A sidewalk in Bend

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I met my grandmother on a street in Bend, Oregon this morning. Of course, my grandmother has been dead for over a decade. But this woman bore a queer resemblance. We were the only people on a quiet street, both pausing in the morning sunshine, waiting for the shops to open. The weather report at the hotel said it would be 90 degrees by noon and I was already in a tank top, but she wore a turtleneck and a fleece, with a jacket on top of that. I could tell it would actually have to reach 90 degrees before she would consider shedding a layer.

She was petite and sharp, her hair silver and her gait slow but steady. As I approached, she stopped in the middle of my path and looked at me expectantly, as if she had meant to meet me there and was waiting for me to say hello. So I did. I struck up a conversation quickly and easily. If it seemed odd to be standing on the sidewalk talking to a stranger, neither one of us let on. Instead, we talked about how long she’d lived there in the high desert and what she liked about it, her blue eyes not wavering from my own. She’d once lived with her husband near Joshua Tree in California, at 29 Palms, a Marine base. My grandmother had lived 400 miles north. Not close enough to raise goosebumps, but still, I felt hyper aware of her. If this woman had confessed to being some sort of angel or suddenly disappeared into thin air, I don’t think I would have been surprised. I half expected it.

She was waiting for the pharmacy to open, and I was stretching my legs before I boarded my third flight in three days, headed for home. I asked her if she’d like to walk across the street to get a coffee, mostly to give her a chance to sit down, but she said she didn’t drink coffee and she didn’t much care for tea. After a few minutes, our conversation stalled, and I felt that pull that happens when you don’t know what to say. That need to move on, even though you have no agenda. I stood a few moments more, unsure, wondering if she was seeing me the way my grandmother would, all knowing. When I couldn’t bear it any more, I excused myself and walked on.

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