Reflection - February 1, 2018
She’s a constant in my daily routine, someone who starts my morning off with just the right amount of enthusiasm, not overly zealous and loud, nor sleepy and uninspired. She’s like the first spring-flower, cheery and bright, the one that brings a smile to your face knowing warm weather and bright flowers are upon us.
Today, like most, after my daughter waves good-bye through the window pane of the school bus, I traipse around the towering old homes in my neighborhood in Victoria. After my walk, I know I will be greeted, with a pleasant daffodil smile, a warm latte, a muffin, and the quiet of the intimate coffeehouse where I’ll read the Times Colonist at my leisure.
Hidden behind the ebony-dyed hair, tattooed arms, and fake diamond stud in her right nostril, is her merry voice welcoming me each morning as she asks, “The usual?” But today is different. Something is off. My friendly barista doesn’t look directly into my eyes. Her tone is dull and muddled as she inquires, “The usual?” She drops her head slightly, her mid-length black hair normally tied behind her head, now flows freely about her cheeks.
“Yes, the usual,” I answer. She lifts her head slightly. Barely peaking through her thick make-up I notice a burnt orange-hued bruise around her eye. Today, her tatted arms are covered in a long-sleeved black blouse. I wonder. I want to ask her what happened, but I don’t.
As she tries to hand me my drink, I wrap both my hands around hers. She’s still holding the cup. Sheepishly, she looks up at me. I am careful with my question. I know what it’s like to hide, to deny, being afraid and embarrassed. I lean in and whisper “Are you okay?”
Tears form in the corners of her eyes. Gingerly, she squeezes my hand. Softly, haltingly, she answers, “Yes.” But I notice that her head tentatively shakes no. The twang of the bell on the door announces new customers have arrived. Abruptly, she releases my hand and turns toward them with a subtle greeting.
I sit. I sip. And I pretend to read the paper, but I cannot concentrate. I can’t focus on the news of the day when my news is that something is very wrong at my coffee shop, very wrong with Ebony. I take the napkin, soiled from the muffin crumbs, and write down my name and number. I walk over to the counter. She turns and I hand the folded napkin to her. “If you need anything, you can give me a call. I’ve written down my number.” Ebony takes the napkin and places it in her jeans front pocket.
I have trouble sleeping that night. I wonder what happened to Ebony. I’m pretty sure she’s hiding something. When I had black eyes and bruises, I tried to hide them too. Ebony is a reflection of me years ago; hiding, embarrassed, and ashamed. I hope she calls.
The next morning, instead of taking the circuitous route through my neighborhood, I walk straight to my local coffee shop. Ebony isn’t there. Instead there is a twenties-something girl with dark blond hair rubber-banded neatly out of her face, behind her head. She doesn’t know me. She doesn’t know my order, my usual. More importantly, she doesn’t know what happened to Ebony.
I miss Ebony. I miss her spring-flower morning voice. I wonder if I could have helped. I wish I had done more. I wish she had called. Damn.
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One Scoop or Two - May 2018
April Lynn got her first job at sixteen, scooping ice cream. After two weeks, she got her initial paycheck. Other than her car insurance and some prompting from her mother to save some money for a rainy day, she could spend her new found wealth as she wished.
On this particular chilly, rainy night, wanting something warm and knowing that her hunger would not be satisfied with her regular dinner of two scoops of Rocky Road on a waffle cone, she stopped at McDonald’s on her way to work and bought a Happy Meal. With her warm dinner neatly tucked in the seat next to her, she drove her old, beat up, Chevy pick-up truck to work.
As she approached the last turn, before entering the parking lot at Lloyd’s Ice Cream Parlor, she noticed a man on the street corner. His head and arms stuck out of the black plastic garbage bag he wore to protect him from the rain. His hair and beard were nappy and kinked in wild directions. His tattered, rag-like jeans protruded from the bottom of the garbage bag and his filthy tennis shoes were no match for the puddles of rain. He pushed a shopping cart stuffed with plastic grocery bags bulging with all of his worldly possessions, walking on his trip to nowhere.
April Lynn passed the man and entered the parking lot, but instead of parking, she turned her old brown truck around and headed back to the corner. She parked, got out, leaned over, and picked up her Happy Meal. Tentatively, she walked over to the worn-down man and handed it to him without saying a word.
“Thank you,” he mumbled.
She was ready to go to work now.
That night was tediously slow. Not many people were in the mood for ice cream on this autumn rainy night. Starving the waves of boredom, she wiped off the tables again and again. The place was spotlessly clean. She went back behind the counter to count down the last ten minutes of her shift, and double check, to make sure everything was put away for the night.
