Apartment #18 used to be a favorite of mine. The long-time residents, a couple named Tim and Vicky, always had a smile and a “Hey, how are ya?!” ready every time I saw them. They had the annoying habit of parking on their front lawn, but I limited my feelings about this to a quick scowl and a shake of the head. It was worth it to have a couple next door that I could trust – and who loved my dog.
Even when I came back from vacation to find that their cat had been locked in my house all week, transforming my sunroom rug into a hazardous waste facility, I wasn’t fed-up. Perfectly logical people, they realized their culpability, having thoughtlessly put her outside whence she immediately slunk through my open door as I was loading my car. Vicky apologized profusely and paid for a replacement.
After they left, however, I would’ve invited every stray cat in the neighborhood to defecate in my house just to have them back. The owner of #18, let’s call him Jethro just for kicks, is a strange mixer of idiot, greed, and sloth. Perhaps I do him no justice, but if a landlord is to be judged by the quality of his tenants (and the names they call him after a month’s habitation in his property), then I’ve understated the matter. Tim and Vicky had once been family friends of Jethro’s, but after battling him over leaky pipes and an ancient A/C unit for about four years, “friend” became ironic. They only remained long enough to save up for a house. Needless to say, the series of new tenants who came and went, each hanging on less than a year, kept going downhill from there.
There were the compulsive smoker-fighters, who left cigarette butts on their front porch and screamed at each other twice a week like a pair of mating cats; the invisible slobs whose faces you rarely saw, but whose mysteriously mounting trash wafted from the can like a tidal wave of pure shit; the smoker-kids who left their oversized puppy crated outside night after frozen night, until I called animal rescue; the friendly fat girl with the abusive little boyfriend whose giant dog left mountains of crap in my backyard.
At first, I was heartened to see a family move in. They had a darling little black boy just starting kindergarten. A man I assumed was his dad took primary care of him; he was always at home. The mother (again, my assumption) was a sweet-looking woman, small of frame, with a downcast eye and a timid smile. She was quite pregnant, often leaving for somewhere or other (perhaps a prenatal appointment, I supposed) in a taxicab. She, too, seemed jobless, but she spent less time at home with the little boy than the father, who was always out on the porch grilling and chatting with another neighbor from one of the front buildings.
So far, so good. Then the arguing started. Much storming about outside ensued, and extended family members often came by to pick up the little boy and “father”. On a few occasions, we’d see a patrol car outside, and hear talk of a restraining order. As Ashley shared a wall with #18, she heard the worst of it: “Girl, I ‘bout banged down my wall last night! I don’t know WHAT they gettin’ up to in there, but I am tryin’ to sleep, you know?! Some people got jobs, yo.” Once, I saw the woman looking injured. She told me she’d fallen down the stairs. The little boy was with her; they looked to be on their way off somewhere. She was worried about the baby. I guess it was only a matter of time.
Then, one day, I noticed that the little porch grill was gone. The neighbor from up front stopped coming back for evening chats, and the “father” and his little boy were absent. Still, the pregnant young woman kept trudging out to her waiting taxi every day, apparently alone. I felt bad for her, and wondered what had happened. I hoped it was all for the best.
It wasn’t until this past couple of weeks that things started to get really interesting. One night, I came home from an evening of wine and tapas with the pals to find the taxicab parked and cold out front of #18. Curious, I thought, but it still hadn’t occurred to me that the “father” had gone for good, and I hoped he’d gotten a job as a driver. As it became more and more obvious that he was no longer in the picture, however, the taxicab’s presence became more and more blatant. It was there when I left for work before dawn, and there when I came home after an evening out, there on the weekends, and there in the middle of the day. Once, I happened to glance inside and noticed a tiny child’s t-ball glove in the passenger seat, a little ball nestled inside, and I knew that it had nothing to do with the little boy who had lived there. The thought came unbidden to my mind: Taximan’s cheating on his family with my neighbor!
And he wasn’t the only one. Before I knew it, other cars began to appear parked outside of #18: A white convertible mustang last night, a faded taxi-van a couple of nights before, and all the while the regular taxicab – always parked the wrong way, at any time of day – but none of them at the same time. Mr. Mustang looked quite at home on the front porch as I walked the path to prune Nearly Wild, my rosebush. He appeared to be laundering some clothes, and asked after my rose. He seemed nice enough, but I thought, Wait a minute, that’s not the father-dude, not taxi-dude, and not the same dude I saw the other day, either. What is going on here?
My suspicions came to a head (as it were) today when, windows open to catch the cool evening air, I overheard Don giving someone hell.
