Last evening I finished my salad, got my prescriptions, and took myself north on State Line to Prospero's Books. As I entered, one of the two owners called out, Hello -- I haven't seen you in a long time, and I realized that I could not recall when I had last been out on a Friday evening doing the things that I love. I tread across the old wooden floors, turning my head so I would not miss the sound of their warped squeak. I ran my finger across a row of books and stopped in front of the cashier's station. The owner smiled. I finally replied, I don't get out much. He doesn't know me, this one; his partner is a friend of mine. But he nonetheless continued, asking why, asking if I had been all right.
I told him, I've gotten to be a recluse, and he nodded. Perfectly understandable, he seemed to be saying. Have you read the news lately? He did not speak, though, or ask again what had driven me indoors. He just nodded, the once, and then smiled. I went to browse among the shelves. I found a novel written by a Haitian woman and gave the man six dollars. His face crinkled into a lovely expression, as though he might not have been able to pay the mortgage without my purchase. He bade me good night, and I walked through the door nearly glad that I had come.
Down the street, I debated between a cupcake and an ice cream. SmallCakes, a cupcakery, stood directly adjacent from where I'd parked the car. I looked inside, thinking about the sugar content of even the smallest of cakes. The carbs. I opened the door and stepped across the threshold. Calories be damned.
The woman behind the counter sported all manner of tattoos and a broad friendly grin. She greeted me and began telling me about her selections as though introducing children. A pang of guilt rose in my belly, the belly still carrying that last annoying bit of flab which truly causes me to tilt when I rise from a chair. But now I stood before this kind person, who had spent three or four minutes of the last half hour of her workday talking about toppings and fillings.
I bought something that she said was her favorite and she gently nestled it into a special box, pink, with the name of the store written across it. I mentioned my admiration for her tattoos. I asked which one she liked best, and she turned around to show me an owl between her shoulder blades, peeking out from the top of her yellow sundress. I told her about my friend Baylee who had answered the same question by showing me a tattoo in the same location. I always forget it's there, Baylee had said. The cupcake lady laughed her agreement. Then she, too, said good night, without evening glancing at the hands of the clock creeping towards closing time. She said it as though genuinely concerned about me; as though she might be calling later to see if I had enjoyed the rest of my evening and whether I had liked her recommended confection.
The door quietly closed behind me. I clutched my cupcake, the book which I had purchased at Prospero's, and my little French purse. The evening air had lightened some. Voices drifted from the tables on the sidewalk, down the block, by the ice cream place. A young man held the door for an older woman -- his mother, perhaps -- and a little girl stood eye to eye with a great Dane passing on the sidewalk. She showed no hesitation. The dog's owner held the leash steady while the child reached a small hand to pat the dog's head. All the while, an anxious mother stood behind the girl, torn between the desire to grab her offspring out of harm's way and the sure knowledge that fear should not be one of the lessons of a lovely summer evening on 39th Street.
I crossed to the parking lot and laid the cupcake on the front seat, nestled between my purse and the small paperback. Before reversing, I listened to a few minutes of the late news on the hour. Around the country, demonstrations swelled to thousands. The savage murder of two black men sparked rage; the vicious retaliatory slaughter of five police officers by a lone sniper stabbed the soul of our nation. The departure of Great Britain from the European Union, the ludicrous behavior of the Republican presidential candidate, and the questionable ethics of the Democrat pale in comparison to a country's mourning for the loss of innocent lives. Yet again; yet again.
Outside the windows of my car, the people of my city seemed to have taken a break from the terrible tragedies that have held us spellbound to the television, the radio, and the Internet. A boy on a skateboard slipped down the middle of the street, arms stretched out for balance. Behind him a pick-up truck took the street at a handful of miles per minute just to let the kid have his moment. I could see grins on the faces of the driver and passenger, a flicker of something like jealousy, perhaps a fleeting memory of another summer night, when they, too, were young and flew through the heavy air on tiny wheels.
I put the car in gear and pulled onto the street, pointing the Prius towards home. Along the way, I lifted my cell phone at every stop sign. Some urgent need to capture the night drove me to look through its lens at my city. I drove down Warwick, where I rented my first few apartments here, nearly forty years ago. Nothing seemed to have changed. There was no battle here; no fury; no anger. The car behind me tolerated my starts and stops without so much as honking. I made my way through the town which adopted me, asking myself if I am ready to leave. I have no answer.
|Driving down Oak Street.|
|The back steps to my second (and third) apartment.|
|The front of the apartment building in which I twice lived.|
|John's Greenhouse, still run by his now-blind daughter.|
|How can one not find this city beautiful?|