Why the dog woman scowls

Every time Martha sees a dog, she breaks her silence and sings, “Oh beautiful, my beautiful.” She ignores the owner and goes straight for the dog, mumbling sweet nothings in German, treating the dog like she would a grandchild. She’s short enough that she can pet most dogs while standing, but she insists on bending her 80-year-old knees to meet the dog, eye-to-eye, and tell it how incredible it is. Dogs seem to understand her; when Martha talks to them, they hold their heads high and wag their tails swiftly.

Otherwise, Martha doesn’t talk.

Everyone knows her. She’s that old woman. She complains about loud hipster parties, she wears her keys on a necklace, and she ignores everything without a tail. And the wrinkles on her face make it looks like she’s always scowling — always angry. Or maybe it’s not the wrinkles.

She wakes up at 6 a.m. every morning. And, because it’s fall, she bundles herself in a scarf, a hat and a thick windbreaker. Then she walks outside and looks through the trash, picking out recyclables that were ‘misplaced’ by lazy young college kids in the East Village. After that, Martha sits on her stoop, waiting for another dog.

There are theories that Martha has Alzheimer’s. Sometimes, she walks to the grocery store and brings back two bags of food. Then, an hour later, she walks back with two more bags. And, sometimes, she stands on the sidewalk, looking left and then right, unsure of which direction to go — but no one helps, because she’s scowling.

But when she sees a dog, she sings, “Oh beautiful, my beautiful,” and whatever pity one might have for her disappears. She sounds like a woman, reunited with her lover, overcome with emotion. When the dog leaves, she of course returns to silence.

But, once, Martha did talk to a person. In that short conversation, she revealed that she has a sick daughter — terminal cancer. She said it’s all she thinks about — morning, noon and night. Then she mumbled something in German — something sharp — and walked away, scowling.

To most people, Martha is the angry woman. Or the recycling woman. Or the dog woman — “Oh beautiful, my beautiful.”

To most people, she scowls because she scowls; she recycles because she recycles; she loves dogs because she loves dogs. It’s easier to think of her that way.

RWC: Not I

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