Winter’s creeping into the Snowy Range.
On Sunday, we play in a foot of fresh snow at Lake Marie, then drop back down the mountain to Centennial, slip-sliding our way home to coffee and new clothes.
Monday morning in Laramie is dry, but the September wind carries a chill.
By afternoon we leave our jackets behind.
When we look at the distant peaks with their white frosting tops, we remember the weekend.
But school has only just begun.
We still have summer in mind.
The homeless lady on Third Street keeps an eye on the mountains as she orbits a parking sign,
Winter’s not fooling her.
I can’t remember the first time I recognize her as a regular fixture on the sidewalk between my apartment and my friend’s printing company.
I walk the dozen blocks to the place every day or two for paper and ink, but mostly just to shoot the breeze with Jerry.
Jerry doesn’t know the lady’s story.
He thinks somebody watches out for her. Maybe the Salvation Army.
She’s the size of a house. More than six feet tall.
Weighs twice what I do.
But she doesn’t look hungry.
Honestly, she seems happy enough, keeping her brisk space around power poles and parking meters each morning.
She orbits these everyday fixtures for hours a time.
Mornings and afternoons.
Once, I see her circling a stop sign after dark.
After the fourth or fifth morning I pass her on the sidewalk, I start speaking to her.
“Good morning,” I say.
She peers at me without breaking stride.
But I keep it up.
“Have a nice day,” I say.
And get the evil eye in return.
I wonder if she needs any help. Is there something I can give her?
Young and broke, I probably don’t have much more money than she does.
In fact when the snows are thick in late October, her heavy coat is nicer than mine.
I ask around the art gallery where I show my paintings.
One woman knows who I mean. “The big lady? Seven feet tall? Like around 300 pounds?”
Yep. That’s her.
“No clue who she is.”
I suppose the cops know.
But I don’t know any cops to talk to.
Gloves and ear muffs appear in November, and I wonder about Jerry’s Salvation Army comment.
Meanwhile, I’m still talking to the Laramie Lady.
She’s still pitching me the evil eye.
“Hope you’re doing well today.”
“Have a good weekend.”
One day, I tell her: “My name is Rich.”
She could care.
She’s got gravity to contend with, swinging hard around a big telephone post.
A couple days later, I ask, “What’s your name?”
She turns her back in answer.
The parking meter she’s facing today is giving her trouble. It’s so much smaller than her, and she’s got her toes at a continual 45-degree angle, shuffling around, stepping, shuffling.
She’s got to concentrate.
Her tennis shoes are worn in a circular, irregular pattern as you’d expect—but for the first time I see that her footwork is a marvel to behold.
She’s as graceful as any ballerina I’ve ever seen. As sure-footed as a black-belt Karateka.
“Do you ever dance?” I say.
Her eyes flicker up toward me, then back to her feet.
“Because you’re very sure on your feet.”
She looks at me again, then back at the mountains.
“I’ll bet you’d be a great dancer,” I say.
It’s hard to know what she’s thinking.
The next day there’s rain and snow.
And it’s December.
I’m drawing Christmas cards for a cheapskate company that doesn’t pay for expenses.
Jerry helps me out with a reduced rate on ink and bristol board.
The Laramie Lady has a new scarf, red with a snowman pattern crocheted into the long tails.
I tell her it’s very pretty.
She ignores the compliment.
Who can blame her? It’s ten degrees out here.
The week before Christmas I’m in a bind getting the last of the cards done and delivered.
It’s five-o-clock, getting dark and I’m running, slipping, falling in the sidewalk slush.
I’ve got to get to Jerry’s before closing time.
My friend is orbiting a no parking sign today and I skate right past her without a word.
I’m in a big hurry.
Once Jerry is paid and I have what I need, I’m back on the sidewalk, trudging toward home, a little slower, but still determined to get back to work.
Again, I walk past her, but this time the lady stops me in my tracks.
“MrrK Mas,” she mumbles.
I’m not sure what I hear, so when I turn back, I take off my stocking cap.
My friend doesn’t miss a step.
It always amazes me. In snow and ice and rain, she’s as balanced and solid as the best Olympic gymnast.
Her eyes are on the darkening mountains again, but she knows I’m listening.
“Merry Christmas, Rich.”
As clearly spoken as from anybody.
And then she’s back around the sign, once more, once more, once more.
Eyes on the mountains.
“Merry Christmas, my friend,” I say, watching her make a few more revolutions before turning back to my cold walk home.