Recently I remembered one of the odd characters of my childhood. Her name was Dotty, and she never came out of her house.
Dotty lived across the street from my family, and a few buildings away from the elementary school we attended. I have a vague memory of her being on the corner of our block with a dog, though I can't remember what breed it was. My parents explained to me that when her husband died she stopped coming outside, and only ventured to the corner with her dog occasionally. When the dog died, she stayed inside, though she always leaned outside her window, resting her arms on the window sill as she surveyed the block day after day.
Funny how when someone is eccentric or mentally unbalanced in your life as a child, it seems almost seems normal, or at least acceptable. My father didn't think the same way and tried to help her, offering to accompany her to public assistance places or whatever else required outdoor activity. She wouldn't accept this, and instead changed the kids on the block into beggar interns. Sometimes they would knock on our door, saying, "Dotty needs a can of soup and two eggs," or "Dotty needs a few pieces of bread." My parents obliged for the most part. I even went to the store for her with my sister at least once. Everything she ate was soft, because she lacked the teeth for anything else.
Come to think of it, she really looked like a sea hag. She had grey hair always died back, few teeth, and a weathered face. She reminded me of Lady Elaine Fairchild from Mister Rogers' Neighborhood. Her voice was much older than she was, as a result of many years of smoking. I guess Virginia Slime was modeled after her. Ironically, she was the first to report to my dad that my sister and I were smoking, even though they were only candy cigarettes.
I don't remember disliking her or even being scared of her. We all took her for granted as a permanent fixture in the neighborhood. She'd be there when we were playing with other kids across the street, and she was my own personal crossing guard (and I never got hit by a car during that time.) I have no idea what her legs looked like, as she only leaned out the window. That's probably why she seemed like a puppet.
One day when I was about fifteen I was home alone recovering from a cold when the phone rang. It was the NYPD asking if I knew a Dorothy H- I can't remember the last name. I didn't know who they were talking about until they gave me her address and told me our family's phone number was one of the few they could find in her home. She died alone, and we were the closest thing to the next of kin.
A few days later my dad took me across the street, and showed me Dotty's window sill. There were two shadowy markings from where she used to lean her arms. It was rather macabre.
Some family moved into that apartment soon after, and they painted the window sill. There's nothing left of Dotty except a photo of her in the distance, peering outside, never stepping out. I feel "Eleanor Rigby" coming on....