By Mary Crawford
Long ago a streetcar had stopped at the little grove though all that remained of the station were two stone benches half encased by woody vines and lengths of rusting track grown over with saplings. Nowadays the girl liked to sit on an old bench and read, liking the seclusion, liking also the damp shadiness. That afternoon, knees to her chest, she read Wuthering Heights, a favorite, though its sentences wrapped around each other in knots, and most of the time she felt she hardly made progress. At sunset with some relief she set down the book and headed for her grandmother’s house on the other side of the blackberry patch. Just before entering the path, the girl glanced back to find she had not been alone.
A man stood in the little grove, dressed in a pale linen suit and straw hat. His back was towards her and he stared down the overgrown tracks, as if he were waiting for the streetcar. Deeper she slipped into the bushes to hide herself among the thorny vines.
These days the grandmother fell asleep each night on the couch, in the glow of the blaring TV, a dinner on the tray before her barely touched. If the girl grew tired, as she sometimes did, she put her head on the grandmother’s lap, like she had when she had been a little child. Often the old woman spent the entire night on the couch, only waking at five or six in the morning and reaching unsteadily for the cane to help her to the bedroom and the unmade bed. Before the accident, the grandmother had more energy. In the spring her son had been driving back from Hartford from one of the girl’s soccer matches and too late had seen the pickup truck, its lights out, broken down in the fast lane of the 84. The girl herself had been exhausted and sleeping and unaware of what happened next.
Weeks had passed and the trees in the little grove were bare, their wet black branches fully exposed to the freezing rain and wind. Still the girl came to read her book - this time from page one, though the words felt muddled, foreign even. One afternoon, a disruption, a noise, caused her to raise her head. The vivid green of the man’s hat ribbon caught her eyes first. He wore a sparkling white stiff collar and on the front of his pale green vest were five broad ivory buttons. At first, the man seemed not to notice her, though he stood so close, then his pale eyes bored into hers.
“When is the streetcar coming?” he said. His high-topped shoes were perfectly cream, lacking a single scuff.
She laughed, the question was so absurd.
The girl did not stay in her own room anymore – its quiet repelled her. Instead she stayed at her grandmother’s house and when the old woman at last hauled herself to bed, the girl followed. The bedroom window overlooked the vegetable garden which before had always been planted with tomatoes and zucchini. Now the dried stalks sheltered a family of possums. Cold moonlight streamed through, illuminating the tarnished silver backs of the grandmother’s hairbrush and mirror. On the final night a branch knocked against the window though the girl understood that sharp rap had not come from any tree.
The dapper man by the station was outside, standing between two broken down bean poles. Gently and carefully he addressed her, not in English, but in another language sounding like scrtch scrtch scrtch. Sounding then like nightingales twittering. His ruby red mouth opened wider and the glass pane bent, then shattered. The jagged pieces, the wooden frame, the girl and time itself swirled into his crimson mouth. After that followed a deep and utter stillness.