On step number 19,763 I reach my destination. 1950 Parapet Way looms before me, a nondescript brick townhouse on a street of nondescript brick townhouses. A terracotta pot with no plant greets me at the door. Something grew there once. The soil tells me so.
But nothing grows there now.
My index finger finds the buzzer, yet a I hesitate to press it.
Who am I and why am I here? I imagined the questions before they’re even posed because they are inevitable. One simple press and I’ll beckon the future, and Carla’s future will come to the door, completely unknowing that it is about to become entangled with mine.
Hello ma’am. I found your mother’s name written in a book.
I followed her to her grave.
The aliens came and I ran.
I buried your mother’s memory in my home, then left it to rot.
Can you tell me what this key unlocks?
Clarity overcomes me and I realize this is a fool’s errand. Yet, I know I am no fool. This is not my errand.
My finger hovers, vibrating above the buzzer. I cannot pull away, nor can I commit to the alternative. A wasp crawls out from behind the unlit porch light and I tilt my head until my cheek rests against the sun-bleached brick. A cacophony of buzzing hums from the nest built inside the walls.
I join their song, pressing the button, waiting to see who will greet me.
I pray it will not be the wasps.
Part of me expected a little old lady. I’m not sure why, but that is what I pictured. A frail old woman, hobbling to the door assisted by her walker. Tennis balls sliding silently across the floor as she inched her way toward me.
Come in, dearie, she’d say. And she’d offer me tea and cookies.
Perhaps it’s because I expected Marcy. The vision I’d planted long ago in my mind, now fully-grown and realized as a real person. Still, she would hardly have been an elderly shell. She’d hardly be a grandmother, if she’d made it past whatever stopped her dead in her tracks back in ’97.
Still, that’s how I envisioned her. Old and wise, steeped in knowledge only time affords.
Instead, the woman on the other side of the door was remarkably ordinary. Early 30s maybe. Plain, though tired, face. No makeup aside from a bit of mascara to highlight her lashes. A child no more than two cradled in the nest of her right arm, its head buried deep in mother’s neck, afraid to witness the stranger who’d come to call.
“Can I help you?” she asked.
I turned and ran, my feet pounding the dry concrete in a flurry of steps far too fast to count.