After a Couple Years, You Can Distinguish All the Sirens
Ingrid, she is the kind of woman who shows up drunk wherever. Her kids go off to school with lunches like they was planned by throwing darts at a picture of a kitchen—yogurt and chopped egg salad and shit, little dill pickles in a zip lock bag. My grandchildren say they trade with them, their hot lunch for their cold, cuz they like dill pickles. But Ingrid comes always late to the bus stop, huffing. We have our own problems and she’s always sulking, acting like she sick of everything, always on her new phone, complaining even having to wait for the bus to come. You see, the streets fill up with the school traffic, and coal trucks run through here, and you have to peer behind a train of cars and try to scan the buildings for spots of color.
Ingrid don’t see the city the same way as I do—wild as anything—but weekly routine keeps us together. We stand right here in this kiosk with separated benches waiting for the bus to bump over the hill and for the kids to cluster bright and noisy around. For now we wait, the plexiglass windows fishbowl around the streetcorner. We avoid eye contact with everyone who passes because they all look in, but most of all we dont look at each other. We listen to music that comes from the windows of idling cars at the light and wait in the shelter for our kids.
Ingrid loves the casino and the liquor store and having me babysit and the thousand-dollar-a-month apartment complexes with bus service to local destinations and tennis courts and acreage, for christsakes. I can appreciate how even the city is wild. I tell her how I see the wildness from my stoop, in the young people walking their dogs by, in the coal trucks. Just this morning I knew that today would be the first real day of autumn, not the equinox. I felt the fall pulsing deep in my bones that morning, felt the brisk wind brush back my hair. Even the way my grandbabies feet remained cold after they had put on their yellow boots, I feel nature in the city.
I had huddled in my robe over a cup of dark coffee and a cigarette in the other hand this morning, too. I was feeling the familiar ache in my wrists, but glad for the public school, for the arrival of fall, the arrival of a break.
I hope Ingrid was glad for it, too. When youre a mom, things stretch out but move fast in retrospect. When you’re a grandma, it just move fast. God came to my friend Latrelle Perkins who was on drugs real bad when she was in the stationery aisle at Kroger. It wasnt like she was on drugs at the store, or that she actually saw Him—not really, anyway. She was scanning the backlit shelves for an Easter card or two—one that suited her daughter Trisha, maybe—when the lights flickered off. The security video showed that she fell back into a rack of romance novels and hit her head on the cool tile floor. The paramedics told her she fainted. But by the time she'd drank a plastic cup of water and pulled her purse across her chest, she knew what she had to do.
A car alarm is always going off here, or a fire alarm. After a couple years, you can distinguish all the sirens. Listen. Ambulance. Ingrid doesn’t flinch from her phone when the box-shaped mail truck calls twice, backing up, almost brushing the bus stop. She doesn’t even move her head when in some apartment above the street, a child shouts “Mom,” like a question. “Mom?” The child’s voice like the song of a cricket.
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