Posts Tagged ‘hospital’

She had the sleepy smile of a cat and blue eyes and a flat Midwestern drawl that recounted the escapades of her life in Brooklyn like they were the harmless musings of some matron in her slippers on her back porch in Pennsylvania—except they were about her encounter with Ted Bundy (that Ted Bundy, the serial killer), and the guy in the street who put a knife to her throat, and the bodies in the morgue of the hospital where she worked and where she liked to have her lunch.

Just an ordinary day in Brooklyn.

She came from Pennsylvania somewhere—Scranton? Lancaster? Mifflin? Wilkes-Barre? She still had her family living there and she would visit them for the holidays and they’d have drag-out fights over George W. Bush (she loathed him, they loved him), before they kissed and made up apparently and she took the bus or the train back to Brooklyn.

She always came back to Brooklyn.

For most of her years here she lived across the street from the hospital where she worked as a nurse. Her apartment building had an air of faded elegance and she may have been one of the last remaining white tenants living there: she was the white lady with the cats (she had a menagerie of them and was fierce about them). Her apartment was not far from the park which in the summer became a jamming place and had West Indian bands playing airs on steel drums that sounded like a celestial band.

She liked the vibe of the neighborhood, or didn’t have the energy to move, or maybe she liked to trade patois with her West Indian neighbors, like the lady with the rainbow kerchief who wore her husband’s brown vinyl sandals when she took out the garbage on collection days.

          How you doing, Miss Cat Lady, how you doing, baby?

          I’m good. How’s the aches and pains today?

          Old bones don’t lie, darling. They got me down today.

          You did the bone density scan like I told you?

          Gonna do it real soon.

          You gonna do it real soon?

          Gonna do it real soon.

          Like when? Let me know. I’ll walk you through it.

          She might dispense free medical advice for a good guava bread recipe, or banter with the super from Barbados who thought he was the rooster of the street, but she had no love for the churchgoing guy with the tie clip who stored all his junk in the garage across the street: he had once chased her cats away with a broom when they were rooting around the junk in his garage for a place to have their litter.

          You got rats in there, man! They’re doing you a favor!

          It’s my rats and my property!

          It’s nothing but junk!

          My junk!

          You’re a fool!

          You’re a fool woman! You got no husband!

          I hate all men.

          Fool woman!

          Fool man!

          I poison them cats, too!

          I will shoot you.

          They’ll charge you with murder!

          At least you’ll be dead.

          I can imagine her smiling when she said that, her sleepy smile turning sinister, and after her confrontation with the guy she would deliberately walk her cats across the street and deliberately encourage them to nose around the garage and spray it, while he was smart enough to stay indoors, but mutter out the window about that crazy white cat lady who was crazy enough to live in Brooklyn and stand out rather than live with her folks back in Pennsylvania and fit in.

Little did he know her. Apparently, she had shown her independence early on—graduating nursing school back home and immediately leaving and moving to New York to get a job while barely out of her teens. She found it in Brooklyn and lived in the early days off Ocean Avenue near Tennis Court (named after the tennis courts that once lined the street in the area’s gentry years) and she worked the night shift and had to wait at the bus stop in the dark.

          Me, she says, all of ninety pounds.

She hadn’t been bothered, until one night a man came muttering out of the shadows and put a knife to her throat. He muttered something, but she couldn’t hear it. He sounded like one those crazy raccoons that come snuffling and stumbling out of the dark. He smelled bad, too.

She tried to keep calm and tried to ask him what he wanted. She tried to use her professional manner.

But he kept muttering and snuffling in her ear.

         You want money?  she told him. I don’t have money. Just my car fare. I guess I’ll just have to walk to work tonight. She smiled at him even then.

But he got rough and jerked her backwards off her feet.

        I tried to keep my neck clear of that knife. The blade felt cold—it felt like ice–or maybe my neck was burning hot. And I could smell his breath: he had tortillas for dinner.

          What do you want? she told him. You have to let me go.

He snuffled some more.

         You have to let me go so I can go to work. I’m a nurse. I help people. You want to come in for a checkup? You sound out of breath.

          She tried to smile at him over her shoulder. He wasn’t buying. He was going to cut her. He kept yanking her off her feet. She could hear herself squealing like a mouse. She could feel her feet kicking as he dragged her back into the shadows of the apartment buildings.

And then miracle of miracles—the bus came!

With all its lighted windows lighting up the street.

        And all these people in the windows just staring at us. And the guy got stage fright. Imagine a rapist getting stage fright? He saw all those people staring at us and he dropped me like a hot potato and took off. I could still smell him, but I couldn’t see him anymore.

          She got on the bus. Nobody said a word to her—everybody keeping their New York cool—but she felt her neck, and she felt the slit of the knife across her throat.

She feels for it now, but her neck has gone to fat. She smiles at the story, though, as she smiles at everything else. You know what, she says, that almost bummed me out about New York for a while.

But not enough for her to leave Brooklyn. She moved up in the ranks at the hospital, one of those mountain range of buildings combining the old and the new (old buildings looking like relics from the Civil War with their turrets and eggplant-colored brownstone walls alongside new pastel extensions sparkling with glass and laced with catwalks spanning whole lobbies) and she sometimes unwound by taking breaks in the morgue with a colleague.

        And there wasn’t a dull moment, she says.

She had no conversation with the stiffs, but she and her friend had lively conversations among the stiffs and tossed back some brews and when the booze went to their heads they might even slide one of the corpses out of the drawer and have them comment on the action.

        But they had very little to say, she says. And they never cracked a smile.

Nothing like the guy with the winning smile she met one day. His name was Ted. She never explained how he got to Brooklyn, but somehow he did and apparently they met.

        He was charming, she says, and considered quite a catch.

          And one night he was hell-bent on driving her home.

          Wow, she thought. This guy moves fast.

          But he was clean-cut. And so square—he was going to be a lawyer. And he dressed like a lawyer in the casual blazer of a lawyer dressing down. And he had nice features–except the skin around his head sometimes got taut.

          You could practically see the track of his veins on his head, she says. They were like a hairnet.

Or maybe she was exaggerating in hindsight?

Anyway, he helped her on with her sweater that night, because it was

chilly, and when she cinched her waist with a belt,  he stopped and stared at her.

What? she said.

He kept staring—and apparently the veins were pulsing in his head.

        What? she said.

         How much do you weigh? he said.

        What’s it to you? she said.

        What is your waist size? he demanded—the veins standing out on his forehead like the interchanges on a freeway, she remembers. Is that the sweater or is that you?

       I told him to you know what and that was it, she says. He turned around and walked out on me. And I was royally pissed. I was expecting a ride home. Now I had to take the bus home!

And possibly run into her friend the rapist from Tennis Court.

Enough action to last any girl a lifetime, but not enough to scare away the girl from Pennsylvania, who liked Brooklyn for the action (where else could you meet Ted Bundy and discover he hated fat girls and live to tell about it), who liked to trade patois and guava bread recipes with her neighbors, and collect endless stray cats, and greet each new encounter in her Brooklyn day with the patented smile of the Cheshire Cat.



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