PHOTOGRAPH: Silent Film Starlet Lillian Gish.
For weeks, I heard her voice through paper- thin walls. I could imagine her and her caretaker Riley sitting across the room from each other, both too smashed to carry out any threat. Later I learned they sat framed in by towering boxes, oblivious to years of decay grafted into floorboards. In the mornings their voices were determined whispers, but as the day passed they become loud, slurred, and at times incoherent, but always lucid enough to emphasize cursing:
“youu -GOD DAMN SHIT…i maa sithere ssic… and you allyoudo is drenk your F@#%*&% BEEEER.
y’ don-t d SHIT, y’BASTARD!”
Like frenzied boxers after the clanging of a bell, they slumped in their respective corners with a single breath between them, both determined to use it for one final zing.
Several days later, I heard a timid peck on my door.
Before me stood a tall, slinky woman hidden underneath an oversized, throwback sweater and tight, black leather pants. Her honey-red hair was thick, wavy, and youthful. Her complexion was creamy and over- all creased, though the lines were drawn very lightly. She was the silent film starlet Lillian Gish in biker- chick Garb, Her 70 years veiled beneath favorable genes.
She was born here, she said, but spent most of her adult life in California hitching rides on the back of motorcycles. Between road trips she managed to have a daughter, now estranged but due for a phone call- The reason for her visit. This was before cell phones, and if you didn’t have a land line, you went to a neighbor’s, or down to the 7-11 phonebooth with a pocket full of dimes and quarters. She accepted a chair at my table where we would later meet for brief periods of time; There she offered me tiny slithers of her life. Once she told me she and her father had an understanding regarding one other’s usefulness. There was a moment of desperation when she sought his help, to which he responded by tossing coins across the living room floor, and watched silently as she scrambled to gather them up. She never asked him for another penny.
Another day passed, and another light peck at the door…
“I need to use your phone again, I need to go to town and….”
Jo- so careful about looking just so, with her carefully applied makeup and colored hair, also had poor vision.
“Jo, are you out of your brown eyeliner?”
“What? No, I have eyeliner…”
“Your eyebrows are blue, Jo. Let’s somehow mark your pencils so you know which is which.”
My mom gave me a tube of mood Chapstick. You remember mood rings? Mood lipstick? Same thing.
I tossed it in my purse- forgot all about it. Weeks passed, and I was at the mall thinking I needed a little something on my lips. and you know how we sometimes get with it- you just slather it on, carelessly, the more the better- not thinking of coloring inside the lines. So anyway, I am walking through the mall, and I notice people are looking at me kind of funny. And I think to myself:
so- am I just looking good, or what?
Then a guy walking toward me gave me a puzzled look, and right about this time I am parallel to a mirror and I kid you not, my lips are the brightest, hottest pink you can imagine.
A couple of weeks later, she called to say Riley was on a drunk and she needed a ride home from the hospital. What the doctor said was no matter since she was too old to quit her habits and quittin’ wouldn’t make much difference at this point anyway. We made small talk while she poured over her face and made it up for the trip home. She then retrieved crackers and days-old bread from her night stand, and wrapped them in facial tissues and placed them inside an oversized purse.