Here is the next excerpt from Beatrice Allen Page’s unpublished manuscript, Landscape with Figures:
“Had to take my car over to town this afternoon and leave it for a tune-up. I rattled back to the village on the ancient green bus and got so absorbed in my fellow passengers I almost missed my stop.
I sat on one of the long sideways seats up front. Opposite me was a big woman, not fat but big-boned and solidly fleshed out, who gave me a haughty look when I got on the bus as if I had no right to be there. On further examination, I concluded that her supercilious look was meant to convey that she did not belong on a bus, that she was not accustomed to public transportation. She was expensively dressed in an ice-blue summer suit with matching hat and immaculate white gloves. I decided her chauffeur had left her stranded somewhere, that she had been unable to get a taxi, and had been forced into the humiliation of taking the bus. She couldn’t have been returning from a luncheon or a social gathering of any kind, else someone would have driven her home. She had probably had an appointment with her doctor to have her blood pressure checked. It had been a little high recently and he was keeping an eye on it. I suspected it had probably gone up higher after she’d come out of his office and not found her car waiting. Had the chauffeur gone off to have a couple of beers with the boys and lost track of the time, I wondered, or gone on an errand for her and had an accident, or given in to a sudden overwhelming impulse to take off for Alaska? Whatever it was, there was no doubt in my mind as I looked at that firmly set face across from me, that he would rue the day.
Next to her sat a man and woman who might have been husband and wife or brother and sister. They resembled each other physically: both were short, both had round faces and rather round dark eyes. There the resemblance ended. The woman made me think of an angry Pekingese; she kept speaking to the man in jerky, emphatic little sentences like a series of short, sharp barks, while scowling all the while. Her eyes didn’t actually bulge but it seemed as if they did. She was what Laurence Sterne would have described as ‘a little fume of a woman.’
Occasionally the man opened his mouth in some apparently non-committal reply while continuing to stare unseeingly out the window behind my shoulder. I had the feeling he had been cut out of dough with a cookie cutter, and what were supposed to be eyes were really raisins, and what passed for a mouth was a dab of pink frosting. He was all ready for baking, and he would be more appealing once that doughy whiteness had been nicely browned.
There were several other people on the bus whom it amused me to watch and speculate about, but the one who has continued to haunt my mind all evening was the old woman sitting beside me. She had undoubtedly always been small, but with age she had shrunk and withered like a dried apple. Her feet couldn’t reach the floor and dangled a few inches above it like a child’s. She was wearing a coat in spite of its being a very warm day, and where it fell open at the knees it showed a navy blue silk dress with white polka dots, somewhat soiled, probably because she couldn’t see very well and hadn’t noticed it. Everything else was black: the coat, the straw hate perched on top of her head, the stockings and, of all things, the lace mitts on her hands – the kind that were briefly fashionable years ago with long evening gowns. She must have found them at the Salvation Army shop along with the once elegant but now cracked leather handbag she was clutching. Her short gray hair had been professionally set but not in any modern beauty salon – it was an old-fashioned marcel wave. Perhaps she had a sister who had once been a hairdresser.
Where was she going, or where had she been, ‘all dressed up?’ I suppose it was the predominance of black that made me conclude it was a funeral. It couldn’t have been a close relative who had died; surely she would not have been left to ride a bus all alone in that case. So it was a very distant relative, or an old friend whom she hadn’t seen for years perhaps, or possible someone she had once worked for. And why had she gone to the funeral To pay her respects to the dead? Because she was hungry for human companionship and just wanted a chance to mingle with people? Because she felt a kind of wistful envy of the deceased whose trials were over?
It was hard for me to imagine she had ever known any joy in her life, and I found myself hoping out of all proportion (since after all she was a complete stranger to me) that I was wrong. It seemed so terribly unfair that her life should have been nothing but sorrow and struggle and tribulation. Nor could I figure out why I was so convinced of that.
Presently she fell asleep in spite of the bouncing bus. Her head nodded forward on her chest, revealing a deep cleft in the back of her neck from which sprouted a little tuft of soft hair. For some reason it was that cleft and the two little black-mittened paws in her lap that more than anything made her seem so pathetic and vulnerable. I got off at my stop with a feeling of frustration that there was nothing that I could do.”