Yesterday I drove two-and-a-half hours in a southeasterly direction, through Vermont and into New Hampshire, where the leaves have only just begun to turn, to purchase a load of floor tile from a man who lived on the banks of a river. His name was Tom, and his accent I took for Boston Irish, though I could be wrong. He was perhaps ten years my senior, and he moved in an uncomfortable way. He told me he was moving from the house he’d been building for many years. He was fixing up a school bus and he’d be living in that. I didn’t ask why, and he didn’t offer, but of all the reasons I could imagine a man in his mid-50’s moving from a nice (if unfinished) house on the banks of a river and into a school bus, none seemed absent hardship. He had two friends with him, and they helped us load boxes of tile into the bed of my truck, 60 boxes in total, each box at least 30 pounds and probably more, until the truck had settled deeply into its suspension. I drove away, pleased with my purchase, astonished to find darkness already falling, hoping to be home before too late an hour.
Closer to home, hungry and low on gas, I stopped at a convenience store to refuel truck and body, and on the way to the bathroom, passed a woman sitting at a small table. She was eating from a box of candy, and next to the box of candy was an inhaler and one of those cellophane-wrapped Danishes. She offered a wan smile as I walked by, and the sadness in her face was unmistakable. I said hello, did my business, got back in my overloaded truck, hurriedly ate a sandwich I regretted even before I’d finished it, and continued my drive, thinking about all the hardship and heartbreak in this world, the stuff we all carry, albeit in varying degrees, and some more visibly than others. Thinking about Tom and his school bus, and how as we were loading, I’d found a scrap of paper taped to one of the boxes with a diagram for how he’d planned to lay out the tile. And now it was heading north in the dark of a warm October night, in the back of a rusty, low-hanging Ford, in possession of a man with plans of his own, as if any of us can know what the future might bring.