Secrets Horses Keep

Photo by Mary Ellen mark
Photo by Mary Ellen Mark

She was in the middle of the park, for goodness’ sake, sitting there with that odd little horse, cuddled up close like a pet she had taken out for a good walk. She was otherwise alone, it was clear there was no one accompanying her. Is that what parents still ordinarily do these days or not?–accompany their charges? I had a nanny; Magdala never let me out of her sight and if I tried to make a getaway she managed to nab me before I could shout “freedom at last!” But it was the way it was. This child was perhaps twelve or so, but she also ought to have had someone there, hadn’t she? When I saw her sitting as with purpose after fifteen minutes, I also stayed put. My bench was kitty corner from hers and I had nothing better to do. My days are endless pages unscrolling at their leisure as if meant to be tarried over, full of illuminated wonders as in the Book of Kells. But they do not, anymore. Not since Paul David’s decision.

And so she sat on, as well. She didn’t seem abandoned, exactly. After about fifteen minutes she looked about, as if searching the entire block but not with urgency, not with any alarm. I can’t say if she looked right at me then; I had my book and after noting her sweeping gaze, looked down until I thought it acceptable to look toward her again. She was holding the brown, plush-coated horse up to her, its nose bumping her own, and she kissed its head twice. I did wonder how many times she did that. It appeared to be beloved in that way children adore an inert yet companionable creature, transferring their secrets and powerful fondness to it. Yes, it almost seemed that they were visiting the park together. So I was not that concerned but interested in a sidelong way. My book was worth reading, a collection of poems and essays by someone no one knows of, anymore. It gets taken out once every year for a glad once-over, then is set back among neighbors with their shredded spines and fading covers. The library could use a thorough clean-up, even renovation, I admit, but it isn’t truly worth expense or bother. I’m not going to live forever. Not many borrow from it anymore, either.

This girl, this young lady, I would prefer to say but cannot quite manage, seemed to own that bench. She sat sideways for a bit, legs stretched out and head leaned against the back, horse on her lap. Eyes closed until I imagined she was asleep and I thought, how peaceful a picture that makes when in a flash she sat straight up and looked out over the pond, eyeing it carefully. I casually glanced that way, as well, and saw two couples and a third unattached young man making their separate ways around the park, towards us. The girl–might I call her Miss Emma? I always liked that name but had no use of it since I did not have the pleasure or grief of my own children–sat up in attention. I wondered which of the five she might be waiting for as they moved closer. But they all passed us by, busy talking, the single male intent on deciphering his cell phone content.

No, she leaned toward an invisible thing, peered at–what? I leaned forward, too, then caught myself, sat back with book up once more. I observed her watchfulness from over the top, how could I not? It was an odd puzzle, what she was doing on a park bench on a late fall day, no coat or satchel, no adult, no little friends.

A clump of bushes about twenty feet away shook and out sprang an urchin. It was a he of uncertain provenance. Not that the young man was utterly frayed or unconscionably dirty, but his hair was roughed up and his pants too short and his tennis shoes were wrecked beyond wearability. Alright, not that being disheveled or even dirty is a crime, of course, or even avoidable at times. But still I felt uncertain of his intentions. He moved quickly and with confidence toward her, as if he, too, claimed a seat at that bench, as if it was theirs to occupy and no others.

He punched Emma’s shoulder upon sitting down; she grabbed her horse and whacked him on the head. It took imagination to consider them friends. It seemed they knew each other, though, as their heads came together then apart. I began to read off and on, deciding the girl had been waiting to see this one, a  boy perhaps two or so years her elder. But there was a manner about him that suggested he was more far worldly than she. He had perhaps been out and about on his own more, or had the wiles and underhanded ways for a common pickpocket. Or worse. It began to creep into my mind in a Dickensian way that this was not a laudable association.

I was correct, at least to some degree.

