Wednesday, February 03, 2010

Across the Street

I'd barely greeted the black lab before hearing a shout.

"Did you leave the door open? Guys! God bless it." I heard her mutter the final sentence as she scampered from the house across the street, calling the dog's name and instructions to her children in a single breath.

"I think you were supposed to stay home, sweetheart," I told the lab, looking down at her affectionately and smiling as she and Chienne wagged their respective tails. I had tiptoed onto the snow coating my driveway, trying not to get any in my black shoes before heading off to work. The hound at the end of my leash pranced, looking rather silly with a fluff of snow balanced on her black nose from when she'd buried her snout to better investigate some scent.

"Sorry!" she called cheerfully, jogging across the street and around the snow banks on the curb to reach us. I'd curled my fingers around the bright red collar that encircled her lab's neck, leaning down to deposit a kiss on the top of her furry head before handing her over. "Thanks!" my neighbor said, harried but cheerful. "The kids are supposed to be at school in 5 minutes - no way we'll make it - and the house is a mess and my mother-in-law is coming and the dog's across the street." She shook her head, ponytail bouncing with the motion, and tugged her canine against legs bared by tiny shorts.

"Good luck," I offered and she laughed before waving and moving back across the street to order her two children into the car.

It struck me as odd somehow - we lived barely 100 yards apart and were roughly the same age but our mornings looked shockingly different. Far from readying children and ferrying them to school, I awaken quietly to shuffle toward the bathroom, brush my teeth and start coffee. I watch the news on channel 4 until 7:00 while reading email, using commercial breaks to wash my face and curl my hair. I find clean clothes amidst general clutter and, once I'm dressed, Chienne whines her desire to go for a walk.

Encountering the cheerful chaos from the smaller house across the street was somehow disconcerting. Her husband sometimes waves when I leave for work early, his truck loaded with construction supplies as he heads off to a job. I see the children out playing with others in the neighborhood - calling to dogs or throwing a ball, riding bikes or playing tag. I wondered, as Chienne buried her nose in the fluffy snow again and I trailed along after her, if the little ones work up happy and energetic or slow and mopey. If breakfast was a messy affair or more like when Dad served Brother and me bowls of cereal at the counter years ago.

I came back inside to put drops in Chienne's eyes, check the food dishes and toss treats to the floor in an apology for leaving and a bribe to be good. I hadn't seen them leave across the street, but it seemed there would be chatter during the commute - questions and answers, jokes and laughter. My own ride was quietly lovely. I admired the way snow clung to branches that shifted slowly in the breeze. In the silence, I thought of choices - the series of decisions that leads a person to a given place, surrounded by noise or encountering only quiet.

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