STREET SCENES by Laura Mason

Chicago Night

I walk down the street, leaving my car even further behind. Well, it's no good to me without my keys. But that's what frightens me the most, I think. That man who pretended he would help me after the car stalled just grabbed my purse and ran. Now he has my keys and my wallet with my address. By the time I find a policeman, my house will be empty.

I pause for a moment, trying to catch my breath. I know it's my own fault my feet hurt already -- I should have worn my driving loafers instead of heels. But that seemed wrong for a funeral. I wanted to show respect to Rose in her time of grief. Nor was I planning to walk. Though if I'd known what kind of neighborhood she lives in... I might not have come, which would have been wrong.

So tragic that poor Rose lost her son. Such a young man, only 24. No wonder she always seems so sad while she's caring for Edward. She had to know he was involved in that gang. Hmm. 71st Street. And Prairie View. A bus stop, but no bench. I check my coat pockets again. Tissue. Mints. Change, but not enough for a bus. Maybe enough for a phone call, but this neighborhood doesn't have pay phones.

I'm limping now, making myself a more obvious target. Nothing left to rob, which is even more dangerous. When you have no money, they shoot you. Stop that, Evelyn. Keep hold of yourself. I limp faster, trying to find someone who can help me. Police -- a church -- a phone.

A car at last, and I'm about to wave to it when I hear the bass pounding. Maybe not. They're young, but there are three of them. If they'd even stop, I can't imagine they would actually help me. I stand there, frozen and indecisive, as the car passes. The street is again empty in all directions.

When I was young, I believed everyone was good and kind. My family mocked my naivete and tried to make sure I never met anyone outside of the circles they thought appropriate. When I married Edward at nineteen, I was so sheltered I didn't know how to buy groceries or where garbage went after I put it in the cannister. Oh, I knew how to direct servants, but nothing practical.

Edward was so good for me. He didn't leave me cocooned; he made me travel, meet people, and learn how to live without a staff. Edward became involved in the civil rights movement and worked to register voters. And for all of those years, my faith in human nature was unshaken. So many people working toward a goal, trying to make the world better -- Edward's friends were inspiring. But even the shopkeepers and bus drivers seemed so cheerful and friendly.

It changed. Or I did, somehow. Now I'm afraid of people, just as my family wanted me to be when they isolated me. Somehow the whole world works to isolate us now, keep us in our homes, in front of our televisions. I hate it.

I hate Edward lying there, a shell who doesn't remember me, who talks gibberish instead of challenging me and making me laugh. I hate needing to have groceries delivered because I'm unable to carry heavy bags alone anymore. I hate the children living on the coasts while I'm still here, so lonely. I hate neighbors and old friends dying, while I feel too old and trapped to meet new people. Rose, Edward's nurse, is the only person I talk to besides phone salesmen most days.

If I die tonight, no one will know until Rose comes back to work next week. Edward, too, might die without food or water. I cannot let that happen. I won't let my fears kill us.

A car pulls out in front of me from an alley. I run the few steps to reach it and knock frantically on the window.

"Young man. My purse has been stolen. Can you help me?"

"No ma'am, I'm afraid I can't." The car pulls away.


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