The Watcher of Maple Grove

Submitted into Contest #39 in response to: Write a story about a Google Street View driver.... view prompt

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General

Morgan had been made for the job of a Google Street View Driver.


Morgan was one of those people who loved car rides for the journey. They'd stare out the windows and admire the scenery as it passed. Morgan had been a funny child that way - more enraptured by the passing world than by any song or screen. When Morgan learned to drive they enjoyed seeing the brief flashes of the other drivers' faces: this one pouting, this one yelling at kids, this one singing. Driving felt like a giant dance - so long as you kept your head you didn't risk squishing anyone's toes.


But what Morgan liked to watch more than anything else was the people. Morgan would always stop to pick up hitchhikers because that way they could talk to them and admire them. Morgan would notice the furrows in an old man's brow, the way he wore his coat sagging slightly off his left shoulder, and the way his nervous twitch was to readjust it back to the same position.


When driving for Google Street View, Morgan could watch the people and the houses as much as they liked and get payed for it. They tried to not get any people in their shots whenever possible because it was a shame that they'd have to be blurred out and because looking at people through a camera took away that layer of intimacy that came from living on the same planet.


Of all the places Morgan drove around for Google Streets, Maple Grove was their favourite. It was an old neighbourhood overshadowed by trees that morphed the sunlight into a myriad of colours. One end of Maple Grove was always being redone. It was the part next to the main road. The tenants changed almost annually. The further down Maple Grove you drove, the smaller and older the houses became, but unlike other old houses these ones had never become shabby. Instead they were more like antiques or an art museum.


The oldest house on the block was 22 Maple Grove. It stood squashed between two other houses, right near the end of the block. 22 Maple Grove was a very delightful pink. The house was a pale rose pink and the trimmings around the windows and door frames were a brighter tulip pink. The owner of the house was an old lady. Morgan had seen her on their first drive down Maple Grove. She'd been walking her cats. She owned a lot of cats. Each of them had their own special collar with a different type of bell on it. When they went for walks together it was like a christmas carol. Jingle jingle jingle jingle. The tiny walking bell band.


Maple Grove didn't mind when Morgan sat in their car and collected footage for Google Streets. If anything, the tenants of Maple Grove were happy to have them. They were proud of their quaint winding street.


The old woman's name was Cleopatra. Morgan watched Cleopatra walk back to her house from the park, her cats jingling along in front of her. She opened the door to let them in. Cleopatra paused in the door and Morgan saw her send a wistful gaze across the street before pulling the door shut behind her. Curious, Morgan tried to follow Cleopatra's gaze. Directly across from 22 Maple Grove was 23 Maple Grove. 23 Maple Grove was the only worn looking street on Maple Grove. It had a large, unkempt bush fence. The house itself was pushed further back on the property and mostly hidden. Hidden as it was by shadows most people would pass it off as grey but it was actually a light blue colour. Morgan had never seen the owner of 23 Maple Grove, but as it had never been for sale assumed that someone lived there. But who was it?


The next time Morgan drove down Maple Grove autumn was falling and the trees were sending out leaves of red and yellow. Morgan watched as Cleopatra exited her house and went into her backyard. She returned carrying a rake. After casting nervous glances up and down the street she crossed it. She peered past the hedges of 23 Maple Grove and then quickly began to rake the leaves that peppered its lawn. She pulled the pile onto the sidewalk using the rake and swept them into a compost bag she had on hand. Once again she crossed the street. Morgan watched her head back into the backyard of 22 Maple Grove before getting out of their car. They walked up to the hedge surrounding 23 Maple Grove and peered in.


"Oi!"


Morgan started. A squat figure was rounding the house towards them.


"You! Are you the one who keeps raking my front lawn and shoveling my snow? I tell you, I won't have it! So thanks, but no thanks."


A short woman with bristling greying hair was standing on the other side of the hedge, glaring at Morgan with baggy blue eyes.


"Oh," said Morgan, "I'm sorry, but it's not me who's been raking your lawn."


"Ahhh," sighed the old woman irritably. "Well. Suppose it wouldn't be you, would it? You got no reasoning for doing me a good turn."


"I'm Morgan," said Morgan. "I'm a Google Street View Driver. I love Maple Grove."


The woman squinted at Morgan's hand like it might be a venomous frog. Finally she took it. Her large square hands were strong and knotty. "Meredith."


"How long have you lived in Maple Grove?"


