When you are forced to rely on public transportation in Los Angeles, you inevitably end up doing quite a bit of walking. There is no such thing as a bus stop just outside your door or around the corner, and the busses don’t adhere to any kind of schedule. There are also days when the bus is over crowded or smells remarkably like feet rubbed with cheap lunch meat, so I choose the option of getting off and walking home. I try to time my exit for a stop where I know I will have access to a quiet street with very little traffic.
There is a lovely maze of storybook streets that make up about ten blocks between one of my regular stops and my house. It is a beautiful, leisurely walk and I occasionally get the entire street to myself, but, when walking in L.A, you can never be surprised if one adventure topples over another.
It was a Monday in April. The air was warm but carried a breeze through the myriad of trees that line the back roads of Hollywood. I wore an expansive blue sun hat to protect my eyes from the sun peeking in through the leaves, and a short-sleeved black cotton dress. It was warm enough to go without a sweater, so the illustrations that pepper my arms were available for the world to see. I usually keep them covered because people seem to think they are an invitation to talk to me, but I hoped I would be safe from conversation in the middle of the afternoon on my favorite quiet route. I was four blocks away from home and the walk had been pleasantly uneventful. Then I saw her.
She sat on a bruised folding metal chair, staring expectantly at the street. I slowed my pace to take a better and more gradual look. She appeared to be in her late 60’s, but was smoking a cigarette with the determination of a long-term chain smoker, so I figured she was probably in her late 40’s or early 50’s. Her hair was old school platinum blonde, attempting a flirty Marilyn Monroe curl, but fell flat and limp around her puffy face. She wore tight high-waisted jean shorts and a black tank top that struggled to cover her round belly. Her toes, with brightly painted pink nails, brushed the top of white flip-flops that she had let fall to the ground beneath her feet. She looked at me and smiled as she exhaled the smoke from her practiced lungs.
“Do you need a kitten?”, she asked.
I found it curious that she asked if I needed a kitten rather than asking if I wanted a kitten. Did I have the look of someone in need of companionship? Was my loneliness tattooed transparently across my mouth?
“Not today, thanks”.
My intention was to be polite and move along quickly, but I couldn’t ignore the sadness that saturated the woman’s gaze. She needed to unveil a piece of her life and I had the time to listen.
“My name’s Caroline”
“Nice to meet you Caroline”.
” I have these kittens out back; just out there in my back yard”.
With a cigarette- laden hand, she gestured toward a rusted fence covered in dying ivy.
“The mom just left them and now they need homes. I would take care of them but I have to go into the hospital for a surgery”.
She paused, perhaps for a bit of dramatic effect, and her eyes darted back and forth as she gathered up the rest of her story.
“I fell down the stairs. My boyfriend gave me all this vodka to drink and I fell down the stairs and now I have to have surgery and I can’t take care of the kittens.”
Her eyes got bigger and sadder as she sputtered her tale, barely taking a breath.
“Are you sure you don’t need a kitten”?
” I’m sorry”, I said. “I really don’t need a kitten today, but I will ask my friends. One of them may need a kitten”.
I paused to give her a smile of compassion.
Take care of yourself”.
I turned to make my way down the block and barely avoided crashing into a splintered wooden gate. The girl sneaking through the gate had bright orange hair with black tips. She wore cat eye glasses dotted with tiny rhinestones and had a purple ring in her nose. In her hand she clasped a black studded leash.
“Come on Molly. Good Girl”.
At the end of the leash was a pregnant goat wearing a bright red sweater.
Susan Richardson is living, writing and going blind in the belly of Hollywood. Much of her work focuses on her experiences as a partially sighted woman in a sprawling urban environment. In addition to poetry and creative nonfiction, she also writes a blog called “Stories from the Edge of Blindness”.