In a cafe on Hope Street in my old neighborhood (right across from the library) I’m getting coffee when I recognize a woman next to me in line.
She’s middle-aged and bloated, with bright lipstick smeared across her small mouth. Her hands shake as she creams her coffee; a side-effect, I know, of anti-psychotic drugs.
C was the local Avon lady when I was a kid. My mother bought products from her regularly, mostly out of sympathy. ‘It’s so sad,’ my mother would say. ‘That woman has been taken advantage of by men her whole life.’ My mother’s sympathy meant that C visited us often, and my mother would hide from her calls at times, or have us tell Cheryl she wasn’t home. Cheryl is a paranoid schizophrenic and I remember overhearing her raving and weeping in the kitchen about people plotting against her, about vast shadowy conspiracies, while my mother tried to soothe her and insisted that she take her meds.
C didn’t like taking the meds because she was very pretty and they made her gain weight. She would totter around the neighborhood in high heels and designer jeans – Sassoon and Cheryl Tiegs – holding a strappy purse and her Avon bag. As I was just going into my teens, I tended to pay close attention to pretty blondes in tight jeans.
In an earlier memory, I remember C at Skipper’s Diner, also on Hope Street. My grandmother would take me there for lunch sometimes. It was very working class. The cook had tattoos on his brawny forearms and would lean over the grill with a cigarette in his mouth, telling dirty jokes. I found him terrifying. I think I generally ate tuna melts on white toast and burgers there.
C would be there with her mother, a friend of my nana. Even as a small child, I could sense the air of hysteria about C In later years, I’d go into Skipper’s on lunch breaks with my uncle when I worked in his landscaping business. The foul-mouthed cook was still there, and C. My uncle would flirt and joke with her. I hope they never had sex, but from what I’ve heard about my uncle…
C’s physical appearance deteriorated rapidly by the time I was in college, she was a wreck. Whenever I saw her, she’d always tell me about how beautiful she used to be.
In the cafe, C starts yelling at some aquaintances at another table. Sure enough, in moments she’s talking about how beautiful she used to be.
‘Do you want to see a picture of me when I was in my 20s? I was very pretty.’
She takes a worn photo out of her pocket and starts waving it in the air.