When I was a kid, the jail sat next to the library. I’d go in to exchange my books, the cool air conditioning, evaporating sweat dripping from my neck resulting from the bike ride there in the hot Texas sun. I wondered if I’d ever be able to take a peek behind the door separating the library and jail. The neighboring door just behind the librarian’s circulation desk remained locked. I imagined a Mayberry jail, one of the criminals trying to figure out a way to retrieve the keys from Barney Fife or rig up some contraption to yank them off an unattended nail next to the cell.
Was Ms. Roper afraid? Did anyone ever open that door? Was there even anyone in jail? Ever? Maybe it was just there to make us think it was the jail. I lived in a tiny blink and you’ll miss it town. I never heard of anyone being arrested. That happened in cities like New York, not our town. Why was it next to the library?
One place, shuts down and isolates a person. The other frees them up. What strange neighbors, the jail and the library.
Walking out, I’d take a look at the neighbor’s front door. The window with the blinds drawn shut. My bike still waiting for me. Hugging my book stack in one arm, I’d steady myself in the seat and pedal off, until next time.
The budget. That infamous budget forced Mom to buy me what I wanted, but didn’t want. If I needed a small bottle of glue for school, she bought the huge bottle to last the rest of the year. When I requested a cigar box to use for my school supplies, she bought a plastic one so it wouldn’t wear out. When I told her I needed a large green eraser, she bought one that was half pink for pencil erasures, and half gray for ink erasures. Who erases ink? I never used that eraser.
This time I was determined I wouldn’t let the budget get in my way. Western Day approached at school. It was the biggest day of the year, bigger than Halloween. Everyone participated in Western Day. I hated it because I only had last year’s pink western shirt with hot pink satin piping around the sleeves and collar. Mom had to hack a foot off the bottom of my jeans for them to fit.
I wanted to look like the other girls. Every year they wore their western hats and Wranglers, plaid western shirts pearl-buttoned up to the collar, and leather belts with their names stamped on them, complete with shiny heart shaped buckles that clasped in front. To complete their outfits, they wore boots. They got new boots every year. I had to settle for my sneakers.
I made up my mind. This year would be different. I owned a western shirt and jeans. I learned not ask about a hat. But boots, oh how I wanted a pair of boots. I imagined my boots, nice and smooth, black or brown—a nice neutral color, waiting for me on Western Day morning. I’d own the good kind, leather boots that creased around the widest part of my foot to fit, molding themselves to fit only me. They wouldn’t sound like high heels—those were too clickety—but commanding, a strong thud that let people know when I walked down the hall. Just the right sound, unlike how sneakers sounded when I stomped around in them or how they squeaked when I dragged my feet.
I needed con Mom into buying me these boots. “Just be patient,” she’d say. That meant no; it always meant no.
Determined to get my boots, I approached her cautiously like a cat approached a foreign object. I purred, “Western Day is coming up and I need a pair of boots. I can wear last year’s shirt, I have jeans, I don’t need a belt, but I need boots. Besides, the weather is getting colder and they’ll keep me warm when I walk to school in the mornings.” Whew! I let it out and she didn’t interrupt me. “I’ve been patient,” I added, letting her know I wasn’t taking no for an answer.
“I’ll think about it,” she replied.
It was better than ‘be patient.’ Progress in the making. It wasn’t a yes or a no, but a maybe. Maybes worked out to my advantage. I pestered her about the boots until she gave in. I felt like two-stepping her to the car, but I didn’t want to make my enthusiasm too obvious. She might change her mind.
We drove to Carmen’s Western Wear. We rarely bought anything here; it was too expensive. They had lots of nice things to look at and dream about. Usually full of customers, there were no parking spaces. Mom parked a little way off, in front of old and grungy J.C. Jones, which sat next to the drugstore. I asked if they were even still in business. I jumped out of the car and made my way to Carmen’s. Mom cut me off.
“No, we’re going this way.”
I looked around. What did she mean?
“The drugstore?” I gulped.
“No,” she replied, pushing the door into J.C. Jones, “they have boots here too.”
Well, I thought, maybe we’ll go to Carmen’s after we’re done here.
The sun came out to see what it missed
Plunking water from a detached rain gutter
Kids back at the park laugh and carry on
as if the freeze was only a dream
A Mini Cooper Car club member
back at work on a rebuild in the garage,
a can of Bud Light sits on its primed hood
it too, awaits a coat of paint
Two chihuahuas yip against me from across the street
their owner grumbles at them to quiet down
whatever that means,
zipping through neighborhood streets.
No rush hour zoom,
but slow casual zips
scope out damage you can't see
on neighborhood streets
except for tree limbs piled curbside.
Damage runs deep in burst pipes
empty grocery store shelves
people boiling water to drink.
Shovels scrape, scrape, scraaape
against concrete driveways
saws groan at broken tree limbs
trying to hang on.
The last of the slush sloshes underneath my stride
evidence of snow and ice evaporates
One side of the sidewalk looks more like a post springtime rain shower,
the opposite proves otherwise.
Back outside after a week,
grateful it wasn't worse when it was for so many others.
A dry leaf gently cartwheels in front of me
as if saying
"I've come back out to play!"
Along with the rest of us, picking up where we left off.