Friday, October 26, 2012

Another fulfilling night of culinary wisdom devoured.  Alesandra’s night classes are all she looks forward to.  Tonight while Chef Ingalls was demonstrating one of her worn out techniques, Alesandra was tossing around the idea of meshing a few spices with some lamb that she couldn’t wait to try.  As she enters her apartment, she drops her utensils and supplies on the kitchen counter and grabs some chalk to jot down her recipe on the chalkboard her sister handmade and presented to her as a Christmas gift.  She reads over the ingredients and smiles.  Perhaps this will be the one she’ll feel confident enough about to present to Chef.  Has to be perfect.  Finishing at the top of this class in this culinary institute is detrimental to the future she has carefully outlined for herself.  It’s the only way she’ll get ranked high enough to even be considered appropriate to apply for a position at a restaurant given 5 star ratings consistently for the past 8 years.  And the one time they received that 4 star rating was only because the head chef happened to have been out the night they were being rated and an overly zealous second tried unsuccessfully to upstage him by altering the original recipe.  Before then, they had consistently received 5 star ratings since two years after opening in 1974.  There was no other place she wanted to begin her professional career.  Well actually there were other alternatives, but they pale in comparison.

Once showered and changed, Alesandra goes into her living room to catch up on the Food Network programming for the evening.  Nestled snug on the couch with a bowl of ice cream, she tries desperately to ignore the pink elephant in the room.  That being the treadmill that was another of Tish’s brilliant ideas. Such a considerate birthday gift. Her conscious eats at her with every spoonful of ice cream.  She wants to get on it.  She’d promised herself she’d start out doing only about 15 minutes a day.  Only problem is those are the most difficult 15 minutes to find.  Of course, she could get on it while she watches the tube.  But, essentially she’d only be working off a fraction of the calories she’s added just from the ice cream she’s having now.  Not to mention she’s already showered and dressed for bed.  Finally she resolves to get up early tomorrow morning and give it a go.  Not to lose too much weight, but just get it better under control.  After all, nobody trusts a skinny chef.  That was one of the last thoughts resting on her mind as she drifedt off to sleep, only to be awakened by the sound of the telephone.  Tish’s smiling face lights up the display with the face time option indicated.  For a moment she considers not answering.  Her mother’s words that they look after each other always force her to include Tish in her daily life more often than she would rather have her. 

“Yes, Tish.  What is it now?”  Alesandra enables her face time feature and notices that Tish is still bubbling with personality and wide awake at 10:45 in the nighttime. 

“Lloyd is so through.  I can’t believe we’ve stayed together as long as we have.”

Oh, great.  She’s decided to drop another boyfriend on a whim.  “What is it this time?  He forgot to send you flowers for the anniversary of your sixth date?”  If only Alesandra could just get a fraction of the dates that this chick gets and discards like used Kleenex.

“It’s just not working out.  I kind of need someone a bit more refined, you know.  His idea of a cultured evening is watching reruns of “What’s Happening?”  Tish’s focus shifts.  She begins pecking on the computer.  “I was thinking I need to try a dating site because that way I’m sure to find a match with more likeminded interests that I think are important.”

Alesandra gives and exaggerated chuckle.  “You can’t be serious, Tish.”

“Yeah, I mean why not?”

Alesandra rolls her eyes and shakes her head, returning her attention back to the food network programming.  “Tish, you are so ridiculous.”

“You know, it really isn’t that outlandish.  I was watching a commercial for a Christian dating site.  There’ve got to be some better prospects there than those others.”

“Christian dating websites?  If Almighty God needs help from the web putting people together, then you’re crap out of luck.”  Alesandra is unable to suppress her laughter.  “Besides, I’m willing to bet that most of those men on there are creeping.”


“Of course, Tish.  Think about it.  They’re not really Christian men.  They’re just looking for what their idea of a Christian woman is to creep with.”

“Hmmm.  I didn’t think about it like that.”

Exactly.  She didn’t think.  “Since when are you so hard up for a date that you gotta resort to a dating website, anyway?  You’d do better going places where you can increase your chances of meeting the kind of man you think you want this time.  Your ‘pick of the season.’ Instead of dating men you bump into at the gas station, work or some night spot.”  Alesandra can hardly believe that she’s having to give Tish dating advice, especially when she’s not had a date in well over two years, now.

“That sounds reasonable, I guess.”

