You wait for the light to turn green. The air smells like rain. The light changes. Hurry, but be careful. The wheels of the walker catch in a pothole. Lift it up and quickly, quickly . . . cars so close with their heavy rumbles, urging you faster . . . the light now yellow and you’re only midway. Your bladder gives up and you can feel the diaper getting heavy. Cars zip behind you. The first raindrops touch your head as you lift the walker onto the curb.
Take a moment, catch your breath. A spray of birds explodes like confetti against the gray sky as if to applaud your triumph. You remember the day Ted took Charlie duck hunting. How worried you were that he was too young to join the killing game that men seem to love. And then the excitement on his face when he dragged in the bird for you to see, and Ted shaking his head and smiling with an I-told-you-so look.
It is sprinkling. If you catch cold it will go to pneumonia and then you will go to the hospital again. Wheel forward quickly. Your head is getting wet. Hurry into the 7-Eleven. You cross the threshold and a buzzer makes a loud sound. The man behind the counter is new. He is a Jap. You must not think of him this way, they are not our enemy now. Hurrying has made you tired, so very tired. He comes over and offers you a chair. You look faint, he says. It is a folding metal chair. How will you get up from such a flimsy thing? But you are tired, and if you fainted here it would be bad, they would take you to the hospital. So you hold onto the walker, hoping it will not roll away when you tip back to sit. The Jap holds the chair as you fall heavily downward. There. You are sitting. You can take a moment, catch your breath.
He is handing you a can of soda and talking about his mother. Your hand shakes but you swallow from the can. The sting of the bubbles comes into your nose. Some of the soda goes down your blouse, into your brassiere. The soggy diaper gives off a sour smell. You would like to be home, dry and warm. You would like to be in bed watching Oprah.
The man is asking you something. His face is only inches from yours. His teeth are stained and his breath stinks of garlic. Is there someone he could call? You don’t know the neighbors yet. Charlie is teaching seventh graders in a community you have never heard of. The Jap is asking should he call a taxi. He wants to call a taxi to take you home. He wants you to leave now.
You do not have any money because the bank machine was broken. You cannot pay for a taxi. You cannot pay for this soda. And the soda has made your bladder full again. No, you tell him, and thank you for the chair, the soda. He helps you up, his garlic breath covering you, talking about his mother and taxis and the weather. You look outside and see that it has stopped raining. You can make it if it is not raining.
Roll the walker right through the puddles. You feel angry again about the broken bank machine. Now you will have to wait until Sunday when Charlie comes with the groceries and petty cash. And you will have to wait until he leaves before you can go out for cigarettes, since he would get angry if he knew you still smoked. A whole generation who don’t smoke. You think of that red package of Pall Malls always sticking out of Ted’s shirt pocket; sitting together on the porch drinking scotch rocks and smoking Pall Malls. Then inside onto the bed. His mouth on your skin.
Your shoes rub against your swollen feet and if your feet get wet, you will catch your death . . . you hear your mother warning you. It has been a long time since you have thought of her, and now you can imagine her voice and her words, but you cannot remember how she looked that day when it rained so much and your feet got wet and she took your temperature. You cannot remember if she was wearing glasses then. You can only remember her as she was at the end, an old woman, lying in a hospital, her faded hair on the pillow.
You see the apartment. Suddenly you do not want to go inside, into the cramped space that Charlie has chosen for you. You think of your house in Glendale with its rolling lawn and wide driveway. You remember Ted playing basketball with Charlie in the summer and how the thump against the wall boomed into the kitchen. You would bring out lemonade and sit under the sycamore and marvel that Ted could keep up now that Charlie was so tall.
You face the steps. There is something on the railing, a soggy rag, or maybe a handkerchief. It is trimmed in red. Maybe it’s silk. Tuck it inside your pocket. Now, fold the walker. With your other hand, pull yourself up and be careful to hold tight. One more step and . . . push open the door and lean the walker against the wall. Close the door and hold onto the table until you reach your chair. Collapse onto it. Here you are, you made it. It is warm inside and smells of cinnamon and coffee. The clock and the refrigerator hum together.
You need to get out of these shoes and socks. You need to get a new diaper. But first take a moment, catch your breath. You remember the little red-edged scarf. You take it from your pocket and smooth it out on your lap. In the middle is a dragon in front of a mountain. All around the mountain are drawings of naked people. Each little drawing shows a naked man and a naked woman bending this way and that, tangled together. You turn the scarf around and see writing: 48-WAYS. You study the little figures again, naked men and women. Forty-eight ways to screw! Yes, that’s it! There are 48 different ways to screw and each one is on this silky scarf! Oh, how you wish you could show this to Ted. Wouldn’t he get a kick out of it. For the first time today you laugh, laugh so hard tears come and you feel your diaper filling again. But this time it doesn’t bother you. The very fact of it makes you laugh harder.