Sunday, July 20, 2014

The Steam Lady

Miss Martha woke up to her small dog scratching away at her door, like most mornings.

"Pssshp!" she hissed at the dog. It stopped for a moment before resuming its assault. Sighing, Miss Martha pushed herself out of bed and let the high-strung runt into her room.

She began her routine: shower, dentures, dress, and the like. She used to take more care with how she dressed, but at some point she stopped caring. Every once in a while the dog would get too obnoxious underfoot, which would elicit another annoyed hiss. Other than that, the morning was quiet, save for the single ding of the toaster oven and the low gurgle of the coffee pot.

Her morning activities complete, Miss Martha looked at her schedule for the day. It had but one entry: "Independence Hall". She sighed. Every year for the past fifteen or so years she went down to Independence Hall to listen to the public reading of the Declaration of Independence on the eighth of July and every year it became more and more of a chore.

She trundled out of her house, lamenting how bad her neighborhood had become. Once filled with honest working folk, it had turned into a wasteland a couple decades back. What was even worse was that now she had to deal with these young white kids with their skinny jean shorts and bad tattoos.

"Pssshp!" she hissed at a skateboarder who ventured too close. She felt it was best to make them keep their distance.

Finally making it to the station, she rode the escalator up to the El platform. At the top, she stopped to fish for her card. It wasn't much of a card anymore - bleached from its original yellow and more like a bunch of napkins glued together, one could barely read "Senior Citizen" typed at the top. A couple kids tried to push by her. She hissed.

The attendant tiredly pushed whatever button she needed to push and the turnstyle beeped. Miss Martha made her way to the benches to sit for a minute when the El interrupted her endeavor. She hissed at the El - she wanted to sit. Instead, she lumbered aboard.

Taking three steps to the left, she surveyed the front of the car. No seats. She let out a hiss.

She turned around, took three steps toward the back of the car and, clutching the pole with her card in hand, she once again assessed the seating situation. No seats. Hiss.

Resigned to her fate, Miss Martha turned in place to face the boys next to the car's exit. The one on her right was white, about thirty, sweaty, fat, and needed a shave. She thought he probably should be at work. To her right was a wiry black kid who she thought needed to be in school. She didn't like the look of either of them.

Fifth Street Station was a moment away. Just as she'd suspected, these boys were up to no good - they both turned their back to her, blocking the car doors from letting her exit when the car doors opened.

"Pssshp!" she declared.

Luckily for the boys, they exited at fifth as well. She still would have been happier bowling them over. She fumed as she went to the elevator, hissing when it wasn't already on her level. Exiting at street level, she finally remembered to put her card back in her purse. She hissed as someone pushed past her to get out of the elevator.

Independence Visitor Center was a few dozen yards away, and Miss Martha trundled along in the heat, finally making it to the ticket desk. She hissed at the family of five who was in line in front of her. Three kids were too many in this day and age.

When it was her turn, the attendant asked how many tickets she wanted. The old woman glared and raised her right index finger.

"Okay, ma'am, your tour will start at one pm. The entrance to the park is on the southwest corner of fifth and chestnut, one block that way," the ticket agent pointed. "Please feel free to go explore the other buildings around, just make sure to be in line for your tour by ten of."

Miss Martha looked at the girl, looked at the clock behind her, and looked at the 01:00PM stamped on the ticket. Two hours from now. She managed to get four steps away from the desk before she hissed again.

It was getting warmer out, so she decided to duck into the Bourse while she waited for the reading. While it was crowded, she was able to find a seat at a four-person table. For the first time since leaving the house she sat. She let out half a hiss, and half a sigh.

Noon rolled around after a bit, so it was time for the reading. Miss Martha pushed herself out of her seat at about a quarter of and started the trek down the block. It was impossible to tell what was more annoying: the foot traffic or the car traffic. In either case, she made it across the two streets, hissing once at a car, once at a lady pushing a stroller, and once at the cobblestones. With a minute to spare, she hissed her way to the front of the crowd.

All told, the reading was as patriotic as any other year. Congress Hall and the West Wing provided a much needed respite from the noon sun, and the tour itself was agreeable. Her threshold for excitement reached, she started back from whence she came. Trundling, elevators, passes, beeps, benches, the El (with seats!), a long walk down, and a short walk home. She put on a kettle for tea and sat down with the dog.

The tea kettle whistled.

"Pssshp!" Miss Martha hissed, both to get the dog off her lap and to quiet the kettle. Neither listened. The old woman dealt with both.

A book preceded dinner, which preceded television, which preceded bed. She worked through her nightly ritual, hissing when the ball of fur would get underfoot.

Leaving only a light to turn off and a bed to enter, she closed the door, dog outside.

"Good night," she whispered, to no one.

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