The garage door growls shut and gravel crunches under tires as the car pulls out of the driveway. Upstairs the TV is on low. I can just make out the gurgle of cartoon voices over the steady tick of the carved German coo-coo clock on the wall over my head. Gently I drift back to sleep again, snuggled deep in the depths of my dad’s sleeping bag on the couch.
“Auntie. Wake time, Auntie.”
Cold little fingers touch my face. My eyes open slowly. They are heavy with sleep, drowning under the weight of dreams unfinished. They fall shut. The sleeping bag shifts slightly and cool air washes over my legs. My four year old nephew, K, climbs in with me. His pale fingers go to my eyes, trying to help them stay open.
“Morning Auntie,” he says. “Up now.”
He helps me pry my eyes open. The clock above us notes that the hour is 6:23. Dawn has barely made it through the shades over the windows. So much for sleeping in.
Pale yellow sunlight sweeps away morning shadows along the southern facing side of the street. At a red light we stop by a small stone cathedral. It has brilliant red doors and a surrounding wall of yellow brick. The church bell in its stone tower announces eight o’clock. There isn’t another soul in sight. It’s a college town on a Saturday morning and most of its inhabitants have just found their way to bed, their temporarily abandoned cars dotting several parking places ahead of us.
The light turns green and we continue down the street until it ends at the railroad. A yellow engine streaked with greasy black above the wheels rests several tracks away piping thick black clouds into the weak blue sky. I park the car and take out the key. In his car seat K clutches a zip-lock bag full of knights and horses. He looks at me in the rearview mirror.
“I like your shirt Auntie,” he says. “Did you get it at Ross?”
I laugh. His mum works at Ross and he asked the same question of my clogs as we were leaving the house a few minutes earlier.
“Nope, not at Ross,” I tell him. “Should we get out?”
He nods. Cold fall wind brushes our cheeks, cuts through our clothes. The wide sidewalk seems to reflect the sunlight, turning the grey surface dirty white. K grabs my hand. His eyes are wide, alert; mine are still tired, itchy and unwelcoming of the brightness.
“We’re going right here.” I point to a slightly worn, sun-faded green door with a glass window in the center. Wide windows sit to the left of the door behind a faux wooden bench sitting along the sidewalk. A forest of stained-glass frames the windows, leaving the center clear. I can see a man sitting at a large rectangular table in the corner, typing on a laptop.
We step inside. Bells tinkle overhead as the door shuts behind us and K takes in the wonder of the store. To our left is a steep stairwell to the second story where I like to study. The floor beneath our feet is worn wood, more black in some places than brown. Several tables, all dark wood, in varying shapes and sizes are clustered in the sunlight coming through the windows. Mismatched wooden chairs circle the tables. Beyond these, further into the shop, are towers of shelves full of books once read and loved by countless strangers. The shelves are pale wood, pine maybe. Small step-stools wait at the bottom of a few, ready to help with perusal of the higher shelves. Near the back of the shop, thrown into shadows this morning, is the counter with baked goods on display and a giant black board on the wall listing various coffee choices and food delights. The store owner smiles as us and goes into the kitchen.
K and I inhale. The air smells sweet this morning, like muffins or waffles, layered over the steady scent of paper and ink, dusk and coffee. K isn’t sure what to make of this place. His eyes travel to the man in the corner and back to me.
“Where shall we sit?” I ask.
He picks a small round table, shiny and smooth, close to the table where the man sits. I put my bag in a round-backed chair with a wide seat. K climbs onto a straight-backed chair the same color as the bookshelves. He clutches his bag of knights and horses in his hands. I sit down next to him to wait for my mum who is coming to meet us soon. Aside from us and the typing man, there are no other customers.
K and I talk quietly. He takes out a few of his knights and horses, explaining to me their epic battles. Our table neighbor glances over at us, a smile on his face. I can tell that he thinks I am the tired worn out mum of the toe-headed toddler next to me rather than the adoring aunt who is a the fifth year college student weighed down with mountains of homework. I smile back and look out the window for my mum’s car.
The bar across the street, the Buckhorn, already has customers. The regulars are there from opening till close on weekends, some people say. Besides the Buckhorn and the coffee shop none of the other shops are open yet, their storefronts still cast into shadow. It’s early. So early.
Slowly my gaze softens and I can see my reflection staring back at me in the glass. K rides a knight up my arm. He slides off his chair and onto my lap so the knight can reach my head. I watch us in the window reflection, our faces pale and happiness wrapped about us. I smile and get a view of the mum I could be one day, tired but with a full heart.
And I give thanks that this day is not that day.