I noticed her about a year ago. I was living in Westwood and had gotten a ride to downtown Cincinnati to catch a T.A.N.K. bus to Kentucky. We were waiting at the same bus stop at Fourth and Main. It was a cold winter morning. Awaiting different buses, we sat on the same bench. She kept looking at me and maybe I was looking at her, too.
“You look like a rock star,” she said.
My hair was a little too long last winter.
“I’m no rock star,” I replied.
“Bet you used to be,” she said. “I think we were both rock stars back in the day.”
That’s all that was said before her bus arrived, but I saw her again the next morning. I was leaving the Walgreens just up the street from the bus stop. She was standing in front of the store waiting for me. We crossed the street together.
“Got a cigarette I can have?” she asked.
We stopped at the corner of Fourth and Main; I gave her a smoke and lit it for her. We sat together again on the same bench, and this time she got on the bus taking me to Covington for a freelance job. We sat in the front, and Charlene – I knew her name by then – asked for another cigarette.
She must have been a looker some years back. Gray now showed in her flaming red hair and her big brown eyes were still beautiful but looked old and tired. I was guessing she’s in her late 50s or early 60s.
She was almost too thin, but although it was winter, she wore only a light coat over her odd dress Maybe "odd" is a poor choice of words. Her dress could have been a fashion statement; it had kind of a New York City flare.
"Where you heading?” I asked.
“Looking for work,” she said.
“You live in Kentucky?”
“No,” Charlene replied.
“What do you do?”
“I’m a painter,” she said. “I’m not expecting to find canvas work today. At this point, I’d be willing to paint with a roller.”
We both laughed as Charlene took a tissue out of her coat pocket and blew her nose. I was finding myself attracted to her.
“I hope you find something today,” I said. “You need more cigarettes?”
“No, I’m good,” she said. “You’ve been nice to me. Don’t remember your name.”
“Thanks, Larry,” she said as she rang the bell for the bus to stop. She kissed me on the cheek before she got off the bus.
Winter turned to spring and then summer. I often thought of Charlene. She had made an impression on me, and I admit a lot of that impression was sexual; but I didn’t see her again until I moved to Covington this past July.
On a hot afternoon in late August, I was sitting on a bench on Madison Avenue to take a bus across the river to Cincinnati. A couple of young women were waiting at the bus stop with me. I looked up the sidewalk. There was Charlene walking toward me.
She was wearing tan shorts and a blue sleeveless blouse. I noticed the veins on her white legs. I smiled and waved, thinking she would remember me and stop and say hello. She didn’t. She gave me a stare and kept on walking.
As she walked by, the two women at the bus stop were looking at her, too.
“You know her, right?” I heard the one woman say to the other.
“Yeah. Old bitch,” the woman replied. “A woman her age giving blowjobs to make a buck should be ashamed. Why men let her touch them is sickening.”
Shocked by what I was hearing, I decided not to go to Cincinnati. I walked up Madison Avenue to get back home. That’s when some questions for Charlene entered my head.
She told me she lived in Cincinnati. Is her “job” actually located in Covington or does she really live there, too? Does she provide her services on both side of the river? Is Charlene really a painter? Is she doing what she’s doing because things have gotten so bad for her that she can’t make money any other way?
Charlene had to know I was attracted to when we first met. If what the women said about her is true, why didn’t she approach me to offer her services? Didn’t she think I would be willing and able?
I’ve never paid for sexual favors, and I'm not about to start. This isn’t about my ego; it’s about Charlene.
Those two women at the bus stop might have had it all wrong.
I don’t know if I’ll ever see Charlene again; and if I do, I doubt I’ll ask any questions. I’ll probably offer her a cigarette and see if she wants to talk. I really don’t care what she does to make money. I just want her to be all right.