Riddle of the Sphinx

It was a glorious Spring day, the first sunny day in weeks. Rose was having a grand old time digging in the front flowerbed; then she came in to ask if she could go on a neighborhood walk with her friends, and I said I’d go along just in case.

I took my cane. I’ve been so stubborn about using a cane– it makes me feel old. It also feels like cheating, because I don’t need it all the time. Some days I’m fine without it. But the fibromyalgia attacks my feet and legs and makes me unsteady from time to time, especially in the late afternoon. I feel like I’m acting out the Riddle of the Sphinx, walking on two legs during the day and three in the evening.

My friend from down the street was waiting with the stroller and her gaggle of five noisy grandchildren.

I saw the neighbor I’ve referred to Miss Manners glaring at us from behind her screen door. I’m still downright terrified of that neighbor, even though she hasn’t attacked or spoken to us since the bombastic events of last summer. She stared– impassive, motionless, as if she were a statue.

Rosie and I fell into line. The gaggle of children paraded around the block, with Grandmother, the stroller and me bringing up the rear. We walked up and down the jaggedy sidewalks of LaBelle as the sun sank lower and lower. We admired the brand new Spring flowers; the violets and dandelions that studded the lawns. We picked up sticks. We chatted about thrift stores and the best place to buy summer clothes for little ones. We speculated about when the baby would learn to walk– any minute now, surely. She looked excited to walk. It would be so much easier when she could walk, and amuse herself with the other children.

When we got home, the neighbor was still glaring out the screen door.

Rose brought out sidewalk chalk. I cringed when the children got too close to the edge of our yard with it– once my next door neighbor had almost broken my window when she’d found chalk on her side of the property line. But she just stood there.

Rose brought out her collection of battered plastic thrift store tricycles. She’s too tall to ride one comfortably, but she keeps them to play with anyway. The children pedaled around as the baby watched– and again, I cringed when one of them accidentally rode her back wheels up onto the corner of the next door neighbor’s lawn. Such a transgression would have gotten me into a world of trouble last year. But she did not move.

Last of all, Rose brought out her Grim Reaper mask and hood. Her father had bought her that mask on clearance last year, at the pop-up Halloween store.  It’s a truly horrifying mask, a grimacing skull of metallic plastic in a silky black cowl. Rosie likes to put it on her toys and then wrestle them into submission.

“I’ll be the swamp monster,” said Rose, slipping it on, “And you’ll all be the children who are scared of me.”

The children squealed. They ran through the yard and up and down the sidewalk as Rosie chased them, bellowing.  Then they each took turns wearing the mask, bellowing and chasing the others– one after another in a black skull mask and cowl, tearing after the giggling children in the dying rays of sunset.

Rosie got the mask back after the five guests had had a turn. She tore after them just as Michael came out to see what all the screaming was about. The children ran around behind him to hide.

“Excuse me, ladies,” said Michael, much to their delight, “But I am not a pillar!”

The danse macabre ended when Rose tried to give the mask to the baby, who shrieked in terror and would not be comforted.

We cleaned up our playthings and walked our friends back to their house– Rose pushing the stroller, the baby crying, the other children sulking because it was bedtime, Grandma and I tired and quite ready to lie down. The exhaustion went right to my joints, as it does. I’d barely needed the cane before we went on our walk, but it was scarcely enough to get me across the street on the way back.

My neighbor was still watching us from behind the screen door.

For all I know she’s still there.

(image via Wikimedia Commons) 

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