“Trust me.  The web is way too risky.  You never know what you’re gonna get when you hook up with someone face to face.  But all the lies floating around on the web…outdated pictures.  That’s a dating disaster waiting to happen.”  Alesandra sits up, clicks off the television and prepares to go to her bedroom.  Against her better judgment she blurts out a suggestion.  “How about you come to the culinary class that the school is hosting Saturday night?  We’ll each be hosting a table as part of our class curriculum.  The class is about $45.  The last time we did one of these there were quite a few noticeably handsome guys there.  Some of them alone.  So…”  Alesandra crawls into bed after tossing her spoon in the sink and placing the empty ice cream carton in the trash. 

“So what time should I be there?” Tish is still pecking on the keyboard.

“If you want to get your choice of seats I suggest you get there at least twenty minutes early.  They’ll begin somewhere around seven.”

“What should I wear?  I got some cute leopard pumps that I’ve been waiting to –“

“Ok, I’m not going to dress you, Tish.  But I do suggest that you not show up looking like Beaver Cleaver’s mother.  So, definitely no stilettos.” After snuggling in the covers, Alesandra places the phone on her nightstand.  “I’m going to sleep.  Register for the class online.  And you are NOT permitted to sit at my table.”

“Just kind of scan the crowd for me and point out the good ones then.  Oh, but why am I asking you?  You haven’t had a man in how long?”

“Good night, Tish.” Alesandra disconnects the call and the screen goes blank.  She loves her sister, but sometimes it sure is difficult to like her.

Friday, October 19, 2012

The night seemed furious.  There was rain joined with winds sweeping in a sideways pattern that seemed determined to force Bethany and Juniper from their path toward its southeastern destination.  Still Bethany and Juniper hugged closer together under their oversized golf umbrella that despite its sturdiness was about to lose its battle trying to fulfill the purpose for which it was created.  They were catching water from both directions, the sideways rain overhead and that water that was bouncing from the concrete.  Once within arms reach of the door the oversized umbrella finally gave way to the wind and flipped.  Bethany and Juniper squealed like high school teenagers at the cold of the water saturating their clothing.  Bethany slipped inside the doorway while Juniper tried to salvage what remained of the umbrella.  Alas, the wind had its way and carried the umbrella over the flow of traffic in the streets and off into some unknown location in the dark of night.  Juniper sidestepped inside and slammed the door shut.

“Do you think he knows what you’re doin’?  Has he called the thunder gods to conjure up a diversion?”  Juniper removed her rain bonnet and trench.  Bethany did the same.

“You think?”  She playfully responded.  

Juniper had pulled one over on Bethany this time.  They’d had a nice early dinner.  Friendly conversation likened to those that they’d had long before he came along and Juniper got hip to what was happening.  But once she got her in the car, she sprang it on her.  She says to her that she wants her to go to this support group for battered women.  Just sit in.  You don’t have to say a word.  Had Bethany not had such a pleasant evening – and had he not coincidentally been away at an art showing out of town, this time insisting that she stay behind – there was no way that she’d have agreed to tonight.  But as fate would have it, the timing was perfect.  Juniper had convinced her that it was more a favor to her as a friend than for her own sake.  Something to ease her anxieties.

“Ladies, welcome.  We’re about to begin.”  The hostess disappeared into a room on the left.  The support group was about to commence.  Beth froze.

“This really is a good idea, right Nip?”

“You don’t have to say a word.  Just listen.”  Juniper grabbed her by the hands.  “I’ll be right beside you.” She gave her a warm smile and they took a couple of steps toward the room before Beth froze in place yet again.

“Wait.  This isn’t really necessary. What if somebody recognizes me?  What if someone I work with is in there?”  Bethany was panicky.

“Beth, what if he never stops?  There really is no reason not to.  Just this once.”  Juniper rubs her arms and grabs her by the hand again, this time successfully leading her into the room.

There are woman and men gathered there. Many of them with the same look of shame, hurt and exhaustion that Juniper has witnessed with Bethany countless times before.  They quickly slip to a couple of vacant chairs in the back.

“I want to thank everyone for coming tonight.  The weather has made this among the most challenging of nights, but we still have a pretty decent turnout.  As you can tell, this room is too small for our regular circle, but we can still continue to remain open and uninhibited in our discussion.”  The hostess hoisted herself atop a table.   “Who would like to begin?” 

