~ This essay was first published in Alaska Quarterly Review (2007).
She’s standing on the bridge that spans Six Mile Creek, where the flats on the city’s south side begin. I see her from a block’s distance, milling about the steel guardrail, hands free of the baby stroller a few feet away. The stroller looks skeletal from behind, thinly padded and with few embellishments or conveniences. Its thin canopy is stretched forward against an absent sun.
You probably can’t buy those new anymore, I think to myself, to the extent I’m thinking about it at all.
It’s well into November, and after having coffee in town I’m walking home along Cayuga Street—past Sam’s Wine & Spirits, past the public library and the APlus, where you can refuel with gas or candy, past the Holiday Inn and its faint piped-out music. The Inn faces the new municipal parking garage where once, from the sidewalk, I mistook a security camera pointed down the glass-enclosed stairwell for a telescope aimed at the hills. For this is where my mind begins to loosen up, where purpose yields to possibility now that the errands are done and my civic persona has receded a bit—sensing, without being conscious of it, that I’m no longer likely to run into anyone I know, if there's anyone to run into.
“It certainly is cold this morning!” the woman says, turning toward me when I reach the bridge. She’s wearing a white quilted ski jacket that makes her seem bold.
“It certainly is,” I respond, passing briskly by because of it. I dip my head toward the carriage, though, the corners of my mouth beginning to pull up.
Nothing, not even a doll.
“Where’s the baby,” I almost blurt before I catch myself. The question is almost pure reflex, but I’m afraid it will come out sounding meddlesome—or, worse, accusatory. And so I continue silently on, barely breaking my stride.