"You sure you want to get off at this stop?" the bus driver asked again. She nodded. He shrugged. The door opened, and she stepped down to the curb. The bus pulled away in a rush of sound and exhaust fumes leaving her alone on the corner.
She peered up the familiar, old block of two-story flats, now mostly shadows and silhouettes in the gathering twilight. Something seems different from this morning when I left for school, she thought. The houses look shabbier than ever, but, then, they've always looked shabby. Scrubby Dutch clean inside, though, as Mama always says. Better get started. Mama will be waiting supper. She shivered as the cold wind whipped about her. Her headache began to pound again.
She hurried up the block toward the next corner, footsteps echoing in the stillness of the evening. Overhead, leafless tree limbs intertwined to form a lacework of black against the darkening gray of the sky. Strong gusts churned the leaves on the sidewalk and stung her face.
She drew up her collar and clutched the worn, black coat more closely about her. The cold must be keeping the neighbors inside, she supposed. Not a soul in sight. Ahead, she saw a gas company truck parked at the curb in front of her flat, the only vehicle on the block. She looked up at the second floor window where Mama usually watched for her. That's odd, the light's not on, she thought. No lights in any of the houses, and no street lights on either. Ah, that's what was different;the electricity must have gone out in the neighborhood. But then, shouldn't that truck be from the electric company instead of the gas company?
She climbed the six, worn, wooden steps to the front porch. As she reached the top step, the door to Mrs. Zucker¡¯s flat opened, and a burly, uniformed man stepped out, startling her.
"Is there a gas problem in Mrs. Zucker's flat?" she asked. The gas man looked at her, surprise lifting his bushy eyebrows.
"Ain¡'t no Mrs.Whozit here," he said. "Ain¡'t nobody here."
She stared at him. "You must be mistaken. She was here this morning. My mother and I have been her upstairs neighbor for years."
The man shook his head. Her headache pounded even worse than before, and she could feel the confusion lurking behind it like a robber ready to strike. She began to stammer, something she had not done since she was seven years old. "M-My m-mother - She's upstairs. She'll tell you that M-Mrs.Zucker lives here."
She brushed passed the man, reached for the doorknob, then stopped. Staring back at her in the etched glass panel of the door was her mother¡¯s face.
"M-Mama, is that you?" she asked. She raised her hand to the glass. The image in the panel did the same. "Mama?"
She touched the glass pane, then her own cheek. Suddenly, like fog whipped away by the wind, the confusion vanished. The pounding in her head subsided, and in that instant, she understood. She touched the door again. My old flat...after so many years, she thought. How did I manage to get all the way here?
"Lady, ain't nobody in any of these flats. Gonna tear down the whole block," the man was saying. "You shouldn't even be in this neighborhood alone."
Desperately, she tried to cling to that precious moment of clarity even as it began to crack and splinter.
"Please, not yet," she whispered.
She opened her purse, pulled out a dog-eared card and handed it to the man. "Will you help me?" she asked. "This is where I live now."
The man looked at the card. "
She nodded, fingertips pressing her temple. Her headache had returned, and with each throb pieces of her newly-returned awareness were rapidly breaking away like shards from a shattered mirror.
"Wait¡¦please! Oh, God," she cried.
"Lady, you all right?" the man asked. "Lady?"
She stood there staring at him, but her eyes were as vacant now as the dark windows in the empty houses around them.
BIO: I recently retired from a lifetime of writing non-fiction. Now I'm writing with more pleasure than ever, and--what a change--with no expectation of payment. My work has appeared in Cricket Magazine, Ascent Aspirations, Artisan, and EWG Presents.
Motivation: At my time of life, old age and its accompanying problems, both physical and mental, are not too far in the future. This is a glimpse of what could happen.