I’m on the phone at work, answering some standard questions, nothing serious, just information passing from me to a woman. She offers that she’s working at home — she’s employed by the Barre, Vermont, school system. Barre closed up their schools awhile ago, when Covid spread through the town.
I offer a few words of thanks, and then her words keep unraveling. She works with kids at risk, and she knows kids who live in cars. Immediately, I glance through the window at the gray November day, on the verge of snow. Maybe, she says, the families have vouchers for a motel rooms.
I lay down my pen. For those moments, I keep listening.
The woman has moved here from Elsewhere, and she keeps talking about those hidden, or not-so-hidden pockets of deep poverty in Vermont. I think of my own daughter, home alone, in our warm house, with her two sleek house cats. Eventually, I say the only thing I can think to offer: thank you, just thank you.
She asks for my name again, and I spell out my strange name carefully, first and last names. When we hang up, I step outside in a rain that’s just beginning to fall. There’s no birds out today. The road is empty.
Inside, I dial my daughter who asks, suspiciously, why I’m calling.
I’m calling, I say, to say hello. What’s up? How are your cats?