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The first time I saw Miss Roxie, she was pulling out of the city park on a motorcycle—one of those big full-dresser jobs. A group of disheveled looking characters were shouting obscenities in the wake of what I would later come to know as that unmistakable sound of a Harley Davidson. I kept my distance and was unable to ascertain what caused the commotion, but what I heard should only be repeated in code. Something like—if that blankity blank crazy blank thinks she’s gonna get away that, she’s crazier than she is blankity blank ugly.
I’m not going to beat around the bush—to use one of Miss Roxie’s favorite sayings—and sugar coat it. Miss Roxie was sixty-years old and hard to look at. No grotesque injuries or anything, bad genetics, I suppose. Her small head didn’t match her large, muscular body; her nose, mouth, and chin also protruded giving her a ferret-like appearance. Add chain-smoking Camel cigarettes, and a case of Budweiser a day, and she had more wrinkles than a dress shirt before permanent press. But that’s only one part of Miss Roxie, the outside part.
The next day, after the incident in the park, I was walking home from work and decided to treat myself to a hamburger. Having already enjoyed my weekly trip to the diner, this was indeed a special occasion. Years of working as a risk analyst for a life-insurance company had taken its toll; I kept close watch on my cholesterol. Actually, my guarded lifestyle began as the product of two neurotic parents, which sealed my fate at an early age. When the other kids were playing in the park, I was confined to the safety of my room to concentrate on things that really mattered. Of course, none of these were any fun. Truth is, sad as it sounds, I didn’t know what fun was.
I looked up just as Miss Roxie opened the diner door. To see her up close and personal, for the first time, made me shudder. She appeared to be sniffing out her next victim. After securing a cheeseburger and a double order of fries, she sat down in my booth. Face to face.
“Ya don’t mind sharing a seat, do ya?” she asked, reaching for the ketchup bottle.
“Of course not,” I coughed up, quickly taking a drink of my Diet Coke.
“Thanks. It looked like you could use some company. People call me Miss Roxie.”
“Paul,” I said, loosening my tie and top button.
“How old are you?”
“Forty five,” I cautiously answered.
“Just a pup,” she said with a smile, revealing a mouthful of crooked teeth. “I saw you at the park. That bunch is bad news. They didn’t give you any trouble, did they?”
Her concern relaxed the tension in my shoulders. “I know better than to mess with a wild crowd like that.”
“I bet you do, Paul.”
While Roxie hummed a blues tune and wolfed down her French fries, she looked me over. I didn’t make eye contact, for any longer than a quick glance, but I felt more comfortable with each passing refrain that she hummed.
“If you don’t mind me asking, what was all the commotion yesterday?”
“Those hooligans been harassing a homeless friend of mine,” she responded without hesitation. “I figured they should donate something to the cause. Only seemed right, know what I mean?”
I nodded and motioned for the waitress. “I’m having another drink, can I get you anything?”
“What would your wife say?”
“Oh. I’m not married.”
“Well, what do you do for fun?”
I felt my cheeks warm and knew my expression betrayed the embarrassment. My lips tightened. The way they once did, when my father asked questions that I couldn’t answer.
“Forget that Coke,” she blurted out. “Paul baby, were going for a ride.”
I thoroughly understand why the Harley Davidson motorcycle is often referred to as a Milwaukee vibrator, quite a sensation. I’ll never forget that ride. We traveled along the Susquehanna River and then drove for miles through the countryside. Early autumn in central Pennsylvania is breathtaking. The colored leaves waved like a quilted flag in the treetops, as far as the eye could see. Cruising with the wind in my face, holding onto Miss Roxie, made me forget my loneliness and invoked unfamiliar, invigorating impulses.
We stopped at a roadside saloon that had a pool table. Miss Roxie taught me the game of eight ball, and how to drink tequila. First with what she called training wheels, salt and lemon, and then straight up. I couldn’t believe I was talking with such intensity. We laughed and carried on until the barkeep announced last call.
“There’s a motel just up the road, walking distance,” the barkeep suggested.
“Well, what do ya say, Paul? We’re too drunk to head home. I won’t bite.”
On the walk there, arm and arm, Roxie became silent and withdrawn. I rehearsed the jokes that she’d taught me and wondered what would happen at the motel. Finally, she opened up and slowly shared her story.
“I never really knew my parents,” she said, with a slight quiver in her voice. “Growing up different made for hard times. Both my parents died in prison.” I squeezed her hand and started to speak “Ah,” she quickly went on, “no since beating around the bush, I’m coyote ugly. Been ugly my whole life. I quit crying ’bout it, long time ago. Still, you want to know the hardest thing?”
“If you want to tell me," I answered in bewilderment. I might as well have been in Egypt. I had no idea what to say or what to expect next.
“I’ve had lots of sex,” she admitted, “more than I should’ve. I took what I could get. Hell, men have to be drunk out of their gourds to bed me. Sure, I hoped one might wake up and not run out the door like he’d seen a monster. But it never happened …”
Her voice trailed off, and I let it go. At the motel desk, we paid separately.
“Just shoo that old mutt off, if he gets in the way,” the clerk said, with a sideways smirk. “I’ll have to shoot that critter pretty soon. I can hardly stand to look at him.”
I walked Miss Roxie to her room, and we saw the old hound dog. He had matted fur, a bent tail, and walked with a limp. He came right up to Miss Roxie. She patted his head, and then looked at me with tears in her eyes. I knew she identified with the animal, so did I. Suddenly, a mysteriously feeling overcame me—one difficult to explain. Something changed. I wasn’t afraid. It was like all those sad, wasted years of calculating the risks, which kept me from actually living, had vanished. In the moonlight, on an idyllic autumn evening, I held Roxie tight and gave her a long, tender kiss.
I’m so thankful that I saw the inside part of Miss Roxie, the part no one else had noticed, the part that saw me sitting alone in the diner, that turned me inside out. I spent my life savings on a brand new Harley. Roxie and me, and the old hound dog, run a booth at a flea market selling motorcycle gear.