I woke up at ten in the morning after dinner at my parents’ house. I was unaccustomed to seeing my old room, full of remnants of a past life. I’d last redecorated at fifteen, when I’d placed posters of rock and roll and pop icons all across the walls. If I were to come home occasionally, I would need to redecorate. My fifteen-year-old taste now seemed garish and puerile; my apartment in New York was modern, streamlined, and half-empty, giving no hint of my youthful design inclinations.
At 10:30, I walked downstairs to find my father reading the paper at the kitchen table. It had been his ritual for as long as I could remember, although throughout my childhood, his perusal had taken place at seven, not nearly eleven. Retirement had relaxed his rigid schedule. He didn’t look up when I entered the kitchen and fixed my breakfast. He put the paper down only when I sat across from him.
“Good morning, Emma. Your mother left a note for you.” He scooted an oversized post-it note across the table.
Gone to the shop. I’ll close at five. See you then unless you want to stop by during the day.
My mother still ran the antique shop, now open only four days a week: Friday, Saturday, Sunday and Monday. Most of her business came from out-of-towners, New Yorkers curious about the “quaint” country life. Compared to New York, everything qualified quaint.
I left the house at 11 after a short conversation with my father, who headed out to garden at the same time. The only starting point I could envision involved visiting the house, and I wasn’t ready for that yet. The house was haunted by childhood ghosts, Peter Pan shadows, the whisper of would’ve, could’ve, should’ve and what ifs lurking in every corner. Questions I didn’t want to answer; fantasies I didn’t want to indulge.
Since the house on Oak Street was out of the question, I decided to walk down Main Street. Perhaps it would jog some distant memory, entrenched in the deep crevices and recessed of my brain, cushioned by some brighter, inconsequential memories. Even the happiest memories of the Enson-Mortons had become painful to recall, bittersweet in their ultimate ending.
I drove the car to Main Street and parked behind my mother’s shop. To get there, I had to drive down Oak Street, careful to keep my eyes on the other side of the street, where the parking lot was located. A narrow driveway led to the parking lot just before the line of residential houses began.
I pulled into a space beside my mother’s car, got out, and entered the shop through the back.
The shop was crowded with customers squeezing between the antiques that populated the shop. Mom was helping one couple ring up a transaction.
“Hi, Mom,” I said, strolling up to the register.
“Good morning, darling. Nice rest?”
“It was great. Do you need any help?”
“No, no,” she waved me off. “I wouldn’t want to make you work on a weekend.”
“I was just going to take a walk down Main Street. I’ll stop in later, when you’re a bit less busy.”
I could see the anxiety creeping onto her face. I was not helping her seem available to her customers.
“All right, love. See you then.”
I exited by the front door and turned right onto Main Street. To the right was a largely residential area: peeling Victorian houses, a few little shops housed downstairs, a daycare center, a town psychic. My mother’s shop was at the very edge of the business section of Main Street– a fitting transition between commercial and residential.
Main Street itself, in small-town fashion, really was the main street in town, ending briefly at the train tracks and continuing as a promenade until the bank of the river. The commercial section of Main Street lasted three blocks, a direct corollary to the town population. Though small, we had neighboring towns to visit, and if we felt particularly isolated, New York City was only an hour’s train ride away, a opportunity I’d exploited in high school.
As I made my way down Main Street, I stopped to browse the stationery store, then the bookstore until nearly an hour had gone by. As usual, I’d run into several acquaintances: old classmates, friends of my parents, no one I felt particularly compelled to speak to. I assumed most of the other people in the shops were not from this town.
The neighborhood grocery store was next to the bookstore. Outside, a group of girls dressed in Brownie uniforms were selling Girl Scout Cookies.
“Hello, miss,” a little girl with blonde hair and a missing front tooth approached me. “Would you like to buy some Girl Scout Cookies?”
The rapidity of her question made it sound like it was a line she’d memorized and practiced over and over in her bathroom mirror. I couldn’t refuse a little girl like that.
“Sure. A box of Thin Mints, please.”
The little girl bounded over to the stand where other Brownies and a mother supervisor huddled.
“What grade are you in?” I asked the group.
“Third,” a couple replied.
“Where do you go to school?”
“The Hudson Day School,” one said proudly.
“Really? I went there too.”
“Oh,” a few of the girls said, as though they didn’t quite comprehend it.
“But that was a long time ago.”
That, they were able to reconcile.
The Brownie with blonde hair returned, grinning, a box of Thin Mints in her hands.
“That’ll be three dollars, miss.” She held out her hand expectantly.
I pulled out my wallet and deposited three dollars in her little hands.
“Thank you so much.”
I tucked the Thin Mints under my arm and continued down the block. On the corner was an old-school diner, Bill’s Grill. Dad and I went there every Saturday for lunch. We would sit at the counter, and Dad would order a cheeseburger. I ordered a hot dog. We were never tempted to try something new. It was just our thing.
I walked into Bill’s Grill at noon, only mildly surprised to find the place full. Occupied mainly by families, the counter seats weren’t entirely filled. I sat down and ordered a hot dog.
I set my box of Thin Mints on the countertop and thought again of the third-grader who’d sold me my cookies. She’d held out her hands for the money as if everything were that simple, that certain. That there was one answer to each question, one right road for each fork.