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Esther Boles

At eight thirty she is on the sidewalk dressed in high heels, slacks, a silk blouse and blazer. The silk may not be exactly silk, and what she wears over it may not always be exactly a blazer, but it’s formal –more formal than a cardigan. Her hair is up, and she wears dark glasses. There’s a bus stop at the end of the street, where she waits for the bus. She’s a receptionist at a veterinarian clinic. One of the vets is a lady vet who specializes in wild animals. A heavy set fellow does mostly house calls, and another one is slumped over, and tall, and wears a beard, and there are assistants and interns as well. I have gone in to see Alice, but no one from the clinic has ever come here. She used to be married to Greg Mallory, who was always tying long, skinny boats and things to the top of the car. But he left and she stayed. She kept renting the house, I mean. Luckily she was already working. You’re still young, I tell her, but she doesn’t listen. Even on Sundays she works a half day.
What?” I said out loud, taking the croissant out of my mouth.
I don’t think Alfred heard me. I got up with my cup and saucer and went and stood behind the drapes. My watch said seven thirty five. The cup rattled and nearly fell off the saucer when I checked the time, but I don’t think Alfred heard that either. She was on the other side of the street, as though she didn’t want to be seen, wearing –oh, my Nelly– boots and work pants! And a big sweater. She had dark glasses on (heaven knows why at that hour), and her hair was just barely in a pony tail. With my free hand I teased the curtains aside, shifting to stay behind them. Even when I was young, I never had that much hair. Gosh, and that sweater! So big and ungainly. Jeepers.
“What day is it?”
No response.
I counted: Tuesday, October fourth. A work day. Alice was an hour early. She got on the bus and it went roaring away. The bus stop became quiet and deserted again. The light up and down the street was smoky.
“I don’t understand.”
There was a rattling sound on the other side of the newspaper, and the rasp and cough of Alfred clearing his throat. Then his voice: “What?” he growled.
“Alice has gone to work already.”
He was right.
Normally I vacuum once he has gone, and I did, but that day I almost forgot to call in for produce. “No tomatoes,” I told the boy on the phone, “last Friday, you brought a double order.”
It was Tuesday, and I made cinnamon rolls. The whole house was full of the smell of yeast and cinnamon. Much later, when I needed to roast the ham, the oven still smelled of yeast and cinnamon. I put the ham in anyway and made scalloped potatoes and a beet salad with sliced oranges.
At five thirty I take the goldfish out, and that day we went all the way down to the end of the block and back the other side. We took our time. The shadows were gliding softly over the bowl. Leaves were falling from the maple trees. People like to plant other trees now. Red maples are very popular. The goldfish loves to be out. It likes the change of light. We sat by the bus stop for a while and watched a few people coming and going. Around the corner we stopped by the stone lady outside the tobacco shop. She holds a hollow jug which she empties onto the sidewalk. She has always been there, but she must have come from somewhere else. Her bare feet rest on a crack in the sidewalk. I used to wonder if she would budge if I tried to move her.
It was dark when Alice finally came home. Alfred and I had finished eating a while ago. The dishes were washed, and I was polishing the coloured glass on the vestibule windows, on either side of the front door. As soon as I saw her I opened the door and called out, “Hello! Would you like some Cocoa?”
She stopped on the sidewalk, surprised and blinking at the light.
I stepped onto the doormat and pulled the door half closed behind me. “You must be so tired,” I said, “Did you lose your job? You won’t find anything dressed like that.”
She frowned. “I haven’t lost my job,” she said, glancing down at her muddy pants and crumpled sweater. I could tell she was smiling. Don’t ask me how, in the dark, but I could tell. “You can congratulate me,” she said, “I’ve been promoted.”
“P-Promoted?” I stammered, and I was afraid I wouldn’t be able to hear everything that she was saying, but when she spoke, her voice was clear, like running water.
“That’s right,” she said, showing her teeth, “I’m a Veterinarian’s Assistant.”
“Assistant! Whose?”
“Dr. Goodwin’s.” With a little wave she started down the walkway that leads to her house. “I’ll tell you about it later,” she said, calling quietly over her shoulder.
Alfred was watching television, sunk in his chair, with his pipe. I could see him from the stairs. I went into the upstairs bathroom but I left the door open and I didn’t turn on the light. There, on the mirror was the image of Dr. Goodwin’s face. A long, possum face, with a long pink nose and beady eyes. She was overweight, like me. You hardly ever saw her at the clinic because she doesn’t attend to pets. I don’t see how you can have a practice with just wild animals. Who pays? She must be subsidized by someone. Maybe a golf club.
Alfred is watching the news. I close the bedroom door. The moon is flooding the windows like a car-wash. The street down below is shadowy, and quiet. There are two people waiting at the bus stop. Where are they going so late at night? What are they waiting for?
They are waiting for the bus. You can’t see Alice’s house from here, but I suppose she is sleeping. She was so tired. Outside the windows the maples roll and sway, and fidget, and the wind combs through their long, skinny branches. Their stringy, knobby branches that hang from a third story window to a second story window, whinging and moaning. When I hunch down to unlace my boots they are cold, and covered in mud. Oh, my Nelly! Where have you been? What was it? What did you find? What did you find? What did you find? I reach for the hairbrush on my dresser but my fingers get caught. The teeth are small. The brush falls. I seize my finger. Later she’ll tell me about it. A pair of headlights are shining in the mirror.