She nudged him as they laughed and he then pulled out from his too-large Army surplus jacket  pocket a misshapen half-empty package of cigarettes. He put two of them between his lips and lit them with a lighter with a sort of élan, as if this were a debonair moment to share with his young love. I winced and put my book down. He then removed one and placed it oh so carefully between her own and she, rather than toss it in laughter or disgust, left it. Inhaled enough that I expected a cough; she frowned. It could not have been something she relished. Or perhaps I was wrong, as the second inhalation then the third seemed easier, perhaps faintly enjoyable to the intrigued and intriguing Miss Emma. Or at least the idea of it.

I could note the promise of greater femininity on the verge of coming forward. An onset of redefinition, a hidden refinement of face, hand and limb that one day would be grown into and then it would be owned. I do have nieces and they surprised me, too. I know this is not how Miss Emma realistically would be described these days, that an insistent boyishness and even an obscured gender seem in vogue for many youth. That is fine but I imagined it that way, nonetheless. I saw her with the artist’s eyes I possess. A kind of forecasting. A wistfulness that became attached to her visage, perhaps.

But I did possess an acute vision, I must state that at least. I have had success with it. Before all that came and went regarding Paul David, and now is in tandem.

That boy had other things to do, I could see it in his abrupt ways, restlessness after they smoked their smokes. He stood, bent toward her for some exchange and walked away, then looked back and tossed her another cigarette. Ran off. She didn’t appear to be disturbed, although she watched him a bit longingly, perhaps wanting to join him as he made the next stops–where? To what ends did he roam? Perhaps–I half-hoped–they had been school mates, though what sort of school I didn’t hazard to guess. We were in a place, a neighborhood, that generally saw children less wayward in appearance and behavior. They were more worn about the edges yet also seemed in possession of themselves. I never displayed that at such an age. Which may have been a blessing if it meant I had to smoke and seek out other unknowns.

I knew what Paul David would have done at once: marched up to that boy, given him a dressing down that he would then take issue with. But Paul David would not be deterred;  he would run him off with his overbearing manner and height–he is only a bit taller than I am but it is the way he stands, as if he never bends his back or lowers his shoulders. He yet is an attorney and aspiring politician of sorts so used to swaying juries and other groupings.

Certainly commanding the home front. We often did not have a meeting of minds, I must be honest, as I am not one, either, to consider my own ideas and thoughts of any lesser report. It was what he first loved about me thirty years ago. What he said drove him to the estate gates and on to Mrs. Derrien, a widow generally well liked if a too-sweet mouse. I must forgive but I suspect her more copious socioeconomic virtues also held magnetic pull.

I said good-bye to my painting studio. It lost its allure. The studio I have rarely entered now that I have more time and lack of invasions from my husband. Ex-husband. Perhaps I also painted to annoy him or remind him of his own lacks. In any case, it has been too long and I felt the need sharply, though it came and went.

That is what I was thinking as I sat and tried to not so obviously watch Miss Emma: that it was time to take up canvas and oils again. I hadn’t had a show in over two years. I needed to get the feel of it again, and find the happiness that had so long eluded me.

And then she rose. Miss Emma’s horse rose with her and they made their way toward me. I felt a tremulous blush coming on so hid my face in my book.

“You’re watching me. You sure are, so don’t deny it.”

I couldn’t fathom such a rude way to approach an older woman so looked up, then at my book. “So you say.”

“I not only say, I declare it, there. And think you must’ve had quite a show. It’s sort of odd to have a stranger keep tabs on a person. But you seem harmless.”

I rearranged my loops of scarf to do something with increasing nervousness. A bold and unmannerly child can nearly do me in.

“I beg your pardon, dear. I was reading by myself awhile when you arrived, then became distracted by your activities and his.”

She glanced at the book page “Poems.” Looked at me again. “Well, okay.” Her horse, snug in her arms, bobbed a bit at me.

“You enjoy them, too?” I managed to smile a little.

