Stranger by the River


Sometimes, you just have to go outside to take a picture, because it’s too beautiful not to. A quick picture, though, you’re not going on a photo safari, so you don’t need your coat. Your slippers will be fine, they have rubber soles, and moccasins are practically boots anyway. You’re not going to leave the driveway, right? Well, the street, at least… although the sidewalk to the bridge looks relatively clear. Certainly you can’t jump the snowbank at the crosswalk in your slippers, that would be silly.. but the view from the park looks especially fine, so you try it and find you’re more nimble than you thought..

Ten minutes later you find yourself in the driveway of the waterworks building, because the lot at the town park hasn’t been plowed yet and you’re absolutely sure you don’t want to try navigating that in slippers, even moccasins.

A car pulls up, and a grinning woman you’re never met waves at you, and indicates through mime that she, too, is there to take some pictures of the snow, and the river, and the trees. When she gets out of her car, you’re already in the middle of the conversation with her, because you speak mime, and you speak to strangers, and this lady does too.

“I was headed for the grocery store,” She calls, “and I just kind of wound up here!”

You indicate your slippers and inadequate cotton sweater, and say “I was just going to take the one photo, from my driveway. That’s a block away.”

This small commonality, this little intersection, this admission that neither of you really expected to be standing on the side of the river at noon on a Saturday with a stranger, opens doors in your conversation. You both find that you’re quite a bit alike, both language lovers, both connected to history and antiques, both mothers.

She is a teacher, and you connect with that, with her passion for her craft of education. She talks about poetry and young writers and laureates as if they are themselves great sonnets, masterpieces formed or in the making. You recognize in her the great teachers you’ve had, and grin happily to yourself that you’ve found a new friend.

You learn that you are exactly thirty years apart in age, that you are both madly in love with South Berwick. She has lived here longer, in fact raised her daughters here, in a house just up the street. She talks about her children, and the pride in her voice is a thing you can feel, a thing you can touch, soft and strong and loving.

Her eyes cut to the sky above the river, and she says “I had three daughters, actually. We lost our youngest twenty years ago. She was a poet.”

And then it clicks. There’s an actual click, like a key in a lock, or a spoke turning on a geared wheel. It’s a silent click and deafening, loud enough that it shakes snow from the branches and birds into the sky.
You smile, because you are so, incredibly grateful that you get to say the next words:

“I knew your daughter. I knew Abby.”

Your new friend reels back a few steps, and then stops, arms wide to keep her balance against thin air. She stares at you, and you can’t help but smile, because you know that once she processes this, she’s going to be very happy. And you’re right, because then she turns her face to she sky, and laughs, and you think that’s probably the most joyful sound you’ve heard in ages.

The rest of the time you spent on the riverbank, with cardinals sweeping a backdrop against the sky and snow dropping from the branches in the sunlight.. the rest of the time is just for her, and you, and for Abby. That part’s not your story to tell, not really, not yet.