I've lived in a dozen states from coast to coast and met a lot of people I'll never forget. But there are some who stand out, because they provided me the inspiration for a story. Maybe you'd like to meet one ...
She walked into my apartment completely naked.
She seated herself in the middle of my kitchen table and proceeded to take one bite from every apple in the basket I'd just placed there.
"I'm Lisa," she said between bites. "I'm four, an' I'm hungry."
"Hello, Lisa. I'm Leslie." I smiled, trying to keep my eyes on her face instead of her dirty bottom, scooching across my tablecloth. "Where do you live, Lisa? I haven't seen you in this building before."
"Upstairs," she slurped, dripping apple juice down her chest. "My mommie and me. We just moved in."
"That's nice. Where is your mommie? Does she know where you are?"
"She's asleep, but I got hungry." She looked around the room. "What else you got? I don't like apples, much." She peered at me through thick glasses that made her blue eyes look extra large and round. Wispy blond hair, dirty and matted, brushed her thin shoulders. With a sweet, enigmatic, half-smile she repeated, "I'm hungry."
"Yes, well, let's see. How about a cracker?"
"Ain't you got a candy bar or ..."
"There you are, young lady," a Cockney-accented voice came from behind me. "What in bloody 'ell do you think you're doin'?"
I turned to face a small woman with tousled, bright ,red hair and heavy makeup, standing in the open doorway of my apartment.
I smiled at her. "Hi, I'm Leslie." I extended my hand but she ignored it.
"I'm Gemma." She pulled at her rumpled blue bathrobe, "and this here urchin is Lisa." She grabbed the child's arm, and spoke through gritted teeth, "You just wait till we get upstairs. Didn't I tell you to park your arse and stay put?"
"But, I was hungry, and ...
"Never mind. I don't wannna hear nothin' you got to say." She was pulling Lisa toward the door and looking over her shoulder at me. "Blymie, if she ain't the trial of me life. Just don't know what to do with her, sometimes." She hesitated as if she were sizing me up. "Lisa's got problems. Ya know, learnin' disabled. Leastways, that's what the social workers call it. Humph! Sure learned how to unlock the door quick enough. Sorry if she was botherin' ya."
"No problem. She wasn't bothering me." The child hung her head. She hadn't looked at me since the moment her mother said 'learning disabled.' I reached for Lisa's hand, "You can visit me anytime, Lisa." But she jerked away.
"Her father's a soldier out at the base."
"So's my husband."
Gemma flipped her flaming hair over her shoulder. "He left us, 'cause o' her, don't ya know. Now the bastard's tryin' to say she ain't even his. Well, it's just a good thing the army takes our allotment out of his check automatically."
I suddenly felt awkward, like I had somehow butted into her life instead of the other way around. "I...I'm happy to meet you. Both of you," I stammered. "And, again, Lisa wasn't bothering me. She ..."
But they were out the door. I started to close it, but stopped to straighten the welcome mat. Gemma was stomping up the long narrow stairs, cussing at her daughter in the most unthinkable language. Just as I closed my door I heard the loud crack of a hand on soft skin and a howling scream. I jumped and darted out into the stairwell ...
More next week ...