Standing in the brilliant cold sun, I grip the large golden ball of the door knob and twist. It is locked. The voice of a man speaking with care comes from behind me.
“I know you asked for a pink balloon, but can you play with a white one?”
I turned seeing a young man on the sidewalk handing a 2 year old child a white balloon which she accepts with a smile and trots down the street to where several children of many sizes play various games with balloons. The young man glances over at me and shrugs, puts his hands in his pockets and strolls after the child.
As I stand watching the children bat and chase balloons, clouds gather, hiding the sun moved by a damp breeze smelling of ocean decay and immensity that blows intermittently, sometimes barely noticeable other times strong enough that I can lean into it and maintain my balance. Across the street beyond a little parking lot there is a bright orange potting shed with a window cut in the shape of star. Tendrils of low drifting clouds encircle a church spire one or two blocks past the little shed. In the other the direction I see the golden trees have made a carpet of leaves over the sidewalk as the more distant clouds darken as they overlap to the horizon. The colors and shapes of seem to fit into a space in my mind like a puzzle, maybe of a sunflower leaning against a pumpkin on a rocky beach.
I look at my watch and see I will have to hurry to meet my friend at the station at our appointed time. I have no time to get something for my head and stomach. I must walk at a brisk pace over the golden carpet of fallen leaves under the swaying maples that lean out overhead. Small spatters of rain filter between the branches. As I navigate the names of legendary beasts. I am trying to imagine what my old friend looks like as I have not seen her for many years. How many now? At least ten. I last saw her at a conference held in the city I lived in at the time. She will either have grey hair or will be dying it. Will she have gained weight or maybe she is thinner, as I am, becoming fitter with age.
I arrive at the station just as the clouds unleash a furious downpour. I lift my overcoat over my head and dash for the doors, sliding between two people who stand gazing out at the sheets of blowing water they will face when they move outside. I drop my coat around my shoulders and look around for the person I knew so many years before. The station’s vaulted glass dome, supported by massive bare black girders and truss work, makes for an immense airy space over which the arrhythmic hissing slash of the rain whispers and mutters like a suspicious crowd. There are very few people waiting either to be picked up or depart on a train bound for some other station perhaps in another city grey with age.
“Is that you, M__,” A female voice from behind me says. Turning I see my friend, much changed but recognizable. It seems odd that I picked out several likely women from among those in front of me waiting in the station, but none of them now look anything like my friend. Even though I do not have a good picture in my mind of her, I am able to recognize her immediately when I see her in front of me. She looks older and more brittle. She had always seemed a bit thin and stretched. Now she had taken on a harder quality.
“It’s me,” I say smiling. “You’re looking fit.”
“You mean thin. But, you are always the kind one.”
“Only to those who deserve kindness, I can be a real asshole if you get on my bad side.”
“I am so glad you came. Now this conference will be much more enjoyable.”
“I agree, but at the moment my head is splitting and my stomach feels like a washing machine on spin cycle.”
“You do look a bit pale and drawn. Let’s find the hotel and settle in and find you something. I have so much to tell you. I am so sorry for not writing or calling more. Now that I am with you I feel like you are one of the people I should have reached out to more often.”
“Distance does funny things to friendships. I feel the same way.”
I take one of her bags and we head for the now dripping exterior as the sun finds a hole in the clouds and streaks of light strike the industrial building across the road.
“Is it close or should we take a cab?” I ask.
“The hotel is by the university all the way across town.”
“I have never been here before. But what am I thinking. I have to go get my luggage from the locker. If you wait here, it’ll only take a second, and we won’t have to lug these back and forth.”
We find the hotel and agree to meet in the bar after stowing our bags and composing ourselves after a long day of travel.
“Do you remember what I used to tell you about my past?” She says stirring her drink with a small red straw.
“I remember you telling me that you could only remember disconnected facts but never actual experiences.”
“Yes, as if someone told me about my childhood.” She says. “Well, I finally found my sister. Do you remember I was looking for my siblings, Peter and Margo?”
“Yes, I do, and I remember that you weren’t having a lot of luck in your quest.”
“Well I found Margo in Amsterdam about 3 years ago, thanks to the work of a detective I hired. He was a thoroughly unpleasant man, but totally worth his pay.”