“That must be Lauren’s nurse, and her daughter that had the husband who had to go somewhere or something,” Samantha thought, noticing the two women emerge from a shop across the street. Samantha’s lips moved slightly. “Never mind. It’s awfully strange to wear red shoes like that, on a day like this. Oh no,” Samantha exhaled, unable to tear her eyes from the women’s feet, until she became aware of the brand new earrings she wore and the brooch that matched. The thought of the harsh morning sun shattering over the blue stones and throwing shards of blue light over her cheeks and chest made her nearly delirious.
The Twenty-seven turned the corner and pulled a cold shadow over the jewels, extinguishing the memory of their glimmer, fortunately. Samantha needed all her concentration and complete bodily rigidity, for it was time to board the bus. A broken leg is a thing a bus will give you without thinking twice. She held out her arm stiffly for the driver to take. The first seat on the right belonged to Samantha.
“Those earrings are gorgeous.”
Samantha did not raise her eyes from the zipper of her purse that was made to shut only when tremendous force was applied.
“They must be new.”
“Where under the sun did you find such fabulous earrings, Samantha? And a pin to match.”
Samantha let the zipper go, irritated by the voice. She pulled at the short, straight hair that grew from her head and glanced up quickly so her eyes might not get locked.
“I’m sure they were gift. You are showered in gifts – more than any woman I have ever known. Was it your birthday recently?”
The word birthday had its own luminescence that allowed Samantha to always find it, even within a great tundra of words. Samantha opened her eyes wide to take in the face of this woman while the other passengers averted their gaze in embarrassment.
“It’s not Samantha’s birthday. Not until June,” a boy called out from the back.
“June 23rd,” Samantha confirmed, indignantly. “Louis’ son’s fiancé, and Chelsea have the same exact birthday.”
“Will you have a party?”
“I love your sweater.”
“It’s from New York City.”
“Oh my – I love the shoulders.”
This person had a shrill musical voice and Samantha imagined she shimmered like the women who sing on TV, with their handsome vests and hair like streamers. The voice was irritating but Samantha did not want to shove the chest that made that bird sound, no – with urgency Samantha desired to look at the woman who would be radiant and jewel-like. Samantha threw back her head far too fast and her eyes were knocked deep in her large head. From there they could still see the bus and the passengers and the woman with the voice who was plain with dull skin and hair and who was fat even, though all these things were far away now, out of reach from Samantha, all alone and muffled inside her head. Samantha could not even feel disappointed by the plainness of the woman, for the sadness of being pushed back and alienated from the scene was so familiar. With closed eyes Samantha jolted her head towards her lap repeatedly until the eyes began to loosen.
“How you doing today, Samantha?”
“Oh Barney!” The familiar face put Samantha at ease.
“Cold enough for you?” Barney teased.
“Oh plenty!” Samantha replied, having understood his tone. As others caught on they laughed too. The atmosphere became light and festive, and Samantha noticed her friends all around. Some people think that taking the bus is difficult, but it comes easily to Samantha.
“How’s your sister, Marnie, right?” Samantha asked through the laughter. Barney’s family was like her own, full of names and birthdays.
“Right, Marnie’s doing just fine!”
“Bruno’s just fine!”
“How’s, oh dear, what’s his name? The one who broke the thing that was laying there just like that, like it wasn’t?”
“Jessie Joe. Jessie Joe is doing just fine.”
“And how’s Momphe?”
“Momphe is fine!”
“Wasn’t she going to New York City?”
“Yes! A while back. She had a fine time.”
“And her birthday is November 3rd, but she had to spend it that one time in the hospital when your father was sick, but he was fine after all. Just a fire alarm.”
“Thank goodness. How stupid to spend your birthday in the hospital!” Samantha laughed at the mere idea. “How’s Tanya?”
Barney filled her in, then remarked on Samantha’s impressive memory, and everyone agreed.
“I know.” Samantha agreed too.
A woman boarded the bus and could not wait, it seemed, to use her voice on Samantha. “How was dinner at your niece’s new house?” Sometimes people who Samantha could not recall ever having seen before spoke to Samantha, and knew a great deal about her too.