Just then, the bell on the door jangled as it was opened. April Lynn smelled the rank odor before she saw him. It was the man from the street. Presumably it had stopped raining as his make-shift; garbage-bag rain coat had disappeared. His sweat induced, rotten stench made the entire parlor reek. His soggy, filthy tennis shoes squeaked as he shuffled toward the counter.
“I’d like two banana milkshakes,” he mumbled.
“Two?” She asked.
“Yes, two. One for me and one for my friend Charlie.”
April Lynn wondered how this man was going to pay for his order, but she couldn’t justify asking him. She went ahead and made the shakes.
As April Lynn placed the shakes on the counter to ring them up, the unnamed man asked, “How long have you worked here?”
He looked confused as he mumbled. “Do I know you?”
“No, I don’t think so.” What was April Lynn to say? Well, yes. I’m the girl who gave you the Happy Meal earlier tonight.
The filthy man reached into his pocket and pulled out a handful of coins. He gave her the exact amount. He picked up his banana shakes and hobbled back to the door but he paused at the last table, and put his milkshakes down. He turned back around to the counter, and stared at the jar next to the register marked, “TIPS”.
He approached the jar.
“Who are those tips for?” he asked.
She timidly replied. “Well, um, well, they’re for me.”
“For you? Just you?” He asked.
Quietly, she answered, “Yes.”
April Lynn was more frightened now. She mustered up the nerve and said, “I’m sorry, we’re closing now.”
The man mumbled something inaudible. Then, he reached into the pockets of his raggedy faded jacket and pulled out some coins. He placed them in the tip jar. And then he reached into his pockets again and again, each time retrieving more coins and placing them in the tip jar. He turned his jacket pockets inside out, assured that all his coins, all the money he had was in her tip jar. He looked at April Lynn’s badge with her name engraved on it. He gazed straight into her clear blue eyes and said, “There is something special about you April Lynn, something very special. Have a nice life.”
He turned and shuffled back toward the door. He picked up his shakes, balancing one on top of the other, opened the door and left.
Tears welled up in April Lynn’s eyes as she locked the door behind him.
Her shift was over. Her tip jar and her heart were full.
Long White Dresses
There were three, each pearly white, each floor length, each purchased for one special day. That’s where their similarities ended.
The first, my mom bought for me. We found it tucked in the back of a strip-mall store smashed among the other discounted prom dresses. I could see why no one would pick a white gown as a prom dress but it would be perfect for my special day. The dress, simple and understated, was made of a satiny material that had an almost invisible lace design on it. Its modestly scooped neckline was tied at the empire waistline by a one-inch-wide satin ribbon which attached in a bow at the back. It had no sleeves. It fit my slim young body beautifully. The only alteration it required was shortening the length. Mom could do that. She offered to buy me the dress. With my siblings’ mouths to feed and a mortgage to pay, I knew it would be a stretch for her dwindling budget, even at $29.99. Secretly, I wondered if my other wedding expenses would deplete Mom’s finances and our PG&E would be turned off again but she insisted on splurging for a decorative rose petal and fake pearl hair comb. She would stitch on two layers of Tulle to make my veil.
I eagerly walked down the aisle in an exquisite church passing pews decorated with Mom-hand-made ribbons; to the man I had fallen in love with and known since my sophomore year in high school. He was handsome, quiet, easy and hard-working; simple and understated like my dress.
Our reception was held in a hall adjacent to a bowling alley but it made no difference to me where we celebrated as long as the people we loved were there. They were; many of them had gathered early that morning at our house to prepare little triangle sandwiches with the crusts cut off which we were going to serve at our reception. I don’t remember much about the other food they prepared but the hit was a free-flowing champagne fountain. Decadent for us and our extended family.
Life as a married couple was blissful, nurturing and fun. We nested together in our little apartment and worked hard while saving for our own home. Within ten years, three daughters blessed our lives and I could not have been happier. I thought our marriage was wonderful until it wasn’t. Then my life, as I had planned, abruptly halted. My security blanket was tattered and torn at the seams and my self esteem dripped down the drain. We divorced.
The second one he bought for me at Neiman Marcus in San Francisco. We found it in the Junior Summer-Dress-Section. It had two layers; a rich, silky-smooth satin sheath covered in a delicate lace over-dress. It had off-the-shoulders cap sleeves and a deeply scooped neckline which was very revealing especially with my full pregnancy breasts. I refused to buy a strapless bra since I knew that my extra endowments would go away shortly after birth and nursing. The bodice was synched high in the waist with folds, pleats and tucks allowing for extra lace to drape in front of my expanding waistline. It was decadent, flashy, sexy, layered and complex, just like my soon-to-be husband.