“This is private property! Who do you think you are, drivin’ up in heeah like that?! Drivin’ ovah people’s yaaads and all this mess!” There was a slamming of doors, and an indistinct but heated reply. I looked out of my window to see Don’s pearly white Chrysler parked across the end of our drive, blocking that same old taxicab’s way. Just then, the taxicab reversed, jerked back into gear, and revved through the leafy ground at the side of the road. He shaved between two pines and screeched to a stop in front of #18.
Don had stepped out of his car, door wide open, cell phone pressed to his ear. “I want his permit pulled!” he was shouting into the phone. “Either you pull it right now, or I’ll pull it for you!”
By this time, I had made my way to the porch. Standing at my heels, Pippin watched, enrapt, as Taximan stalked up the walk to #18, the young woman waiting for him on the porch. She’d heard the racket, too. I approached Don, who was still spitting into the phone at the cab company dispatcher. His daughter-in-law, Tiffany, stood in their front yard with their little dog, Magnum, looking worried. What’s going on? I mouthed to her. She shook her head with a wide-eyed shrug and mouthed back, I don’t know.
Finally, Don hung up the cell and I asked him what happened.
“I’m ty-ahd of it!” He said. “Fool comes tearing up in heah like he’s NASCAR, drivin’ up the one-way – I’m ty-ahd of it! I’m havin’ his permit pulled. And ‘course he tells me ‘Imma kick yo ass’ and ‘F you, Imma do what I want’ – uh huh, right; we’ll see about that. I’m not havin’ it nah more.” He looked over at Tiffany, who hadn’t heard these words, and called, “I’ll tell you later.” And with that, he got back into his car and left to pick-up a client.
As I walked back to my door, I noticed the young woman still on her porch in hushed conversation with Taximan. Something was different about her. She wasn’t as big as she had been…
“That girl is a HOT MESS!” said Ashley twenty minutes later, as I stood on her porch. I had come over to gossip with her and her brother, Javon. They looked intent as I told them what had just happened out front. “That place is a revolving door,” she went on. “She’s got so many guys up in there, I don’t even wanna think about it! What about that white Mustang dude? He’s supposed to be her UNCLE! Ha! And then there’s that OTHER taxi driver – you know the one with the minivan? They all stayin’ the night, girl.”
Half an hour later, I watched #18 walk Taximan to his cab. I looked more closely. She was definitely no longer pregnant. Had she had the baby? Lost the baby? When had this happened? Did I just fail to notice? I texted Ashley.
ME: Hey! I think she had tht baby! She’s def not as big as she was. Maybe thts why she’s in business ;). Wonder wht happened w the pregnancy?
ASHLEY: Whhaaaaaaaaattttt!!!!! Girl when did she have the baby? I just saw her this weekend & she was still preggers. Yo she has soooo many guys over there!!!! Eeeeeeewwwwww :)
ME: Well I dunno, but I just saw her walkin taximan out & she look ½ th size, so…Maybe a trick of my viewpoint. Anyway, s’pose sh’s gotta liv, jus hope she’s wrappin ‘em up frm now on! :P
ASHLEY: Girl she is a hot mess!!!! Eeeewww! I’m not trying to judge but I wouldn’t touch her with a 10ft pole! She is soooo prostituting! I wish I new her name so I could look her up to see if she has a criminal history…ie...prostitution
ME: Well, either that lil boy was the first man’s or th state took him. And she def not preggers now. So…
ASHLEY: That is crrrraaaaazzzzyyyy!!! Girl she is something else…LOL. You should blog about this. We could make a book with all the characters back here lol!
I immediately closed the novel I had been reading, opened my Macbook, and started typing.
My problem now was what to call this new neighborly drama. The Borrowers were easy. They borrow, steal, and hide their car from the repo-man by parking it in the backyard. But how to nickname this young woman without following in the crude, misogynistic footsteps of… well, all of Western society from about as far back as we have written record? A collective culture of hatred and fear for those women who make a life out of selling a most basic human desire: sex.
The fact is, I don’t care if she’s prostituting. She made friends with the taximan, she fell out with her boyfriend. No job, pregnant, no prospects, alone. Maybe she even lost the baby because of her boyfriend’s abuse? Whether her pregnancy ended as a miscarriage, an adoption, or a ward of the state, she’s still to be pitied more than judged, and at least she’s not on the street. Besides, she’s always been pleasant to me.
Ashley’s right about one thing, though: she IS a hot mess. Anyone in her position would be. And maybe that’s the best name for her, at least until I learn her real name.