He saw her standing there, no longer young, but the two ends of a ribbon, probably from an unmade bow, dangled down the back of her unkempt hair nonetheless. It was a pink satin ribbon, the kind he remembered his daughters would sew to their new ballet slippers, and once attached and then wrapped in crisscross fashion around their dainty ankles, the glistening ribbons were lovely to behold as his two girls leapt and twirled across the dance floor. These images shot through his mind now, as he passed the corner of 2nd and Broadway where the woman stood, looking blankly out into the street. Her features were Hispanic or Native American (he wasn’t particularly fond of the latter description, but for lack of a better one, that was how she looked), and she wore a rose-colored, high-waisted frilly sort of dress, which he assumed was meant to match the pink ribbon in her hair and make her look younger than she was.
He supposed she was trying to appeal to the hidden Humbert Humbert in most men, but that wasn’t the sort of thing that had ever appealed to him. He was on his way home, however, and the thought of seeing and doing the same old same—taking his evening regimen of pills, testing his blood sugar, readying the oxygen equipment and all the other machinery of medicine for the night—made him circle the street to get a closer look. As he passed the second time, her dark eyes flicked his way, wary and hopeful at once. When he pulled to the curb, her wariness gave way to hope entirely, and she rushed over to his car and bent down so that her ample face nearly filled the window frame. She moved her mouth to say something, then stopped, not sure, he guessed, which language to use. She tried smiling instead, revealing a missing front tooth, then immediately pressed her lips together. Laughing, she cupped her mouth with a small plump hand to hide what she must have thought was too hideous for the occasion. Again, it was obvious she was trying to act like a young girl, appeal to some supposed need in men. And for whatever reason, as he studied her more closely, taking in the return of her flat stare, something inside him gave way. He rolled down the window and said, “Want a ride?” She hesitated, looing right, then left, as if unsure, as if checking for permission, as if weighing the odds, then opened the door and slid in.
As she closed the door, she laughed, a short giggle of a laugh, as if to say, “Well, here I am.” She smelled of old things, old unwashed clothes, old shoes, old sweat but there was also an underlying perfumy smell that reminded him of something he couldn’t quite place and wasn’t unpleasant at all. For a few long moments they sat in the car, while she laughed and covered her mouth with both hands as he looked on. Earlier, he had been fantasizing about something or someone different, but it was becoming clear to him that this unexpected offering would do just as well, so he gave into the urge to reach over and touch the ribbon in her hair and was grateful she didn’t flinch. In fact, she barely moved while he rubbed the two ends between his thumb and forefinger for a time, taking in their silkiness. When he finally let the two ends drop, she herself reached back and tied them into a bow. It was a sloppy bow, lank and bedraggled, and she seemed to know this for she smiled widely, baring her teeth without shame, which succeeded in making him smile, too.
All the while the cycling of the traffic lights—red, green, yellow, then red again—had been giving her high cheekbones a kaleidoscopic finish. Now, as the light turned green once more, it was he who looked right, then left, unsure and weighing the odds, even asking for permission. At last, he said to her, in what little Spanish he knew, “Vamanos,” then eased the car into the evening’s sparse traffic.