She puts one foot in front of the other. Then the next. Step by step. One foot at a time. She is shuffling down the street, clutching at her tattered coat. Every few steps she trips over the sole coming off her left shoe. Her scarf is trailing behind, catching at the castoff refuse of the city. Her halting footsteps on the dark, empty street are nothing next to the far off call of the sirens, the dog whining pitifully for supper, or the yells and crashes of an arguing couple. Her unheard footsteps echo softly, one after the other.
�My name is Sara Ann Smith,� she pauses and thinks about this for a second and then continues walking. �I am thirty-eight years old. I live at thirteen-eleven Oak Street . . .� Wait, she pauses again, that last part wasn't right. Maybe once, but not now. �My name is Sara Ann Smith. I am thirty-eight years old. I live . . . in the city.� She walks on, stumbling forward with a purpose.
A window catches her image and she stops. That�s her, she smiles with cracked and yellowed teeth, that�s the old Sassy. She was Miss Cherry Blossom, you know. Sassy runs her grime-encrusted fingers through her tangled, dirty hair and shuffles down the street again. �My name is Sara Ann Smith . . .�
A sleek, expensive car screeches around the corner. The gentleman behind the wheel is drunk and rich. He lives a good life, without want, but he still thinks he should have gotten that promotion even though the man who did had worked harder for it. The woman beside him is a beautifully painted doll, radiating sexuality. He has promised to score her some drugs, so she will do anything for him. Her hand is between his legs while she nibbles on his ear and one of his hands roughly fondles her breasts.
They don�t see Sassy as she crosses the street, and, lost in her own dreams, she doesn�t see them. The car gets closer. Sassy dreams of her former self. The gentleman dreams of money, power, and the whore�s luscious lips. The hooker dreams smoky dreams of this man being the one to finally take her away to a suburban house with a white picket fence, but mostly she dreams of little bags of white powder that disappears up her nose.
At the last minute the woman looks up at Sassy and screams while the man slams on the breaks and swerves. Sassy jumps out of the way but the front bumper of the expensive car still manages to graze her leg. She collapses in a heap of rubble spilling across the sidewalk onto the street from the never-completed construction work going on in the neighborhood. The gentleman curses the vagrant as he speeds away, calling her names for maybe denting his car. But he doesn�t stop, can�t risk a law suit. The whore revives from her stupor long enough to stare behind them in horror. The horror is not from the fact that they might have killed a human being. Rather, it�s because, for an instant, her eyes had locked with those of the homeless woman and she had been staring at herself. The hooker briefly considers trying to change her life for the better, but it would be too hard and the allure of the white powder calls to her again. She begins to unbutton the man�s shirt.
The shadowed heap that is Sassy slowly begins to move and separate from the rubble. She stares after the shiny car. I had a car like that once, she thinks. She remembers loading groceries into the back of just such an expensive car. It had been blue with pretty silver decals. She remembers locking her keys in the car and laughing about it with the tall, dark haired man and the pudgy little redheaded woman. Her eyes sting with tears; they must be from the bruising the car had given her. The redhead is her sister, Lisa, and the handsome man . . . is John.
Sassy slowly gets to her feet and stumbles out onto the street again. She picks up her scarf from where she had dropped it. The scarf is ragged and even dirtier now, but it�s soft and Sassy brings it close to her face. She closes her eyes and rubs it against her cheek. Lisa had knitted it and given it to her on some long ago birthday. It had been wrapped up in scented lavender paper. I wonder where she got such nice paper?, she thinks. Sassy starts walking again. Right foot, left foot, right foot, left foot; be careful not to trip over the broken bottles. She starts mumbling again. �My name is Sara Ann Smith. I am thirty-eight years old. I live in the city.�
The street finally intersects with another and Sassy turns the corner. This street is more lighted than the last and has people on it. She walks on, step by step, worrying the scarf Lisa gave her between her cold hands. Two men smoking on the steps of a building pause in their discussion to watch her pass. They shake their heads and go back to their conversation when she�s gone. A lady in a yellow hat pushes a stroller with a happy, bright-eyed baby in it. She looks hastily down and avoids eye contact with Sassy. Sassy coos at the baby and, for a moment, she almost looks the thirty-eight years that she is.
�Your child is lovely,� she says. The lady in the yellow hat mumbles something that might be a thank-you and hurries on, still trying not to look at the woman who, under all that grime, could be someone she knows. Sassy stares after the cute, bubbly baby and her heart becomes heavy. There was going to be a baby once, with John . . . The door to that memory is forcibly closed and Sassy trudges on, her scarf trailing in the mud.