A woman bolts up from her seat and takes a breath.  She seems overly anxious to speak up, given the circumstances.  “I’m glad that I finally found the courage to leave my abuser.  I thought I was going to feel alone and abandoned.  But…somehow, I don’t.  I feel as though I’m doing what’s best for me.  Like I have a renewed interest in myself.”  The lady fumbles with her fingers as she pushes the words out.    “There were so many nights like this that I’d be on edge waiting for the storm to pass.  Not the one outside, but the one that would be brewing behind the walls of that house.  He would be drinking.  And I knew it.  I knew that if he drank it would be at my expense.  The scars.  The broken fingers.  The busted lips and black eyes.”  She shakes her head as she recants some horrific moments of abuse.  “No more.  No.  No more hiding behind dark sunglasses and unseasonable attire covering up bruises.  No more having to hear begging and ‘I promise I’ll stop.  I’ll get some help.  I won’t do it again.’  No more.  This time I’m going to focus on loving myself.”

Juniper’s watery eyes glance at Beth.  A single tear trails from Beth’s eye.  She reaches and grabs hold of her hand as the first volunteer continues to speak.

“I’ve lost a friend or two and family that I’ve become disconnected from.  My abuser wouldn’t allow communication with anyone.  But I’m going to get my life back.” The woman smiles and nods as if her declaration has finally been approved by some higher power.  She takes her seat.  Fellow participants give her gesture of support and encouragement.

Monday, October 15, 2012

“As I prepare to take my seat, let me share with you my vision of our future here at Millford Estates.  This complex was once a main artery of the heart of our city, erected during an era when life was peaking and the city was thriving.  It saddens me to change the beautiful skyline it creates.  The sturdy structure and maturity of the brick that has weathered the worst of storms and was a part of each historic triumph.  That’s why we’re not tearing it down, but rather modernizing the use.  Millford Estates will no longer be considered a residential establishment, but rather become a place where visitors can also come and enjoy the beauty that it has added to our city.  Ladies and gentlemen, I present The Millford”.  

Councilman Ford unveils the design model.  Tones that imply pleasant surprise can be heard throughout the room.  The contractors and partners that have been ushering the deal are smiling.

“It’s growth and a city government with its thumb on the pulse of the nation that keeps us at the top of the list of most desirable places to live rather than the bottom – or for that matter omitted from the list altogether. As your city councilman, I’ll continue to make strides towards preserving our stature among the community, the city, the state, the country and ultimately our world. ”

Councilman Ford smiles for photographs and waves to the crowd of business professionals gathered for a luncheon to discuss plans to enhance the city’s image.  The meeting, not open to the public, is an opportunity for business professionals to network and discuss plans to shape local marketing as they derive can best increase revenue.  Everyone is pleased with the changes he’s proposing.  The tenants of Millford Estates are not of the economic status that would help bring their vision of the city into fruition.  And after all, it isn’t like they’re forcing them out with nowhere to move.  There’s public housing and other low income-assisted residential options in areas where like-minded citizens live.  They’d probably be happier somewhere else.      

As Councilman Ford takes his seat, he leans in to his assistant.  “Can you get more speaking engagements?  Elections coming up and I want to make sure to remain in the public eye.”

“That shouldn’t be a problem.  Local universities are hosting voter registration drives.  Perhaps an appearance or two at a couple campuses could get you some great exposure with the younger kids.”  His assistant makes notations in an agenda.

“Exactly.”  Councilman gets up from his seat and begins mingling with the business professionals and contractors.  If this thing goes according to plan, perhaps he could use this as leverage to build a platform and run for a higher office.  Unseating one of those fuddy duddies won’t be easy.  They have more wealth and clout.  But Councilman will not be intimidated.  He has a plan and only another 5 years to get to where he wants to be. 

Monday, October 8, 2012

The hustle and bustle from grocery store patrons coming and going has Geneva slightly on edge, but it’s the most excitement she’s had since her last trip to the grocery store this time last month.  Ironically, she’s timed her trip for about the same time everyone gets their SNAP benefits posted to the EBT card rather than waiting a couple days for the crowds to subside.  This is really the only time that she gets to interact with other people, if only passing in the aisles.  Sometimes she catches herself paying attention to the other shoppers and contents of their shopping carts.  Entertained by the families and children that beg for candy and sugary cereal.  She imagines what life would be like if she were a part of their lives.  Their nana or great aunt.  She smiles to herself, so distracted by children begging for items that she barely misses a gentleman examining canned vegetables.

