When we first moved to the little brick house at the corner, on that snowy day in February, I worried about walking the same route morning and afternoon, day after day.
It would be easy to learn my route; easy to know I was coming; easy to lay in wait.
And so, whether the result of an overactive imagination or three years sandwiched between Baltimore and Washington, D.C., I shifted my route on occasion. Just to be safe.
I’d forgotten about that until recently, walking the eight blocks between the little house that’s ours and the windowless office, I realized I hadn’t seen an older woman I pass every day. And I worried that I don’t know her name, and so if she ends up on page four with the obituaries, I won’t know.
It’s only been a year and a half and I’ve gone from thinking about potential violence on my regular walks to a sort of friendliness with people I know by sight, not by name.
There’s the boy who seems to spend his mornings on the front rug of his small house, kneeling in pajamas in front of the glass door, watching us go by. Some mornings I seem him run out to the front steps, grab the Tribune and dart back inside.
Once he lingered there, on the porch, to pet two hounds the old woman was walking. But if I smile his way he disappears further into the house.
There’s the man who runs every morning, before the heat rises from the pavement. He comes up behind me about halfway through and when he says hello, he doesn’t sound winded, though his run ends half a block up the road.
And there’s the woman, as much a part of my morning walk as the rabbits that dot yards and driveways every morning.
Each day I pass her in the morning, wearing a long-sleeve denim shirt as a jacket, two fat-bodied, graying dogs padding stiffly before her. She uses a walking stick but all three move faster than they you expect them to.
In the afternoons I pass them again, on the way home. And sometimes, driving home in the deep dusk after a meeting, I see them once again.
But for the past week, two weeks, she hasn’t been there. I wondered if it’s the heat; or if one or both of the dogs is ailing; or if she is. I wondered if she was on vacation. I wondered.
And then, driving home last night, I saw her, in a dress this time as if she’d just got back from somewhere, old dogs running before her with heads lifted (as high as old hound heads can go).
Today I mostly had the road to myself; I passed one woman walking a golden retriever, coffee mug in one hand, while a black cat stalked a discreet distance behind them.
But I felt oddly relieved. And one of these days I’ll have to ask her name.