The Return of the Night Visitor


He slinks down Pennsylvania Avenue, head down in a hoodie at 3:00 A.M., disguised as a homeless man, escaping the watchful eye of the Secret Service and the television cameras, returning to the dilapidated tenement in the poorest part of the city.

FBI Unabomber sketch

The tenement dweller who owns nothing has been waiting for him since their last visit. The apartment door is ajar, as it always is, in anticipatory welcome of all the homeless.

“Welcome, Donald. I wondered when we’d have another visit.” As he had during the first visit, he lifts the Donald’s heavy coat from his slumping shoulders, and points to the two chairs he’s rescued from dumpsters in the city’s wealthier neighborhoods. A diminutive folding wood chair and the high red-leather wingback face each other in the small room. The guest pauses … and, unlike the first visit, chooses the high wingback.

As at the first visit, the room is dimly lit by a small table lamp, the kind of late night or early morning ambiance that creates calm and invites intimate conversation. The tenement dweller takes his seat in the folding chair. They sit in silence, the visitor’s hoodie still covering his head, not wanting to be seen, but wanting to be seen.

“I’ve been concerned, Donald. You’ve been tweeting a lot again. You’re feeling very alone. And you’ve shut down the government over the wall. What’s that about?”

“I can’t sleep. The family’s left for Florida. I’m alone here with the maids, the cooks and the butlers. My mind won’t stop. I watch television but it’s only making things worse. Even my favorite news channel has begun to turn on me.”

“What brings you here at this hour of the morning?

“I don’t know.” The table lamp flickers.

“It feels pretty dark, doesn’t it?”

“Very dark. Very dark! The darkest ever!”

“Why is that?”

The visitor lowers his head, like a guilty child confessing to his parents. “I have all the power in the world but I’m helpless to help myself. I can’t stop tweeting. It’s like it’s not real. I could destroy the world with the push of a button. I’ve shut down the government. The power scares me. And there are all these investigations. My mind never stops. I can’t sleep.”

The tenement dweller in the small folding wood chair sits quietly in the hush that comes when truth has been spoken. His eyes are full of compassion for the homeless man who had opted for the big red leather wingback. The visitor has regressed since their first visit. His need for self-assurance has grown worse. The walls have gone up.

“Remember our last visit, Donald? Your disguise is not a disguise? Do you watch ‘Ray Donovan‘?

Ray Donovan

“No. Why? Who’s Ray Donovan?”

“Ray’s a lot like you, Donald. He’s running from what happened in childhood. Ray was abused by the man he most trusted: his parish priest. He’s not been the same since. Ray built a wall around his heart. He became a hit man. He’s cruel. But inside those high walls? He’s very tender. He’s homeless within his own wall.”

From his small, folding wood chair, the tenement dweller reaches out his hand; the night visitor responds from the big red leather wingback. They sit quietly in the silence before the host lifts Donald’s heavy coat up to his lightened shoulders and watches the night visitor return to his homeless place on Pennsylvania Avenue. He hears Ray Donovan singing on the street outside his tenement:

“Softly and tenderly Jesus is calling—
  Calling for you and for me;
Patiently Jesus is waiting and watching—
  Watching for you and for me!
“Come home! come home!
  Ye who are weary, come home!
Earnestly, tenderly, Jesus is calling,
    Calling, O sinner, come home!”
Will Lamartine Thompson (1847-1909)

The tenement dweller smiles at the sound. But he knows it won’t be long before he comes back.

Nicodemus and Jesus on a rooftop, Tanner, Henry Ossawa, 1859-1937
Nicodemus and Jesus on a rooftop, Henry Ossawa Tanner (1859-1937)

Gordon C. Stewart, Chaska, MN, March 12, 2017.