Barbara Lansing put down the paring knife, rinsed her hands, and took off her apron. She’d known this day was coming, but had nevertheless been helpless to keep it at bay.
Turning toward the garage, she grabbed her purse off the kitchen counter and strode with singular purpose across the room. She ignored the wailing of the hungry baby, stepped around the puddle of grape jelly that three-year-old Chrissy was eating off the floor, and offered no response to five-year-old Jared’s toy-throwing tantrum in the far corner.
Without a word she walked through the door and closed it behind her. For a moment she faltered. The garage was empty. Only now did she remember that they’d sold her husband’s car to pay the property taxes just three days earlier, and today he had driven hers to work. But she hesitated only briefly before punching the garage opener button. She walked through the open door and down the driveway, pulling out her cell phone as she went She speed-dialed a number. It began to ring as she turned onto the sidewalk. Her sister answered.
“Come now.” She did not break her stride as she approached the end of the block. “I don’t know. Just come. The kids need you.” Her sister was still speaking as she switched off the phone and slipped it back into her purse. She let her mind go blank and continued walking.
She found herself standing on the corner of Lincoln Avenue. The traffic signal had changed several times, yet she did not cross. Where was she going? Away. That was the only answer she could give. Just, away.
The light changed yet again, and the traffic on Lincoln began moving once more. The Number 64 bus pulled to the curb and stopped just feet from where she was standing. The door opened, but no one emerged. It took her a moment to realize that the driver was staring at her expectantly. He was waiting for her. Without knowing why, she stepped aboard, dug through her purse for enough change to make the fare, and took a seat midway back on the right-hand side.
She had no idea where she was going. She didn’t want to think about it. She didn’t want to think, period. But now her mind was obsessing over the two dollars she’d just spent needlessly. It could have bought enough bread for twenty peanut butter sandwiches. Or enough eggs for two quiches. Or enough gas for five trips to the grocery store. She had no business wasting that kind of money. Not in their circumstances. And there was no telling when things might improve. Or if.
Tom had been laid off from his six-figure Silicon Valley job nearly two years ago and unemployment, which wasn’t much to begin with, had completely run out. Now he was working as a self-employed contractor, without benefits. She had been unable to find any work at all. Her credentials as a stay-at-home mom didn’t count for much, unless you counted daycare. But with unemployment so high, the supply of that was far greater than the current demand. And any other job she might find would require her and Tom to pay someone else for daycare.
She’d been pinching pennies since she before Alex was born. She’d been pregnant with him when Tom lost his job. It seemed only a minor obstacle at the time; Surely Tom would find something else right away with his extensive experience. But it hadn’t worked out that way. Tom was only one of thousands of similarly qualified workers who were in the same position. It was a global recession. They had to adjust to a harsh new reality.
Her cheerless reverie was interrupted by what she now saw out the window. The bus had just crossed Minnesota Avenue and was passing through the heart of the Willow Glen shopping district. And there, across the street, sat the building that was once home to the Garden Theater, a favorite childhood haunt of hers. She used to go to the movies there with her mother and siblings almost every week. Then, nearly two decades ago, the theater had closed and been turned into office space. It had broken her heart. The facade had been maintained, and the vertical neon “Garden” sign had been left intact. There hadn’t been any movies shown there since.
What she saw now made no sense. It couldn’t be. The neon sign was lit, together with its scrolling marquee lights, while the marquee itself announced “Movie Classics.” The second line read “Matinees 1:00 & 3:00.” For a moment she forgot all about her anxiety and stared in amazement. Then, on sheer impulse, she hit the signal strip under the window, lighting the “Next Stop” sign at the front of the bus.
When the bus pulled away. leaving her at the corner of Willow Street, she crossed Lincoln Avenue and walked back toward the theater. Memories flooded back as she found herself once again filled with the wonder and excitement of her childhood, retracing the same sidewalk route that had led her to the theater so many times before. She stopped in front of the hexagonal box office kiosk, set apart at the center of the building entrance, just under the marquee.
When had this been transformed? She couldn’t remember the last time she’d been by this way, but surely it hadn’t been that long ago. It couldn’t have happened that fast. Yet here it was. To either side of the entrance ramp the poster boxes displayed advertisements for classic black-and-white films from the Thirties and Forties. Behind the box office, a dozen wooden doors with frosted glass windows at their center looked just as she remembered them, their palm-frond and tropical designs promising a mini vacation inside.