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Around and Around
Donovan was late.
I expected this, of course, but on this day it particularly bothered me. There I was, sitting by myself on the wide, smooth front steps of an old museum with nothing but some dusty exhibits and a few roomfuls of strangers inside to keep me company. You'd think that after seven months, I'd have gotten used to my boyfriend showing up late to things, but on this day, it was even worse because I had misread the bus schedule and was an hour earlier than when we agreed to meet. I reached into my jacket pocket for my cell to call the boy, but then I remembered I had left it at home on the kitchen table. I sighed. Now the only thing to do was find a place to wait.
The dinosaur exhibit never held much appeal to me--I always think the bones are going to come crashing down on me. The second floor with the smaller display rooms was closed for renovations and I avoided gift shops on principle (the principle being that I don't like spending money on tourist-y crap I don't need) so that just left the carousel exhibit. I had checked it out a couple times before with Joyce and Sharon, but we never stayed long. When I'm with those two, we're so fluttery and giddy. Our energies are just scattered. We never have the patience for anything. It's fun, but to be honest, it sometimes leaves me with this hollow sort of feeling. That's one of the things I really like about Don: I feel more grounded around him. Plus, he teaches me patience. Even if it's accidental, like in this situation.
As a typical rainy Saturday, the place was brimming with people: a handful of mothers leading around wide-eyed children, an old woman in a violet shawl, a couple college students scribbling into notebooks, the occasional goateed professor-type conferring with a colleague. Despite the crowds, the room's high ceiling made it cavernous. Glass cases featuring a collection of faded photographs, fraying ticket stubs, and other bits of memorabilia lined the walls. The main attraction, however, was the antique merry-go-round in the center of the room.
Uprooted from the boardwalk where it had reigned majestically for over a century, the carousel dominated the space. Even though paint was chipping away in certain parts and every scratch, nick, and bit of rust was perfectly preserved, the splendor of it took my breath away. The overhead gears and cranks, though brown with age, fit together perfectly and emanated power like a finely-tuned pocket watch. The circumference of the umbrella structure featured swirly carvings so intricate and detailed, it was like they had sewn clouds right onto it. Realistically-posed horses, zebras, lions, swans, sea monsters, dogs, and cats were included in the menagerie of riding animals. They were poised proudly on the golden rods, each face displaying quiet nobility. I couldn't stop staring at such craftsmanship. Jeweled saddles, tassels, flying manes, flowers, and other ornamentation abounded. The carousel's haunting beauty resonated throughout the hall.
I was observing the scene from the edge, near one of the glass-encased exhibits. It was nice being there by myself--I had more concentration. I turned to go get a better view away from the corner, but I was so entranced that I nearly barreled someone over.
"Oh! Excuse me, I'm so sorry," I said, looking up at the almost-victim of my obliviousness. It was the old woman with the violet shawl that I had noticed before, gazing at an aged, yellowing photograph behind the glass. Were we the only people in the museum unaccompanied?
"Quite all right, dear." She smiled at me, then readjusted her shawl to cover her shoulders. "How grand it is in here, I sometimes forget other people are around too."
I laughed. "Very true."
She turned back to the case and I started to walk away, but then I noticed the expression on her face. She was staring at this photograph with an open look of joy, longing, and nostalgia. I stepped over for a closer look and focused in. The picture showed a boy and girl in line for the carousel, no older than five or six, their faces shining with anticipation and excitement.
"Do you…do you know the people in this photograph?"
The old woman turned and considered me. A brief look of recognition passed over her face. "I've seen you here before, haven't I? With those loud, curly-haired girls, I believe. Where are your partners-in-crime today, dear?"
I nodded. "I come in with them sometimes, but I'm waiting for someone else today. A different friend. I find myself waiting for him quite often, to be honest."
She smiled knowingly. "Waiting isn't always a bad thing, you know."
I studied her. Deep-set wrinkles from years of worry and laughter lined her face like rivers crisscrossing a map. The experiences of an entire life were in her complexion. I hoped I could wear my age like that someday. This woman had so much dignity and--
"My name is Grace. And yours?"
"I'm Charlotte." We shook hands. "A pleasure, Grace." Because it really was.
"Indeed." She smiled again. "Would you like to hear a secret, Charlotte?"
Grace looked from me to the carousel and back. "The little girl in the photograph was me. I was in line that day with my best friend Joseph. It was the first time either of us had been on a carousel. We were so delighted!" Her deep brown eyes sparkled. "We got married when I was twenty and he was twenty-one. We were together for fifty-three years, but we were friends for much longer than that. There was never any doubt that we were meant for each other. My husband died two years ago, Charlotte, and just as I did seventy years ago in line for that carousel, I am now anticipating the same thing as Joseph, something great and inevitable and awe-inspiring indeed."
I was floored. "That's--that's brilliant."
"Waiting is the backdrop of life, my dear. From it, we learn patience, a necessary staple in any and all relationships. We're always waiting for the next big thing to happen, the next big event to focus our energies on. But without anticipation, where would the excitement be?"
"At the museum, maybe," I said. She laughed--a high, clear sound. There was a tap on my shoulder, so I swiveled around. "Donovan!"
Can you believe it? My boy was standing there with his signature goofy grin, holding a small bouquet of violets. "Hi Charlotte! These are for you."
I accepted the flowers and looked up at him. Suddenly I couldn't stop smiling. "Don, this is my friend Grace. Grace, Donovan."
"Ma'am." He tipped his hat in greeting.
She beamed at him. "Nice to meet you."
Donovan turned to me. "Sorry I'm late. Were you waiting long?"
I shrugged. "Oh, you know. Good things come to those who wait."
Hoffman Estates, Illinois
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