I finished trying on the umpteenth pair of vintage eyeglass frames and walked back out into the heat towards the hospital. A woman stopped me. I’d noticed her earlier mostly because she seemed lost in thought, and her yellow t-shirt said in spangly old glitter iron-on MOZART. She looked out of place at Vermont and Barnsdall simply because she looked so lucid. The rest of us seemed to drift around her like whirlpools of air on the sidewalks.
She said to me, “I’m conducting research on the imagination.” She looked out at the parking lot. We were standing in front of Jon’s Grocery.
“Can you imagine a tree standing in the middle of this parking lot?” she asked. I looked out at the blacktop teeming with parked cars, some moving like sharks. “Yeah,” I said. I can imagine pretty much anything.
“What kind of tree would be best here?” she inquired.
I thought for a second. “Well, it depends,” I heard myself say. “It depends on whether we’re talking ‘best here’ for me, or for these cars, or for the community…”
She agreed that this might be the case, it was circumstantial in a way. She seemed pleased. The skin on her face was tight but crinkling in all the smile parts, and her gray hair was straight and bluntly cut one length. She held a small clipboard with her notes.
“So what kind of tree could you imagine?” she asked me. We kept looking at the parking lot. I told her what kind. She smiled and nodded. “Would you be able to smell it?” she asked finally. I stopped and tried, and told her I knew I could if I wasn’t thinking of so many other things, and where I had to be. I wanted to tell her about how I used to make the sounds of the 170 freeway turn into ocean waves, but there was no time. I looked towards the hospital and she released me.