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There was the madwoman outside again.

She was standing in the middle of the sidewalk in front of her house in the cloudy afternoon, smoking a cigarette that she held awkwardly, her ring and middle finger at the midpoint of the cigarette, as if unsure which end to smoke. She was frequently outside.

She lived right there up the street from me. She walked around, taking abrupt, acute interest in random things, jerking her head to stare intently into a mailbox or parked car or a guy walking his dog. Sometimes she would make that telling jerk of her head that always marked her interest, and she would only look at something sideways, perhaps tilting her head; she was trying to avoid being direct, for whatever reason, to whatever end. I got the impression, at times like this, that she was conscious of her own violent and unnatural paroxysms of curiosity, and that she was ashamed of them, but had no choice but to yield to them all the same. She needed to inspect that mailbox, this was an urgency like the urgency a sane man might experience were he to see something afire, but she did not want to draw attention to herself, she did not want the jaw of the child at the grocery store to drop loosely as he examined her, she did not want his curiousity to indict her as mistaken and unnatural, she did not want people to close their doors and shut their blinds as she came up the street with her anxiety-masking cigarette.

Yes, those wrinkles in her cheeks were unmistakably creases of anxiety, they represented a suffering, an uninterrupted, enormous pain, and if the expression she bore with a permanence more like iron than flesh were not so laughable, so ludicrous, so damnably fucking funny, we might all slip into her gigantic emptiness, and be irretrievably lost ourselves.

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