The Demented Woman

I love to eat rice and beans, it makes me feel like a worker in the fields, the ones with the straw hats and sandals.  They bend over with account books pressing down upon their backs.  History can be oppressive and ugly.  Broken bones and scars are the story of slavery and servitude and the company store.  The pain wraps around the world thousands of times, each vertebra and tibia, each twisted smile, all connected like a string of stolen pearls.  Everything lost and without sound.

Today I ate beans and rice and sipped water with a squeeze of lime.  In my mind the workers took a break and drank from a stream.  Birds pecking nearby spoke to them and together they sang a song stretching all the way to the dawn of civilization as if George Gershwin was opening a new opera called The Birth of Food.  Birds were extremely critical to  civilization.  The stage designer constructed a massive spotlight that acted like the sun, with singing birds flying through the light.  Unfortunately, the fake sun partially blinded most of the audience.  The law suits were too much for Gershwin.

He died not long after that. During his last days he cursed technology, but his real complaint was that everything smelled like burnt rubber.  When he gave dinner parties, he would take the food off the plates and throw it at the guests.  “This shit tastes like burning rubber,” he shouted.  He also would yell, “I can’t teach birds how to sing, they either have it or they don’t.”

This story was meant to be about a demented woman who stood over my table at lunch.  I was eating rice, beans, and tortillas.  The woman  wanted to talk about the kitchen crew.  She must have been at least 90-years-old.  I acted like I couldn’t hear her, but she kept talking about the cooks, Javier and Renee, and her beautiful, gentle daughter who was a great painter from ex-Yugoslavia.  I finally got up to wash my hands.  When I came back she was eating my leftover chips.  I went to the bar to pay my bill and asked the waiter about the woman.  He said, she came in every second or third day and her daughter had told them to please feed her and for them to keep a running tab and at the end of the month the daughter would pay for it.  The owner of the restaurant never charged the daughter and they had been feeding the demented woman for five years.  Mostly she ate leftovers at people’s tables, like mine.  They couldn’t stop her, even when they offered her new food, she turned it down.  She was like a street dog in that respect.  She wanted used food, not the new kind and so I stood in the doorway watching her eat chips and that was when I thought about George Gershwin and The Birth of Food and how Gershwin died from a brain dysfunction, like Thomas Wolfe and an old girlfriend, and it seemed that everyone was a victim of having their brains eaten out by something gone wrong.  If not the brain, then the heart.  I stood frozen there until she finished and slowly she wandered back through the door of the kitchen and disappeared.

I left and half way home it began to rain.  I cherished the water as it hit me and the drops were like the days of the old woman and I couldn’t move again.

5 thoughts on “The Demented Woman

  1. I love this story. It reminds me of a man with a delicate face and frail posture we see in a restaurant in Patzcuaro. He sits at a table and talks to himself with great animation, though once in a while, he gets up and takes a bow to the left and to the right, smiling and thanking his audience. I have never seen him talk to anyone directly or even meet their gaze, though he always has a coffee in front of him. The waiters told us he used to be a mime. I don’t know hoiw he orders his coffee, perhaps they just know.

    This is one of the reasons I like Patzcuaro. The restaurant is popular and people wait in line to get in, but nob ody tells the man to move and he sits there with his coffee for hours. I have greeted him, but he doesn’t reply.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I’m amazed by most everything you write but particularly when you take readers for a ride in your mind where thoughts about something you may have read or remembered mingle with the everyday routines of life around you and you create your own symphony. I always feel after reading them that I’ve just seen a really good movie, part animation, part Fellini and part Steinbeck.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. I see the Yugoslavian painter has returned. I’m not sure if she was a daughter of a beggar before, but it doesn’t really matter does it. Returning characters, in slightly different iterations, are always a treat.

    I like the street dog comparison because it intersects with a psychological quirk in the west, where dogs tend to evoke a little more compassion than people. Perhaps it’s easier to feel bad for animals, or maybe it’s easier to not feel bad for humans, because we all kind of hate ourselves and that plays into our projection which informs our perception, and therefore our individual realities start to resemble dodgy suitcases that fall open every know and then in cringey, perfectly awkward moments–beautiful moments.

    Why though, are some animals less likely to benefit from the altruistic behaviour of humans? Cows and pigs and chickens, for instance, don’t really register on the ‘I can’t bear to see them suffer’ meter, generally speaking. Is this because dogs and, to a smaller extent, cats, are better at reading our emotions? Then again, I know a girl who has a therapy chicken. I think it’s a Rhode Island Red. She says it’s far superior to cats and dogs when it comes to being responsive.

    I need to brush up on my Gershwin. Cats like jazz, maybe chickens like show tunes.

    You empower the beggar woman in an unexpected way. Rather than pitying, or worse, romanticizing her, you establish her as a prominent figure on the scene, powerful in her own right (and one that might very well be better fed than anyone else in the place). She’s a force to be reckoned with, for patrons, cooks, and owners alike. There’s something about her that makes people listen to what she’s saying and then leave a bit of food on their plate for her. Perhaps it’s because they are awed by her humility on the one hand, and by her indomitable will on the other.

    Liked by 1 person

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