Sunday, January 13, 2013

< RM > story - Bag Lady

Bag Lady

She used to sleep in the Fifth Street Post
Office. I could smell her before I rounded the
entrance to where she slept, standing up, by
the public phones. I smelled the urine that
seeped through the layers of her dirty cloth-
ing and the decay from her nearly toothless
mouth. If she was not asleep, she mumbled
Now they close the post office at six to
keep the homeless out, so she curls up on
the sidewalk, talking to herself, her mouth
flapping open as though unhinged, her
smells diminished by the soft breeze.
One Thanksgiving we had so much food
left over, I packed it up, excused myself from
the others and drove over to Fifth Street.
It was a frigid night. Leaves were swirling
around the streets and hardly anyone was
out, all but a few of the luckless in some
warm home or shelter. But I knew I would
find her.
She was dressed as she always was, even
in summer: The warm woolly layers conceal-
ing her old, bent body. Her bony hands
clutched the precious shopping cart. She was
squatting against a wire fence in front of the
playground next to the post office. "Why did-
n't she choose some place more protected
from the wind?" I thought, and assumed she
was so crazy she did not have the sense to
huddle in a doorway.
I pulled my shiny car to the curb, rolled
down the window and said, "Mother . . .
would you . . ." and was shocked at the word
"Mother." But she was . . . is ... in some way
I cannot grasp.
I said, again, "Mother, I've brought you
some food. Would you like some turkey and
stuffing and apple pie?
At this the old woman looked at me and
said quite clearly and distinctly, her two loose
lower teeth wobbling as she spoke, "Oh,
thank you very much, but I'm quite full now.
Why don't you take it to someone who really
needs it?" Her words were clear, her manners
gracious. Then I was dismissed: Her head
sank into her rags again.

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