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~ Guest Writer, Liz McGlinchey King ~

“Please help me,” I heard her say.

She stood by the supermarket exit and held a cardboard sign with jagged edges, torn by hand. In her arms was a sleeping toddler, the mother’s bare nipple exposed near the baby’s mouth. I had seen this posture, mothers begging while nursing, on the steps of a church in Cabo San Lucas. This mother was new to L.A., where women tend to cover up while breastfeeding in public.

Her entreaty brought back memories of hunger’s humiliation. Growing up in Philadelphia in the fifties, my parents worked hard to provide for my six brothers and me, but they struggled to make ends meet on my father’s factory wages. Mom served three squares a day, but meals were sparse. Second servings or snacks were non-existent. Out of pride, or maybe shame, I hid my childhood hunger as best I could.

“Let me see if I have any change,” I told the beggar.

I handed her a five dollar bill, trying to hide my disdain, not for the woman, but for the world. Why in the wealthiest of countries does a young woman have to beg for her supper? I wondered where she would sleep that night, and where her baby would go to school in a few years.

I walked to my car, and as I got in, I saw her sit down on a curb, no longer panhandling. I turned on the ignition, pulled out of my parking spot, and looked for her again. She was gone. Was she real or an apparition – an angel sent to me at the end of an indulgent weekend of food, drink, and Lakers tickets. She was no longer in sight, but years later, she is still on my mind.

Liz McGlinchey King

Liz McGlinchey King is a freelance writer living in Los Angeles. Her stories have appeared in the Los Angeles Times, Mothering Magazine, and the Seal Press anthology, “Without a Net – The Female Experience of Growing Up Working Class” editor Michelle Tea.

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