There was this old woman who used to live under the bridge across the street from my building. She smoked like a chimney, and spent all of the money she got on cigarettes, so we'd all take turns bringing her coffee and bagels, or a sandwich, or spaghetti or something. She never talked to anyone. I think she was mute. I think she had Tourette's, too, because she had this funny little twitchy thing going on all the time, and she would make weird noises that weren't actually words.
And she was an artist. She made these fun sculptures out of clothes hangers and things she found in the dumpster. She would build them overnight, then after a couple of days they'd disappear. I don't know whether the city came and picked them up, or she took them somewhere or what.
And then she died. I wasn't the one who found her. It was Shane From Upstairs who was taking her a plate of leftover barbecue and saw that fuck, she's not moving. And he put down the plate and rolled her over, and sure enough, she was dead. She had a tin can in each hand. She was probably about to do something amazing with them, and the pile of broken venetian blinds that was sitting next to her shopping cart.
We called the cops. They took her off. What the hell do they do with a body that has no one to claim it? All of us combined couldn't put together enough money to get her a funeral on such short notice, and there was nowhere to bury her anyway.
Now I'm looking out the window, and I can see her shopping cart from here. No one's moved it yet. I'm sort of tempted to go down there and go through her stuff, to see what I can find out about her because, let's face it, she was there for years and I still know nothing about her. And now she's dead, and no one will ever know anything about her. She had to have had a life, right? She had to have been someone once, before she ended up under the bridge. She had to have had a family, and friends, and a childhood. And a name, I would assume. And no one will ever know. She never told anyone.
Maybe her name was Clare. Or Ellen. Or Sue. Or Isabel. Or Annie. I think I'll call her Annie. There's no way to tell how old she was, but I'll go ahead and say that she was born in '44. On the fifth of June. Her father died in the war. Her mom had to make it on her own. She didn't live in Texas all her life, I don't think. She used to live in Minnesota. Or maybe Delaware. But a single parent with a little girl has to go where there's work, and she worked her way south until she came here.
Do you see what I'm doing? I'm giving her - Annie - a life. God, I wish I had taken a picture of her, just once. It's not right that someone should go and not leave behind a single person who remembers a damn thing.
She used to have adventures on a regular basis, as a child. She ran away from home at least once a week, but usually came back before her mother noticed she was gone. She ran away in earnest when her mother got remarried, but the sheriff brought her back after she'd been living in the park for a day or two.
Her first kiss was behind the big oak tree out back of the church. She was twelve, and she giggled like an idiot for the rest of the day. She swore she was going to marry him. But he left town, and a year later, she couldn't even remember his name, just that he had the dreamiest chocolate-brown eyes.
Is it wrong for me to be doing this? Making all of these guesses about someone I didn't really know? The Egyptians believed that you only had an afterlife for as long as there was someone who remembered your name. Shit. Does it count if it's a made-up name? I'd hate to think that there was some vagrant soul out there, denied eternity because of something as stupid as a name. Or lack thereof. Poor Annie.
I bet she had loads of boyfriends. That face, old and dirty and sooty and creased and leathery, had a supermodel's bone structure behind it. She didn't age gracefully, but you could still tell, sometimes, when she lifted up her chin and looked down at you through calm, ice-blue Elizabeth Taylor eyes, that she was gorgeous underneath, always had been and always would be. I've never known anyone else who could wear a big black garbage bag like it was a fur stole. I bet she was a killer.
I don't know when the accident happened. I know there was an accident. There were these white puckered scars on her scalp, probably with drain bamage underneath. The sort that winds you up under a bridge. Maybe that's where the twitching came from. Maybe that's why she didn't talk. I sort of like to think that she could have, if she wanted to, but just couldn't be arsed to talk to any of us peons. We weren't good enough for her. I like to think that was it.
Damnit, Annie. There's some asshole taking away your shopping cart and your blinds. But you'd be okay with that, wouldn't you? He looks like he needs it, and maybe he'll make some art, like you used to.
You did more than survive, Annie. Kudos for that.