Wednesday, May 14, 2008
Fat Lady & Debbie
A woman of tremendous size moved into a small house across the street from my parents as spring was turning into summer in 1975. My mother baked a berry pie and took it over to this woman after she moved in, to welcome her to the neighborhood. I tagged along because that is what children do – they follow people everywhere. I had every reason to believe that the new lady on the block could be as spectacularly weird as the lady down the street who wore a blue winter coat all summer long and stored a million Kotex boxes on her front patio. Turns out, my instincts were right. Our new neighbor was out of her mind.
Our new neighbor met my mother at the door. “Who are you?” she said. She was wearing an immense black bra and a giant red beehive hairdo at the time. Just a bra and a hairdo. No underwear, no shoes, and no robe. In her left hand, she had a long leather bullwhip. In spite of this, my mother never missed a beat and said, “Welcome to Althea Street. I baked you a pie.”
My Southern mother was the neighborhood’s one-woman welcoming committee. Even when a large bottomless woman met her at the door with a bullwhip in her hand, my mother never misplaced her manners. “Mom, why does that lady have a whip?” I asked. My mother said nothing, but she did move back a step or two.
The woman looked suspicious but she seemed disarmed by my mother’s kind offering. She stepped outside her screen door, took the pie and said her name was Linda, but that everyone called her Fat Lady. My Mom asked, “Should I call you Linda or Fat Lady? I’m Ruby. People just call me Ruby.” My mother smiled tightly and started backing away, pulling me with her. Fat Lady called out, “Hey! You should meet Debbie. Debbie, come here!”
A puny man with a beak for a nose emerged from behind the dark screen door. “That’s my boyfriend, Debbie. Ruby baked us PIES, Debbie. We’re gonna like HER!” He shook his head and smiled, and I noticed he had red welts all over his body. “Mom, “ I said, “that guy looks beat up.” My mother shushed me, and said that we had to be going. From that day forward, we tried very hard to stay out of Fat Lady's way.
The world is painted in vibrant colors when one is a child. When I trace the edges of my memory the colors leap out at me, they remind me of what I have seen in a tiny town on the edge of big, blue Lake Ontario. Looking back, it’s no wonder I couldn’t wait to wake up every day when I was a kid, to look out the window while I ate my toast.
I remember that Fat Lady moved away in September, only a few months after she and Debbie moved in. Something about a check kiting scheme and prison. Debbie went to jail himself a short time later, because he got drunk and went on a crazy Peeping Tom spree. It all went to hell when Debbie was caught rummaging through Mrs. McAvoy's drawers. She attacked Debbie with her hands, took him down to the floor and took a bite out of his ankle. He got away and ran to hide on our porch. No one knows why our porch seemed like a logical hideout for Debbie, but there he was. Thankfully, Mrs. McAvoy had called the police earlier, and so the police were able to track Debbie around Olcott Beach by the trail of ankle blood that led to our door.
Fat Lady gave my sister her bullwhip before she left for prison that fall. She also squared away her outstanding bill for newspaper deliveries with my sister, the neighborhood papergirl, by throwing Debbie against the side of their house. When he was down and dazed, Fat Lady took his wallet, emptied it and handed a wad of crumbled bills to my sister. We said thank-you and ran away.
Our sleepy little neighborhood never quite adapted to these people and we talked about them for years. What makes this oddity endure in my mind were the colors these people came with – the black bra, the fiery hair and the purple welts on a pale little man. Punctuating this memorable impression is the sound of a bullwhip echoing off the side of avocado colored vinyl siding, across my mother’s flower garden and through our window screens.