A Perfect Interlude

We were stopped for roadwork on Route 128, waiting behind a short line of cars. Between Boonville and Cloverdale, 128 is a sinuous, narrow two lanes, with enough twists and turns to challenge my composure. I often close my eyes for the 40-minute drive, looking back out at the world only when we arrive at Interstate 101, which means that most of our 128 route is unfamiliar to me. But this time, I opened my eyes at the halfway point, and when I did, I noticed a modest one-storey house just to our right. Most buildings along 128 are set back into the hills, but this house was perched close to the road’s edge—an unusual situation for what had the appearance of a cozy family home.

As I took in the tidy front porch, with its wicker chair and collection of plants, a woman opened the front door and stepped out. Slim, wearing jeans and a nondescript blouse, her gray hair pulled back tightly into a slender ponytail, she pulled the chair to the middle of the small porch, brushed it off and sat down– without even glancing toward the roadwork or the line of cars just 20 feet in front of her. Still ignoring the scene, she reached for a pair of glasses sitting on a small table, settled them on her nose, then placed a magazine on her lap, letting it fall open toward the middle.

Slowly, she began turning the pages, not reading, but appearing to take in what the magazine offered. After several page turns, a slender tabby cat appeared out of nowhere and jumped onto the table near the woman. For the first time since appearing on the porch, she looked up, a smile breaking onto her face, as she began stroking the cat, from head to tail, long graceful strokes, the cat arching its head and body in response.

When the cat jumped, predictably, onto the woman’s lap, she closed the magazine and placed it on the table, her whole attention now devoted to lightly scratching the cat’s belly, then flank, then behind each ear. For her, nothing else existed but this cat, not the load of wash she might have placed in the dryer, or the soup that could have been simmering on the stove. Not the old lady, her mother, who could have been asleep in one of the bedrooms in the rear of the house, toward the woods.

As I watched her fully engaged in scratching the cat, I felt everything around me—Stephen, the other cars, the road workers, the road itself—dissolve, until this woman, her house, her cat and I existed in a world apart, a world outside of time. This woman could be any woman, I thought, living near a rural road anywhere, in Iowa, Utah, New Jersey, Georgia, Alabama. This scene could be taking place at any time—today, last year, a decade, a century ago.

Such an intimate moment, enacted right in front of me, in plain sight, so close to the road! Such a peaceful scene playing out so near at hand. Such a privilege to be pulled directly into this scene, all boundaries dissolved, allowing me to experience a perfect moment, a moment outside of time. Outside of place. A moment during which I dissolved, along with all my earthy entanglements, sorrows, and joys. A moment during the pandemic, a moment of sheltering in place. A moment of social distance during which all distance evaporated.

Cactus Scar

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