“We like to read fantasy, right, Roan?” The horse emphatically nodded then he lay down beside her on my bench. “Do you come here a lot? I saw you three times before.”

This was more than surprising since I had not noticed her before. To be seen and not know it, unnerving.

“You did?”

“Last summer, this fall. Maybe more, can’t remember now. I see a lot of people when I pop over.”

“Why are you here often?”

“I just live right there.” She pointed up and across the boulevard.”I like the p ark and it’s the one place my father allows me to come alone. Sometimes.”

“Ah. Madrone Place. Lovely historical building. I know it well. My best friend lived there for years, then moved to the country.”

A shadow passed over her face. “We live at the top.” She put a hand at an angle to her brow as sunshine flared again. “You can see almost the entire city from there.” She picked up her horse and held it close. “You live nearby, too–Miss…?”

I held out my hand. “I’m Ms. Leonora Addington. And you are?”

The girl hesitated, then took my hand briefly. “Cassie Gershen. My father is George Gershwin.”

I was taken aback. “Whatever do you mean?”

She snorted, giggled a high giggle and then of course I saw the joke. “George Gershen, I see, many must hear it as Gershwin, how funny!”

“Well, he’s a composer, too, but he goes by GT Gershen and the T is for Thomas. So just ‘GT’, usually, George Thomas would be too much, he says.”

It came to mind that Paul David insisted on using his middle name. How it now irked me. The breeze swept about us and her bangs fluttered in the gust. Her eyes fairly sparkled as she smiled. Then she slumped back.

“He wouldn’t be happy if he knew I smoked so now you know his name, just forget it, please. He might even know. He’s at the piano all afternoon if he can be and also likes to look out the window. He spies on me, like you did, only from farther away. I try to stay out of sight; then he complains. I thought you might be a friend of his for a while. I mean, you live near here and seem like the sort he likes– you read a lot, for one thing.”

I tuned to better see her whole affect. It was sincere, perhaps, such disarming eyes and pleasing face composed, yet relaxed. “I do think it unhealthy and risky behavior that you have even tried smoking–at barely twelve? I was well into my twenties when I tried it. Awful taste and choked me.”

“He says just the same, see what I mean? But I’m thirteen–and older than you think.” She squeezed the horse’s puffy middle quite hard, then released it.

“You know where I live, did you say that?”

“I followed you once. Your house is quite large, made of stone and there is a gate at the drive that required a key or something before you went in. I liked it but I liked our nice place much more. Well, I might like our apartment alright.”

I suddenly questioned if this child was at all who she said she was, if her story was anywhere near the truth, and if she came to the park to learn how to steal with her street sidekicks. Her charm was considerable. But she carried about a stuffed horse, for goodness’ sake, and she kept an eye on me and knew my address, she talked too much to strangers. And there was that suspicious looking older boy. Cassie Gershen, as she’d announced herself, seemed perhaps less than a reliable historian. Muddled in one way while teeming with intelligent observations in another.

“Well, now we both know where the other lives. Information that may or may not be useful.” I picked up my book, considered leaving.

“I’d better go.” She hopped off the bench and looked up at her apartment building. “He’ll worry.” She craned her neck to the left, to see around a stand of evergreens. Sighed. “There he is. See? On the balcony?” She pointed. Waved wildly.

I stood, too, and sought the spot. There was indeed a long balcony protected with wrought iron and there was a man now scanning the boulevard, perhaps the park. He could be her father, in vest and light shirt, with darker hair, glasses. He must have seen her then, as he waved back and slipped indoors, satisfied. I wondered what he actually knew of her comings and goings. Not my business, of course, yet I was nearly moved to speak with him that moment.

“You don’t have some sort of dog?” she asked. We started to the street, weaving in between cyclists and joggers.

“A dog? No, I never have had one. I had two calico cats and before those, a beautiful canary. Now I have nothing but several flourishing plants and my own company, and occasional visitors, of course. You?”

