There’s this fun-lovin’ folk tale that people in my town like to tell. Something about when patients were discharged from Mayview, the local mental institution, they were put on a bus and the driver was only given enough fare to get them as far as my lovely little town.
Lately, I’ve been starting to think there’s less lore to that than I originally thought.
For years, there was a man who lived in the house where 1950’s Housewife lives now, next to our neighbor’s duplex. In the summer, he was constantly outside mowing the yard, where he could be seen with his straight white hair flopping atop his beet-red face, sheer celery-colored shirt half-buttoned, fist punching angrily at the air as he yelled, “You motherfucker! Fuck you, bastard!”
He’d march down the sidewalk, perma-scowl weighing down his jowls, pointing at all the houses he passed and cursing us all. I always wondered if he was seeing something else, in lieu of the brick houses lining my street. Like maybe claymation figurines of all his ex-lovers, pointing and laughing at him while they fuck his dead father on all our rooftops.
There were times when I’d cross the street just so I wouldn’t have to pass him. But one time (just the once), I was brave enough to say hello to him. Just typing that made my shoulders scrunch up in memory of the horror. My hello wasn’t reciprocated, but was devoured, I’m sure, by his roiling aura. Still, I like to think that my brief moment of reaching out might have saved a life that day. If not potentially endangered my own.
I took to calling him Tourette’s.
He moved a few years ago, but he’s still in the area. Almost every time I go to Tom’s Diner down the street, I see him eating alone. Last week, he was leaving CVS as I stood in line to pay. And sometimes I still catch him walking past my house, muttering and spitting in rage. With no one around.
There’s also this woman (maybe?) with whom Henry and I have been obsessed for the last eight years. Her skin is sun-damaged, has the texture of leathery tree bark; she’s always alone, always expressionless and staring straight ahead. We see her walking everywhere and she’s almost always wearing a dirty parka, no matter the temperature. Up until a few weeks ago, she always wore purple sweatpants. Now she has white ones! After eight years! HUGE news day. I called Henry immediately and we then marveled over this together.
I don’t think they’re new pants though. They have that aged look to them, like Henry’s face.
One time, I was out walking around the neighborhood and saw her approaching from the opposite direction. I was so excited! As we were about to pass each other, I said hello to her.
She fucking growled at me.
Yesterday, less than 24-hours after the incident with my methodically paced neighbor, Chooch and I walked the few blocks up the street to CVS. I promised him sidewalk chalk because he’s been really good all week, almost like he knows about my “I hate being a mom” post and is trying to make me feel like shit.
After leaving CVS, we crossed through the parking lot and got on the sidewalk, where a woman in a red shirt was walking in front of us. I recognized her from inside CVS; she was standing next to the cooler as Chooch painstakingly tried to decide what kind of juice he wanted. I had that feeling we were in her way, and tried to get him to speed it up. I get nervous around people who don’t smile or acknowledge my kid in any way, because not to be all “I have the best kid ever,” but he really is infectious and almost everyone will at the very least throw him an amused smile. Even young guys! Just yesterday, a kid who couldn’t have been older than 20 was walking by our yard in a studded belt and a black workshirt covered with anarchy patches. He literally slowed down to watch Chooch’s front yard antics, smiled real big at him and called out, “Hey buddy!”
This actually sucks for me though because sometimes Chooch can be a small-talk catalyst and I don’t really like small talk. It’s awkward and I generally have nothing polite to say so I come off sounding robotic and perhaps slightly stunted.
So this red-shirted lady was now on the sidewalk in front of us. As we got closer, she stopped. Just stopped dead in her tracks and stood there, in the middle of the sidewalk, in this weird hip-jutted one-knee-bent pose that I haven’t seen since the last time I laughed at photos of Henry from the ’70s. Chooch and I skirted past her, leaving her in all of her Sha-Na-Na glory, and continued along the sidewalk.
That’s when she started shouting.
I quickly glanced back and she was moving again, gaining on us, shouting hysterically in a voice that was dragged down a few octaves by the weight of her testosterone reserves.
“ANGIE GODDAMN YOU! I’M SO FUCKING SICK OF THIS, ANGIE!” Her arms were taut at her sides, slightly flexed; her hands were squeezed into crazy fists.
She was not yelling into a phone like I had originally hoped. And there was no girl standing anywhere near where the woman’s eyes were focused.
I grabbed Chooch’s hand and picked up the pace, forcing him to keep up. She began moving again too, shouting out unintelligible slurs and maybe I’m paranoid, but I watch a lot of crime shit on TV and couldn’t stop envisioning her pulling a blade out of her big white purse and sticking it in my spine. Maybe it would be because Chooch and I hogged the CVS cooler for an entire thirty seconds. Maybe because I was wearing a green tank top. Maybe she’s barren and wants to kidnap my son.
YOU DON’T KNOW, OK?
“Chooch,” I whispered tersely. “Get ready to cross the street.”
“WHY, BECAUSE OF THAT WEIRD LADY!?” Chooch asked in his normal too-loud-for-public who-needs-a-bullhorn shout.
Of course we had to wait for eighteen cars and trucks to pass, because we live on a fucking busy asshole street. But once that busy asshole street was separating us from the schizophrenic, and I’m pretty sure she was a legitimate schizo, I felt safer. Until I started wondering if she had a gun in her purse. That was when Chooch and I started running.
The feeling in my stomach reminded me of when I was little, five or six, and used to play this game called the Villagers with my neighbor Adele. Essentially, we would run around her background, hiding around her above-ground pool from the invisible Villagers who were trying to kill us. My stomach would churn while we hid, the adrenaline making me nauseated.
Adele had pitbulls. I was more afraid of them than the Villagers.
But that’s how I felt yesterday, as Chooch and I ran down the sidewalk away from the crazy lady in the red shirt. Only it’s less fun when you’re running from something real.
Once we made it home, Chooch ripped open his package of sidewalk chalk and resumed being a kid, while I quickly called Henry to regale him with the story of how his girlfriend and son almost died.
“OH MY GOD, SHE’S COMING!” I screamed into the phone as I saw her in my peripheral. She must have crossed the street after Chooch and me, because she was thankfully on the sidewalk across the street from my house. That was still too close for comfort so I hissed, “Chooch, get in the house.”
“You’re going to scare him! Stop that!” I could hear Henry reasoning on the other end.
“I HAVE TO GO!” I yelled at him, ending the call before he could say anything.
Mostly it was because I wanted to go in the house and get the camera though.
Look at her hands!
After she walked past, she went to the end of the block, turned around, and came back. Before she made it across from my house again, she abruptly turned and began walking toward the church across the street. She then roamed aimlessly around the sidewalks over there for a few minutes, before coming back down to the street. Walking back down the block, I watched as she squatted in front of a Jesus shrine, rummaged through her purse, blew her nose, and then continued on her way.
Oh, Brookline. I can’t wait to leave you/don’t want to leave you. They should film anti-psychotic ads here.