Seattle scenes -- II

EARLY in the morning the window of a house overlooking Lake Union opened and a middle-aged woman in a muslin dress the colors of sunrise leaned on the sill and looked out. She smiled at the boats sitting motionless on the water, like drowsy ducks, and at the boats bestirring themselves for the day's rowing, towing, sailing, or downright chugging. And a kind of love shone in her face for all the boats, and for the old University Bridge groaning under its daily burden of cars and buses; for the clouds peering at their reflections in the lake, like beauties puzzling how to make themselves look even more beautiful; for the people with lunch buckets, the people with briefcases, the people with nothing more to do than stand rooted in gravity and smile wistfully up at the freedom of the birds.

Then, taking a deep breath, as if to store the moment away for her future need, she touched her fingers to her lips and blew the city a kiss.

In Ravenna Park later that day a little dog, standing on his hind legs, took hold of the handle of a big trash can with both paws and pulled it over.

Out tumbled the miscellaneous tossings of strollers, joggers, and picnickers, among them one of those jumbo-size buckets fried chicken comes in. The dog gave it a sniff, found not a single crumb to lick up, and then nosed it aside with such doggy displeasure that it rolled and tumbled down a hill.

Meanwhile a very little boy with a wooden sword stuck in his belt, working hard at his play before the grim years of school descended on him, came galloping up on his make-believe horse to where the dog was scavenging.

``That's not a nice-doggie thing to do, Timmy,'' he said, and the dog desisted at once. His master tidied up the scene and then, spotting the bucket at the bottom of the hill, galloped down to fetch it.

There, an inspiration came to him. Instead of taking the bucket back to the trash can, he put it on his head, like a helmet. It was so big it covered his whole head, and he looked for a moment more befuddled than formidable. But then he took the bucket off and poked eyeholes in it with his sword. And it was perfect.

Away he galloped, with his loyal dog at his side, his sword held aloft for right and for good, and his helmet bouncing.

Toward evening in the shortening day, two old people, a man and a woman, took a walk around the blocks of rooming houses and apartments that help make up the University District. They walked without talking, without needing to talk, and holding hands like children. Sometimes they would stop and look up at a tree in full, ripe leaf, as if savoring what would soon be changing.

And once, smiles on their faces, they stopped to see some unexpected entertainment in a tiny basement apartment whose windows were open to the stars. There, a girl in her late teens, in gray slacks and a moon-yellow sweat shirt, was twirling around and around her living room with a saucer of strawberry shortcake in her hand.

She wasn't a sylphy girl with a dreamy ballerina face and hair streaming out behind her. She was a chubby girl with short pigtails and the kind of face never seen in the glamour magazines.

And yet, in her dance, she was beautiful. Heavy, but swift. Fearsome, but lovable. She was like a little elephant that eats exotic fruits and grows merry and then dances all by itself in the heart of the jungle.

The old people nodded their heads, as if they approved of the wholesome abandon of it all, and walked on.

The wonderful outing at Alki Beach was over. It was time to go home. But the young father and his little girl, who sat on his shoulders holding a blue balloon, lingered for a few moments, looking out at the moon and Puget Sound.

Finally they turned to leave, and as they did the child let go of her balloon and watched the wind carry it out over the waves. It was as if she were giving the departing day something of herself, a souvenir to remember her by.

At first the balloon soared and soared, looking as if it would sail around the world, taking the hearts of all the children with it on its adventures.

Then suddenly the wind played one of its tricks, going topsy-turvy and driving the balloon so far down that it disappeared behind the waves. Disappeared, perhaps, even beneath the waves, to hover like a big blue moonbeam in the path of a goggle-eyed fish.

But not for long. Soon it was soaring again, higher and higher. And there was a moment when, if you looked from just the right angle, if you had even an ounce of whimsy in your soul, you could see the man in the moon, slightly bemused and bashful, holding a balloon.

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