A knock at the back door.
From the other room, I hear Husband’s footsteps pass through the kitchen. The deadbolt clicks, then our alarm system’s computerized female voice announces, “Back door,” to let us know it’s open. A real woman speaks now and Husband answers, their voices muffled by walls. Curious, I saunter into the kitchen.
“Hang on,” Husband says to our visitor. He grabs an empty plastic Target bag from the dispenser and heads for the fridge.
When adult neighbors come to our back door it’s usually an emergency, like the time a woman pounded on the glass, begging us to quick call the police. But she didn’t need to say it; her bruises and blood quickened my steps to the phone.
I glimpse the woman outside our door now. She isn’t bloodied, but she shifts her weight from one foot to the other like she’s struggling to balance on a paddle board, on waters that are too bumpy. She darts looks around her. Her mouth sags.
“Where’s the peanut butter?” my man asks me.
I pluck it from the cupboard and hand it to him. He bags a partial loaf of bread too, the remainder of the milk, a fistful of granola bars, and a few apples from the bowl.
He gives the bag of food to the woman, and she passes out of our lives by way of the back yard’s gate.
Husband pours himself a cup of coffee.
“So?” I say. “That lady? Was she okay?”
“She didn’t have food for her kids for breakfast.”
I nod and pour myself a cup of coffee too.
We don’t talk about the event again, because life is made up of small things, and this is just another one.
Sometimes the blaring needs around us turn into white noise. We treat the symptoms of pain when they knock at our door, or when they cross our path outside our property lines. But they don’t go away.
We can’t fix people—I can’t fix people—but we try anyway when the invitation comes. Now I imagine what an emergency room doctor feels like: serving the injured but not seeing the healing—if there is any—after the patients return home.
I could live a different life, one where I don’t see wounds as often as I see breakfast. But that’s not real, so I’ll stick with this one.