"What is this, some kind of interrogation?"


"No, sorry, I was just curious."


Meredith looked away, back toward her greying house. "I moved here in my twenties. Things were different then. Not so many neighours, not so many people watching and judging."


"22 Maple Grove must have still been there though."


Meredith's eyes bulged. "How do you know that?"


"It's the oldest house on the street."


"Ahhhh."


Morgan looked over their shoulder at the pink house. They turned back to Meredith. Meredith quickly readopted an expression of annoyance.


"Do you know Cleopatra?" Morgan asked.


"The crazy cat lady? Who hasn't heard of her? It's a cacophony wherever she goes."


"Has she lived here long?"


Meredith side-eyed Morgan suspiciously.


"Why are you asking that?"


Morgan looked back over at the pink house, at the house of a lady who shoveled her neighbour's walk and raked her lawn in secret, a lady who cast longing glances over her shoulder and said, "No reason. I was just curious is all. It was nice meeting you."


Morgan went back to their car. Meredith squinted at her, then squinted across the road at 22 Maple Grove. Imperceptible to either of them, one of the upstairs curtains of 22 Maple Grove swished shut.


The next time Morgan drove up Maple Grove it was snowing. Morgan watched as Cleopatra, bundled in a pink coat and knitted hat and mittens, crossed the road with a shovel. As she shoveled she cast furtive looks up at 23 Maple Grove, as if expecting to be accosted. When the road was shoveled and no one had come out Cleopatra retreated to the sidewalk. As Morgan watched, a tear slid down Cleopatra's cheek and she wiped it away quickly. Cleopatra drew in a deep, shaking breath and sniffed. She exhaled and was about to cross the street again when a voice called, "Oi!"


As Morgan watched, the stout form of Meredith came into view, bundled in a navy trench coat. She stopped a few feet from where Cleopatra was standing. There was a beat of awkward silence where the only thing that passed between them was fogging breath and searching glances. Meredith scuffed her old Wellington boots on the ground. "Nice day," she said gruffly.


"Yes," said Cleopatra. "I suppose it is."


"Your cats all staying inside, then?"


"If it warms up I'll let them play in the yard."


There was another palpable pause. Cleopatra kept her gaze on her pink house away from Meredith. Meredith's baggy eyes searched her for some sign for how to proceed.


"Thank you," Meredith gruffly said at last. "For shoveling my driveway and raking my lawn. You didn't have to."


"How did you figure out it was me?" Cleopatra asked.


"That little driver person gave it away. And besides," she added "Sometimes I've watched you from my upstairs window."


Cleopatra nodded, then whispered, "You could have approached me, at any time you could have approached me. You could have given me any sign-"


"I know. I just- I didn't have the courage. It's so much easier to just hide and mope."


"It's been years and you've never, not even once- why now? How come today you weren't just happy to stay in your house?"


Meredith looked up at Cleopatra's shining eyes. Gingerly she took Cleopatra's mittened hand in her own. "It's snowing today. Made me think... made me think of that first day. It was snowing like this then."


Cleopatra nodded and bit her lip. Meredith took the edge of the tartan scarf she wore and wiped Cleopatra's cheek with it. Cleopatra looked at Meredith's hand, still wrapped around her own.


"Your fingers must be getting cold. You really should would wear gloves."


Meredith smiled faintly, licked her lips, and then asked in a quavering voice, "Why should I, when your hand keeps mine so warm?"


Cleopatra smiled, and Meredith, suddenly bashful, smiled down into her coat. Cleopatra pulled Meredith toward 22 Maple Grove.

"I have hot chocolate. It will warm you up. Today isn't the sort of day to spend alone."


"Just let me lock up first."


Meredith pulled away, stood for a moment, than ran back into the shadows of 23 Maple Grove. Cleopatra covered her mouth with her hands and stared up at the grey sky. Meredith came back, put her hand gently on Cleopatra's shoulder. Cleopatra looked at her, than pulled her across the street and towards the vibrant warmth of 22 Maple Grove.

April 24, 2020 17:43

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2 comments

Hayley Igarashi
12:26 Apr 27, 2020

"Morgan watched as Cleopatra, bundled in a pink coat and knitted hat and mittens, crossed the road with a shovel." You've created some vivid imagery here and a story with real heart and depth, Smudge. I couldn't help but smile when I finished reading!

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Smudge Himmel
00:24 Apr 30, 2020

Thank you!

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