“I do have a dog but he’s way too old to play much. My mom left us; we’ve lived in this place a few months.”

“I see. I’m sorry, Cassie.” We walked in an uneven rhythm; she about kept up with me. “Did she also enjoy horses?”

“Oh, yes, of course and…”

Her voice had grown softer; I leaned down to hear her better.

“We all did. I mean we do but…we did own three.”

“Must have been wonderful, dear.”

After we exited the park, she turned right. I turned left.

“Hey, um, thanks for being around. Nearby. I don’t really like Black Jack that much.”

“That shifty young man?”

She studied the little horse’s face, smoothed his coat.” He just hangs out. Hides places. I think he’s homeless, he doesn’t say. I’m not really a smoker. I mean, maybe some day but I just–I said ‘yes’ once… so now…he’s okay but I don’t know. Maybe not.”

I started to lift my hand to her–to what? smooth her flyaway hair? pat her shoulder?–then, confused by my disregard of polite remove, quickly dropped it. Stood taller with book before my chest.

“Good, you can quit before you get habituated to it. Right now, perhaps. Then your father might never know and you won’t have to pretend you like it. Next time, just tell that slippery Black Jack you aren’t available for more antics. Go home if necessary. Call your father. Or come to where I am, if I’m about. You must stay safe, my dear.”

She narrowed her eyes at me but not angrily or worriedly. Pondering things as she shifted from one foot to the other and held Roan in position atop her shoulder. I waited. Her features softened in relief. She gave me a real smile and then I could see her as a young woman, strong, vibrant and true. Fearless again.

“See you around, Ms. Addington.”

“Good day to you, too, Miss Cassie.”

When I got to the next corner and waited to cross, I looked up and over, where the Gershen balcony was. She was there alone, and reached out over the fancy ironwork as she caught sight of me. I waved both hands at her and she gave a fast flap back at me. I hurried off to my house, feeling lighter. To my studio, which longed for me I was certain, and I, it.

 

Enter Stage Right. Again.

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The day was met with my favorite floral china cup of strong Oolong tea, the newspaper and Arthur, my unkempt miniature labradoodle. Though the hour was often marred by the rushing of cars carrying workers to important positions in the world, I persisted. Before long things would settle into a companionable quietness rounded out by bird song or squirrel chatter or the occasional barking, all of which Arthur offered commentary on. I could hear all this from my kitchen window, Arthur having exited through the side doggie door to do his daily and sniff about the flowers and trees. The light fell in such a way at seven a.m. that I was neither too wrongly awakened or kept lagging in that leftover daze of slumber. It caressed the deepening lines in my face and warmed my cool fingers. The tea was quite good, the cranberry orange scones I got by the half dozen, better, and the paper fell somewhere below par.

When he came back inside, I took us both out to the front porch. Arthur got to romp about the yard up to our white fence. I got the rocker and a decent view of everything my eye could find. The lumpy but firm green and gold pillow was stuffed behind my back; otherwise, the sitting would have been hampered by a spine that has had too much stress for too many years. As a ballet and later a modern dancer for twenty-seven years, I had felt the strain of a body’s glory as well as the wonder. Now things–connective tissue, the spots between joints, the arches and toes of feet overused so long–they hurt me if I moved too much or too little. There is a more happy medium but it had eluded me recently. I still danced once a week, if you could call it that, at a local studio. And Arthur and I took to the neighborhood park as often as we could and what a good time we had there, myself on the swing as he met up with his buddies. One of the appreciated features of the park is that people with dogs like to chat, so I got my own socializing in for a few days. We both ended up feeling well enough satisfied.

But I did dislike being one of two who appear over seventy. The other one, Mr. Carney, was disagreeable at best, ear flaps pulled down from his red and grey plaid woolen cap–yes, even in warmer weather– and his subsequent complaint that I spoke quite unintelligibly. If he could understand more than five words in a half hour I felt victorious about my ability to shout without seeming idiotic or rude. But he really didn’t want to converse. He whined about things, not just my speech, which he said often resembles that of a child with cookies caught in her mouth.

