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She walked over to us because my daughter was crying. “Is she okay?”

My daughter clutched her knee and looked up into the old woman’s eyes.

“Oh yes, she’s fine,” I answered for her. “She just got in front of me and took a tumble.” I picked her up.

The woman glanced around. “Do you live here?” she said.

“We do. Down the road. Do you?”

“No, no, we live by the beach, you know we’re just here visiting. We come for visits sometimes but we have a beautiful home near the beach. We drove here to visit.” She looked around, smiling. “Your kids are so cute. Hi kids!”

My kids were nervous. They didn’t want to talk to her, especially my daughter, who is very wary of strangers. The woman tapped them on the head. My daughter turned away.  She paused at the baby, who was getting a little fussy in the stroller. “Oh, look at him! What a sweetie!” She ran her finger down his nose.

We had to go. The baby was getting restless. I said nice to meet you and good bye, and we started walking away. She tilted her head and smiled, a little. “Do you have to go? Stay. Stay here with me.” There was no danger in this elderly woman, but still it was unnerving. There was no one else around. She pulled a decorative flower pin off of her sweater. “Kids, look. Do you want to see my flower? Look at my flower.”

“It’s pretty, we have to go, I’m sure we’ll see you again…” I trailed off…and we took a few more steps away from her. She seemed to be on her way somewhere too, and then she stopped. I wondered, for the first time, if something was wrong. If she was lost. Where did she come from? Who was she? I didn’t even see her approach us.

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I kept watching as we slowly walked away. All of a sudden, an old man came out of the house on the corner. It was a brick home, huge, with a For Sale sign in front. He moved purposefully toward her, and when he reached her, he took her arm and began leading her across the street. He handed her the mail. I wondered if that was why she went outside in the first place. They walked, gingerly, arm in arm, toward the enormous brick home.

We were walking by the large brick home as well, as we were headed down that same street. Behind it was a pool, outfitted with a diving board, a few chaise lounges, and some potted plants. A hose lay strewn across the deck. There weren’t many signs of life there now, but I could see everything that had happened there before.

Kids playing in the pool, kids riding their bikes on the street. Holidays, birthdays… The couple reached the home. They closed the door behind them. The For Sale sign seemed to take up the whole yard. It just felt like I was watching this whole life that had already happened…this woman who had spent years raising her family…and now whose husband watched from the window as she went out to get the mail, and then came to rescue her when her conversation was over and she got confused finding her way home.

I slowed down as I walked past her house. I could see the children, almost, if I looked hard enough. I could hear the children laughing if I just closed my eyes. I wondered what the home looked like now.  I imagined it was filled with dusty photographs documenting a life well lived, comfortable furniture, sun streaming through the windows, illuminating dust that hadn’t been touched in weeks.

“Can we go faster, Mommy?” My son looked up from his Big Wheel, annoyed that I was keeping him from his preferred quick pace.

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I took one more look at the house. The husband was coming outside now, into the backyard, into the pool area. He looked at me. He didn’t wave. He just looked. And I swear he felt like he was seeing ghosts, too.

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photo credit: The Old Neighborhood via photopin (license)