She stood silent, still, head raised, listening, smoking. In the cool, crisp after rain, at the end of the lane, at the bottom of her garden.
All that summer I saw her, with the sun coming up low in the east. That would be early, my morning constitutional, her morning smoke, mist or rain or long shadows to the west. She never looked my way, not once, not even when I deliberately scuffled my feet, kicking up the gravel.
I had a feeling that she was from away. Out of place, out of time. She wore wide- bottomed slacks from the fifties, shirt tucked in, sleeves rolled up.
At first I thought she was an image imprinted on my retina like you sometimes have after staring too long into a bright light. I thought I might be remembering my cousin tripping down the garden path all those years ago. Because of the smoking. My cousin used to smoke in just that manner, holding the cigarette up close to her face, wrist acting as a hinge. My older sophisticated cousin. Ever since, to me there is something mysterious about a woman in a garden at an early hour smoking. Like Proust’s madeleine, the image brings forth a raft of remembrances.
But who is this woman who seems to be waiting, waiting and listening? Who is she waiting for? What is she listening for? The song of robins? The thrum of traffic on the street below? Rather, she seems to be turned inward, listening to her waiting, listening to her story.
She is alone. Now that he is gone. Now that she has foolishly told him to go. They were of different races or religions, or his or her family did not approve. Or did they quarrel? Was it some foolish quarrel over nothing that resulted in her having to get through all her future nights alone?
Or with the husband she chose instead of him. There’s that one, too. The woman who has married the wrong man.
Right hand raised holding the cigarette, left hand holding a tin container for ashes, I could never see her left hand to look for a ring. I didn’t want to stare.
She can not be an ordinary woman, with kids in the house eating Cheerios, a husband looking into the bathroom mirror shaving. Maybe she has a career downtown in one of those tall oil buildings. No, I don’t like that at all. Unless she’s having an affair with a co-worker. But there’s no romance in that.
She must be waiting and listening for a lover. As someone once said: for a woman, love is the only subject. A man is a novel eager as a puppy to read himself to her. A woman is silent waiting for someone who will find her and stick around long enough to read her.
But perhaps she is waiting for someone in her future, waiting for a voice, a footstep, an embrace. No. Past is better, there’s more melancholy there. More bonjour tristesse.
Although, future could be that she is waiting for a lover who does not come because he has no idea she wants him to come. But that’s irony. This is not an ironic story.
This is a sad story. She waited for him for so long, waited for him to come and rescue her from her aloneness, but he never came. She became engaged to another. Of what now does she dream? What now are the strivings of her heart?
In the early morning after rain, her smoke mixes with the damp and spirals upward, acrid and sweet. As I pass and make my turn down onto the paved street I recall that Freud once said, sometimes a cigar is only a cigar. Is it possible that a girl at the end of the garden having a smoke is simply a girl at the end of the garden having a smoke?