So I tended to keep watch from my swing while Arthur bounded here and there and Mr. Carney shuffled along the path with his waddling corgi. I have feared for them both, their weight and lack of cordial interchange. They frankly seemed happier with each other. As for me, I have remained thin and if my doctor has cautioned that I could benefit from more fat, I have liked the lightness and ease of a body not carrying unnecessary cargo. I’ve imagined it’s due to being a dancer so long. One is loathe to disturb what has served one well for decades.

But who am I to ever make a point of it? I have not been the most generous with my own time and attention in the more recent past. There was a time for all that, when I didn’t mind being called upon, when I was needed and not at all bothered. Appreciated, too. But as the years went by even my children came armed with many demands or needs but with little else–either to offer or to say. It’s the way of things, I suppose. They with the complicated lives which I have already inhabited and shed, like a snake of its useless skin. I now fit in yet another one and will get rid of that, too, and more, in time. My granddaughter laughed when I said that but she, too, will hopefully live to see the truth of the analogy.

This morning Arthur started barking before I even got the kettle to a boil. I felt out of sorts, as if I couldn’t quite see the point in the sun rising to shine. I fiddled with my crooked glasses–I stepped on them a few days back–and swept up my long hair into a topknot and stuck a decorative chop stick in the wispy mass to secure it. The last scone was dried out. There was s sliver of butter left so I spread it on, then a thick layer of peach preserves to see if that helped. The first bite was not a delight but I continued masticating until I could manage a swallow. Arthur kept barking, not ferociously, but with an emphasis that drew me away from my paper. I could see him jumping against the fence a few times, so stuck my head out the door.

“Get your mad, noisy self in here, Arthur! Now.”

He turned to assess my intention, then kept on barking. I frowned at him and swung my gaze over the driveway next door. Nothing. There wouldn’t be. The Bellsons had moved three months ago, the empty windows and driveway finally seeming normal to me. But as I looked farther down the drive, I could make out something, a truck and maybe a car or even more. And three people waiting on the patch of overgrown grass that separated sidewalk from street.

Had the real estate sign been taken down and I not even noticed it? Well, I had stopped thinking about who might come there or if it would be torn down for a new monster of a house, if a renter with uncertain origins or intentions would take up residence and the poor house surrendering itself. I guess it didn’t matter in the end. I was on the corner, a boon. My back yard yielded some privacy. And no matter who took over the neighboring house, I would be in the same spot until I wasn’t.

Arthur came back in and headed to his food and water as I made tea. I spread open my paper and scanned the usual dreadful headlines about politics, car wrecks, a fire in the next county, yet the weather would remain fair. We could hear the sounds of things nearby, doors opening and closing, squeaky wheels, masculine voices directing one thing or another. After my scone was finished by force of habit and appreciation of the jam, we took ourselves out to the porch. Whereupon Arthur resumed barking until I was sharp in my reprimand. But I could see why he was flustered. Something was certainly changing next door and we had little idea just what it would bring.

There were a husband and wife, they appeared to be Asian, on the front lawn talking with restraint while gesturing at the furniture and boxes being hauled inside. Then I spotted who I guessed was a daughter of teenage years. She was slight, compact. She wore her hair blue-tinged and short. I glimpsed bright bangles on her wrists. Misgiving rose up in me even though I liked young people, if largely from a distance. The Bellsons had not yet had children if they ever would; they were eager to advance and moved off to New Zealand. Nothing had been complicated about their lifestyle and I missed them, at the very least for that. I wondered how this teenager would conduct her life, if that meant my sleep would be jarred by exuberant pop music, if the street would be lined with her friends cars, if there would be antics of all sorts. I hoped for better.

