It’s easy. Open the door. Step outside. Don’t look left and right, left and right, left and right, over and over before stepping onto the sidewalk. People will think… Look straight ahead. Don’t look down at your feet. Except to make sure you wont trip, or step in dog shit, or strange puddles. Which are different from not-strange puddles, how? Do the normal puddles make fun of the strange puddles? Do they determine strangeness by color or smell? One more block. Don’t frown, but don’t smile too much, either, people will think… Just keep a pleasant expression, a neutral expression, not choosing sides. Not happy, not sad, just invisible. (Oh how I long to be invisible.) Stop it, you already checked your zipper, and besides these are the jeans that you sewed the zipper permanently closed because the flap always looked a little open. People will think… Good thing they are really stretchy jeans. One more block. There is the park, the half-way mark. Don’t stare at the playing children, people will think… But smile a little more, it is normal to be happier around children, and scowls are scary. One more block. The light is red, but there are no cars nearby. That person is crossing, should I cross? What will they think if I wait for the green? What if they are colorblind? Now a car is coming. But the other light is yellow, just go, go, go. Almost home. Half a block, one more house, door, key, don’t look, no one is behind you. Open. In. Close. Breathe in. Breathe out. Home.
Amelia stood on the edge of the tour group cluster and dutifully stared at the statue. She didn’t belong with these people. The only person close to her age was the guide and she suspected she made him uncomfortable. His engineered expressions that elicited laughter from his usual audience of octogenarians evoked only sighs from Amelia.
She reminded herself that she could leave at any time.
They’d been in Rome for two days; the next stop was Naples. She’d paid ahead of time for the guided tour package, thinking she might learn something, but all it did was exhaust her. She was sleeping well for the first time in months.
The statue, pockmarked and missing its original details, stood alone, far from its companions on the steps of the palazzo. Amelia could imagine the suffering it had experienced over the centuries. To endure so long only to be ogled by strangers, the thought brought tears to her eyes. She turned away.
Behind her, modern Rome rushed by in a haze of tiny cars and scooters. Commuters forced to drive in circles to avoid the ubiquitous past.
The sight of a rounded green car like the old Volkswagen she’d owned with her ex-husband pulled her own past into the present. She cut the memory off and turned back to the group. But the group was gone. Fear and panic filled her. She froze, only her eyes moved, darting, searching. The group didn’t move fast, they couldn’t have gone far. Would they notice she wasn’t with them? Would they care?
She’d resented them, all those old, nosy gossips, digging into her past, but now she wanted them back. If they came back, please come back, she promised she would tell them the truth: that she hated being alone. It was the reason she had stayed married for as long as she did. She would have stayed forever if her husband hadn’t finally, oh so gently, pushed her out the door.
“You’ll be better off without me.” he’d said.
The old ladies echoed his words, “you’ll be better on your own.” And now they had, oh so gently, walked away from her.
Amelia stood motionless, surrounded by strangers, and waited to be found.
Original Photo: http://www.flickr.com/photos/eteel/6820477687/in/photostream/