E is for Ethel

“Would you like to try a sample?  It’s our newest praline, coconut & chocolate coated, they’re just delicious!”  A very large woman wearing a pink felt hat – in June! – graciously accepted a sample.  Ethel smiled at her and then moved along, pausing to take a sip of orange Gatorade to keep her energy up.  She kept a small bottle in her apron pocket, though technically speaking it was more of a Gatorade Cocktail.  The vodka allowed Ethel to sail through her day and not be bothered by the loud tourists, the sticky fingered kids and the rich ladies who looked down on Ethel, even as they picked out the chocolates that they would later binge on.

“Ethel – it’s time for your break!” shouted her Manager, Mary-Jo.  Mary-Jo believed in crystals, colour therapy and past lives.  She dressed in purple because it was her “power colour,” “I’m a Goddess Warrior when I wear purple!” she was fond of saying.  She also wore huge cuff bracelets – Wonder Woman style – several ornate rings and dangly amethyst earrings.  “Ethel -” she lightly touched Ethel’s arm, “we need to get you dressing in your power colour – turquoise.  Your life will manifest ten times its beauty once you start honouring your inner Goddess!”  Ethel had absolutely no idea what Mary-Jo was talking about.  She continued on into the break room and opened the fridge to get her lunch.  Ethel ate the same thing everyday – carrot sticks and a tuna sandwich.  She figured this healthy eating cancelled out her daily vodka intake.

Ethel slipped off her Easy Spirit loafers and took a bite of her sandwich.  She looked forward to finishing her shift and getting home.  On Wednesday nights her friend Marg always came over.  They would order Chinese food and drink a couple bottles of wine, sometimes three.  Marg was twice divorced and lived with seven cats.  Ethel couldn’t stand the smell of Marg’s apartment so Marg always came to Ethel’s place.  They had met each other years ago at an AA meeting and had remained close friends.

As Ethel munched on her carrots and read a magazine article about celebrity dogs, a large crystal suddenly appeared in front of her on the table.  “Ethel, I bought you this sacred, healing crystal to help you start out on your journey of transformation.”  Mary-Jo was looking at her intently, like one of those zealots who were always handing out pamphlets.  “Christ on a Crutch!” thought Ethel.  Just then, Julie, a part-time worker, buzzed the intercom: “Mary-Jo, I need your help out here, I’ve got a line-up.” “Find your power Ethel!” said Mary-Jo as she raced out – Goddess Warrior style – to help Julie.  Ethel finished her sandwich and carrots, then stretched out on the old, white leather couch to take a ten minute nap.  She left the crystal on the table, next to the roll of paper towels and packets of sugar and salt.  “I’ve got my own damn power, thank you very much,” she said to herself as she dozed off.

D is for Deloris

Doloris waited for Porch Cat’s arrival.  Every night around 8:00 pm Porch Cat came to her house to eat dinner.  Tonight she had put out a bowl of canned tuna for him.  Porch Cat loved to be petted.  After finishing his meal he would saunter over to Deloris who would stroke his silky caramel fur, then he would curl up on her mushy thighs and nap for about ten minutes.  After that he usually scampered off, always turning his head to look back at her once – his way of saying good-bye.

Deloris checked her cell phone, it was 7:58.  She took a long sip of Rose, then lit a Menthol Light.  She watched the kids across the street play in their front yard.  It was late May so it was still light outside.  Deloris wasn’t a big fan of children, she found them noisy, messy and she hated how they always asked “but why?” about every damn thing.  She thought it foolish that anyone actually procreated these days. If a couple wanted a child they should adopt, there were thousands of babies and children wasting away in orphanages and hellish foster care homes. Deloris had watched an NBC Special Report on this subject matter, so she knew what she was talking about.  She took another long sip of Rose.  She was getting riled up now about the issue – the narcissism of people who insisted on having their own babies when there were desperate babies all over the world – blew her mind. Deloris scowled as she exhaled smoke – selfish pricks she thought to herself.

It was now 8:00 and no sign of Porch Cat yet.  Deloris checked to make sure she had remembered to put out fresh water then sat back down.  She smoothed out her colourful print tunic, it was one of her new spring purchases.  Deloris only shopped at one store – Chico’s.  Her favourite saleswoman was Jolene, they had become friends and occasionally went out for Margaritas together.  Jolene had taught Deloris about highlighting her best features and hiding her worst. According to Jolene, Deloris was pear shaped.  Deloris hated pears and she didn’t like the idea that her body was shaped like one, but Jolene had a great eye and soon after starting to shop with her Deloris started to receive compliments at work.  Even her boss, Mr. Elton, who never said anything to anyone, complimented her one day on her outfit.

A caramel fur ball swooshed up the steps – it was Porch Cat!  Deloris smiled as she watched him scarf down his tuna.  Porch Cat was starting to look a little chunky – Watermelon shaped – and Deloris figured it was because he ate dinner at more than one house.  Porch Cat clearly belonged to someone, he was friendly and looked well taken care of.  He had a collar with a tag, but Deloris never called the number on it because she didn’t want him to stop visiting her.  What if his owner decided to keep him inside?!  He needed to be out and about, doing cat things, so that his cat soul would be fulfilled.  After finishing his dinner Porch Cat hopped up next to Deloris and nuzzled her.  A watermelon and a pear, happy together.

 

 

 

C is for Charlie

Charlie activated the boutique’s alarm then locked the door.  She walked to her car and got in, but before starting the engine she got out and walked back to the door.  She tried opening it, but of course it was locked.  Okay, she thought, all is alright.

