Gloria is hell-bent on teaching me how to sing.
…and the livin’ is easy…she trills, in tune, but with a wispy score. Once upon a time, the petite blonde reaped applause as an opera singer, even sang at the Met, but all the glamour faded after her husband strangled her, crushing her larynx.
I join in, So hush, little baby, don’t you cry.
Gloria sees a chance to repay me for my kindness by offering me singing lessons in exchange for staying in my garage. My old, crummy, windowless, drafty garage. With a fancy Malibu address, yes, but its leaky roof shapes the rain into an indoor waterfall.
Gloria showed up in my life at sunset. Always at sunset. As soon as the sun was about to dip into the Pacific, Gloria’s white mini-van appeared on the cliffs. Her 2006 Toyota Sienna, impeccably maintained bar a few bumps, always parked where I walk my dogs. I fretted over why she had to park just there, in the no waiting zone. She never hopped out, always remained at the wheel, her face craning into the sun through the open car window, seemingly rapt, eyes half-closed. I mistook her for a neighbor who steals a few moments for herself after a long day at work.
After a few weeks, we began to wave and greet each other, “Hi, how are you?”
Until one summer afternoon when she stood in front of her car on the bluffs. “Are these sharks?!” she shouted excitedly and pointed to a parade of grey flippers plowing through the surf. “Dolphins!” I yelled back. She wore white summer jeans, her blonde curls loosely tied back, her naked feet in clean, white sandals.
I remember the day so well because it was the last day I saw her in good shape. From this day on, everything tumbled downhill. After the day she saw sharks.
Now I often find her crying, her eyes swollen red. “What’s up?” — “Nothing. I’m fine,” she deflects. The console of her van brims with stained Starbucks cups and rumpled images of saints from assorted religions. It slowly dawns on me that this van with the blue handicapped placard is her home. She is homeless, one of a half-dozen ever-changing shadows that…