A knock on our front door sends dogs into frenzy barking. All activity stops, though the television seems to gain volume while we wrestle the dogs out the back door. They grumble muffled last words.
The neighbor is sorry to disturb us. Wants to share something, no, no need to come inside. Wayne stays in his chair with dinner in his lap, I go out onto the porch.
Something is that there is a homeless person, a drunk homeless person, a drunk homeless woman loose on our lane. She was sitting on the grass talking to herself when the neighbor noticed her. He was watering, sprinkling with the hose by hand where the main sprinkler had missed. When he went over to turn the water off, she disappeared, though she’d seen him and run off, swerving side to side down the lane, he saw that much.
Look over here, he motions with his hand, and I follow him. There, in the grass of Sandy’s lawn, under the mulberry tree, is the woman’s kit. Homeless issue blue sleeping bag, black bag for whatever, and a white plastic bag with her wine in it, a forlorn little abandoned heap. She was nowhere in sight. I could smell sprinklings of wine, but it wasn’t hers.
I don’t want to get her in trouble, you know, by calling the cops. She’s not hurting anything. I just wanted you to know, so, you know, you’d lock your door. Course, you have the dogs, so don’t have to worry.
Ok, I say. I’ll be watchful. Thank you.
Inside the house, I go back to my writing room, cluttered with paper stacked and toppling over the printer. Books piled on one another, towers grown and dusty. The windows are open to catch the harvest breezes, though I may close them tonight because it is getting colder these evenings.
A rock rough voice tumbles through the screen, a voice without language, hoarse, concerned, urging speed and caution, fugitive tense. I know it is her, come back to reclaim her belongings.
Our house is small, rusty red with white trim. Oriole and hummingbird feeders hang from the eves, feeders for the seed eaters, green edged pink petunias in the blue ceramic planter, decorate the tattered lawn. It is a remnant of a house for me. I have been cleaning it out, room by room. Vacuuming the ghosts of motherhood, of romance and longing, of college papers, ancient ledgers, and photographs of a childhood on a dairy. Making room for my dreams, though now and then despair creeps in and knocks over a pile of magazines.
I have been frightened of homeless people. They are too raw for me, wearing their sadness, their fear, want, end-of-the-road weariness in stench and rags. Muttering and grumbling and sometimes swearing aloud as though they are in an argument with a ghost, I have just steered away, look away, stay away, run my fright away.
It was a surprise to note that I recognized the woman’s belongings. She has been on our lane before, been surprised before, to disappear quickly. Her things have been in the ditch a little further down, beyond where the water goes over the road in the winter after too much rain has fallen in a short time. There is a culvert there. A double culvert. My Labrador, Emerson, has barked at the dark hole when we are walking, barked at shadows and spiders and fast lizards. I have shushed him, raced up the embankment like there are weird energies chasing me, hurried home.
This past spring my neighbor and I found a litter of five fat kittens in her pump house. I called the people who rescue and trap feral cats and they came out and picked them up. Raised them for adoption, for their forever homes.
One dark winter morning I was loading the car for work, when a cold nose pushed into my leg. Of course I jumped, to find a stocky wet Labrador and his partner, a Great Dane mix, hanging back behind him. They looked at me like, “she can do it! She’ll take us home!” and I said, ok, load up, and they did. I checked collars and found phone numbers and called their people who left work and hurried right over to pick up their wanderers, cried on my porch because they love them so, and were afraid of losing them.
About a year ago I came home from work to find a young, red-shouldered hawk in the house. The bird rescue people explained to me how to get it out safely. After following their multi-stepped process, I simply opened the back door and shooed it outside. It flew low over the yard, swooped up and over the gate, didn’t even flap its wings to gain speed and elevation.
I want to know, who do you call for a lost, feral woman? How would one catch her?
Often late at night I hear coyote calls echo over the vineyards. Once fire truck sirens woke me, and I lay in my bed afraid to inhale, for fear of bringing attention to myself while dreams crumbled into corners. The siren wailed out of hearing and in the silence suspended over the valley a chuckle burbled, yapped, barked into a high howl. Other voices joined the choir, carrying the call up and over the hills and stopped abruptly as it began. I haven’t heard them for a while, feel a missing for them, hope all is well with their tribe.
Obviously the homeless woman does not belong to anyone.
No one brings her a cup of coffee in the morning, provides shelter or solace. I wonder how she manages to get up in the morning, does she wait for the sun to warm her limbs and joints into rising? Would she like a cup of coffee?
Is anyone searching for her? Missing her?
Well, you know, Laura. Some people want to be homeless.
Is she an incurable homeless person?
I don’t know. I have written myself down to resignation. There is a woman outside my window. She is alone. Untended, wild.
Perhaps right here, in this moment of empty silence, guidance will emerge. There are places to call to inquire as to possible actions. For the time being, I may put out coffee for her.
And a prayer for us all.