You see her coming from a block away, upright as though through sheer force of will, the stuttering zombie walk, the step of the hugely drunk trying to appear sober. Not something you look for in the middle of a Saturday afternoon, but not so unusual that you pay much attention.

As she draws nearer you realize she’s dressed in just a slip dress — or, actually, a slip, or nightgown, a pale shade of pink that you associate with grandmothers, far too feminine in both cut and colour for her masculine, broad-shouldered, narrow-hipped frame, her coarse-looking short dark hair, her muscled arms and legs. She’s maybe 5’8″ and not necessarily overweight, but solid. If it weren’t for her large breasts, which are barely contained and definitely not supported by the small triangular cups of the — dress? slip? — she could be a transvestite. But neither a transvestite nor a transsexual somewhere between estrogen and surgery would have been seen in public like that.

Last night’s makeup is smeared under her eyes and to the side of her mouth, as if she’d tried to put on lipstick before leaving the house this morning and missed. Her hair is matted in places, standing up in others.

From a foot or two away you start being able to smell her — BO, last night’s alcohol, shit, sex. No wonder everyone she passes along the sidewalk — especially those who laughed at her comic approach — are giving her a wide berth.

She’s right beside you.

You take in the absolutely blank look on her face, realize she isn’t seeing you or anyone around you, that she is moving because moving is what she has to do. She passes you on the crosswalk, gets to the other side of the street and makes a right turn, resolutely, robotically, going where her inner compass tells her she must go.

You turn and watch her; you  see her feet are bare, a rare and dangerous thing downtown, where broken glass and other foul things await the unwary. You see the back of her — slip? it has to be a slip — and notice, after noticing that  she is obviously not wearing any form of underwear, the shit streak up the back of the garment.

And then you start to think, because that skidmark on the back of her slip stays in your brain, that maybe she wasn’t drunk. The more you think about it, the more lurid her story becomes in your head — because in what fairy tale would she have been walking down a downtown street in a shit-streaked slip without shoes in the middle of a Saturday afternoon? That was a relatively nice slip, pretty lace around the hem and those ridiculously small triangular cups, she might have been a businesswoman robbed and raped after end-of-the-week drinks the night before at a downtown bar. And even if she had been a homeless drunk, she might have been robbed and raped. That streak of shit on the back of her slip… as if she’d been sodomized and the guy had wiped himself off on her slip as a final act of degredation.

Maybe that stuttering but resolutely upright step was her way of holding on to the last shred of her dignity. Maybe she was going where she had to go to take care of herself, aware of the snorts of derision and hoots of laughter and the stares of people around her who were convinced of their superiority to her but never offered to help her as she made her inexorable progress up the street. People like you.