Arthur lay down with head on paws, watching with me. I got up to pour more tea and then returned. The sunlight made its way through the latticework that was on each end of my porch and set its pattern upon the wooden planks. My pink-slippered feet rose of their own accord to dance in the streaming light, then landed by Arthur and stretched, toes pointing and flexing back, pointing again. The motion gave me twinges of discomfort and pleasure in equal amounts, as always.

And then I saw it, a massive irregular shape all swaddled and tied up neatly as it was rolled up to the front door. I slunk over to peer through the lattice just as three men removed it from the big rolling carrier and got the bulk turned sideways and lifted with effort. Then they slid it through the front door and out of my sight, the three newcomers following.

“Arthur”, I whispered, “that was a grand piano! We may have a piano player. Oh, please let there be music.”

*******

Days later the sun brightened my dingy kitchen and the tea kettle let loose a steamy whistle as Arthur had his foray into the back yard. And I waited to hear the now daily piano scales. Up and down the piano keyboard, playing in major or minor keys, the girl worked her way with an expert touch. I knew it was only she  who played since a week had gone by and we saw the father leave for work, then the mother. That left the girl at home alone for a half hour. Each morning she played exercises. My window was open enough that on a breeze rode every single note, firmly sounded. Arthur cocked his head back and forth, ears pricked, and I awaited his comment about it, perhaps dislike. But he, adapted already, went on about his business as I read my paper. Sometimes we got to the porch before she left but usually she had since left for the bus stop at the corner. I found myself stepping slowly about the floor of the porch, stretching this way and that, arms held aloft, then sitting with legs raised and scissored, slippers dangling, then discarded as the weather leaned more toward spring. The daffodils were shooting forth from the dark earth as if in grateful response to live music in their territory. I wouldn’t be surprised if my garden just up and blossomed in a frenzy.

The Musgraves across the street waved at me one Thursday as I exercised-arms in and out, stretch side to side– in sweetening breezes. I hadn’t seen them for months except huddled in their cars, on their way downtown to their offices. I waved back, then pulled my soft blue shawl about me as I stood on the porch looking at the now-empty bus shelter. They were not the friendliest neighbors, but they were civil and we exchanged good wishes and general inquiries when we all emerged from behind the barrier of wintery rains. Could they have heard the piano, as well? Or were they just feeling more friendly with more sunshine, I wondered. I had also noticed the Engers had lingered at their door one afternoon when the grand piano had flung its notes into the street with some vigor.

In the late afternoons, the girl came home alone and after a short time, sat again at her piano. I could see her from my side living room windows. I put down my hobbies or my work–the crocheting or a large book of collages I was making from photographs and mementos. Or the tedious polishing of silver place settings taken from a red-velvet-lined, teak silverware case. I was thinking of giving it to my daughter-in-law for her upcoming birthday, as she liked to entertain. I had been thinking I had too many things I didn’t even like, anymore. But music wasn’t one of them. I still maintained a large collection of records and CDs that I listened to off and on.

Now this new family and with their arrival, piano music slipped out their walls and windows every day. As early spring turned up its heat bit by bit, it got so Arthur and I would settle ourselves on the porch even before the girl–Japanese, I’d decided, though I was no expert on such matters–got home. She walked fast and ran up the front steps and disappeared inside her house. I imagined she got a snack, something light, and set her books out on a desk for later study. The she pulled the piano bench up to the mammoth instrument, Lifted her lithe hands above the keys and placed fingers on each white or black key and began the sonata, the concerto, the specific measures she sought to master. And oh, the music produced with each touch of the keys.

