SOME OTHER PEOPLE
The spring air was not sweet and in the DOT it was sticky and tasted of over-boiled coffee. The numbers slowly belled, "157. 158. 159. . ."
"What number are you again, mother?"
"163." She said, squinting down the bridge of nose and bifocals.
"It'll be a miracle if they let you renew at all."
"Oh, hush now, Gertrude. I've worn these same glasses for twenty years. I wore these same glasses to your wedding and drove myself there just fine."
Gertrude rolled her eyes. "I just don't know why you need to," she said. "You're living with me now. I can drive you."
"Because I want to, and because I can. Why, in Atlanta--"
"Yes, yes, you told me all about Atlanta, Mom."
"Well, you're sister let me--"
The bell chimed, "161."
Nobody approached the desk.
The clerk started to look anxious when, from the back, a voice both old and lively cooed out, "Hold on, we're coming! Not as fast as we used to be!"
A silver bird in pastel sweater came sauntering to the front with a beau who bandied her with one arm and a red cane with the other. They clerk had no reaction than to slump forward again and from the corner of her eye Gertrude saw her mother looking puzzled. The couple only paused briefly on their way to the front, but Gertrude saw that too, and the wink the lady in pink and sea-foam threw her mother's way.
"Do you know them?" she asked.
"I think so. . . yes, I do. I just can't seem to place--"
The bell chimed, "163."
It would have been easy to believe the clerk was wearing a mask trimmed from card-stock his face was so bland and pale, if not for the high blood pressure red giving it depth. His voice sounded much the same.
"How can I help you today, ma'am?"
"Yes, I'd like to renew my license."
"Spell that, please?"
"Your last name, please."
"There you are. Just a minute, please."
Estelle smiled cordially as the clerk's fingers outpaced his demeanor on the keyboard. She turned and saw the man and his red cane at the photograph station, smoothing back iron hairs. She looked away before he noticed.
"My, it's so hot today. I just got back from Atlanta, that's where my daughter lives, well, rather my younger darling, Erica, and it was far cooler down there. She owns a convertible and I was hoping to open up the top when I, oh, I mean we (she would let me drive), when we would go--"
The clerk looked up and his eyes came back into focus. "Mrs. Gettes, you have a restriction flag popping up, you'll have to take the vision test for verification. If you'll return to your seat, please, we'll call for you when it's available."
"But I've worn these same glasses for twenty years, I wore--"
"I don't make the rules ma'am, I just have to follow them. If you'll
return to your seat. Please."
He gestured insistently and she complied. Gertrude watched with a cool eye.
"What did he say," she asked.
Estelle brushed at her sleeve. "Oh, some silly formality. I have to wait a moment and take the vision test."
"I told you."
"Stop sounding so smug, Gertrude, you'll turn into a peacock."
Gertrude rolled her eyes again just in time to see the couple from earlier at the nearby counter. Estelle had already noticed.
"There they are again. I suppose I'd better go say hello."
"You don't even remember who they are," said Gertrude.
"Well, that's no reason to not be polite."
It was taken out of both their hands. They were coming, slowly, but coming. Estelle stood up, only to be embraced by warm pastel.
"Hi, Estelle! how have you been?!"
She put on a cardboard mask of recognition. "I've been just fine! how are you?"
"Oh, can't complain. Say, you remember my husband--" the woman cut herself off. "What am I saying, of course you do!" They all laughed and he shook her hand with a strong fist.
"Hi, Estelle, what's new?"
"Oh, I just got back from Atlanta, actually. My younger daughter, Erica--"
The woman chimed in brightly, "Of course, the dear."
Gertrude's face was dark out of the corner of her eye. "Yes, yes, she brought me down for a few weeks to see the grand babies. Wonderful time! But, enough about me, how about you?"
The man leaned on his cane in dandy fashion as he spoke. "Well, ever since the surgery--"
"Did it help?"
"Yes, yes, a lot, but I still decided to take early retirement. Too bad I didn't have anything to do but putter around the house!"
They all laughed again. The woman continued the story in her sing-song voice. "So, we thought, 'Why don't we finally do it? just get out there and see the nation.'"
Estelle let her eyes grow wide. "You didn't?!"
"Yep, bought a brand-new Winnebago RV, fully-loaded with every gadget they got," he declared triumphantly. "Be taking it out within the week, just had to come and pick up our--"
The bell chimed, "161."
"Oops, speak of the devil."
They all hugged goodbyes, and then the red canes and pastels were gone, and Estelle was sitting back down and Gertrude was glaring at her very sternly.
"What?" Estelle asked.
Gertrude just shook her head.
"Well, what did you expect me to do?"
"Mother, that was just the rudest thing I have ever seen."
"Honey, they came and started talking to me, what should I have done, pretended like I didn't see them? Oh, you're angry I didn't introduce you. I'm s--"
Gertrude bit down hard and whispered through gritted teeth, "You could have asked them their names."
Both were quiet after that. For a very long time, both were quiet.
"For the life of me," Estelle finally said, "I still can't remember that old lady's name."
"You're not going to spend the rest of the day racking your brains over it, are you?"
"No, no I'm not."
"I'm getting hungry," she said. "What should we eat?"
Estelle still looked puzzled, but responded anyways.
"Pizza. . .?"
The bell chimed, "163."