She shook a metal can at me. I guessed it was filled with rocks because her ripped coat and layers of tattered clothing told me she couldn’t have had coins in the box. But maybe she did. That could’ve been where she kept her life’s savings. She didn’t seem to have a mattress or a home. She didn’t even have a cart or a box; just her tattered clothes and the metal box.
She appeared not to mind. She was happy shaking her rock box at me as I watched her through the Pret A Manager window on William IV Street. The sudden London rain drained the outside seating and we were all huddled into to shop. Some of us where bumping elbows with each other trying to find our own niche. But she danced through the rain knowing I was watching her.
What she didn’t know was I was near tears looking at her face. I traveled thirty-five hundred miles to escape that face. The starlit blue eyes and the straight line lips were something I buried four months ago. This trip was for me to learn how to live the life of a motherless daughter. A big girl all grown up and alone. I wasn’t doing a very good job.
I blamed her for my lack of getting along. Here she was dancing for me. I knew it was for me because when the man next to me pointed out I’d made a new friend, my attention went solely to her. She danced more. She lifted her left foot in the air and skipped. She swirled her hips.
The police came and shuffled her down St. Martin’s Place. The man next to me smiled. I returned the favor. Not knowing what to say or do next, I turned back to The Daily Sun and continued reading the article about the National Union of Teachers, or as the articled referred to them, the NUT.
I read the same bunch of words four times. My eyes started to betray me and they were looking to match the weather drop for drop. The man gently touched my elbow, “Are you all right?”
I should’ve said yes and left it at that. He was only being a gentleman and probably had no interest in hearing all about my life. I tried shaking my head yes but my mouth had other plans. “No,” I stammered out.
“Here,” he handed me a napkin. I dabbed my cheeks. “Was it the woman?”
I didn’t have to explain it to him or anyone, but I knew I was going to spill it all out. “Yes.”
“I’m sure she didn’t mean any harm.”
I dived in. I told him about my mother, her illness, and her funeral four months ago. He listened and nodded at the appropriate times. “I guess you didn’t think you’d hear all that.”
He politely smiled. “It’s okay. Really.”
“It’s not okay.”
He interrupted me. “I’m sorry. I meant, I understand.”
“Yes, but.” I was cut off again by his hand patting mine.
“I lost someone close to me five months back.” I felt like an idiot. I was so consumed by my own loss; I had forgotten others might have been in the same boat with me trying to find their sea legs. I wanted to ask for all the details. Who was it? How’d they die? What was the funeral like? Did he trip into an opened grave like I did? What color was the coffin? Instead of asking my questions, I waited for him to continue. “My wife.” He went for his wallet and pulled out a picture. His wife was beautiful. Her hair was a lovely dark chestnut and her hazel eyes sparkled with laughter and love. I felt like saying anything was wrong and saying she was beautiful was worse. I went with, “I’m so sorry.”
“Yes, well, thanks.” He traced over the picture. Then remembering where he was, he put the picture back into its plastic casing and closed his wallet.
“I…” the rest of the words caught in my throaty. I watched him pick up his coffee and stare into the cup as if everything he ever needed was lying in the bottom of the mug. He was so lost in his thoughts; I felt it was only proper to leave him there.
Soon, the café started emptying out because the rain clouds drifted away. There were plenty of open seats, but neither of us moved. He swirled his coffee and I tried reading about the NUT.
He tapped me on my arm. I looked over at him and he pointed out into the street. She was back with a second can of rocks. She danced and sang a song we didn’t hear through the glass of the windows. He smiled first. I followed.
MM Wittle is a professor of writing with an MFA from Rosemont College in Creative Writing. The play, “Family Guidance” had a reading at the Walnut Street Theatre in Philadelphia, PA and was selected for an honorable mention at the 5th Annual Philadelphia Theatre Workshop’s Playwriting Competition. “The Education of Allie Rose” was a finalist in the Philadelphia Ethical Society Playwriting competition and was shortlisted in the Windsor Fringe Kenneth Branagh Award for New Drama in England. MM’s work has appeared in Nailpolish Stories, Transient, The Bond Street Review, and is forthcoming in The Fox Chase Review. For the past seven years, MM has been a fiction board member of the local non-profit literary magazine, Philadelphia Stories and is now a PS Books Poetry and Creative Nonfiction editor.