Ms Diversey, Reminiscing about the Old ‘Hood

Ms Diversey
Ms Diversey

The woman I call Ms Diversey lived on my old block. I lived in a second-floor apartment over a busy street. My full-time job was watching out the windows.

Every time I saw Ms Diversey, she was dressed to — what I imagine were — her nines. Like many people on my old block, her job was to sit at Panera Bread and nurse a $1.35 cup-a-coffee. Her shift started at 10 and ended around 4. Not a bad gig. Almost every morning, I saw her traipse westward down the sidewalk toward Panera. In the evenings, eastward. Mondays and Thursdays were her weekends.

Ms Diversey grew up in the city. Her morning routine drove her to dress up, don heels, paint on makeup, weigh down her neck and arms with jewelry, pickup her bag and slide her four-inch heels around the ‘hood. Ms Diversey will die in the city.

Her health had been dampened by a stroke. Maybe. Maybe some untreated STD. Genetic deficiency? She spoke in high-pitched slurred vowels and consonants. She had the leathery yellow skin of a sunbather and a rotten liver.

I remember one talk we had. She was crossing the street towards me. She held her hand up slowly. Her painted fingernails shook from palsy. With closed eyes, she asked, “Do yoooou haavvvvvvve a cigarrrrrrrrrrettttttttttttte?” After the question mark, her eyelids opened up again.

“No, I’m sorry.”

She turned to the next person and asked, “Do yoooou haavvvvvvve a cigarrrrrrrrrrettttttttttttte?”

One out of every ten passes by my window, she would bend down — almost backwards like the heavy-headed maitre d in “The Triplets of Belleville”. I would stop to watch. Like a sloth, her movements were careful but hyperbolically long. When she wiped after peeing, she probably consumed an entire hour and a half. When she passed toilet paper through the canyon of her vulva, she liked the sound of one lip slapping back against the other.

A tattoo just above her left knee probably read, “Wipe.” Under that, “Flush.”

Out on the street in front of my windows, Ms Diversey bent down for cigarette butts. When she returned upright, she would shift her weight, open the handles of her bag and fish for a lighter. If she found a butt in the middle of the street, she plunged a hand deep in her purse in search of a light. Sometimes traffic would stop and a driver would politely honk. Her dresses and distant appearance were beguiling enough to fool most any side glance.

If no lighter were found, she asked for a light from passersby. With a half-smoked cigarette finally lit, she’d puff her chest back out. She would notice a tattoo on her right wrist that read, “Home,” a synapse would flicker and she’d slide one foot forward and scootch outside my view.