She owned a long black coat, one of those things that uniquely identifies a person, like wild hair or lots of rings or the carefully considered way the person walks. Her coat was like one of those things that give you attitude, makes you feel like you are more than you’d be without it.
On my way to meet her one morning I spotted Sylvia wearing Sherri’s coat. Sylvia was still far off but there was no mistaking her wobble and the way her head convulsed toward her chest. I could see a glimpse of Sylvia’s Pink Nightmare hoodie under the coat and the braless sag of her enormous breasts.
That coat, like a hipster’s hat or a favorite sneaker, was something you just don’t lend. I quickened my pace.
Sherri didn’t see me walk up to her house like she normally does. It was late in the day for her to still be asleep, buried under a pile of clothes and blankets. I parted a blanket that covered her head and gently put a hand on her face, she squinted at me and smiled, a tired, sad smile I had never seen before. I knew at once something bad had happened during the night. She slowly dug herself from the pile that covered her and laboriously sat up, at the same time patting down a spot beside her for me to sit. When she spoke it was with an unsteady, slurred voice. I asked what had happened, half wanting to know and half not, another simple thing that I cannot fix. She told me she was sick. I glanced around and noticed her walker she’d been trying to sell was gone. Carroll was nowhere to be seen. She was supposed to live here too. I asked again and Sherri told me. She was robbed again, shortly after I left last night to go see Janet. She had gone to get stuff and when she came back most of her things had been taken; her pipes, clothes, stuff. For a moment I felt sick. The people I left her with last night were supposed to look out for her. Where the hell was Carroll? Where was Jamarcus? Her new bible, the one I gave her a few days ago to replace her old one that got soaked when it rained on Tuesday, they didn’t take that. They left all the books. She told me Carroll was supposed to watch the house but she was high as a kite and didn’t do a thing while they were robbed. Even the flowers were taken. Maybe Carroll sold their things, how else could she afford so much rock. She told me she wasn’t mad at Carroll, she was still her best friend although this terrible thing happened. When Carroll comes to apologize she’d believe and forgive her because theirs is the only true friendship she has in the streets.
I went out and got her a sandwich from a corner store, and a large bottle of Blue Cisco for the morning shakes. She ate half the sandwich and swallowed several mouthfuls of Cisco. Cuba happened by and advanced her a nickel. She took a hit and was soon her normal self.
I asked about the coat. She told me she was robbed of it last night too, a separate incident. It was the man she told me the day before is very crazy and very violent. He just grabbed her and ripped the coat off her. She managed to save the heavy leather one. She refused to tell anyone what had happened for fear the man would get killed. Just then Sylvia wobbled by wearing the coat. She had bought it last night for ten dollars. I asked Sylvia who sold her the coat and she told me it was the crazy one with the dreads. I felt a wave of guilt. Maybe this was my fault. I worked with him yesterday despite Sherri’s warning to find someone else. This man is seriously unstable, psychotic. Sherri’s afraid of no one but this man gave her the creeps. I ignored her warnings because he was perfect for my idea on the equestrian portrait. Maybe it was me that made him notice her. I asked Sylvia to sell me back the coat and offered twenty bucks. She answered she didn’t need the coat and would give it back to Sherri. But she made no attempt to take it off. Sherri put up a hand and said she didn’t want it anymore, it was Sylvia’s now. Sherri had more bad news, really bad. The cops got Scotty last night for murder. He killed a man three weeks back. I only met Scotty once when I first got here; he threatened a man who had disrespected Sherri. Scotty was a big, black gangster with a reputation for making good on threats, and a tear-drop tattoo at the corner of one eye to force the point. The killing was accidental but that didn’t matter. He hit the man hard in the face but it was the fall onto the pavement that actually killed him; he hit his head on the curb and split it open. Sherri was devastated – Scotty always looked out for her. She reckoned he’d get life at best, but most likely, death.
Detail of The Equestrian Portrait of the King of Skid Row