Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Vignette: Afternoon Visitor

The lady sat on her terrace garden patio and sipped a cup of tea. Afternoon blend, steeped for precisely three minutes, with a touch of milk, a habit learned from a visit to England many years ago. She wore a wrap dress with a bright print on it and a pair of sandals. On occasion, a bra strap would peek out from behind a dress strap and the lady would push it back absentmindedly. Large-lens sunglasses, of the sort that were currently popular, were perched on her head.

She owned the three-story townhouse on a quiet street near Washington, DC's Dupont Circle neighborhood. Nearby streets bustled with activity during the work day and the bars throbbed with activity in the evening, but few people bothered to use her street, despite the convenient alley cut-through two houses from hers. The house was quite narrow, but the selling feature was the patio on the third level. The terrace lay atop the rear half of the second floor, and she had placed planters along the edges to grow a variety of plants. In the center was a round table and four all-weather chairs. On hot days she could move the table and chairs closer to the patio doors, where an awning would protect her from the sun. The only disadvantage to the patio was that she had to remove any snow quickly, before it accumulated more weight than the roof could hold.

She toyed with her wedding ring and watched the foot traffic along the sidewalk the next block over. Lunch was finished for most of the working population, and the number of people on the sidewalk had dwindled to a fraction of that a half-hour earlier. Most people walked quickly, with purpose. She noticed the exceptions. A homeless man shuffled slowly, pushing a small cart laden with his possessions. A woman stood in the doorway of the hairdresser's shop, smoking a cigarette. A third person, a man with a thick head of gray hair and a charcoal business suit, ambled to an alleyway and turned up the alley before disappearing from the lady's sight.

After a few moments she heard the front door bang closed, followed by footsteps on the stairs. The patio doors opened, revealing the gray-haired man in his suit, the tie loosened and his top shirt button opened. "Hello, Madeline," he said, bending over to kiss her. "Sorry I'm late. I was just about to leave the office when my wife called. It took me fifteen minutes to get her off the line."

The lady smiled. "At least you're here now."

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