Maybe it was the hunger—maybe it was the disgust. I don’t know, but something made me take the alley into the lot that day. Whatever it was, it had to be an extraordinary force, because I never, ever went in that way.
It could have been a remnant of having to take out the garbage as a kid, of having to carry the damp, oil-soaked brown paper sacks out to the reeking cans behind our house, and face the general scariness of the alley alone. It always seemed to be a place where people, especially kids, were likely to meet their ends, wind up as parts and scraps stuffed into one of those rusting metal cans. Or it could have been that I simply inherited my mother’s revulsion for anything that was fractionally less than fresh. Whatever the cause, I hated those stinking bins. It wouldn’t have been so bad if the refuse and rotting food were properly contained, but the bins were always stuffed beyond capacity, and that alone was enough to make me sick.
Even so, I turned my car a block before the market and drove into the alley.
I can’t remember what I was thinking as I headed in there, but whatever it was, as I neared the cans, I was suddenly aware I was about to hit someone.
She was probably the tiniest person I had ever seen, and she materialized in front of me as if she’d stepped out of another universe. I slammed on the brakes, and as the tires screeched to a halt, yelled “Jesus! What the...?” When I jumped out of the car and rushed toward her, I didn’t know whether I was going to curse or apologize.
But she was way ahead of me, this little person with stinging black eyes and a purple babushka tied in a stubby knot under her square meaty chin. She raised a fist at me as I got within her punching distance, and growled, “Whacko! Are you trying to kill me?”
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