We got back from Knoxville and stopped at a restaurant to eat, Mom put our name in and I went to the bathroom. It was stuffy in the lobby, she passed me a menu but I studied the cars passing outside. It would be 10 or 20 minutes to get seated. “So is it 10 or 20?” The hostess pressed her lips together, declining a reply.
I took my coat off and pushed hair away from my neck – why was it so stuffy in here?
I muttered something about needing air and pushed open the heavy wooden door. The heat off the street buffeted my face, smelling of sewage and traffic. I glanced up and saw the wind stirring the flags, coming from the north west, but it couldn’t reach me here. I wove through pedestrians to the corner and closed my eyes, picturing the spring grass at the farm, the daffodils lining the fence in the front yard, and the sound of contented horses grazing.
The wind reaches me there, smelling of sweet hay and spring buds.
I’m stifling on the street corner, traffic whizzing and screeching by, people buffeting me with shoulders and strange glances. There’s no air here, there’s no meadows and ridge lines set ablaze with sunlight.
The American flag whips and snaps far above me, taking my breeze. I think of rolling hills, of the ‘pursuit of happiness’ and sigh. They say home is where you hang your hat, and I’ve left mine at the farmhouse, perched on the dinner bell near the kitchen door.
I return to the lobby, and the tight-lipped hostess leads us to a booth. My mother and I slide in to sit across from each other, and I realize she gave me the view of the busy street. But I can’t see the flags from here.
Her hat is hung in Florida: but she recognizes the look in my eyes. I imagine it is the same look my Grandfather gave when Dad asked for her hand. It is the look of letting something go that you love most in all the world. It is releasing your right to happiness, and giving it the wings to fly. That pained look when you close your hand on empty air.
Soon, I will fall asleep to the sounds of traffic. The orange street lights will no longer keep me awake. I will breathe deeply the smell of freshly cut grass, and pretend for a moment there are horses grazing on it. In the mornings I have no chickens to feed or cats to let out, but when I open all the windows, the breeze will rush through my house like it does in the hall of the barn, and I pretend that one day it will be.