By Reni Roxas
Another Friday afternoon in Edmonds. My watch says I have fourteen minutes till the post office closes. I come bounding down two flights of stairs, a new titanium hip joined to my pelvis, a Priority Mail box lodged under my left arm.
Then I see her…not three yards from the bottom of the staircase, halting my bionic flight.
She is standing slightly askew at the doorway to our apartment building, her feet not all that perpendicular to her spine. In one hand she is carrying a walking cane. In the other she has in her unsteady grasp two sprigs, each sprouting three or four young leaves.
She must be in her early 60s and her bones, like a precarious tower of kiddie blocks, appear ready to collapse any minute. She is trying desperately to get her ungainly, disobedient body past the door and out of my way. Her movement is slow and disjointed, as if her thoughts have never held hands, as if her feet had not spoken to each other in a while.
Perhaps buffeted by the swoosh of wind tailing my descent, she manages to maneuver out of the doorway and make it to the center of the foyer as I zoom past her.
I grab the doorknob. In a second I could be outside. But something stops me. I decide to stay. I turn to look at her.
“Hi,” I say.
Thirteen minutes till the post office closes. It’s Friday. Traffic.
My unexpected greeting must have startled her.
She drops her cane.
Her other hand jerks involuntarily. The two sprigs fall and land on the cheap, thin, gray carpet.
I pick up her cane, handing it back to her. I bend to pick up one of the two sprigs and give that to her.
I bend again to get the second sprig. But already I see a problem.
Poor woman, she is stepping on the leaves with her right shoe.
What do I do now? The woman isn’t budging.
Hey, lady, move. You’re stepping on your own twig!
I think it. I don’t say it.
Instead I tell her, “Now if I can only get this from under your foot….”
My hand is poised, hovering next to the offending black shoe. I am ready and she knows it. The woman takes a deep breath. She leans on her cane as if her whole life depends on it. With a herculean effort, she lifts her foot. I instantly pull the twig out from under it. Straightening, I hand her the second sprig with a smile. All the leaves are intact.
She receives the twig gratefully.
“I stole these,” she says ruefully, darting a glance at me.
“Oh, I do that, too,” I tell her, thinking of the couple of occasions I, also, have engaged in outdoor floral thievery.
She smiles. I notice her face is contorted, like a part of it has gone away and never returned.
Then she says, “We’ve—never, been—been….introduced.” It pains me to hear the words fighting for space on her tongue.