The five o’clock train that pulls out of the station announces I’ve got an hour left on my shift. If that dog barks while I’m snacking or in the can, I try to be quieter. My duty is to be diligent and watchful and to remain calm in case of emergency. I’ve been training myself for the day looters approach, waiting for someone to cross me, a trespasser, a thief. I rehearse the answers to difficult questions that an officer or the insurance claims investigator may ask during the interview.
On shift, just before dawn, a wind rattles the leaves and the dog whimpers. Like a shadow tearing itself from the trees, flocks of birds take flight. The debris from fallen nests litters the alley. Alert, I study the brush for random or unusual movement. The smell of oil from the refinery clings as it passes. The sulphuric smell from the beach suggests south-east winds.
Then a flash of light, an opening in the sky like a night unzipped. Brilliant. Vast. Lightning? No. A comet? No, no, no. More like fingers and a face exposed, lashing out, then blinking shut.
Anticipating any slight disruption, I hold my breath and coil tight. My heart races to a panic from awe, then, overcome by silence and the dawn’s early light, I surrender into a blanket of calm. Beyond the gate, strollers walk side by side and I taste chalk or ash.
That face. I drop to my knees and weep for the first time in years. All at once, I weep for her– the most loved, and then for her meals which have been generous yet unappreciated, and I choke at the thought of my first sight of Baby, and again, from the memory of him, years later, cowering from a beating… All these moments that come and go, had remained bottled and buried beneath the duty of my job and these tasks.
Now unearthed, what do I do with this? The five o’clock train pulls out of the station and I remain on my knees until you arrive, until you put your hand on my shoulder, informing me my shift is over and that it’s time to go home.
“You didn’t see what I saw,” I explain.