“Oh, pardon me now.”

“Quite alright, ma’am.  Can’t do much more damage than the price of these canned goods is gonna do to my fixed income.”  The elderly gentleman gives a hearty chuckle.  “I see your basket is empty.”

“Well that’s only because I just got here.”  Her response is almost curt, as if she doesn’t really want to talk with him.  A deception of too much time spent apart from the company of others, especially gentlemen.  Geneva notices his glistening smile and wonders if those are porcelain veneers or some other material.  Very unlikely they’d be his real teeth at his age.

“Then, you know it would really be a huge help if an old man could share a basket with you.  That is if you aren’t doing a heap of shopping and it isn’t too much of an imposition.  Those hand baskets are difficult to manage with my cane and – Oh, is your husband accompanying you?”  He looks around as if he expects to see someone join her from either direction of the aisle.

Geneva suppresses her surprise, uncertain how she should feel about his offer but glad for the company.  “Ain’t married.”  She replies almost as if she’s offended by his request only because she’s unsure of herself.   “I suppose it makes sense to share a basket since you’re near cripple and all.”

“That’s mighty fine of you, ma’am.”  He places a canned good in the basket.  “Lead the way.”  He extends a hand in the direction they’re taking in the aisle.

Geneva slowly begins to push the basket down the aisle taking notice that she doesn’t smell efferdent  but a nice mild aftershave instead.  Those couldn’t possibly be his real teeth.  She stops to pick up a bag of rice. 

“Uh, name’s Quincy by the way.”  He looks at Geneva awaiting a reply. 

“Geneva.”  Her response is less terse.  She places the rice in her basket and resumes strolling down the aisle.

“Good to make your acquaintance, Geneva.”  Quincy reaches behind her and picks up a bag of rice to add to the cart also.

“Suppose I should be more careful who I ask to share a cart with considering you almost ran me over.”

Geneva smiles.  “Is that how you got on that cane?”  They share a laugh.  “You got ran over by some old lady with a shopping cart!”

Once the laughter subsides, Quincy replies,“No, ma’am.  Not by far.  This here is compliments of the war.”  He uses his cane to tap the side of his orthopedic shoe.  “Some shrapnel got lodged in my foot.  Haven’t walked without it since.”

“So sorry that happened to you.”

“Considering some folks lost their limbs, I feel like I won the lottery.”  Quincy adds a box of oatmeal to the basket.   Geneva reaches to get a box of grits only because she realizes that she’s been so attentive to Quincy that she’s bypassed the black-eyed peas. 

The two of them continue to make light conversation as they peruse the aisles of the grocery store.  Quincy is about a few inches taller than Geneva’s 5’5 frame.  He’s husky from what Geneva assumes is years of limited range of motion from a war injury.  What usually only takes Geneva about half an hour has easily turned into almost three hours.  Never before has she laughed so much. 

“I’ve got my milk and eggs.  That’s about all I came for.”  Geneva begins putting her things on the conveyer belt with the assistance of Quincy.  Although she’s sad that this shopping trip has reached an end her voice still sounds light and happy from all the laughter they’ve shared.

“It certainly has been a pleasure sharing a cart, ma’am.  I, eh…”  Quincy laughs under his breath a bit.  “I don’t know how people do these things nowadays.  Could I trouble you for a cup of coffee every once in a while?  Maybe call on you to share a cart on grocery day another time?”  Quincy looks embarrassed.  All the charm with which he’s entertained Geneva reduced to schoolboy bashfulness.

Geneva smiles.  “I think that’s a fine idea, Quincy.”  As she pays the cashier for her purchase, she loads the bagged items into her portable. 

Quincy’s face lights up.  “Well alright then.  Let me get your number there.”  Quincy pulls out his wallet and shuffles through some compartments.  “This here is my appointment card.  I’m sure not to lose that.  Just write your number there.”  He passes the card to Geneva. 

“Could I use your pen, young lady?” 

The cashier smiles and hands her the ink pen.  “Congratulations, he’s a cutie.” 

Geneva blushes but avoids making eye contact with Quincy who is also smiling from ear to ear.  After she writes her number on the card she returns the pen to the cashier.  “Thank you, young lady.”  She gives Quincy his appointment card and he immediately returns it to his wallet.

“Good day, Quincy.”

