“I’m going—I’m going,” she mutters, pushing her three-wheeled shopping cart out of the alley. As the proprietor glares at her, hands on his hips. She stops to inventory her possessions, often rifled through by miscreants in the middle of the night.
“I warned you about coming back here,” the man says, menace in his voice.
“And I curse you and your children.”
The man shakes his head in disgust.
“And I curse your restaurant and your health and your cock!” she cries.
“I’m calling the police.”
“I’m giving your restaurant one-star!” she screeches, her voice reverberating down the alley.
“Get out of here.”
“This place is infested with vermin!” she calls out to people on the street, pointing at his establishment. “They combine ketchup bottles and reuse dinner rolls!”
“Witch!” she hears him say. But she isn’t sure that is the right word. No matter.
“Bibbidi-Bobbidi-Boo!” she whispers, taking her time to vacate the premises.
That is enough for him—a filthy woman spewing nonsense at him this early in the morning.
She is loathsome, dressed in a soiled pink bridesmaid dress and unlaced combat boots. Her blue eyes are pretty, but set in an angry face. She could be sixteen or sixty. Either way, he thinks, she’s lost to this world.
He turns his back on her, returning to his customers.
She spits in his general direction.
🜋 🜋 🜋
The spring zephyrs are warm, much welcomed after the ice and snow. She’s grateful to spend her nights outside under the stars. The winter night spent in the public shelters were long, noisy, unnerving. Besides, underneath her lice-ridden blankets and coats, no one could see her lovely dress. In the middle of the street, she twirls, taffeta rustling like a princess running down the staircase, just before midnight.
A car honks.
She looks disappointed, struggling to push her shopping cart—another wheel going wonky. People rush around her in the crosswalk like a flood. She momentarily wonders where they are going in such a hurry.
Already the sun is high overhead. She looks at it directly, squinting a bit. When she looks away, spots swirl in front of her eyes, her peripheral vision blurs. She stands on the street corner and waits for the spots to disappear.
Eventually all things go away, if she’s just patient. Especially time.
She wonders what happened to the hours since the man yelled at her in the alley. It could have been five hours or five days ago.
Regardless, she is now at a verdant park packed with people eating their lunches, sitting on park benches, taking in the fresh air with a promise of spring.
In round colored barrels, her gardens sit patiently, ready for her to dig her fingers into.
Her first garden is full of paper cups and plastic bottles. Some are half full of delicious brown liquids, sometimes still hot! A few glass bottles have screw tops—with a little residue at their bottoms—from which she drains every drop. Once there was a container filled with urine, but she knows the smell too well now to be fooled again.
Her second garden is full of paper. She sifts through all the headlines, the problems of other people, and looks for glossy magazines with photo spreads. She finds a page with a blonde haired, blue-eyed model. She tears it out and holds it up with two hands. It’s like looking into a mirror! She practices posing like the advertisement: nonchalant, insouciant, desirable.
“I see you checking me out,” she calls after a group of young men, walking by her at a brisk pace. “Hey, I’m not interested in you! Thank you for your service, but I’m taken.”
They ignore her, elbowing each other, making crude remarks.
She knows how men are.
She stops making the pose from the magazine, folds the picture up, and puts it down the bodice of her dress.
Her third garden reminds her of the potluck dinners her parents dragged her to as a child growing up in Ohio. In the church recreation hall, a long table had been laid out with containers full of surprises, some good, some bad. All deserved a taste or two. Noodle casseroles. Jello salads.
She tries to remember the last time she ate, but gives up trying to put the day’s events in order. All she knows is that her stomach is gurgling and greasy paper bags are stacked in semi-orderly piles around the last of all possible gardens.
She patiently sifts through the take out trays. Half a chicken tender. A few spoonfuls of cold macaroni and cheese. A half box of stale donuts! She gleefully grins, one dirty finger scooping out the filling of the Bavarian cream. She licks it clean.
🜋 🜋 🜋
She pushes her cart over by the playground, sitting far enough away so the young mothers don’t scold her. Of all the city dwellers, these are the ones who she fears the most—the ones who say the most hateful things in the cruelest of ways. These are the ones who can cut her to the quick.
Seeing the children brings her joy, watching them clamber over the ladders and slides. She yearns to push one in a swing or play on the teeter totter with another. She sees the mothers and nannies hand out juice boxes and Goldfish crackers and cheese sticks. She notes how they carefully clean the children’s hands with sanitizing wipes before handing them cut up grapes and slices of oranges.
“I had a child,” she says out loud. No one responds.
I had a child, she says to herself. A long time ago.
With her whole heart, she tries to remember how old her son is. It seems like something she should be able to remember.
Unfurrowing her brow, she sees a bag of baby carrots by the rock climbing wall. Since it is April, she will plant them in the good soil. Although her hometown in Ohio boasts the best carrots in the state, she figures New York City can grow them just as fine.
Moving with purpose, she retrieves the bag, using her teeth to open it while she scurries away. Climbing over the embankment to a quiet area of the park, she diligently takes each carrot, one by one, planting it into the dirt. She breaks up clods to make the planting easier.
But one clump does not feel like dirt at all.
Puzzled, she grabs hold of it, pulling hard.
A dirty baby doll dislodges from the earth, forgotten by those who once loved it, its blue eyes still sparkling although covered by filth and time.