Well, she gone and done it. Our friend and neighbor Gayle has been close to dead for so long I’d begun to think she’d never get around to it. That it was, in fact, impossible. Sheer obstrepery would keep her above ground for the ages. But she finally died the other day and we are going to miss her terribly. She was one piece of work. She was a riot.
Shoot, it had to have been 25 years ago that she called up wanting to borrow a cup of oxygen off my sister’s tank, and she wasn’t kidding. She was a complete terror in the hospital system. Nurses feared her, doctors ducked behind her curtains, crossed themselves, and tiptoed away. Administrators wrote her into their budgets. She probably scored steak and lobster with her fruit cup. Same story with any customer service outfit. “Listen, buttercup, I’m retired. I can stay on this damn phone all day long.” They knew her at the insurance company. They knew her in city government. If you hate potholes, move on to her street, where they magically heal up. This was a woman who made all her PIN numbers “OH SHIT,” so she’d always have the right answer if someone asked.
Gayle had two husbands, one of them twice just to make sure, and easily outlived both of them, which was no accident. “If you’re going to have a fight with a man,” she once advised me, “have it at the top of the stairs.”
If your cat is missing around here, don’t look at me. I’m all talk. Gayle had traps and knew how to use them. Nuisances inexplicably disappeared. Just last year, we were commiserating about the latest loud dog on the block. “I wish they’d do something like what your neighbor did. Remember his dog Macy that used to bark? He got a bark collar and trained it out of her in one day.” Macy never did bark again, but was known to emit a melancholy, melodious howl for the rest of her days.
“Bark collar, huh? Is that why he thinks Macy quit barking?” Gayle had big, beautiful, basset-hound blue eyes, and they could, on occasion, be very sly.
Her mind was devious, her physique extravagant. You didn’t want to be on her bad side. I never had any trouble imagining that her porch contained a trapdoor or her shrubbery hid a man-sized crate. New concrete work was always a little suspicious.
But we had nothing to fear from her. She adored Dave, and thought I was okay too. Early on, Dave volunteered to help her out in some way. Maybe took a big load of stuff to the dump for her, the first of many such neighborly acts. She came over the next day with a huge platter of deviled eggs and radishes for him. He was in raptures. His favorite!
“How did you know?” I asked.
“I know what a man likes,” she drawled, in a way that left no doubt of it, and that I needn’t pursue it.
She was creative as hell. It was Gayle who showed up at the neighborhood meeting about cell phone towers rocking an actual, homemade tinfoil hat. She also harbored a full-size female mannequin called The Slut who had sleazy outfits to match any holiday. The Slut had her own chair in the bright lime-green living room, in the greeter position right by the front door next to the sign (“The Witch Is In”). Oh. And Gayle was born on Halloween, of course.
Now that she’s gone I suspect we’ll all find out what else she took care of–the mischief disposed of, the petty vandals vanquished, the community imps and devils scattered to the winds, now free to wander.
Gayle doesn’t need a wake, she left a wake. A woman of that much substance could never be all the way gone: one keeps expecting to hear from her still, by some imaginative and no doubt hilarious means. Maybe some day it will rain radishes. But we haven’t heard a thing.
We don’t expect to. It isn’t going to be us she’s haunting.