Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Picking Up Bottles and Cans

I could hear them cackling and shrieking at each other and without looking I knew the Gypsy Sisters were on my street again, picking up bottles and cans. I suspect they aren't really gypsies, they just look like gypsies to me. The funny thing about the Gypsy Sisters, aside from their lack of language, is that they always come down my street the day after the recycling truck comes by. So they almost never find anything.

The tall one seems to be the boss. She orders her partner onto my neighbor’s front porch to check the can. The other obediently climbs up the stairs, removes the lid, and peers in. She straightens up and shrugs. Nothing.

Bigger Sister lets out a howl of derision. Little Sister shrugs again and grunts something. She points hopefully to the storage bin in front of my apartment building. There will certainly be something there.

The Gypsy Sisters wear long woolen (probably synthetic) coats, knit caps, and scarves – even in the summer. I once read that homeless alcoholics wear heavy clothes because they have poor circulation. I don’t think the Gypsy Sisters are alcoholics.

I was surprised to see them in the supermarket one afternoon. I don’t know why this should have surprised me. They had to get food somewhere. They were arguing in their usual grunts, wails, and guttural moans over a package of chicken thighs. I didn’t remain long enough to learn if they bought the chicken thighs or not.

I saw them another time in the same supermarket. They had an enormous clear plastic bag filled with cans which they were feeding into a machine. The machine cluttered and whirred and after digesting all the cans it dispensed several bills and some change. Big sister snatched the money and scrutinized it warily. Apparently it was not as much as she hoped because she let out with a loud squawk just like when little sister failed to produce anything from my neighbor’s recycling can. They disappeared into the aisles to buy whatever they could with the takings.

I only spoke to the Gypsy Sisters once. I told them that the recycling truck comes down our street on Tuesdays. They both spurted some scornful grunts at me and headed for the big recycling bin in front of my building.

I find myself looking forward to the mornings when the Gypsy Sisters work my block. I take comfort from their incoherent cacophony. I almost feel as if I know them. It’s probably a good thing they can’t talk to me. Then they would have names and a history and I would know where they live. They would become ordinary. All the mystery would be gone.

Still, I wish I could convince them that the truck comes on Tuesday.

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