Such small hands.

9 Mar

On a motorcoach of senior citizens, I was happy to look halfway down an aisle of aged and see the bright and alert eyes of a woman significantly younger and unusually interested. The seat strained to hold her enthusiasm. At first, I was not a bit concerned that she interrupted me at every turn with a question that had no bearing whatsoever on the scenery before us–how did Harlem get its name while we were passing the Ambassador Theatre–as though she had bottled up these queries many months ago when she booked the trip with her ancient mother, a Mrs. Wingfield I presume, presently passing away on her right. That got old seven blocks later at West 56th Street.

As we stopped throughout the city, moments I pre-plan to take a nerve break from the guests on the premise that they might get out and wander the city on their own for a bit, Laura latched on to me. Short and plump with pretty blue eyes, Laura is not the least bit aware of personal space. I found myself up against a tree in Central Park where she told me she was a nurse in a psychiatric ward. Already I suspected her departure from work each day involved a battery of questions from any security personnel who might not be familiar with her or her particular brand of borderline battiness.

She smelled of rose water and funk and piled her formidable tresses of mousy-brown hair atop her head in a messy nod to Victoriana. She had the complexion of a milkmaid, untouched by the sun, her brows, untouched by tweezers. She smiled as though her life depended on it. Despite my full six-inch advantage over her, she managed to manipulate me through a series of unwanted gropes and grunts down to her eye level. She had stories to tell. And apparently was used to telling them to people in restraints.

Aboard the Zephyr, a ratty old yacht re-outfitted for harbor cruises, she spotted the remnants of a dance floor and took me for a spin before I knew what was happening. There was something bossy about her that I no longer liked as she skillfully kicked my knees out from under me with the admonition: RELAX! It reminded me of an unpleasant colonoscopy. Here she snuggled up to my cankered ear and whispered that she took ballroom dance classes and had pictures to show me later. Remind her. Either the longitude of the rolling seas or the latitude of her intimacy left me nauseous. Her need was a tsunami capable of taking the craft and its cruisers out in seconds. And then suddenly like summer she was off without a word like some loopy prancing sea hag wielding a big-ass camera and ready to shoot the Statue of Liberty into submission. I stood stone still and chilled to the bone. Dance rape, I thought.

At Grand Central Terminal where I left them after my talk to let them enjoy some desserts, she cornered me near the Oyster Bar. She needed no reminder as it turns out and produced a wrinkled manilla envelope of tattered memories from her purse that held not so much the pictures she had promised, but yellowed newspaper clippings chronicling her success. I tried to reposition myself to look at them, only to be abruptly “placed” elsewhere by her as it was not my turn to look yet. There was a protocol in place of which I was woefully unaware. On and on she went with the wind up, and when I tried to interject some pleasantry of feigned interest, she shut me down. One does not deviate from the script Laura has carefully imagined in her head unless one wants a body check to the chest. So there she was, in article after article, at some benefit she paid to attend, to dance with strangers she couldn’t name in an evening gown she bought at Strawberry’s, clutching a sad and sparkly clutch filled with the tissue paper she never removed. She funded these extravagances by supplementing her income at the Elizabeth Arden counter, where, according to her, she was hired not for her beauty but for her stature, as at 5’4″, she was the perfect height to massage faces and reach for the cart of creams without having to stoop on the stool.

In Greenwich Village, she returned with a cupcake for me. Unable to refrain from tipping her hand, it was imperative she point out she had left a note inside, and, unconvinced I was capable of reading, read it aloud to me, as my knees buckled again under the weight of her insanity and I found myself eye-to-eye with her and her uni-brow. She had written some spoof of the Visa commercial that included the price of the cupcake should I fail to appreciate her generosity and the price of a tour with me: Priceless, should I fail to appreciate her wit. And then her phone number. When I finally was allowed to speak, I thanked her and told her she could look me up as well, on Google I placed the barrier, and she replied, “Oh, I WILL. There is a computer at work!”

Laura is home now, and back on the ward with the people who probably took their depression that one awful step further than hopefully she ever will. There she has exchanged her glass animals for psychotics whom she dusts with angels to keep them from breaking to pieces. At night she returns home and pulls off her scrubs. From her mother’s drawer, she pulls a sachet containing a vial of eau de toilette and liberally sprinkles away the stench of urine and madness. She assembles an appropriate outfit, a skirt, one that will flare wildly as she waltzes, and carefully chooses a pewter earring from a jewelry box that plays The Windmills of Your Mind should you crack the bevelled leaded lid. “Are you going out AGAIN?” her crabby mother yells from a Barcalounger in another room, in front of a television set that never goes off. “You know I dance on Mondays and Wednesdays,” Laura replies, fixing the sweep of the bun on her head, reigning in her anger with the crown of a rhinestone comb. As she heads out the door, her mother warns, “I won’t always be here to spend the night with you know.” And Laura doesn’t know exactly how she feels about that. So she leaves home anyway towards nothing but a partnerless twirl around an unsprung floor in the autumn of her life.

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2 Responses to “Such small hands.”

  1. Rob March 11, 2013 at 1:38 pm #

    Gripping and sad. And icky. Loved it.

    • NC Coot March 11, 2013 at 2:06 pm #

      Thank you so much for reading. Truly.

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