Shelter by Gwendolyn Joyce Mintz

January 25, 2015

Estelle was stabbed 26 times. That’s why her death made the front page though it wasn’t the headline story. Peggy, the shelter manager, called before the morning paper was delivered with instructions to keep it from the women.

“That’s not how they should find out,” she’d said.

After breakfast, the children were sent out to play. The women were gathered into the dayroom.

I took a place at the back. Peggy was joined by the crisis counselors. In a low tone, she announced that Estelle had been killed in the night before.

Gasps across the room.

Peggy quieted the group. “We will not dishonor Estelle by giving into fear,” she said. “You’re safe here; we remain shelter for you.”

The counselors’ services were offered to anyone wanting to talk.

The women trickled from the room.

Peggy, on her way out, gave me a hug, whispered in my ear. She knew I’d developed a relationship with Estelle.

“You don’t judge, you don’t advise, you just listen,” the counselors had told us at the volunteer training.

As I got to know Estelle, I hoped that she would not be like my mother or many of the other women who would always make use of the revolving door policy.

She talked to the counselors. She, by choice, had no children. She’d gone to a community college.

“It was hard, though,” she’d told me. “If I had male teachers, he’d sometimes show up during class.”

Still she was able to get a certificate in some program. It gave her the courage to dream of going further: an associate’s, a bachelor’s. “In education,” she confessed. “Can you imagine me a teacher?”

I could.

Estelle had the key—she just couldn’t find the right door.

“I wish she’d sought us out,” Peggy had said to me.

I don’t know if the security cameras are viewed every day. I think only if there’s an incident is the film pulled. But if Peggy ever views last evening’s recording, she’ll know that Estelle had come.

“We don’t have any beds available,” I’d told her over the intercom. We stood on either side of the glass entrance door. It was a lie, but she didn’t question why I didn’t offer her a sleeping bag or the sofa/bed in the dayroom or to take petty cash and put her up in a motel.

I thought from the corner she’d again found herself in, she might see the other options available. If she couldn’t come back here, maybe she’d understand she had power to create a place — grow from there.

I didn’t think she’d go back to him.

“You’ll have to practice patience,” we were also told. A counselor said it took ten to twelve times before a woman would leave her for good.

In the seven months I’d been here, Estelle had come eleven times.

I was going to be at the shelter all night; I would’ve given her the keys to my place if she’d only asked.

Why didn’t she just ask?

Gwendolyn Joyce Mintz is a writer and photographer. Her work has appeared in various online and print journals. She infrequently blogs about her creative life at