“And a good day to you, Geneva.”  Quincy tips his hat.  He has all his hair, too.  Closely shaven salt and pepper stubble that trails from his head to his sideburns, beard and mustache.

Geneva gives another warm smile and pushes her portable cart toward the mechanical doors.  Quincy is so distracted by her that he hasn’t heard the cashier give his total, watching her until she is no longer visible.

“Sir?”  The cashier is giggling at their behavior.  “Your total is $21.40.”

“Pardon my distraction.”  He returns his hat to his head.  Wallet still in hand, he counts out exact bills before digging in his pockets for the change.  The cashier hands him his receipt and bag once she’s placed the money in the drawer, and he walks away.

“Oh, Sir!” she calls out.  “Your lady friend forgot her bag.  Do you suppose you could get it to her?”  She takes a couple steps to hand the bag to him.

“Yes.  I’ll do that.  Sure will.”  He smiles and peeps at the contents of the bag.  Cat food.  Funny thing about it is his allergies never gave him any trouble the entire time they were side by side.  He smiles again, resisting the idea that this chance encounter was somehow meant to be.

Monday, October 1, 2012

“I’m glad everything looks good doctor, but these annual mammograms don’t seem necessary anymore.  Exactly what age do I have to reach before I can take this one off the list of my annuals?”  Tish is neatening her clothes on her delicate 5’8 frame and playing with her reflection in the paper towel dispenser. “Because I don’t have a family history of it and I can positively say that this is the worst of them all.  You’d think that with all that technology has to offer they’d come up with a less painful method for testing.”

“Tish, I understand your concern.  Most of my patients feel the same.  And despite your complaining, I know you’ll still come and get your annual mams.  You just wouldn’t be you if you didn’t have more to say about it.”  Dr. Leslie gives Tish a broad smile and closes the file. 

“Sure, doc.  But I know that one less test is one less doctor’s visit.  Meaning one less family vacation to Italy if you have a bunch of women who stop coming in.”  Tish returns Dr. Leslie’s smile and opens the door to exit.  “How about if I refer a few women I get to skip a test?”

Dr. Leslie laughs and follows Tish out of the room.  “Definitely one of my favorite patients.”

“Then can I get something free for a few referrals?”

Dr. Leslie retrieves a pen from the breast pocket of the lab coat and hands it to her.  “There.”

“Wow.  That’s right, doc.  You’re always on it.  Make sure I have a pen to sign that credit card receipt.”

“The receptionist will take care of you, Tish.  Good to see you.” 

Dr. Leslie still quite amused by Tish’s humor takes a detour to the next exam room while Tish walks the hall toward the receptionist desk.  She’s digging in her purse for her compact and lip balm when sobbing halts her pace.  Almost without thinking, she tunes in to the cries being heard from the suite to her right. 

“You can’t be serious.  I thought the free mammogram at the health fair was mistaken.  The lady told me it was probably nothing.  But you’re telling me there’s really a lump?”

“The good thing is that we’ve detected it and can make plans to have it removed as soon as possible.”  The person consoling her wasn’t very successful because hardly anything was audible through her weeping.

“But I don’t have a family history or anything.”

“Unfortunately, not having a family history doesn’t guarantee that you won’t develop a lump…”

Tish resumes down the hall toward the receptionist desk lost in thought at what she’s overheard, her head cast downward until she accidentally bumps into someone.

“Oh, pardon me, ma’am!  I’m so sorry.  I wasn’t watching where I was going.”  Tish almost melts away as she observes the woman wince in pain.  She’s bald and thin.  Looks tired and weak.  “Oh, no.  I didn’t hurt you, did I?”

The lady tries her best to smile through her pain and nods her head.  “It’ll be fine.”  Tish notices that she seems flat chested as she carefully tips around her.  She’s totally distracted by what she’s heard and seen when a voice from the receptionist desk catches her attention.

“Ma’am…”  Tish turns toward the receptionist seated at the desk.  “Would you like your next appointment same day a.m. or p.m.?”

“Oh, um… a.m. is fine.  Same day, please.” 

The receptionist hands her an appointment card.  “Insurance still intact.  We’ll see you next year.”

“Definitely.”  Tish turns to exit the waiting area realizing that gambling with her health is no laughing matter.  She pulls out her cell phone and presses quick key option 3.  After two rings, there’s an answer.

“What is it now, Tish?”

“Alesandra, have you ever had a mammogram?”