And I remembered. I was sent back to that room with the wall of full length mirrors, the other wall of rectangular windows casting such light caught beyond the historic brick building. We were lined up along the barre. The standard ballet positions began, and plies ensued as the accompanist played the songs that gave us rhythm, that steady, encouraging practice music for our warm up. The common score of the dancer starting work. I remembered how my muscles pulled and lengthened, how feet found their places and held fast, then responded to the spoken and clapped commands, pushed from the floor for airy spaces. Strove for perfection, created beauty. Delved deep for disciplined and rich expressions of life. Such pain and sweat, that homely exchange of energy for minute or grand movements. And even elegance beneath each exacting motion. Leaping and bounding, then tattooing the old wood floor with a hundred tiny changes in step, in balance and form, in center of gravity as the body whirled and rose and fell, lengthened softly, and speaking with limbs and emoting with face, hands, feet. The neck and chin. All.

Art was wrought from primal animal life and a vigorous athleticism that pushed and prodded me until I found the needed connection as bone and muscle and tendon synchronized at last with mind, heart, soul. Heaven opened up for me as the rest of the world turned and tossed. The most ordinary paths of being and doing released me every hour I danced. It had gone on to carry me and I, it, into a lifetime of fulfillment.

But, of course, then the neighborhood piano would stop and silence would shock me back. I would refocus my eyes on the yard, our porch. Arthur would get restless. The night then began to gather in corners of sky. We we would go indoors. In awhile Arthur and I heard the girls’ parents’ car pull in and their voices using a language that confounded.

Then one night as the temperature rose to a balmy record-breaking high the girl opened wide her living room windows. Arthur and I stepped onto the porch again. There came music that was flashier, a semblance of jazzy notes that caught fire. I heard every note; each chord was insistent. I slipped off my woven flats, left my chair, and started to sway and turn and execute a few little steps, my knees resistant at first while my head filled with visions of stages from long ago. Arthur pawed at my long skirt as I swept about, wanting to join in, so we descended the steps and bobbed about the yard, the piano music swelling, cascading. My old flesh and bones answering with each feeling, the beckoning notes weaving and rising inside the measures.

And I was happy! I twirled about, feet feeling soft prickles of new grass, my skin slipping through tender air, a fragrance of flowers and green growing things a veil of perfume that forever entranced young and old. I was dancing and Arthur was singing along in his way and prancing about and all that was upside down was righted again, my solitude of widowhood; strangeness of finding my way inside a thinner, looser skin; the odd reality that everyone was on a fast train, thundering by without so much as a wave or my agreement.

I was dancing, I was still that dancer and no one and nothing would change that. I squeezed my eyes shut and turned and turned in the swirl of mysterious, life-giving music, felt my body transport from this time to another, I gave it my respect and permission to do what it wanted. Unfettered again.

Then bit by bit, I reigned myself in, slowed to a stop. My breath tore through my  lungs and it felt good. All was still. I opened my eyes.

In the faint sheer blueness of that time between dusk and twilight, outside my fence but right in front of my house, there stood the Musgraves and Carsons, the Engers and even the Harolds from way down the street and several others I barely knew anymore. They were staring at me, hands to mouths, arms linked with their mates’, their eyes so wide. I felt a sudden horror that they believed I had lost my mind, that I had finally succumbed to the threats of advancing old age and would never be the same. How could they even know anything of who I had been and was?

Unsettled and embarrassed, I stepped back, saw Arthur licking the new neighbor girl’s hand. She patted him, then advanced toward me. I stood my ground as she entered the yard, her small, quick steps bringing her closer and closer until she stopped and carefully put her hands together before her as if praying and gave a little bob of her head.

“I am Miyoko. Thank you for appreciating my music enough to feel like dancing.”

I said, “Oh. Yes…well, I’m Daphne. Thank you so much for sharing your fine gift, Miyoko.”

She gave me a good smile as her parents came forward, the faces made friendly with kind eyes. Then my old and new neighbors started to clap, the light, sharp sounds a lovely syncopation, filling the evening like bright confetti. Arthur barked in glee, I suspected, and raced about in circles.

And I bowed, almost full of grace now, nice and easy, head low so a vagrant tear would fall away, my trembling arms high above my head, heart and hands to sky.