My mate shook me awake. “Someone’s in the house! Someone’s in the house!” Half whispering, half screaming. Her body curled around the five-month old attached to her breast.
Groggily, I rose and walked out of our bedroom. I was dumbfounded by the sight of a woman I didn’t know walking across my kitchen, past me, out the back door. I stumbled behind her, my brain trying to make sense of it. She must have gotten confused and wandered into the wrong house, I thought. Maybe she’s a process server, looking for the attorney that lives upstairs. It’s not the only time my mind has created and then clung to an absurd explanation for what would otherwise be an unbelievable event to which I bore witness.
Once, on my way to a trailhead in Humboldt County, I came around a corner and found myself face to face with a pair of mountain lions. They must have escaped from the circus, I concluded ridiculously. The same sort of addled thoughts plagued me as I watched this stranger amble off my back deck and down the driveway along side my house. How unusual, I thought, she has a brightly colored messenger bag just like my brightly colored custom-made messenger bag.
My mate’s bark snapped me out of it: “She’s got our stuff!”
I finally got it: We were being robbed.
“Call the cops!” I yelled as I ran for the front door.
I made it out the door and took up a position between the gate and the would-be burglar, just as she came around the side of the house.
She paused. Then she started talking.
“I dropped all the stuff,” she said, “it’s all back there.” She advanced a step.
The Mission was just coming out of the murk that passes for night in the city. Still. Quiet. Chorizo and diesel faintly in the air. I took stock.
She was not a healthy looking person. Even in the dim light of morning I could make out a patchwork of open sores and scabs across her face. I was barefoot, commando, braless, my mammaries swaying to and fro, clad only in my pink, flannel pajamas emblazoned with pictures of Martinis and Manhattans and the words “cocktail hour” in neat, art-deco style script. I needed back up.
“YOU CAME INTO OUR HOUSE!” I yelled, hoping to wake some neighbors. “WE HAVE A CHILD AND YOU CAME INTO OUR HOUSE!” Come on… someone. Wake up. Get out here.
She took another step toward me. I brought my hands to her chest and shoved her back. I yelled again, “WE HAVE A CHILD AND YOU BROKE INTO OUR HOUSE!”
“But I’m going now, lady,” she reasoned, “I left the stuff and I’m going.”
“THE POLICE ARE COMING,” I screamed, “YOU’RE GOING TO JAIL!”
It was the wrong thing to say. Her eyes widened in fear and understanding. I realized what I’d done. I’d forced her to make a move. She pushed off quickly, trying to dash around me and out the gate. I stepped towards her, swung my arm in in a massive clothesline and connected. Her body was suspended for a moment, perfectly horizontal. Head west, feet east. She was almost bird like, with her addiction hollowed bones and momentary flight. Then the moment passed. Her body returned to earth in a thud, her heals and head landing simultaneously.
I let my weight come down on top of her. Her hand came up. I saw something in it. I ripped it open. A lighter. I tore it out of her hand. Threw it across the yard. I turned back to her, wrapped my arm around her neck and cranked.
“Lady!” She gasped, “I can’t breathe!”
“YOU SHUT THE FUCK UP!” I yelled, inches from her ear, “YOU CAME INTO MY HOUSE! YOU SHUT THE FUCK UP!”
“Lady! Lady, please! I can’t breathe!”
“IF YOU CAN TALK, YOU CAN BREATHE!” I screamed, “NOW SHUT THE FUCK UP!”
I smashed her face into the dirt with my free hand. Saw movement out of the corner of my eye. Looked up. A man walking by on the sidewalk. Dry paint spatters on his overalls and thick, denim jacket. Coffee in a Styrofoam cup. “Morning!” He said cheerfully, as he smiled and walked passed us. Just another day in the Mission. A distant part of me wondered what his mind had come up with to explain the sight of a woman in pink, flannel cocktail hour pajamas wrestling with another on the front lawn at dawn.
“Please,” She said again, her voice small, gasping beneath me. “Please let me up.”
I lifted her up and half threw, half shoved, her into a sitting position, her back against our fence. “If you move,” I growled, “I will fucking beat you to death.” She nodded, taking big, gulping breaths.
We regarded each other for a moment. I could see the engine of addiction driving the gears of manipulation. I strained for the sound of sirens.
“You’re lucky,” I told her, “lesser people would just kill you right now.”
“I know,” she agreed enthusiastically, “I know.”
“You need help,” I told her.
She saw her chance. “I know,” She said. “I know. But jail…jail is not the answer! Every time I got to jail, it sets me back. Every time. It sets me back.”
I could sense her body making little micro-movements. Adjusting the distribution of weight, tensing here, relaxing there. Preparing to slip through whatever crack she could manipulate into existence.
I gazed down at her, coldly. “You are not making me more liberal right now.”
She deflated. She saw it was useless. In the distance, sirens.
After what seemed like days, the sirens were down the street, then in front of my house. Two officers got out of the car. They knew her on site. They called her by name. They labeled her a crack whore.
One of the officers was female. I opined to that robbing houses in this neighborhood seemed awfully risky. We were smack in the middle of a turf war between two rival gangs: the Norteños and the Sureños. Pick the wrong house, get shot. “They would be doing her a favor,” said the officer, as she collected her notebook, slipped her pen into a pocket and her nightstick into its holder.
“You should go shower,” she said as she turned to go, “I hate touching her.”