Woman on the Street
by Stella Orange
Of all the stories that have ever been told, there’s one that I love most of all. It’s a story I learned when I was in college, more than (gulp!) twenty years ago. It’s a story that I now teach in my writing workshops. It goes something like this:
A woman is sitting at home on her couch. She’s got her comfy PJs on and a big bowl of popcorn (or pastry; take your pick). The curtains are drawn and the house is quiet. She picks up the remote control and turns on a show that she likes to watch, one episode right after the other.
She falls asleep. The next day, she wakes up, and does the work that’s hers to do during the day. That night, she puts on her comfy PJs and makes herself another big bowl of popcorn (or wine, your call). And again, she picks up the remote to watch her show.
This happens for several days. Several weeks. Months, maybe years. And then? Something happens.
She used to feel cozy, satisfied, and comfortable on her couch. In her home. In her snuggly PJs. Withdrawn from the world, snug in a cocoon of her own making. But she begins to feel something stirring within her.
Maybe she feels restless. Maybe she feels agitated. Maybe she even begins to feel something that she doesn’t yet have words for. Something rising up from deep within her.
Ironically, the place where she used to feel the safest, the most nestled in, the most comfortable is now almost… itchy. It’s as though some mischievous elf sprinkled itching powder on her couch. She tries everything she can think of to make it the way it used to be. She wraps herself in a blanket. She eats a bunch of cookies. She checks Twitter while she flips through menu after menu of episodes, videos, movie trailers.
She puts the remote control down.
It occurs to her: it’s time to go. She can’t stay on her couch for the rest of her life. Maybe she’s been there too long already. That restless she’s feeling? It’s as though there’s some still, small voice within — in the words of poet Mary Oliver — that’s calling her.
Moving her body before her thinking mind quite gets what is happening, she gets up from the couch and grabs the nearest bag. She moves from room to room, grabbing things that might prove useful out on the road, and tossing them into the tote. The animals and people in her house (if any) watch her, uncertain and wary. Where is she going? What’s the rush? And, most of all, who will make our dinner?
She, not being cruel (only called to action), does what she can to reassure the creatures and comrades in her household, with whatever words she can muster.
I can’t not.
To remain would be dry bones and dust.
And also, quietly: this is for us all.
She sits to lace up the boots she got years ago, back when life was simpler. Back when she travelled more. Back in the time of adventure. Back when the only creature she kept alive was her self.
“But who will replace the toilet roll?” the voices cry.
“We will be lost without you!”
“Can’t you just stay on the couch?”
She, not being cruel (only led), blows kisses at her charges. Trusting equally in her beloveds and in her adventure, she slips out the front door to do the only thing she can.
A teacher and advertising writer based in Buffalo, New York, Stella Orange spent a decade having adventures across Japan, the Pacific Northwest, and Montana, and another decade building a popular marketing business. She is the creator of Writing Your Way Home, a workshop where people write their stories. Find out more about her work at www.stellaorange.com.