Three teenaged boys are clustered around an attractive girl their own age. The girl is dressed in little more than lace, leather, and make-up. Her hair is streaked in purple and green and the gaudy jewelry strewn all over her body weighs as much as she does. The boys come in three flavors of pierced. One has bleached white hair and a pierced tongue; one wears ripped jeans with a fishnet top and has a pierced bellybutton; and one has three upside-down crosses hanging from his left ear that nicely complement the tattoo of a burning dagger on his right shoulder. As Sassy draws nearer, the boys leave off on their posturing and start circling her like a pack of hungry wolves.
�Hey, baby, want some luvin�?� The other two laugh as the youth with the pierced tongue juts out his hips and gyrates in front of Sassy. She bows her head and tries to shuffle past. Her mumbling grows louder to block out her tormentors.
�My name is Sara Ann Smith . . .�
�What�s dat, sugar? Ya wa�nit, huh? Dat what ya sayin�?�
The girl giggles. �Oh, Donny, leave �er alone. It�s me dat gots what ya want!�
Donny turns back to her and grins. �Really? Mebbe I wants me some crazy old hoochie! A snatch is a snatch, baby.�
The boy with the tattoo snorts and throws his arm around the girl. �Yeah, but what you catch from dat one ain�t worth it, man. Gotta find youse a pretty young thang like my Rena here.�
�All the good gels�re taken, T-Ray,� Donny says, eying Rena hungrily.
�Aww, I�m sure Buck here�ll stand in as yer bitch.�
�Hey!� The boy in fishnets yells and gets red in the face, facing the other boy with clenched fists. Buck launches himself at T-Ray and they begin trading punches. Rena is giggling while Donny sidles up to her and whispers in her ear. Sassy hurriedly edges around the four young people, her presence already forgotten by them.
Sassy�s steps are faster than before until she can no longer hear the yells of the fight in the distance. Then she slows down.
Close, she thinks, that was close. I�m glad they didn�t . . . I didn�t . . . what was I . . . ? Sassy shakes her head, confused, and stops walking. There is a newspaper stand just a few yards away. Sassy looks up and sees it. Her face clears. She runs toward it with hands outstretched and grabs a magazine.
�Oooo, pretty!� She fondles the shiny glamor magazine cover. There is a picture of a slim young woman in an evening gown on it. The woman in the picture has her hair up in a bun with a beautifully printed silk scarf in it. Sassy stares at the picture intently, unaware of the other customers at the stand who steadfastly avoid looking at her.
The owner of the stand spies her and his face darkens. �You! Are you going to pay for that?� he yells and strides over to her. Sassy doesn�t hear so he grabs the magazine away from her, shaking it in her face. �Get, you! We don�t need trash like you in our neighborhood. Go back to where you came from!�
Sassy looks uncomprehendingly at him and then turns away from the newsstand, her shoulders hunched. She tries to put the scarf Lisa gave her up in her hair like the lady in the picture but it won�t stay. It�s wet from being dragged down the sidewalk and grimy water runs down her face. The scarf smells of mildew and rotten things.
She plods away, putting one foot in front of the other; left foot, right foot, left foot, right. �My name is Sara,� she whispers. �I�m thirty-eight . . .� Are you sure? A voice in her mind asks. Sassy looks down at her hands with the scarf wrapped around them. Shouldn�t her fingernails be painted? Where was the gold wedding band that John gave her? Where am I? She thinks frantically, looking around.
There is a middle-aged man walking towards her. He has just bought a newspaper and is on his way home after a long day of work at the plant. He knows that when he gets there a plate of hot food will be waiting for him and his wife and daughters will tell him about their day. He and his wife will help the girls with their homework, then put them down to bed and watch television together before going to sleep themselves.
He looks up from his musings and sees Sassy and is embarrassed. �Please, help me,� she says, her momentarily clear eyes pleading with him, piercing him with an intensity that rarely shows through the thick gauze that muffles her mind. She makes him feel guilty. He shifts his paper around uncomfortably. He mumbles something under his breath about the neighborhood going down the tube and fishes around in his pocket for some change to give to the bum.
�Here,� he shoves some money at her and hurries off, not wanting to face the fear he sees in her face -- not wanting to see her as a real person. He�s done his good deed for the day. He doesn�t need to do anything more. Sassy stares after him and then looks down at the quarters on the sidewalk. They�re shiny. She stoops over and picks them up, sticking them somewhere under her rags.
Sassy walks on down the street, her brief moment of lucidity over. In her dreamy way, she remembers that around here somewhere is a place where she might find warmth, and maybe food -- if it�s not too crowded already with other street people. She thinks that if she just keeps walking she�ll find it, or Lisa and John, or . . . something. �My name is Sara Ann Smith. I am thirty-eight years old. I live in the city. My name is Sara Ann Smith . . .