Hey buddy, the woman said. How you doin’?
From the other side of the street, I gave her a thumbs up. She was sitting at a bus stop bench in front of a derelict massage parlor with a ‘For Lease’ sign on the front door. Next to the massage parlor is a dubious motel, ‘Crystal Lodge’ on a hot red neon sign over the building.
The woman rose from the bench and started moving in my direction.
Where are you going? She said.
To get a beer, I said, which was true.
The liquor store was closed though, and it wasn’t even eleven. I had to cross the street and pass the woman again.
We must moved to Midtown in Ventura. Most of the houses around mine are Craftsmen with well-tended yards. The closer you get to the 101 though (and to the beach), the sketchier the neighborhood grows: vacant lots, cars on blocks, auto-body shops, and hot-sheet motels like the Crystal. Our house stands at the edge of this zone – from my bedroom window I look down upon the the back walkway of the Crystal, the tenants leaning on the railing with thousand-yard stares behind their cigarettes.
I crossed the street as the woman limped toward me.
Hey buddy, she said. Hey buddy.
She was wearing a black sweatsuit that left her thick calves bare, and dark hair hung limp around her weathered face. She looked like she’d been knocked down by a U-Haul and dragged fifteen yards.
What are you up to, buddy? She said.
Going home to my wife and kid, I said, which was also true.
Oh, she said as I passed her. I’m sorry.