We drove to Tahoe, just the two of us, in his tomato-red Porsche stopping at the first wedding chapel over the state line. Outside, a wooden gazebo offered picturesque views of the snow-topped mountains. An officiant, whom neither of us had ever met, married us. His wife was a witness. The day was crisp and clear with an ocean-blue sky but in the distance I could see dark clouds threatened rain. My wavy chocolate-brown hair hung loosely down my back. As I stood goose-bumpy under the gazebo in my high-priced, sexy, off-the-shoulder gown my stomach churned. Was it the baby or an unconscious warning of the turbulence ahead? I knew deep in my heart that, instead of saying, “I do” I should have been saying, “I don’t” but with the baby coming I felt it was the “right” thing to do.
I spent the next year alternating between sipping expensive champagne from crystal flutes on the beach mid-week, to delicately, egg-shell-tiptoeing around broken glass and land mines that I hoped would not explode, unleashing his volatile erratic temper. After a bunch of bumps, a ton of bruises and a couple broken bones I escaped.
Unlike the first dress, which I saved in the unlikely event one of my daughters wanted to wear it; this dress went into the trash can.
The third one I shopped for at David’s Bridal Shop before he even asked me the big question but I knew he would. We had spoken generically about it but I also knew he wanted to wait at least two years after the passing of his first wife to get engaged. I could tell this man was a real keeper. Everyone surrounded him with love and respect including his deceased wife’s family. He was firm yet fair, nurturing to his children and his other relationships and had a wicked sense of humor that made me belly-laugh out loud.
The dress I bought ended up being the first of many I had tried on. My girlfriends commented that I looked like a princess in it. My life over the last couple of decades had been anything but princess-like. I was exhausted from raising four daughters, exhilarated from re-inventing and expanding my career while tormented, dodging bullets from Mr. Ex. Selfishly I wanted something just for me. I wanted to be a real-life princess even if only for a day.
The dress had a creamy white lace halter top with a high neckline. (At nearly fifty years of age I wanted to show off my sexy shoulders, not my droopy breasts.) The full skirt was multi-layered and swished when I walked like the ladies in the old westerns which my soon-to-be husband loved. It was well made. The abundant skirt material was sturdy yet soft and it would hold up to any reception mishaps, heavy partying or into-the-night tabletop dancing. It, too, was a keeper.
There were no alterations needed on this dress, except I wanted it shorter to show off my two-inch-high clear princess slippers. They made it look as if I were floating on air when I walked down the white carpeted aisle runner underneath the huge tent in our back-yard. I was floating with elation. For the crowning accent I choose a rhinestone tiara. It doesn’t get any more princess-like than that.
The minister who married us was the same one who had married Steve the first time. Relatives and friends from our combined one hundred years sat in rows of white chairs to celebrate with us. Friends for life. In the first row were our six children and my mother. Finally, I was on a pedestal.
In the last twelve years I’ve spent my fair share of time on that riser and so has Steve. Maybe that’s why our marriage works. That and the fact that I know I can always dust off my tiara in an emergency.
This dress hangs regally in our closet.
The Sand Sweeper
His eyelids quiver before the sun crests in the distant horizon. Hector unfurls from his spooned wife; tiptoes in the dark and readies for work. His chocolate-brown skin, inherited and sun-deepened is now clad in shorts and t-shirt; flip flops as his foundation. With Gatorade, lunch and fresh clothes stuffed in his backpack he peddles his rickety, rusty bike six miles to a distant world. After placing his belongings in an outside, tarnished, unlocked-locker Hector gathers his morning tools; a rectangular cage-like contraption and a broom. Then, after moving several beach lounges, he meticulously pulls the wire contraption through the sand, smoothing any left-over lines with worn broom bristles. Successfully, he erases the evidence of all former bare-footed beach dwellers providing a clean slate for bikini-clad, “cerveza-carrying” tourists.
The sand-sweeper returns his tools to the crowded shed of throwback gear of yesteryear. Listening to the rolling waves and swallow-songs he settles on a picnic bench shaded by a Banana tree. With his eyes closed, dripping of sweat, he inhales the salty air deep into his lungs and takes a swig of lime-green colored Gatorade. His morning chores are done; time for food, a shower and a change of clothes.
Dressed in Khaki shorts and off-white, collared golf-shirt with “Paraiso” embroidered on pocket, Hector saunters over to the thatched-roof bar and collects a round tray. Sighting a bathing-suit-clad woman lounging under the protection of an umbrella he walks up to me and cheerfully says, “Hola. Good Morning, Senorita. May I offer you a morning beverage? Perhaps a Bloody Mary or a Margarita?” I recognize the merry sand-sweeper from earlier this morning. I smile up at him through reading glasses. “Why not? Sure, I’ll have a morning Margarita.”