SLACKJAW by JIM KNIPFEL
May 13, 2007

The Pink Lady

 

Morgan and I were standing in the checkout line at a small general purpose store on Fifth Avenue in Brooklyn.

      One of the registers opened up, and a voice behind me asked, “Are you next?”

      I turned and saw a tiny old woman. She was probably about five feet tall, in a hot pink baseball cap, large, pink-rimmed glasses, a plastic grayish-pink raincoat and a gray skirt. My first thought was that she was one of the neighborhood’s few remaining eccentric old ladies. They were a sadly vanishing breed, so I figured I’d be nice to her.

      “Oh, you go ahead,” I gestured, and she stepped past me to the register.

      I thought little of it until a few minutes later, when Morgan and I left the store and headed back toward my apartment. While walking north on Fifth, we passed her again. You couldn’t miss all that pink. Still, there was nothing unusual about seeing her again. She’d left the store shortly before we did, and had simply turned in the same direction we turned. No big deal.

      Morgan and I got to my apartment, where I put a few things away and she fixed one of my window blinds. Half an hour later, she had to be on her way back to Manhattan, so she gathered her things together, and I headed out with her to walk to the subway station. The sun was very bright, and it was warmer than it should’ve been.

      The subway is at the corner of Fourth Avenue and Ninth Street, but we made a small detour back onto the commercial stretch of Fifth again so Morgan could make a quick stop into a bodega.

      The place was dim and cramped inside, so I decided I’d wait for her out on the sidewalk.

      It being a “nice” day by most standards, the sidewalks were packed with strollers and half-wits. I tried, as much as it was possible, to stay out of their way. Crowded as it was, though, once again there was no missing that pink baseball cap bobbing through the masses toward me. Last we’d seen her, she was at the corner of Fifth Avenue and Seventh Street, heading north. Now she was still walking north, but she was two blocks south of where she had been before. That’s when I first started to think this was a little odd.

      She paused near where I was standing, glanced at me quickly, then darted into the bodega.

      When Morgan stepped out a few moments later, I asked her, “Did you see her?”

      “See who?’

      “The Pink Lady.”

      “Who?

      “The Pink Lady—she’s been popping up in front of us all morning.”

      This sort of thing has happened to me before in this neighborhood. More rational minds might suggest that it’s a small, self-contained neighborhood, so seeing the same person wandering around is to be expected. But this goes way beyond that.

      Ten years ago, it was a guy I called Old Man Death, who tended to linger on Seventh Avenue. He had a similar ability to appear in front of me—like the hitchhiker in the old story—at three or four separate points during a single walk to the bank or grocery store. For months he haunted me.

      Old Man Death was a tall, stooped, balding man of about seventy-five. He had a heavy, sad face, wore horn-rimmed glasses and a shabby dark suit and tie. He spoke quietly and his voice was tired. Mostly he asked for spare change.

      The Pink Lady, on the other hand, seemed kind of pushy and brusque. She had energy. And I have to wonder if she was dressed in pink now, instead of a dark suit, in order to make herself more visible to me.

      Old Man Death eventually faded from the scene—right around the time, as I think back on it now, that my luck started to change a little bit. It makes me wonder why his replacement, or new disguise, or whatever the hell the Pink Lady is, would show up now.

      Morgan and I talked about other things on the way to the subway, while I tried to forget about the Pink Lady. When we reached the stairs, I kissed her good-bye, maneuvered around a crazy homeless lady who was muttering to herself in the middle of the sidewalk, and headed back toward the apartment. I wanted to avoid Fifth Avenue, so I stayed on Fourth. The sidewalks were quieter along Fourth anyway. I lit a cigarette and squinted at the brightness around me.

      I shouldn’t have been surprised when she appeared in front of me again, but I was. There was that pink baseball cap and plastic raincoat just a few yards ahead. She was still heading north, of course, this time on Fourth Avenue between Seventh and Sixth Streets. I noticed for the first time that, for all the stores she had stopped in, she didn’t seem to be carrying any bags. It almost made sense.

      As things stood, I had no choice but to pass her. I was too close behind as it was, and if I were to slow my steps in order to remain behind her, put a little distance between us, well, that would just be suspicious—maybe even an invitation.

      I figured the best thing to do was scoot past her as quickly as possible, then turn at the next corner. Screw the crowds on Fifth—if the Pink Lady was here, then crowds would be a relief.

      I picked up the pace and stepped past her. She said nothing. Didn’t even seem to notice. I charged on ahead to the next corner and took a sharp turn.

      Then I stopped short and, as subtly as possible, leaned back and peeked around the building, back down Fourth. I wasn’t surprised at all to see that she was no longer there. The sidewalk was empty.

      At that point, I began to wonder if maybe I was being paranoid. The fact that I had run into her all those times that morning was certainly weird, but who knows? Maybe she was thinking the same thing about me that I was thinking about her. Maybe I was the one who had been appearing in front of her everywhere she went that morning, and maybe after I passed her there on Fourth, she’d ducked into the bushes or scaled a fence in order to get away from me.

      I didn’t see her again the rest of the trip home.

      She wasn’t waiting for me in the apartment either, which was a plus. Still, things like this—foolish as they are—can nag at me.

      An hour or so later when Morgan called, I was relieved that she didn’t tell me I was dead. Not that I was expecting her to, but I wouldn’t have been that shocked either.

      I just have to hope now that the Pink Lady will keep in mind that I was the one who let her go ahead of me at the store.

 

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