1971. She was sitting on the stone bench in the center of the Coral Gables Bus Terminal. I walked over to the empty slot of Stall 10, leaned past the putty-colored metal railings, as if I could make the blue and silver bus to downtown Miami arrive more quickly. She smiled when I turned. I shivered a little, and headed for the seat she’d saved for me beside her. I sat slowly and slipped my purse off my shoulder, cradled it in my lap
1976. She was sitting on the stone bench in the center of the Coral Gables Bus Terminal. I walked over to the empty slot of Stall 10, leaned past the putty-colored metal railings, as if I could make the orange and white MTA bus to downtown Miami arrive more quickly. She smiled when I turned. I shivered a little, and headed for the seat she’d saved for me beside her. I sat slowly and slipped my purse off my shoulder, cradled it in my lap.
1979. She was sitting on the stone bench in the center of the Coral Gables Bus Terminal. I walked over to the empty slot of Stall 10, leaned past the putty-colored metal railings, as if I could make the white, green, and blue bus to downtown Miami arrive more quickly. She smiled when I turned. I shivered a little, and headed for the seat she’d saved for me beside her. I sat down and slipped my purse off my shoulder, cradled it in my lap
“Hi,” she said. “Here we are again.” She appeared to be in her mid-twenties, thin and dressed in a tweedy polyester pant suit. Her long, dark hair was loose, her bangs brushed the tops of her wire-rim glasses.
“Yeah,” I responded. I didn’t dislike her, but something about her made me feel cold and nervous.
“So, how’s the receptionist job?” she asked.
I shrugged and pushed my wire-rimmed glasses higher on my nose. “It’s okay. The doctors are dicks. And everything is so casual, like treating cancer patients is some kind of joke….”
“That’s because the treatment is new and experimental. There are new medicines, like Prednisone, and no one knows what to expect. Your oncologists might be arrogant jerks but their work will help millions in the future….”
I shrugged again. I wondered how she knew so much, and whether or not I should even believe her. I watched people in the crowd trying to appear awake and alert on this warm, humid Monday morning. A large palmetto bug was scurrying near our bench, and I decided to keep an eye on it. I tracked it as it circled a trash bin — go the other way — I mentally commanded. As my eyes moved to the right, surveying the cement for other insects, I saw something familiar but odd out of context. It took me a while to remember what it was. “Look at that,” I said.
“A puzzle piece,” she affirmed. She paused a moment, tilted her head slightly. Then she added, “Is there anything that is more a ‘thing-unto-itself’ than a solitary, lost puzzle piece.” I must have made a face, because she laughed and continued, “Existence before essence. A thing so pure, so bereft of any meaning except its function. We’re defined by our relationship to others, to things, but that single puzzle piece is the purest expression of Existentialist ontology. It has no meaning except in relationship to its others, and the puzzle as a whole is rendered moot without this one small piece….”
I said something like, “uh huh,” and looked straight ahead, listening for the roar of the buses down Salzedo Avenue.
“One wonders who dropped it, how, and when.”
I looked at it again. It was a two-inch rounded square with feet on three sides. It appeared to be blue, or maybe green, or maybe — I squinted and rotated my head — purple? “It looks creepy,” I muttered.
“I think the buses are coming,” she said, her voice toneless. “It’s part of a tessellation — jigsaw puzzles are a tessellation — in fact everything — the known universe and everything in it form a multi-dimensional tessellation — there seems to be an ultimate relationship of the parts to the whole, even if to us it seems all about probability and Schrödinger’s cat….”
I didn’t hear any buses. “It’s a jig-saw puzzle,” I said, feeling irritated, but I got used to this kind of trippy talk in the commune where I stayed a few years ago during my hippy days. “It’s probably part of a picture of kittens, or a Van Gogh painting, or a photo of a French chateau and gardens.” Now I heard the sound of pneumatic-exhaust and brakes and rumbling engines. Individuals began to lift from the benches and amble into indistinct lines beside each stall: 11 Baptist Hospital, 9 Biltmore, 13 Westchester, 5 Country Club. The odd numbers on one side, and our Miami buses in Stalls 6, 8, and 10 opposite. I came to my feet as well, flipped back my long hair, and slung my strap over my shoulder.
“What happens to a tessellation that loses one cell? What happens to that cell, that puzzle-piece, that is cut free, lost and alone, with no purpose and no place to be?” she asked. She remained seated, her expression a mask of pleasantness over something hard, pale, intense.
I looked down at her and noted for the first time, or maybe the hundreth time, she had no purse, briefcase, knapsack; both arms were free, stretched behind her. Maybe she has lots of pockets, I thought. For a moment I absorbed the pure noise of the buses pulling into their slots, the loudspeakers announcing arrivals and imminent departures, the doors unfolding and bumping open, front-ends lowering and beeping. Some of the drivers exited and took positions facing their passengers; they began to punch transfers. I felt in my pocket for my 35-cents. “You need exact change,” I said, and frowned; my words sounded like an echo in my mind.
She smiled up at me, crossing her stretched legs at the ankles as she leaned back further. She was wearing Earth Shoe sandals. “Do you know they’re going to tear this place down?”
I’d started to move away, towards the door of the bus. I stopped. “What?”
“Yeah, they’re going to tear the entire Coral Gables Terminal down in about twenty years, build a square block of boring, high-rent buildings for apartments and businesses. They’ll have a rapid transit line, and Metrobus, and we will have to wait on a street corner somewhere.”
I felt the hairs stand up on the back of my neck. I stumbled as I sidled away from her; my Earth Shoe sandals kept me upright. I stared into her magnified brown eyes. “I haven’t heard anything about that,” I called to her. “I read the Miami News every day, and I haven’t read anything about that,” I said.
2008. She was standing in front of the coral-colored walls and green awnings of the Gables Grand Plaza, on the corner of Aragon and Salzedo. I checked my reflection in the plate glass of the bookstore’s window — I was wearing my short-sleeved pantsuit with the tweed-like weave — and brushed my bangs to one side. I adjusted my glasses and walked to the curb and leaned out, trying to see if the big, gleaming Metrobus with the plastiglass front end was coming, to take me to the University Metrorail Station, on my way to downtown Miami and my job with Oncology Associates. The morning sun bounced off parked cars, the humidity was smothering. She smiled when I turned and made eye contact with her. I clutched my purse to my chest.
“Hi,” she said. “Here we are again.”