Her deeply creased skin did nothing to detract from her beauty. Her cheekbones were high and pronounced, giving her an elegant appearance. Her large brown eyes wandered and it was apparent that when they were once more alert, they were her best feature. But now, nearing ninety, they gaze, with the water collecting in them making them appear dull. Several times a week, she struggles to walk the two tree-lined blocks under the cloudy Pacific Northwest sky to the bus stop near the brick elementary school where she was once a bright and eager student. She rarely speaks, unless necessary. “Who wants to engage with such an old woman?” she thinks. So, she sits silently, pulling her rosy pink wool coat tightly around her and with her wrinkled and arthritic hands displaying her veins through skin so thin it resembles rice paper, she slowly and methodically pushes each gold colored button with a pearly white center through its corresponding hole until she is sufficiently warm and then waits in the chill of the early morning air for her bus to arrive.
She sometimes delays her trips until the afternoon, busying herself at home with small tasks to fill the hours of the morning and early afternoon that now seem much longer after her husband Robert’s passing. She times her departure to arrive at the bus stop just before school ends for the day, and there, on the hard bus stop bench, she watches the children racing out of school, clustered together to form many small groups of friends, with some of the girls in ponytails and pretty dresses holding hands, and with the noise of excited chatter that can only be created by children disrupting her mundane thoughts as it invades the deep canals of her ears and makes its way to where her memories are stored. She assigns names to each of the children as they pass by, picking out this one or that one who reminds her of a friend she once had and then envisioning herself as the girl next to her, holding her hand and whispering secrets into her ear.
She is particularly fond of the girl she has named, Emily. Emily, she thinks, such a sweet-sounding name. Sweet, humble, and honest. Like her sister-in-law who once lived next door to her, each of them in their own “Storybook” house, or as many called Anna’s, the “Hansel and Gretel house” complete with a Storybook garage where Robert would park his olive green Buick Eight when he arrived back home from work.
So many years ago. A lifetime, she thinks, since she has seen Emily. Emily and John, Robert’s brother, had moved three thousand miles away to Maine, where Emily was born. Oh, we had so much to talk about. Such delightful conversations, she thinks. Our children, husbands, the wonderful stories we read, and the pretty dresses we saw in the downtown’s best shop. She sits, lost in her memories, forgetting the children around her, and smiles when she forms the image of the dress Emily had made for her, a flattering sleeveless red belted one, with a small print of abstract white flowers with sky blue centers. It was a replicate of the one in the downtown shop window, one she felt she simply had to have, but when she asked Robert, he informed her that he had to take a pay cut at the bank, that all the employees had. It was the bank’s last hope of remaining in business two years after Black Monday.
A horn honks. She snaps out of her reverie. She is surprised to see there are still children walking by. Perhaps these are the bad ones, the ones who had to stay after school. Yes, that must be it because here she comes. Here comes Henrietta. A girl with a short brown bob walks by, a cute one, with a faint sprinkle of freckles across her roundish nose and under her eyes, and for a pleasing contrast against the lightness of her skin, naturally ruby colored lips curling up at the corners to form a subtle smile. Oh, but don’t be fooled, she’s mean, just like my sister Etta. She chases the boys and pulls the girls’ pigtails. A real loudmouth, too. Bossy. Always telling me what to do. Oh, but she was always on best behavior for Daddy. Anna’s face grows dark and her large, round brown eyes transform into slender almonds. A real angel. Daddy’s little girl.
Oh, but isn’t that Tom? Why, yes it is! Anna’s face quickly relaxes into its natural expression. A rugged, if not slightly dirty boy is nearing her. He more resembles a boy who is emerging from a game of hide-and-seek in the woods than one from a day spent in school. Oh, my sweet Tom. What a dear boy. And doesn’t he look just like Robert? I just knew the first time I held him in my arms he was something special. How long ago was that now? Oh yes, that’s right. Tom would be sixty-five if those guerillas in Vietnam hadn’t gotten him. My poor, dear boy. The water that is permanently collected in her eyes swells to the point of making contact with her lashes. She sits there, stunned, as if she had just received the news from the officer who had come to visit her in her Storybook house on that dark day.
A loud, familiar sound approaches her. Then the squeak of an automated door and a man’s booming voice startles her out of her fog. “Getting on?” he asks.
“Why, yes. Why, yes; I am. I have errands to do.”
“I’m Robert,” the driver said; “Let me help you up.” Anna, delighted to see him, took Robert’s arm as he helped her inside his olive-green Buick Eight. They drove past the school and toward downtown to buy the pretty dress that had just been hung in the downtown shop’s window.