Magazine article The Christian Century

Unknown Places

Magazine article The Christian Century

Unknown Places

Article excerpt

When I came home from the hospital with a broken ankle, I was feeling fragile and sick from pain and the anesthetic I had been given. I sank quickly and gratefully into the sturdy green recliner in the exercise room. To reassure myself that the outside world I had abandoned during my time in the hospital had remained solidly the same, I raised my eyes to the window to see what was happening next door.

What I saw wasn't reassuring. For the first time I could remember, the shades were open in the house across the way, and Miss Butler's side front window was open wide. There was no one in sight, though a dilapidated red and blue pickup truck was parked in the driveway.

This wasn't the worst of it. I watched in stunned silence as Miss Butler's battered kitchen stool, its butterscotch-colored vinyl seat torn from front to back, appeared in the window. A moment later a pair of grimy hands chucked it out and into the bed of the truck that was already half full of shabby clothing, frayed towels, boxes of used Christmas tree lights, dented kitchen pots, a worn-out clothes hamper, a crushed cardboard wardrobe and all the other everyday things our neighbor had used or at least valued enough to save.

This discarding of Miss Butler's life as though it were nothing more than rubbish shocked me. For nearly 20 years the elderly Miss Butler had lived alone in the house beside us. She was only about 60 when we first moved in--and she had been sturdy, vigorous, eccentric. She had lived in that house since she'd been a child.

In the years we dwelt side by side, she had always been the one to harass the electric company when the power went out or nag the phone company when the lines were down. She had survived two vicious assaults when her home was burglarized.

As far as we had been able to tell, she never had much money. …

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