I see the car. I know it is not hers. I know, because she has been gone for years—at least gone from my world.
This car—it is the same color, the same make, maybe even the same year. The Volvo station wagon: the classic 240 that I helped her find and buy. Golden. Like my Volvo station wagon, only not midnight blue, as my then six-year-old son called it. Sturdy cars, both of them.
I had seen hers before, for real, over in Minneapolis, in front of the new home I would never visit, never close enough to our Merriam Park common spaces, conveniently distant for both of us.
Today, the sight of the golden oldie is stunning. Simple old car. Did I tell you I know it is not hers? Did I tell you I know she is not here, at any of the places near the car? Not at the neighboring restaurant, not waiting on my doorstep, not anywhere near the house.
But even at a distance, I know it is not hers. Not just because I am sure that she has, after many years, graduated to something newer. Not because it has been half a decade since we thought it desirable to talk to each other. I look at the car, and know its nuances are not hers. I know they are not the car’s either.
I know this from far away, but I have to look. I have to look up and down the block for her familiar figure. I have to look in the window of the restaurant. I have to look at my front and back doorstep. I have to peer through the windshield at the place where her lean silhouette and dark hair ringlets would be . . . if it was her.
I do not quite press my nose to the windshield. I do not quite look at the window for the telling decal. I do not need to count the blemishes and notice that they are all in the wrong places—but I almost execute all of these things, rituals, even though it is not her.
My heart sighs with relief and longing and curiosity because it knows it is safe.
Minutes later, two young men come out of the restaurant. They get in the car: Post-last-day-of-college-class treat. I see them get in and notice that it is not my seat, nor her seat, that is taken by either of them. They drive away. More relief.