This is a favourite postcard* I purchased fifteen years ago on my first trip to Portugal. I call it “woman waiting.”
Is she waiting for the letter I haven’t written? For a visit, I promised but haven’t made the time to commit an hour? For her child that hasn’t come home in a very long time.
I wrote this short story with thoughts of longing and desperation.
They used to have pictures on milk cartons©
by Annette Bower©
Today, I’m at the cenotaph until the sun sets or my toes freeze.
“Please look at my picture, maybe you’ve seen my son. My boy.” Women stop when I beg. If they shake their heads too quickly, I can’t grab their coat sleeves. They might call the police again. Who would be afraid of your mother? My face is all wrinkles and I’m thinner than I used to be.
When they ask about you, I tell them that you weren’t a beggar, you were an entertainer. When people liked what they heard they slipped coins into your case. I tell them that you knew when you were pitied. I tell them that you played your guitar over by those trees during the summer before you went away.
It’s sunny today, but the wind is cold enough to bite the tail off a dog. I should have worn more than two pairs of pants. I got new gloves, the kind where my fingers stick out until I flip up the cover. The coat from the shelter is warm but if I bundle up too much those passing by won’t look at me.
“Sir, sir, excuse me. Please look at my picture. Have you seen him? He’s changed. He’s older. I need to find him.”
Every day this man walks by me, with his head down and never looks at me. I know you’re not like him. You’d stop and speak with an old woman.
There’s this nice young woman who brings me a coffee and doughnut every working day. She gave me these gloves. One day she took one of your pictures and when she came back she’d made a dozen copies. I was so happy, I cried. They blow away if I forget to put them under a stone. Sometimes some of the young kids in the park tease me and I leave in a hurry, then I miss seeing her. When I find you, I’ll introduce you to her. She’d make a fine daughter-in-law.
Remember how we used to enjoy the cathedral bells calling the faithful to worship. Some days if I close my eyes, I can feel your little hand curled in my palm. We would run up the steps and then side by side we were coloured by the sunbeams through the stained glass windows. And when the organist played and the choir sang, you asked me if this is heaven.
Since you’ve been gone, I tried showing some of the ladies in the congregation your picture, the bishop suggested I leave. They parishioners were uncomfortable.
I’ll turn eighty-five in a few days, son. I wish you’d write or come home. I had to move. I left our address and a copy of your picture with the new owner so if you drop by she’ll recognize you. I’ve put your books on the shelf and your t-shirts are in the closet.
One day, I’ll call to a man and he’ll stop, look, and say, “That’s me…Mom?”
Published: “They Used to Put Pictures on Milk Cartons.” the Society March 2010: 8
*postcard: foto: N. Kustos art & concept: G.A. Wittich