“Fine.” Samantha began to take everything out of her purse in pursuit of her lipstick. “Barry Manilow came out of the hospital in two days time, two days time and not a moment longer. We are a lucky lot!”
“A real lucky lot.”
“I’d bet Barry Manilow still remembers you. Don’t you think Samantha?”
“I don’t doubt it.”
The Twenty-seven neared the end of its route. Samantha returned all her things to her purse, except the lipstick, which Samantha had not found.
“It was so wonderful to see you this morning, Samantha!”
“Those are lovely earrings!”
As Samantha descended, she felt a firm hand on her shoulder.
“Don’t do anything I wouldn’t do!”
Samantha pondered for a moment, then saw the warm, mocking smile of her friend and admirer and understood. “Oh, no, Barney! Good bye!” Gulls loitered in the parking lot. They bathed in vast puddles covered in opaque blankets of morning sunlight. The gulls were thick, more white and powdery than marshmallows with fine grey and red details, and they were in Samantha’s way. As were the puddles they bathed in, but since Samantha was not a strong walker, her only option was to hobble through. This accomplished, nothing was left standing between Samantha and the Stationary and Gift Store. Samantha’s brow tightened in seriousness.
The store was covered in red and pink for the quickly approaching Valentine’s holiday. Samantha stopped to admire a fresh stock of candy hearts and adorable boxes of chocolates. Placed all around, her slightest motion ignited songs from the joyful devices. There were many songs playing at once, much squeaking of animatronics. Samantha had a very high tolerance for this type of commotion. She calmly picked out a heart shaped box of chocolates with a design of lifelike red roses, with pandas tucked in with the roses.
“Good morning, Samantha! I see you found our new inventory. I hope you like it.”
“Oh yes, I do.”
“Well good. We always have you in mind.”
“I do,” Samantha assured the woman as she walked to the greeting card isle. The greeting card isle was long and densely packed, and was the reason Samantha travelled this great distance on her swollen feet daily.
“Are you looking for Valentine’s Day cards, Samantha? Let me show you the new ones,” the clerk insisted.
“Oh my goodness.”
“Precious, right?” the clerk laughed so joyfully, Samantha could not help but join in. “And look at this one, it’s my favorite, hands down. You like dogs?”
“No, it’s ok,” Samantha tersely refused and put the card in her basket with the others.
“Your friends are the luckiest people in the world, Samantha. No one buys as many cards as you, and always the sweetest cards we have. ”
“Yes,” Samantha agreed. She did have so many friends, such a large family with cousins and nieces and nephews spread all over the map. Each had a first name and a last name, and a birthday, and each was related to Samantha in some way. For example, Kate’s relation to Samantha was sister, and Denis’s relation was nephew. Several more cards struck Samantha’s eye and she placed them in her basket.
“Anything else today?”
“Wrapping paper,” Samantha said moodily, in spite of herself.
The clerk showed Samantha to the wrapping paper, as if Samantha did not already know where it could be found.
Finding herself inside her apartment again, Samantha ate six candy bars to settle an old grudge with her sister. Or a newer grudge. She could not remember. Then she put the wrappers in a designated bag. Before this, the TV had been set to the news. All the bears and rabbits and frogs and too many types of animals to be named here were already in their correct places on the bed, so the only thing left was for Samantha to put away her purchases. Samantha sighed deeply, emphatically, for Samantha was a sigher if there ever was one. In the closet in which the purchases were to be put away, existed things that Samantha did not see even when she looked dead at them. No, they were not invisible, nor were they placed behind objects or in the shadows of objects. They lay there, untouched in plain sight, and even though Samantha looked at them, she no longer saw them. They were only photo albums. Long gone were the days of snapping pictures, of the TV, of the newscasters.
Samantha first removed the plastic from the tubes of wrapping paper, then she unraveled each roll, crumpling and condensing the paper as she went so they could be put away in their box, in the closet. Once completed, Samantha pulled out another cardboard box from the closet, nearly full of greeting cards. There Samantha placed the newest cards before replacing the box and shutting the closet door.