There’s a woman in my neighborhood named Big Mouth. That’s what I call her, anyway. I see her walking down the street, talking to everyone like she owns the joint. It’s deeply annoying, because of course she doesn’t. It’s not like she’s the freakin’ mayor of the East Village. You’d think she was in charge of the whole show. When I see her leaning on her walker, against the wall, I wonder if she’s a drug spotter. When she sees the cops, she runs her hands through her hair or makes a loud noise, Hey, Papa, she yells to the window with the lovebirds sitting in their cage on the balcony. Hey! And the drugs get flushed down the toilet or stowed on the roof from the back fire escape or maybe even under the oven. Or some other place I wouldn’t think about— certainly not the toilet, because they do that so much in the movies.
She’s not the only big mouth. Big Mouth number two walks with a limp (what is it with all of these limps and walkers anyway?). She wears big glasses and has frizzy hair that goes on forever. She tries to be cool, like when she wants to say something took a long time, she’ll say it took her a minute. Which is confusing to me, but then I realize she must have heard it on a sitcom and it must make her feel better for her pathetic existence which involves some fat cats, and one of them has diabetes and the medicine is expensive, and I wonder what kind of miserable life is that cat living anyway, holed up in a tiny apartment with horrible tasting vet-prescribed food, a litter box, and Big Mouth as a minder, one who has to give you shots?
And there’s a woman who I used to call the crack whore. She wears tattered clothes and hangs around the non-working phone booths that remain, and she’s kind of dirty and has a bad dye job—brassy and tangled and fighting with extensions so none of it looks real. She walks fast and has an edge to her. Her hands are dirty and she talks to herself. I started saying hi to her and she would smile and stop and say hi, and then move along on her merry way. Over the years, her face began to look older, her smiles tighter and radiating with lines. She didn’t bother to put on makeup anymore. Her clothes went from tacky to dirty. Our conversations got longer. She knew me and would ask how my family was, and I’d say Fine, thank you. And a year later, she would ask me the same thing, but she would hold out her arms and embrace me. Except, it was really me holding out my arms to embrace her, but she was a willing recipient. And her hugs felt so good! She was strong, and she hugged me like she meant it with an intensity in her eyes that proved too much for me to bear. I would look back at her, and ask her with my voice dropped a half an octave, How are you? Like I understood her plight. And she would start telling me how there was some bitch down the street who she didn’t want stepping to her anymore, and she knew the way some people were, and didn’t I know, too, and I agreed, like I knew what she was talking about. In the moments when she went on and on, her stories grew more and more paranoid but I felt honored that she was sharing these paranoias with me. I almost asked her over for dinner. But I don’t even know her name, and I can’t believe in these years and years I’ve never bothered to ask her. Is it Natalie? It’s not Crack Whore. At least it’s not anymore.
What’s upsetting is that sometimes I think I might be turning into one of them. By them, I mean, someone who uncontrollably talks to strangers. Who can’t stop talking to babies, like every one who’s pushed by in a stroller. Ooh, she’s so cute, I’ll say, without knowing whether it’s a he or a she, and I’ll make the snap judgment based upon their outfit, which is ridiculous, though eight times out of ten I’m right. Or, I’ll be on a train and I’ll sit next to an old woman with fancy, red, sparkly shoes and I’ll tell her how much I love her sneakers, and she’ll smile and thank me, and I won’t stop. I’ll say, They’re like Dorothy’s! Which is so annoying and obvious. But before I know it, she’s telling me about her life and how her son was shot and I touch her arm and ask her if she’s okay and she says Oh yes, it was years ago, but of course I still miss him, and I start weeping and tell her my stop is coming up, and then I tell her to have a good day before getting off at 42nd Street, which is actually one step beyond where I had intended to get off.
Rachel Aydt (rhymes with light) teaches writing at the New School University and The Writing Institute at Sarah Lawrence College. Her published essays and fiction can be found online at The White Review, HCE Review, and more. She lives in New York City. Twitter: @Rachelrooo / Website: rachelaydt.com.