Bag Lady

Christmas Eve, jury duty in Santa Monica. Long lunch break at MacDonald’s.

Eating lunch—bag lady watching. Hope she doesn’t come over. She does. I decide to leave half my fries, half my shake. She stands and watches. I get ready to leave, gesture to the leftovers. “Go ahead,” I say, feeling marginally magnanimous.

Her face wrinkles into a toothless grimace, a sudden burst of anguish flooding her wrinkled face, obliterating her stoicism.

“It’s…” she begins, chewing the words from the back of her mouth. “…so…damn…” A fleeting gleam flickers in her wandering eye, and she looks directly at me for the first time, her face twisted, pleading, shouting silently in the clenched spaces between her words, bitten off. “…frustrating!” She bites off the word, with a quaver not pathetic at all, but furious.

Walking back to the courthouse among the Christmas shoppers. A phalanx of special-duty motorcycle police protects us from predators near the crowded mall. She said it like I needed to hear it, like it was her gift back to me, concise, but not quite as perfunctory as mine to her.


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