Loneliness on the Corner of Hopkins and Sioux

by F. J. Kemp

      I felt ridiculous, crouching behind a holly bush with my feet in two inches of cold mud at the corner of Hopkins and Sioux. The longer I stayed there, the darker it grew. I wanted to go home and take a hot bath, but I knew deep down I would only come back some other night. Winter winds were already mixing with the autumn breezes and if I didn’t get it over with soon I would find myself crouching behind the holly bush in six inches of snow.

      I held my breath as a car approached. The headlight beams slanted through the leaves and I ducked my head down, waiting for it to pass. When the car turned onto Hopkins Road I chanced a quick peek. It was the one I’d been waiting for, and I watched the midnight-blue convertible pull into the drive-way of the small brick house across the street from my hiding place.

      207 Hopkins Road.

      The driver of the convertible got out, and walked toward the white mailbox at the curb. Even from my hiding place I could see her face clearly. She was young, and pretty enough, although I thought her makeup was a touch heavy for the kind of job that required a standard-issue pantsuit like the one she wore. There was no mail in the box, and after reaching her hand inside to feel the walls and double check there was not a card or piece of junk mail hidden at the very back, the woman slung her purse over her shoulder and headed into the house.

      So, that was her. I had gotten a look at the competition. After she let herself in the house and I saw the lights flicker in the front room I felt myself relax a little. Maybe that was all I needed, maybe my curiosity was satisfied. Perhaps it was time to head home and have that long bath, watch T.V. and try to put it out of my mind.

      I stood slowly, leaning against the prickly holly bush for support. My joints ached and my muscles complained, and I felt like my feet were stuck in drying cement rather than plain, ordinary mud. My bones cracked loudly as I straightened, and the noise set a neighbor’s dog barking a little ways down the street.

      Another car turned the corner and I waited for it to pass before walking down the sidewalk toward my house. It was two blocks away - very convenient for him, I thought with sudden disdain. He wouldn’t bother with her if he had to travel any distance. None of us were getting any younger.

      I stopped at the intersection and looked for more cars before crossing. I didn’t want anyone to see me, to guess what I’d been doing. I had just stepped off the curb when I saw him. He was earlier than usual, crossing the street on the other side of the road, apparently oblivious I was even there. As he passed under the street light I could tell with no doubt that it was him. Bo. I smiled despite myself. He was a little out of shape and rough around the edges now, but he still handsome. No wonder she had fallen for him. They had probably met on this very street some day when I was at work. He was always very forward, and the ladies always loved him.

      I watched Bo walk up the street toward her house. He was keeping close to the fences and off the sidewalk as though he didn’t want to be seen either. I told myself to keep walking, but a morbid curiosity took over. He was in a hurry, moving faster than I’d seen him move in a long time. He all but ran up the driveway to her front door, climbing the front steps two at a time. I hung back as she let him inside. She had already changed into a white robe, and the pleasure was evident on her face as she opened the door to him.

      It was that expression of gratitude and joy that affected me the most. After being with Bo for almost ten years I barely acknowledged him when he came into the room. Was that the reason he had strayed in the first place?

      I turned and began walking in the direction of my house for the second time that night. I didn’t even look back. After all, what was the point in fighting it? I couldn’t stop him doing what he wanted to do. In the time we’d been together I’d learned that there was no point in expecting Bo to do anything that wasn't already in his mind.

      From the first day he’d moved in, he had always kept part of his life detached from mine, coming and going at all hours of the day and night. I had put it down to independence and only God knew what he got up to when I wasn’t home. It was in his nature, I suppose, but I couldn’t help feeling jealous. Sometimes I thought his presence, and sometimes the expectation of his presence, was the only thing that kept me from being completely alone. Perhaps he had come to mean the same to her. I knew he had been seeing her for at least a week, but I wondered how long it had really been going on.

      When I got home I kicked my muddy boots into a corner of the laundry room and got ready for bed. I couldn’t bring myself to run a bath. Sitting in the tub, with only the sound of the dripping tap to distract me, I would no doubt let myself get carried away with things in my head. I turned the shower water down to cold, which took my mind off matters for a while.

      In bed, I lay on one side, staring at the open bedroom door. I had been tempted to close it - when he came home he would know that he was not welcome to join me. Perhaps then he would know how much he’d hurt me. Perhaps then he would learn and think twice next time. I chuckled to myself at that idea. He was more likely to go back to her house and spend the night. If it happened too many times he might never come back, and then what?

      So, I had left the door open for Bo. When he did come home he would be warm in bed beside me, and I knew that would have to be enough.

      I was almost asleep when I heard him come into the room. He was back earlier than usual. The mattress sank a little as he climbed in beside me and I instinctively reached out my hand to him. He pushed his face up against it, his nose cold, his whiskers tickling.

      “Good evening,” I said softly to him, “Are you ready to sleep, Mr. Bojangles?”

      He circled a few times, a satisfied purr rumbling in his throat as he flopped down beside me. I smiled as I stroked his soft fur, and I was happy to feel that he was still wearing the new collar I had bought him. He hadn't worn one in almost ten years, but when the woman down at number 207 had put one around his neck and hung from it a silver tag bearing her address, I had immediately replaced it with a collar and tag of my own. I imagined her confusion as she first noticed the switch, and I sympathized with her disappointment as she realized what it meant.

      Suddenly, she seemed very lonely to me; arriving at her little brick house all alone at the end of the day, hoping for mail, even a bill to distract her. I knew what that was like, and I wondered if Bo had sensed it as well. He had let me love him for almost ten years, since the day he showed up on my front door step after my husband had died. Perhaps this woman needed him now as much as I had needed him then.

      I decided not to try and stop him from visiting her, and I told myself I should not be jealous. Fumbling in the dark, I unfastened the collar I had given him. If he could make her happy, even for a moment every day then I would not resent it, and when he did decide to visit me at my little brick house at 300 Sioux Street, I would always greet him with a grateful smile.