First published in Powder Burn Flash (2008)
The old lady, her pointy ears protected from the cold by earmuffs, shuffled by the parked police car with its lights flashing. She scooped sunflower seeds from the pocket of her tattered pea jacket and shoveled them into her mouth. As usual, no one paid any attention to her as she pushed her cart through the onlookers.
“Did anyone see what happened?” an officer said to no one in particular.
Heads shook, eyes darted from side-to-side, nostrils spewed vapors.
The officer interrupted his partner, who was questioning a beggar propped against the wall. “Imagine that,” he said. “Nobody saw nothin. Nobody heard nothin. Bunch of damn monkeys.”
“The owner didn’t see anything either,” the partner replied. “Says he thought he heard a noise in the store room. When he got back to the front, the money was gone.”
The first officer did an about face just as the old lady reached the edge of the crowd. “Hey, lady. Wait right there.”
The old lady stopped and turned toward the voice. “Was I speeding, Officer?”
He grimaced and shook his head. “No, nothin like that. Did you see what happened here?”
“I don’t believe so, Officer...?”
“Rodriquez. Somebody robbed the bodega. You didn’t see anybody run out? Nobody acting strange?”
“Around here, everybody acts strange,” she said with a smile. She looked at the assembled crowd--three homeless men cowering in a doorway, trying to look invisible, two hookers prancing to keep warm, five teens of assorted nationalities; And a partridge in a pear tree, she hummed to herself. “No, Officer. I didn’t notice anyone running from the store. Is Mr. Alvarez all right? He’s such a nice man. Always lets me use his bathroom to perform my ablutions.”
“Means she needed to take a leak,” his partner said as he approached.
“Well, that’s not really…” the old lady started to say.
“We gotta go, Rod.” The partner waved toward their patrol car. “We got another call.”
“Sorry I couldn’t help, Officer Rodriquez,” she yelled after them. “I’ll pay more attention next time.”
The old lady watched the police car speed down Franklin and out of sight. She, in turn, strolled the few steps to the alley entrance and, looking to see if anyone was watching, pushed her cart into the dimness and behind a dumpster.
She glanced toward the street as she removed her coat and put it in the cart. The earmuffs came off next followed by the gray wig, a latex mask and a faded blue dress. She donned a fake fur coat, fluffed her auburn hair, replaced the sneakers with red, three-inch, patent pumps, and adjusted the hem of the leather mini dress. Just another working girl looking for Johns, she thought. She retrieved a mirror from the cloth bag, plucked the remaining latex pieces from her face, put the mirror back in the bag with the money from the bodega, flung the bag over her shoulder, and sashayed out of the alley singing,
The old gray mare,
She’s just what she needs to be,
just what she needs to be,
just what she needs to be.