On the long slog chunk of a September afternoon, getting to that time of year when 5 p.m. means slanting light and a sky yellowing into sunset, tired workers in shirts and ties or skirts and jackets slouched through River North on their way anywhere else.
A bubble wafted down.
Slumping west away from offices and skyscrapers, alongside streets clotted like rotten milk with honking, wailing, shrieking, squealing, yelling, swerving, swearing, radio-blasting cars, on sidewalks filled with people hunched over, staring at the gray ground ahead as they hoisted totes and backpacks, attaché cases and laptop man bags, the crowd didn’t notice.
Another bubble wafted.
It came from the fourth story of a red brick building on Hubbard and LaSalle, by where latter of the two city streets splits into seven lanes. The bottom floor of the building was taken up by a showroom showplace offering “decorative hardware,” “sliding door systems” and a euro-designy name requiring an umlauted A.
The building’s east side was a giant ad for Dietz & Watson deli meats and artisan cheeses, now at Jewel.
Another bubble wafted. On a balcony four floors up, a little girl danced.
She was a little blonde moppet, maybe 4, maybe 6. It was hard to tell from that distance. On the fourth-floor balcony of the red brick building, she and a trim blonde woman — her mother? Her babysitter or aunt? — blew bubbles down onto the streets below.
The little girl clapped and laughed as little girls do, improvising another dance on the spot to show her glee. From the little balcony spot that would be her only outdoors, the girl clapped and laughed as the woman made big, dramatic whooshes with the wand, sprinkling dozens of tiny bubbles over the slumping workers below.
The little girl laughed.
This little child whose house is an ad, whose basement is a display room for fake homes, whose yard is a 3×6 slab of cement jutting out of a the side of a red brick box four stories above pavement and a seven-lane city street, she laughed.
She laughed with freedom and delight. She laughed because she was a kid with bubbles and she hadn’t yet realized there were such things as backyards and neighborhoods and drinking from a hose before you use it to fill up water balloons and squirt guns.
She laughed because she was a kid.
And in that grim, yellowing light coming in slanted past office buildings and condos, she and the mother laughing and playing and watching thin bubbles of soap film waft down from the fourth floor, they were the only ones happy to be there.