The Poor Sport was found one day dead in the gutter outside her apartment. His face was almost unrecognizable beneath layers of hair and grime acquired from much lying about on street corners and park benches. His flannel shirt was missing more than a few buttons and the undershirt was slashed as if a dog or some such creature tore into the fabric. His pants, a mustard collage, were ripped in a somewhat crude fashion. His Timberland boots, untied and stained, were in reasonable condition. Tims ne’er, e’er weahr out, he would have explained.
In his right hand, the authorities found a scribbled quote and in his left hand, an empty black bottle which was later revealed to be alcoholic to no one’s surprise. The Poor Sport drank himself to his end, but it didn’t diminish anyone’s opinion of him.
The news traveled quickly through the city. From the runner at the crossing of Islington and Commercial, to the man who sold one dollar paintings, to the old ice cream trolly, to the young cupcake baker who was a recent addition to the city and so on. It wasn’t really a city, not by New York’s standards. Simply a town, but the town was big for New Hampshire and therefore a city. There were road signs leading to it as far down as Cape Cod. Locals were proud of these signs and often used their existence as proof of the metropolis’ importance. The Poor Sport didn’t know about the road signs or the true classification of his city. He just knew it was home.
The city knew the Poor Sport well. He attended a local church every Sunday, hitchhiking the three mile trip. Hitchhiking was illegal for everyone but him. Members of the congregation would often pick him up in view of police officers. The police officers, having few occupations in the law abiding city, would pretend to be preoccupied with speeders, sometimes pulling over unsuspecting rental cars. Most of the time they just looked away.
While everyone saw him, they knew little of him. His brother died in Vietnam. His mother was challenged. His wouldn’t talk about his father. He had been in love only once, but he couldn’t recall her name. She had dark hair and wore a cross around her neck. But, he was always quick to say this was in the past. Anscient herst’ry, ma man, he would explain.
She sometimes found him outside her apartment, reading or resting. He wasn’t a beggar. Not many people are, in those parts. He never worried her. She was a part of the city and accustomed to its citizens, to its safety. She trusted it. She knew that the high school kids made their drug deals at the elementary school in the middle of the night. She knew there was a woman, aptly named Mrs. Stickney, who pick pocketed tourists. She knew some failed fishermen hit their wives and the city had a way of trapping people, never letting them get enough to get away. But all these things made the city a city and she was one to brag of road signs.
It was fall when the Poor Sport was found outside her apartment, face down in the muck and fallen leaves. The autumn wind nipped at her, numbing her bare arms as she stood in the crowd of silent observers and watched them take him away. Smoke from the shipyard billowed into the morning sky and the bridge rose to let the lobster boats out. When he was gone, she stayed to watch the bridge creak back down.
The city mourned his death. The church congregation payed for a respectable ceremony and burial in their cemetery. All were pleased when the mayor took the pulpit to commend the staple of the city.
“He was a member of this community, as integral as the brown stone bricks in the foundation of City Hall. He attended every city clean-up. Every city meeting. Every farmer’s market. And always with a big smile and a helping hand,” he declared.
“Handicapped. No sir,” the mayor continued amidst thunderous applause. “He was a citizen!” The audience rose in standing ovation. There was no mention of the drink. There needn’t be.
A bench was later donated to the park commemorating his life. “While he didn’t accomplish any great feat of worldly admiration,” the rich donor responded to the local newspaper reporter, “he succeeded in inspiring this town’s unity.” The philanthropist was from away. The locals liked him better after the bench went up.
The Herald, the city’s only news publication, wrote the Poor Sport a long obituary. Locals sent in stories of the good works the Poor Sport had done. The collection was read and cherished by the community. She cut the article and hung it on her refrigerator.
Her parents came to visit with the year’s first snowfall.
“I don’t know why you live in this town, darling,” her slim, blond mother fidgeted with the tea cup, staring out at the city. “Is it always this cold?” She smiled incredulously. Even when she visited in summer she had complained of the cold. On a sticky summer day, when the city was busiest, she had concluded the place was too cold and provincial for her Darling.
But her Darling loved the city. She loved four seasons, which melting into each other so she could never find the exact moment when one came and the other passed. She loved the sharp freeze and the humid warmth. She loved reading The Herald and attending the church and she had loved talking with the Poor Sport for a moment or two on her way in or out.
Her father hovered by the sink, reading her mail. He sauntered to the table and began buttering his toast when his eyes lifted and grazed the article.
“Now, what is this?” He took it down and glanced.
“He died. Right downstairs,” she said solemnly, for this was still a topic of local reverence. He bit into his toast.
“Downstairs? Heat attack?” Flaky morsels cascaded from his lips.
“Oh,” he put the article down on the table and shook his head. He took another bite and crumbs fell onto the article. “Shame. Nice of the paper, though. I guess not much happens around here, huh?” He smiled at her widely before glimpsing down one more time. “Real shame. Poor sport.”
“Yes, Daddy.” She smiled back sadly. This was her world, her city, not theirs. “More tea, Mother?”
If he had read the article, her father would have known about the note in the Poor Sport’s hand. The reporter suspected it to have been a note from that Sunday’s sermon. Perhaps he would have understood the pride of road signs and the cold. If he had read, he may have known. The rich man’s wealth is his strong city: the destruction of the poor is their poverty. Proverbs 10:15