An old woman went by, pushing a baby carriage, wearing a long coat and a toque and runners, unlaced. I stood on the arm of a small t because the door to our building opened at its side and you had to walk down that path to the sidewalk. In the shade, in my shorts and sleeveless shirt, I shivered, waiting for the old woman to pass by. Clink clink. It was beer bottles inside the carriage clinking. The old woman didn’t look at me; as far as I could tell she hadn’t seen me. She pushed on by, her feet dragging in the unlaced running shoes. Eventually (it took a long time) she vanished, but her sounds went on, the sounds of her feet dragging on the cement, and the wheels creaking, and the bottles clinking.
“Whatever will be will be. Kay Serahserah.” I sang it several times. It was more of a whisper than a song the way I sang it. It hardly brushed against the air. I knew I couldn’t carry a tune. On the other hand, I liked my version best. Feeling like Kay, gloomily I walked down the arm of the t and reached the sidewalk and scanned out there for its shortcuts to personal misery and despair.
“Look at all those kind faces,” my mother said when we walked past Kerrody schoolyard on their last day of school. The teacher and the kids were holding hands and racing around in a big circle. “They will all be your friends soon,” she said. And it was true none of them looked mean even though some of them ran faster and tugged harder and pulled the circle tighter against the slower kids. None of them looked worried, either, but it might have been that they were moving too fast for worry to be seen.
Across the street the wide windows of the Red and White store told people to buy the soap we had in our bathroom, also the canned tomatoes in the pyramid display and Coca-Cola. To my right small businesses lined the way to what was known as the top of the street, although the incline was too slight to be called a hill even in that prairie town. To my left the sidewalk ran downwards in more of a hurry to get to the bottom. Halfway down, the old woman had halted. She had positioned her carriage crosswise, butting it against the butcher shop, apparently to keep it from rolling on its own, and without the conveyance to encumber her she was walking slowly back towards me. Like something out of history walking slowly back towards me. No one else was around on the wide street or on the sidewalks either side of it and the emptiness had an uneasy edge to it. The old woman’s face wore a wary expression, with none of the confidence common to adults when they approach a kid. I knew her name because she was famous in the town, more famous than Awful Ivy and for more reasons. With Merle and the kidlet, before we’d moved into the suite above the doctor’s office, and were just casing the joint, as Merle put it, I had watched her trundle her carriage below the big second-floor window at the end of our new kitchen.
“For your mother,” Bea Ek said.
I backed a step away.
“Hang on a minute.” Bea Ek fumbled in a limp cloth bag that she had made herself years ago. It had sequins sewn all over it. Many of them dangled from their threads like bright baby teeth that wanted to fall out. Triumphantly, at last (it took ages), she handed me half a comb. It was half a men’s comb, small and black, meant to fit into a pocket, and it was filthy with bits of greasy grit plastered between the tines. “Found it on the sidewalk. She’ll know what to do with it,” Bea Ek said.
“Thank you,” I said.
Merle did know what to do with it. She took hold of it with the tips of her fingers and threw it into the garbage, and then the two of us went into the new blindingly clean bathroom and washed our hands with the perfumed soap. “Stay away from Bea,” Merle advised.