Saturday, May 14, 2011

Saturday Musings, 14 May 2011

Good morning,

Our schizophrenic weather staggered back into winter this morning, though the Saturday morning tennis players wore their customary white shorts as they whistled their way to their cars and wandered off, leaving me to shiver and huddle over a chilling cup of bad coffee. Weak light streams into my bedroom through the tilted slats of the blinds, falling onto the faded, tangled black lace of my grandmother's shawl.

The sight of this shawl reminds me of the time that I first wore it, at a party given by me and my college roommates. We all wore black lace dresses and heavy jewelry, old Hollywood hair-styles and shiny sling-back sandals. We posed for our portrait on the stairway to the upstairs of our Laclede Town townhouse, heads thrown back, varying degrees of vibrancy on our faces. I stand on the bottom step, in a tea-length dress with a wide skirt, capped sleeves and scooped neckline. I am not smiling; but my eyes squarely caught the camera's lens. I cannot tell what I was thinking.

At the end of that party, the three of us pushed the chairs back against the walls. I listlessly vacuumed crumbs from the carpet while someone carried beer cans and Margarita glasses to the kitchen. Outside, the night air began to yield to the rising sun, and the first glimmer of Sunday morning noises rose from the street -- the heavy ramble of the newspaper truck, a last, desperate siren's wail, the beckoning of a church bell. When we had finished cleaning, we shed our finery in favor of flannel, and crawled into our respective beds, with curtains drawn against the brightness of the morning light.

I awakened that day long after noon, though the house remained silent and my roommates' doors still had not opened. I softly padded down the stairs, and pulled the coffee-maker from its cubby under a cabinet. As I waited for the brewing process to be completed, I pushed the furniture back into its customary configuration.

With my coffee clutched closely to my chest, I slid the patio doors open, and stepped outside. The vague chill of a spring afternoon kissed my face and I closed my eyes, sipping coffee, receiving the grace of the wind's caress.

A woman's voice startled me, and I nearly dropped my mug. You all had one heck of a party last night, she said, softly. I turned towards the patio next to ours, regarding the slender form of my neighbor, who sat on a low stool with a small child leaning against her body. We had not met. When the three of us had rented our place, the entire row had been unoccupied. I didn't know anybody lived there now, I told the woman. I'm sorry; did we disturb you?

She turned away, wrapping one arm around the child's small frame, gazing across her patio to the abutting edge of the yards behind ours. She shrugged. Not really, she admitted. This one don't sleep too good, since his daddy left.

I set my cup down on the small metal table between our two lawn chairs. Do you want some coffee, I asked the woman, and when she accepted, I stepped into the kitchen and then returned with a mug for her, and a glass of juice for her son. She took both with a tiny nod and the briefest of smiles below her somber eyes. I sat down on the chair closest to her and the boy, and for a few minutes, no one spoke.

The child broke the uneasy silence. This is good, he whispered, and his mother's body jerked, just briefly, as though in fear. Thank you, honey, I offered, putting as much sincerity into my reply as I could. Silence resumed.

When the little boy had consumed all of his orange juice, he slid from between his mother's bony knees and handed his glass to me. Thank you for my breakfast, he said, solemnly, carefully, before returning to the woman's side.

My neighbor rose, then, and placed her empty coffee cup beside mine on the table. She swung the boy high into her arms, and spared me another small bend of her head. Without further comment, she carried her son into her own house. As the door slid closed, before the beige drapes blocked my view, I glimpsed a scattering of cardboard boxes, a few bulging black trash bags, and a tiny, lonely pile of broken toys.

From within my apartment, I heard sounds of my roommates rummaging in our kitchen. One called to the other as they debated whether they would have breakfast or dinner. Someone spoke to me, and I pulled my gaze away from the wrinkled expanse of fabric covering the neighbor's patio door. Coming! I responded, and hauled myself up from the chair, scooping all three cups from the table, tossing a little cold coffee onto the bare ground between our patio and the one next door.

From time to time, over the next few months, I would see the woman leaving for work and bid her good morning. The child walked beside her, usually with a tiny backpack settled between his shoulder blades, and a grimy stuffed bear held in the crook of his arm. Neither of them spoke to me in those brief encounters, although the child often let his eyes slip sideways to meet mine, and occasionally he flashed a hurried, radiant smile, to let me know that he still remembered the taste of the cold, sweet juice.

We broke housekeeping at the end of the school year. I moved out last, and whatever man I was dating at the time hauled my belongings for me, backing his pick-up truck as close to the entry of the apartment as he could. We loaded it with an odd assortment of storage containers and suitcases, the bookshelf my great-grandfather made, my old bed frame, and a couple of boxes of books. We bundled the last of the rubbish to be taken to the dumpster. As we finished cleaning, I noticed that the front door of the town house next to ours stood open. I stepped across to the stoop, and peered into the living room.

It took a few minute to realize that the place was entirely empty, with no sign of the woman or her son. No boxes, no bags, no broken toys. No furniture. Nothing. I stood, surveying the barren look of the place, astonished that I could have been as oblivious to their departure as I had been to their initial arrival.

After a few minutes, my boyfriend honked the horn, impatient to get the load to my new apartment before sundown. I shrugged, to no one in particular, and closed the doors of both houses, making sure the locks clicked. Then I left, without a backwards glance.

Mugwumpishly tendered,

Corinne Corley

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The Missouri Mugwump™

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I've been many things in my life: A child, a daughter, a friend; a wife, a mother, a lawyer and a pet-owner. I've given my best to many things and my worst to a few. I live in Brookside, in an airplane bungalow. I'm an eternal optimist and a sometime-poet. If I ever got a poem published in The New Yorker, I would die a happy woman. I'm a proud supporter of the Arts in Kansas City. I vote Democrat, fly the American flag, cry at Hallmark commercials, and recycle.