The Coming of Spring

There’s an old lady who walks around my town in a bikini top, jean shorts, and a book in her face.

I first spotted her when I was in college. I was fond of taking walks, my large CD player shoved into a jacket pocket, listening to a mix CD I’d made for this purpose. I’d pass her as I went South, see her again as I went West. We never made eye contact, never said hello.

She is thin and so tan her skin looks like leather. Her gray hair is a shaggy mop, sometimes held back by a sweatband, sometimes not. The book changes – she reads as quickly as she walks. In the springtime, in the midst of finals and studying and graduate school applications, I’d look down from my dorm room window to see her crossing the alleys by campus.

“Bikini lady’s back!” I’d shout to my friends, announcing her presence as one would announce the first robin of spring. She is part of the fabric to the life of my town, as common a sign of the changing seasons as those new sprouts of leaves on the trees.

I wonder where she goes in winter. She must have some kind of retirement fund to spend her summer days wandering around town, reading book after book. Perhaps she’s a snowbird and like my grandmother and her husband, retires to Arizona for part of the year to visit with family and get into better weather. Or maybe she has a house somewhere cozy, where she can curl up by a fire with one of those books of hers.

I can’t imagine her in a blanket, though, sipping hot cocoa somewhere. Her perpetual tan would reject the sunlessness of winter. I can’t see her sitting still long enough for a fire to burn low.

I’ve moved back into her neighborhood now, and as the March weather has brought the promised relief from winter cold, I’ve started looking for her again. Late last summer, she surprised me by appearing in front of my car on a busy road, at once completely aware of her surroundings and completely careless of them.

Something feels routine about spring, about things waking up again, coming out of hiding. One of these years, I’ll move away, or the bikini lady will change her habits. Maybe this year, I won’t see her.

I probably won’t ever have a chance to know her beyond her presence as background radiation of the Sioux Falls summer. But knowing she’s there, waiting to emerge at the end of a cold and hard winter, is enough.