by Barry Spacks
On Fifth Avenue in a mid-day crowd, he curves around a truck jutting out
into the intersection, held at a red light.
She approaches the other way, carrying a hat box. In those days – early 50's – models carried hat boxes in New York City (also those who wanted to be taken for models).
What caused her, he still wonders, to offer him so sudden and full a smile as they came in sight of one another around the truck?
He holds the moment in a freeze-frame. She's visited him in the mind many times since, even stayed a while. But this furtive, brief first glimpse of her touched him in a special way. A hatbox. A young woman. Her bright smile in passing.
They turn at the same instant to glance back, and laugh. Always he can recall the look of her, her smile, that instant of laughter. What is it she carried in the hatbox?
* * *
Crossing toward Memorial Hall above Harvard Square, he swings a furled yellow and blue umbrella, the only one he could locate that morning, the over-sized kind you take to football games on overcast days.
But the weather has shifted from promised rain, so as she approaches through intense sunlight, a girl now in her late teens with a sharp-nosed, humorous face, feathery blonde hair, she tilts her head, rolls her eyes, as if to say: 'Maybe a tight-rolled British umbrella, but this? Come On!'
Her smile offers a tart, intimate critique of his style. Passing, she shakes her head in a cautionary way, and he, inspired, flicks the button on the umbrella handle and continues beneath sunshine under this now-inflated round blue and yellow large and nutty thing.
He doesn't turn, for that would ruin the whimsy of the gesture, but he knows she's stopped from the nearness of her laughter.
Like a figure out of Magritte he moves along, shielded from sunshine under
a garish umbrella, hearing the lilting sound of her laughing voice.
* * *
He waits for a bus in Montgomery, Alabama, at the end of the march from Selma with Dr. King.
The inspiring leader has made a speech from the white steps of the white state capital, and it's getting late, so the man in the story is nervous, for the Alabama National Guard troops have begun to drive away in their jeeps, they've only been authorized to defend the marchers in this invaded, dangerous city till exactly five p.m. Later that night Mrs. Liuzzo will be shot dead for riding in a car
with a black driver, and now the man stands among rabbis and ministers who send other marchers on ahead of them while unfriendly faces gather and the soldiers disappear and no new buses for the airport arrive.
The beautiful black girl who'd cried out "Join us, join us!" to the people on their porches along the road from Selma, the young woman he'd run with hand in hand through intersections as the march worked its way through downtown Montgomery while townspeople, sipping cocktails, looked on from second-story balconies, this girl, his friend, comes up to him, concerned.
"Leaving? Really? I thought...."
"I'm due at work tomorrow."
Her slow smile, with its level gaze...what promised? what lost?
A bus approaches. He might have stayed, and every further moment of his life would have been changed forever.
He shrugs, returns her smile, mounts the bus. Freeze-frame: through the grimy bus window he bends to see her. Somber-faced they wave goodbye. She's smiling, a bit sadly, he thinks. He'll remember that smile. And how she laughs. And how she glows.
Barry Spacks has published endless numbers of poems in every conceivable
journal, paper and cyber, also dozens of stories, two novels, etc. He's
done some screenplay writing, is a lifelong professional editor, and as of
2004 has nine poetry collections to his credit. Plus he's put in multi years of teaching,
mainly at M.I.T. & U.C. Santa Barbara. Shoe size 11B. Two new books of poems will appear in 2004: THE HOPE OF THE AIR from
Michigan State University Press, and REGARDING WOMEN, from WordTech
Communications, winner of the latest Cherry Grove Collections Prize. You can find out more here.