, and the sides of the two looming, concrete and steel buildings. Suddenly, she bowed her head and prayed with the last bit of strength in her, she prayed for all mankind then prayed for Big Sugar’s soul, she prayed for all her helpless friends in the Port and she prayed for herself—for her own soul. She could no longer take the pain and tears ran down her face as unendurable agony suddenly racked her body. She was weak—oh so weak—but she prayed with the last ounce of strength she had in her, as she closed her eyes tightly and whispered, “Please Jesus—please—the pain is too much.” She felt something pulling on her and opened her eyes and it was then that Big Sugar appeared to her—once again.

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FAITH

Loveless and cold, with your last breath you saved my very soul, when you smiled at me, like Jesus to a child.

—Like Jesus to a Child, George Michael.





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