An old woman is peeking through the blinds of the house directly across the street from mine, looking at me and my three-year-old daughter. I’m used to this because we’re the youngest family on our block, by about 50 years, and the neighbors, while friendly, love to snoop and gossip about what everyone else is, or is not, doing. It’s early spring, and finally nice enough to go outside for a little gardening. After judging it warm enough, I go back in the house, put my young baby into her carrier, and bring her outside to join us.
The blinds across the street snap back into place, and the front door is flung open, followed by a tiny woman, waving her arms around and grinning from ear to ear.
“EEEEEEEEEE!” she squeals excitedly, letting the screen door slam behind her as she rushes to open her gate, then dashes the short distance across the street, stopping about 10 feet short of me and the kids, making cooing noises and silly faces in the direction of the baby.
Her speed and agility belie her age, but I’m more shocked by the first real words to come out of her mouth. Before even uttering her name, or asking mine, she stops cooing, turns to me and says, “I want to run over and kiss your little ones all over their adorable little faces, but my mouth is too diseased for that.”
This is how I meet Cher. A 5’2” hard-worn, raisin-y, bundle of happiness and strangeness.
Cher has been coming over to visit me at least once a week, usually when I’m out in the yard with the kids. She always keeps her distance, almost never comes inside my house, and I’ve never asked to go into hers, but I don’t feel slighted. She’s nice to me, she’s just odd.
Today she’s talking about her diseased mouth again. She’s never elaborated on exactly what the problem is, but she has been telling me, and the other neighbors, about an operation she’s saving for, so she can have the problem fixed.
“When it’s done, I can start kissing those cute little babies all over their faces!” she happily exclaims.
The conversation quickly turns to more pleasant topics, like her grown son, what kinds of things my older child has been up to, and our plans for the summer. I really like her.
My husband works a lot and is often gone on business trips for a few weeks at a time, so it’s taken months for Cher to finally meet him. It is one-sided love at first site. Cher is obviously smitten. My husband is obviously not.
Cher has been greeting the kids with her usual mixture of reticence and enthusiasm, but no longer comes over to talk to me. Her style of dress has changed from always-ready-for-church clothes to short-shorts and tube tops, and she’s started fixing her hair. It’s blonde now.
Cher’s front yard is about the size of four kiddie pools taped together and surrounded by a chain link fence. The yard that fence is protecting is entirely bare, save for a lone tree, which looks like it might be some kind of fruit tree, but it’s tiny and pathetic, and always looks on the verge of dying. In full splendor, the tree houses less than ten leaves.
She thinks my husband is home right now, and is picking up invisible things from her fenced-in dirt yard, so that her not-quite-hidden, and almost nonexistent, butt cheeks peek towards our living room window. Sometimes it’s her amply pushed up, wrinkly, fun-bags that are on full view. Every now and then she’s glancing up towards the window, probably hoping to catch sight of my husband. He has taken to leaving the car parked at home, and walking to and from work through our back door, so she’s never sure when he’s here. When he’s home, I sometimes like to help her out by calling him into the living room, ostensibly to see what one of the kids has done, and then letting him see her show. He never seems to think it’s as funny as I do.
Things have gone a little farther. Cher “accidentally” left her car lights on and the battery died. There are many people in our neighborhood that can help her, but she saw my husband come home and is making a direct line for my house . I answer the door and, without even a “hello” in my direction, Cher leans past me, her deflated balloons almost oozing from the top of her too-tight dress, and, in one of the most innuendo-filled sentences I’ve ever heard in real-life, she pleads, “Jeff, can you come jump me?”
“Yeah, can you go jump her, Jeff?” I ask with wide-eyed innocence. He glares at me, and gets into our car to move it to her side of the street.
Cher has “accidentally” left the lights on three times now, so when Jeff saw them on today, he went and knocked on her door to have her to turn them off. I don’t know if it was him going over there for something non-sexual, or the fact that she didn’t have a reason to blatantly ask him to jump her, but she looked utterly crestfallen.
She’s stopped cleaning up the invisible things from her yard, and has been remembering to turn off her headlights. Yesterday Cher waved politely at us from her doorway, and today she came over to visit with me again, while Jeff was gone. We talked about which of my plants is producing the best, and I gave her some zucchini.
Today Cher was especially excited. She came dancing over while I was talking to some other neighbors, and proudly told us that she’s saved up enough money for her surgery, to fix her diseased mouth! She’s going to get it done in November. That’s less than two months away. We’re all happy for her.
Jeff had to get something from the car late last night. Cher was on her front porch. When she saw him, she decided it was naked time. He immediately decided he didn’t need anything from the car and came back in.
Aside from the naked episode a few weeks ago, Cher seems to have given up on wooing my husband away from me and into her den of jumping. She’s obviously anxious about her upcoming surgery, but also excited. She says she’s going to be gone for a while and that her son will be taking care of her while she recuperates. She’s packing her bags, and doing some last-minute fretting, but still in a very bubbly mood.
Today was quiet. A few other neighbors and I met up tonight and talk turned to how anti-climatic it feels now that Cher’s gone, after her flurry of activity yesterday. We hope she recovers quickly.
It’s been about a month since any of us last heard from Cher. Hopefully she’ll be home soon. The mailman came by today while a few of us were talking, and asked if we had heard anything from Cher since the surgery. We assured him we’d let him know as soon as we had any information.
I bundled up the kids today and opened the door to take them for a walk. The road in front of my house is cluttered with police cars. One of the officers wants to talk to me.
The official police report says she slipped while getting into the bathtub.
From what I can gather, through reading the paper, and talking to neighbors who have more connections than I do, the mailman finally called the police when he realized that mail was piled so high inside Cher’s front door that it reached the mail slot. Cher’s son, whom she had frequently talked to everyone about, has had nothing to do with her for years, due to her former heavy drug use, and had no idea about the surgery she kept talking about.