The Paper Angel

Just one of many among us

By Cynthia Adams

On a Sunday morning last May, my stepfather rose to start the coffee pot. He was an insomniac, sometimes up as early as 2:30 a.m. That morning, however, he slipped, shattering two bones in his leg.

There had been other falls, other broken bones, including fractures to his back and hip. Somehow, he had powered back each time. But now, well in 90s, he was not returning to his inveterate self.

After more than 10 years of dialysis, my stepfather was spent. There was no chance he would walk again, doctors decreed. He decided he was ready to go — meaning, the ultimate leavetaking. No surgeries, no more dialysis. My stepfather awaited transfer to hospice care — an irony, as hospice was where I had first met him back in 1990 when we were fellow volunteers.

We had come full circle; no more standing by a bedside comforting a dying stranger. Now, my stepfather was awaiting one of the 17 beds at Beacon Place, a hospice residential center. On Monday, my mother took a call from his hospital bedside. She looked puzzled, then brightened; “Oh, yes!” she said. “You’re our paper girl!”

While making Sunday’s predawn paper rounds, Shywana noticed the ambulance picking up “Mr. Jim.” She asked to visit him. By the time she arrived at Cone Hospital, my stepfather had already been transported to hospice.

So she drove across town to Beacon Place. “Do you know who I am?” Shywana asked gently as she entered his room around 8:30 p.m.

“Of course I do,” Jim answered, but his clarity was ebbing. She gently prompted. “I deliver your paper, remember?”

My mother took Shywana’s hand. “You leave our paper at the steps every morning,” she said. “You are so wonderful to us.”

Shywana described seeing “Mr. Jim” in the kitchen in the wee hours preparing coffee while on her delivery route. Whenever he couldn’t find the paper easily, he would phone her. Shywana began getting out of her car and propping the paper on the back steps. She and my stepfather met only once in person. But she was always watching out for him.

She began retrieving their emptied garbage can on Tuesdays. My mother had no clue, thinking it was a kind neighbor.

By the next afternoon, “Mr. Jim” died.

The following Sunday, Shywana placed a Hallmark card with the paper, propping it carefully by the back steps. Since Jim’s death, we learned more about Shywana. She arises at 12 a.m. and delivers four paper routes before arriving at her day care job. She returns home after 8 p.m.

We rely upon the kindness of strangers, to paraphrase Tennessee Williams. But now, we know the name, and the endless kindness, of at least one.  OH

Cynthia Adams is a contributing editor to O.Henry.

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