A black, polished Mercedes slid along side the playground the way a glove slides along grit. Dark tinted windows kept whoever rode inside hidden –- a glass vault with a suction lid. Kids on the yard pressed to the fence, tugged there by the car and the question about who might be inside. Then, the vessel stopped.

Back window rolled down to let sun shine on the face of a pale skinned woman, high cheeked and red lipped, eyes concealed by dark green sunglasses. She lifted her aged and lined face toward the playground and seemed to take in the huddle of curious children who had gathered by tens and twenties.

I approached the fence – a stand-out in a blue coat and red tie. My arrival ushered in the who-are-you as well as the time-to-move-along. Tinted window rolled up, air-lock sucked shut, and the polished black vehicle resumed its slide downward.

I mentioned the encounter to Ms. Emma Jackson, a long-time staffer and a resident of the neighborhood. She had grown up on these streets and knew the aunts and uncles who had placed the half dozen or so RIP shines on corners surrounding the school. They, like her, were the old guard. She would know – if anyone would know – the name and story behind our red-lipped visitor.

Lucille. Ms. Johnson named her without flinching. Miss Lucille to all of us who grew up here. She must be seventy something now. Before my time. She went to school here. She grew up here. Her daddy used to live in that top floor unit across the street. He would curse her out on her way to school. They took him off when he started throwing his empties out the window at people below. She got out and got rich and moved to Alamo. I wonder what made her come back?

Ms. Jackson’s question was identical to mine. Why had she come back to these streets and this playground? Sliding by in a bullet proof car, rolling down the window, looking up at all of us who now ran through streets she once knew. . .

I would tell her story this way, though I will not likely have a chance to check the facts:

She left. She took her battered self away and moved the circumstances of her life to a walled town on the other side of the Bay. She then cashed in and hired a driver. She hired guards, installed cameras, and eased her nerves with something legal but sure-fire.

And, her little soul, still cut by the thousand slights and the stolen hopes, stayed on because that same soul had work to do in the grit and the glass that neighbors here call normal.

My friend Joe Weston often talks about the courage of the flower – gentle and vulnerable but opened to the elements for that one chance – see me, touch me, help me know I count. I have no idea what might be happening in Ms. Lucille’s mind. I do wonder at the arc of a life that looks, from the outside, like a grand and gradual retreat.

But what she thinks of her grind of a time here is no business of mine. Could she open up again? Could the grit in her veins melt? Could her soul find peace and make its way home? I won’t ever know. What I do know is that I make up stories all the time, and once in a while, they come true.


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