MAN ON MAD ANTHONY
Yelling “Miss, oh Miss” from three houses up
as if it was my name and who on this street has such
fancy manners? I hadn’t seen him before, not him or his black
t-shirt or black jeans turned up halfway to his knees.
And he carried a tall black plastic cup in one hand, surely not
from the UDF but maybe the ball park? “A neat little guy but who
is he and what’s he doing here?” I wondered because
things are a little iffy on this side of the avenue. I had just
gotten home from someplace. The day was not too hot
for me to feel pleased with my trim self and the front yard
in its late June blooming and even the vacant house
next door appeared for once well-tended because I had mowed
and edged that lawn a day or two before, annoyed how
fast it turned into another mess in the neighborhood.
“Hi!” I called back to him as I climbed the front steps,
seeing no need for rudeness. “Miss, that’s a nice dress
you have on!” He was still far enough away to raise his voice.
But not by much. “It looks good on you.” I smiled
thanked him and kept climbing and then he was right there
at the bottom of the steps. Standing there. Even close up, he looked tidy.
Short hair that stood up and missing a tooth or two, as I remember.
As natural as you can imagine, he said “I bet that dress
would look good on me, too.” I remember pausing but not
thinking. Feeling, more like. That it was okay to talk with this guy
but to say what? “I’m not sure you’d want it to look good on you”
was the best I could do at the moment. As if he didn’t know
what he meant. “Oh yes I would! It would make me
feel sexy.” Him smiling without a bit of embarrassment and me
thinking I don’t remember what. Just amazement, if you can
think that. Also like I was playing a game I didn’t know
rules for except to act regular, I guess because
he seemed to be acting what was regular for himself.
Which I can see now isn’t the best reason for passing time
with what some people might call a weirdo and maybe
I should’ve gone inside right then. For a man to come out and
say such a thing! At that point he climbed a step toward me
and hesitating just a little, he cut into my thoughts. “If I ask you
something will you get mad? Lots of women get mad when I ask.”
“Depends on the question,” I said, thinking, “Uh-oh.”
“Do you have any old panties you could let me have?” Considering
he admired the dress for himself, it didn’t seem like he’d want
panties to smell or whatever else. Still, things were
getting pretty strange. I told him the truth, that I’d just driven
a load of stuff to St. Vincent and had nothing to give him.
He turned persistent. “Could you look?” Pressing it. I said I would
but I didn’t think … “And slips and nighties too,” he added,
talking faster now. “You could put it all in a paper bag
and leave it right there, around the side of the house.” He was pointing,
his arm stretched all the way out in case I didn’t know
where the side of my house was. “I’ll come by once in a while
to see if anything’s there.” I pictured my old torn panties
and stretched-out bras carried off down the street
in a rolled-up Kroger bag and him decking himself out and
admiring himself in front of a mirror, maybe the long
tilting kind that has its own stand. Or worse, sitting around
handling my things in some ugly way. To be honest,
half of me wished I had something to give him because, well,
how could what I didn’t actually know about hurt me?
Maybe he really did want to feel sexy and this was his only way.
Doesn’t everyone want to feel sexy? I even thought about
buying him some stuff at Family Dollar and leaving it
in the spot he’d be watching. But would he come back later for more?
Want dresses, stockings? Did I want to get into buying him
a whole wardrobe and maybe replacing items as they wore out?
It was a crazy idea. Even I could see that. He asked me
to think about his plan. I lied that I would. Then, “Shoo! Shoo!”
I thought as hard as I could. And was relieved to see him
finally give up and walk down the steps carrying his black plastic cup
and I haven’t seen him since. Later I wanted to tell people
about him the way you tell people about strange things
that happen to get rid of them, as if picking
bugs off yourself and dropping them to the ground.
If Dad was still alive, I’ve thought, he would’ve
laughed like hell. But that was the problem. I didn’t
want to make this guy into something to laugh at. Why didn’t he
buy his own things at Family Dollar? Couldn’t he pretend
to be buying them for someone else? And what did he really do
with women’s old underwear, if he ever managed to lay hands on any?
I imagine him walking around with whatever secret
and not-so-secret wants and I feel bad for him, the way I feel
for a skinny cat that won’t get fat no matter how much it finds to eat.
Know what I mean? You’re the first person I’ve told.
—from Rattle #42, Winter 2013
2013 Rattle Poetry Prize Finalist
Bea Opengart: “‘Man on Mad Anthony’ waited for quite some time to be written, until I found the suitable voice.”