Time of day, time of life

Every day at about the same time, I pull the electric cord from its socket, brush the erasures away, and cover my typewriter with its double cover, since it is my faithful tool and we live close to the dampness of the ocean in southern California. Then I go off with the day's writing to drop it in the box several blocks away. From there I usually continue on to the rise just above the beach and take a long walk. But today I have decided to let my feet lead me, and so, much like giving a horse its ''head,'' I relax the reins of my mind and go where my steps go.

Serendipity! Instead of going directly toward the beach area I find we are on a pleasant, curved street, with well-kept houses and lawns, some dense with lush shrubbery and flowers. I have walked here before but rarely see anyone outdoors; now however there is a woman bending over a section of her lawn, weeding it and trimming it of overgrowth. On one side are purple flowers, a lovely mass of large clusters made up of tiny blossoms, flecked with white. Many times when I see them I feel a rush of pleasure, wondering what they are called, longing to have a few branches.

''Hello,'' I call to the kneeling figure. She peered up at me from under the light hat that sheltered her from the sun. ''Please tell me the name of the purple flowers.''

''Statice,'' she said, continuing to study me, garden tool poised in her hand.

''Thank you. I always stop to admire them when I pass your house.''

''I was planning to cut them down today. Would you like some?''

My heart left its usual rhythm and skipped, the way a child who has a happy secret skips instead of walking.

''That would be very good of you. Thank you.''

She seemed to understand the shining in my eyes and the deep need reflected there, as she cut down the tall stalks and laid them on the grass until the bouquet was, for me, enormous. Then, what usually happens when I am overwhelmed by a kindness or something extraordinarily beautiful, I felt the familiar blow between my eyes. Which accounts for the fact that as I continued on my walk with the huge bouquet, I lost all my interest in what time it was.

The beach below was deserted, for earlier the sky had been gray with overcast , but on the paved road above an occasional passer-by stopped to admire, without a word, my delightful burst of color. A young man, with two huge, fawn colored dogs on leashes, looking not so much like dogs as lions, paused to mark my passing. I was stepping on air, not cement.

Since the small health food store where I do my shopping sometimes was close by, I went inside. The young girl behind the checkout counter saw the flowers and her eyes widened with genuine pleasure. I made an immediate mental note to share them with her before I left the store.

''Please, will you put these flowers somewhere close to you while I look about and see what I need?''

She accepted the bouquet from me as though I had handed her an infant, and seemed to cradle it in one of the canvas shopping baskets the store provides. As I watched her do this, something made me quote my favorite conclusion about the most important things in life - bread, love and flowers. She liked that, and I could feel her eyes following me as I walked toward the display of fruit. How like a flower she was herself with the lustrous, short-cropped ringlets like a crown on her head, her clear skin, and her mouth soft and unfinished.

My shopping completed and paid for, the shopping basket was lifted to the counter.

''Help yourself,'' I said, ''take as many as you want.'' She was eager, of course, but hesitant, and chose a few of the shorter stems.

''Not enough,'' I said, and put more tall, laden branches with those she had laid aside.

''Tell me again,'' she leaned over her own bouquet, ''the important things in life.'' And I did.

The slant of light as I came out of the store made it plain that my dinner would be delayed long past its usual time. It was worth it. ''At the tone the time will be'' unimportant.

If I had had a free hand and not been laden with packages, I would have patted my bouquet, fondly.

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