It’s six thirty on a Tuesday night and I’m sitting on my porch. A man strides down the sidewalk pushing a baby carriage. A baby carriage. He’s wearing shorts and swinging his legs in long, zesty steps.
I’m still wearing the black pants, grey sweater, and burgundy coat that I donned at seven a.m. but now my feet feel pinched and burn inside my Danskos. I’ve got a bowl of falafel pieces that I barely warmed in the microwave and a clay glass of cold water. A novel lies forgotten in my lap. I watch the guy with his kid, and I’m nearly breathless with sentiment.
A father. In shorts. Out walking his child in a baby carriage on a Tuesday in late May.
A little while later I remember a text from my son. I’ve been sending him snaps of everything in the house in advance of the family reunion, asking if he wants anything from here. To one he replied, Chicago days, Hoboken nights. He answered my question mark with two words: “The book”.
Ah, yes. Daniel Pinkwater. So after I put my dishes in the sink, I go in search of the slim volume on one of the four shelves in the little front bedroom where I watch television, do my stepper, and spin small loads of clothes in the European unit. Sure enough, there, just above reach — but no, I can ease it down and catch it right before it hits my forehead.
And a card falls out.
It’s from someone named Mark, sent nine years ago this weekend, to somebody in Prairie Village, Kansas. It says, among other things, that he loves their life. That she looked so pretty when they parted. That he loves her so.
I stand in the dimness of the hallway, between my dining room and the dark upstairs, and wonder if they’re still together. Oh God, I think, and it’s a prayer, not blasphemy. Please let them still be together.
The muscle in my left arm twitches with an intermittent stab that I’ve decided is not a heart attack. I take the book into the dining room to add it to the pile of things that will ride with me to St. Louis. I find the present that I’m bringing for my niece Josephine, who came into our family after my mother died. I want to distribute among my nieces the mementos of my mother’s life that I’ve been hoarding for thirty-two years. The first to leave will be a lidded dish that I’m taking as a bridal gift for Josephine, one of my brother Frank’s adopted daughters. She never knew my mother. I think they would have been great friends.
I carry the postcard upstairs, wondering about the mysterious author, Mark, and his pretty woman. At the top of the steps, I have to lean against the doorway, chest heaving. Darkness gathers outside the window. I draw another jagged breath, cross to the desk, and prop the card against my mirror. It’s from the Oregon Coast but inexplicably bears a Denver postmark. One of the stamps depicts a piece of Navajo jewelry. Above the address a single word has been scrawled — a first name. Yeenie.
He loves their life. Breathless.
It’s night-time on the twenty-third day of the forty-first month of My Year Without Complaining. Life continues.