Gone but not forgotten.
You ever get that thing where you go out walking at 2 o’clock on a Sunday morning, and you’re in a big enough town where there are plenty of people still out from Saturday night because it’s summertime, there are cyclists pedaling home, drunk and yelly pedestrians who you avoid, a canner clinking past with a shopping cart, the dude walking his bike who you have to pass by under the darkest tree. People talking. A young man and two young women chatting about their cats on a third-story porch in a big old house. A couple having a hushed, deeply important end-of-night conversation on the sidewalk. The sound of language, unintelligible, rises and falls at the edge of your hearing in almost every space through which you travel. You’re out walking, thinking, being. You ever get that thing? I got that thing.
And you’re out walking, and then you walk past the house of the woman you used to watch on the bus. You’re almost certain she’s not there any more – you haven’t taken the bus for years but she must have moved away, you mistook your new neighbor across the street for her the other day but no, you haven’t seen her, she must be gone. She’s moved away, you’re almost sure.
And you used to watch her on the bus because she was pretty, and frequently when you were on that bus, when you were not making work by 9 o’clock but she always seemed to be just on time, the world was ugly. But it was more than her body, her face, her physical presence, that special way she had of folding her hands in her lap and exuding composure. It was the way she dressed. Always with visible care. Smart, just ever so faintly old-fashioned, and unique. Very much her. Sometimes blouses. Blouses, not shirts, sometimes. Skirts, simple, fairly plain, she would wear them as a base for three tops layered, nothing fancy, and it just worked. Sometimes, rarely, she wore a headscarf. A headscarf! Thinking back, you pause to look up at a dark window in that yellow house, and you’d swear to anything she wore a tiny bow at her throat once, at the collar of a pale blue sweater.
And one day finally, finally one day on that bus you complimented her boots, a compliment delivered just before your stop, offered at the exact moment to ensure minimum further contact. You did love those boots. And you wanted her learning of your affection for her choice of those boots to just be a pleasant experience. You didn’t want any dead air. So you calculated the time, and told her, hey, great boots. Those are really great. They look loved.
One time after, she said something to you when the bus was really full and you were standing together. The words are gone. Gone. You can see her lips move but you’ll never know what those words were.
You pause at that house. One afternoon you had a different destination and got off at her stop and walked north, and two blocks later she was across the street from you, she was standing near a car in the driveway of that big old house. It was summer, a little further along in the season than now. Someone else was there. You glanced from across the street and she seemed more open than on the bus. Maybe she was happy. Maybe the car was silver colored. Maybe she’d been bringing in groceries.
You look up and wonder if that apartment was cute. You think about what might have existed inside the white door with white trim in that stately old yellow house.
You wonder in a sudden spin of what-ifs whether that woman had at one time made that dark apartment so welcoming, so enclosing, so warm, whether her taste in clothing translated into an ability to weave a palpable feeling of home, whether that still calmness on the surface of her broad kind face went all the way to the bottom. What was she like, who did she love, what was the history that made her, did she have plants or a cat or a record collection? Was she perfect?
Was the cover of that book – her life, reflected in how she appeared on a city bus – accurate?
How did the story go?
How quickly, walking home, I wish I’d known you can turn into I wish I had any answers at all.