Driving home she listened to KCRW, while dangling a Belmont out the window. A Prius drove up next to her – “you’re killing yourself and polluting our shared air!” shouted a twenty-something.  He had a messy man bun, an even messier Grizzly Adams beard and though Charlie couldn’t see them, she was certain that he was wearing skinny jeans – probably with the pre-shredded knees. Charlie took a long drag of her cigarette and blew smoke towards his open window.  She smiled and waved as he roared off – well, as much as you can roar off when you’re driving a Prius.

Charlie sang to herself, “hold’er Jack, we’re headed for the rhubarb!” as she took a sharp corner into Trader Joe’s parking lot.  She grabbed her canvas shopping bags – God forbid you didn’t bring your own bags, the other shoppers would probably stone you to death with organic nuts – and headed in to do a little grocery shopping.

She filled her cart quickly – fresh flowers (every Friday she bought herself flowers), wine, pre-made salad, Louisiana sausages, Tortilla chips…In the frozen dessert aisle a handsome guy with salt and pepper hair smiled at her, “have you tried these Mochi?  They’re insane.  Last time I bought them I ate the whole box in one sitting.”  He was wearing beat-up black engineer boots – maybe Frye? – with faded jeans, a pricey looking sports watch and a ratty Motörhead tee. Hmm thought Charlie.  She smiled back.  “I like a guy who binges, I’ll try a box of those,” she reached over to get a box out of the freezer and their arms touched.  “I’m Max” he held out his hand to shake hers.  “Charlie,” she answered, giving his hand a firm shake after she placed the Mochi in her cart.

They walked down the aisle together.  “I forgot my shopping bags,” he said with a grimace.  “I’m dreading going to the check-out counter, they always give you that look, you know?”  Charlie laughed, “I know!!  I’m so over this ‘Ecowarrior, green smoothie drinking, politically correct, everybody is wearing glasses, retro crap!’ I can’t take it anymore!”  Max exploded into a fit of laughter.  He was so loud that several guys in the Craft Beer section looked up from their label hunting.  His laughter reminded Charlie of Rhoda Morgenstern from The Mary Tyler Moore show, it didn’t seem to match who he was and yet it was perfect.

 

 

Stanley

Stanley awoke from a long luxurious sleep, stretched and then set out walking.  He turned down the alleyway behind Greenwood Avenue and headed to the grey duplex with the blue trim, number 105.  The back gate was open, so he strolled in.  He was hungry and was looking forward to having lunch with Mrs. Blackwell.  He sat on her deck for about five minutes, enjoying the mid-day sun while waiting for her to appear.  Then he decided to take a stroll through her backyard since she was obviously running late.

Mrs. Blackwell had recently added new planters which were filled with pink flowers that smelled like delicious candies.  He also noticed a new herb garden, each herb had its own little sign: “basil,” “oregano,” “mint.”  He took a little taste of the mint, it was lovely and made his mouth tingle.  In the back corner of the yard Mrs. Blackwell had moved her porch swing, which had received an update with bright new yellow cushions.  Stanley decided to wait there since it was out of the sun and under the shade of a big leafy tree.  He settled in for a mini-nap while Mrs. Blackwell finished up with whatever was making her late for their lunch date.  He dozed happily, enjoying the swaying of the tree’s leaves above him – it was as if he had his own “garçon” fanning him. The sweet garden smells made his stomach gurgle, he could hardly wait to eat.

“Stanley!” called out Mrs. Blackwell.  Her voice was soft, with a hint of a Southern twang.  Mrs Blackwell had grown up in Texas and though she had lived in Toronto for twenty-five years she still considered herself a die-hard Texan, she even had a “Don’t Mess with Texas” plaque on her front porch.  Stanley headed over to the deck and joined Mrs. Blackwell at the patio table under a huge umbrella which she had opened to shield them from the sun.  She had set out two plates of food, iced tea (she was Texan after all) and water.  She smiled at Stanley, thankful for his company.  Ever since her husband Earl had passed away last year she had been terribly lonely.  Having a daily lunch companion who lived right in her neighborhood had lifted her spirits and put a little spark back in her step.

She sprinkled salt on her fresh avocado and tomato sandwich and took a small dainty bite.  “A little slice of heaven!” she said.  Stanley was focused on opening the shell of his giant peanut and extricating the nut.  He tried his best to eat as little of the shell as possible.  He chirped away happily as he finished his peanut and moved on to his walnut.  Mrs. Blackwell loved to watch Stanley eat.  It was like watching an artist at work, he ate so speedily, yet with such grace.  She told Stanley about her busy morning.  She had baked a cake for a friend’s birthday, cleared out her husband’s bedroom closet – which she had been procrastinating about – and called her doctor about the arthritis in her left knee which seemed to be getting worse.  Stanley chirped and swung his tail around in sympathy.

As per usual, Stanley took the last few nuts and stuffed them in his mouth.  Mrs. Blackwell knew his habits well. Now he would be off to hide the nuts for later and hopefully, if his memory served him, he would remember where he had hidden them.  “Good-bye Stanley!  See you tomorrow!” called out Mrs. Blackwell.  Stanley chirped and scurried away quickly.  It was crucial that he bury his nuts before other squirrels noticed that his mouth was full.  Otherwise he ran the risk of having them secretly follow him and then steal his delicious, organic, Trader Joe’s nuts.  It was a tough world out there, but at least he had his good friend Mrs. Blackwell, she was a gem.

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Manhattan

“Manhattan is over.  No one wants to live there anymore.  It’s all about Brooklyn now,” Stan declared.  What a pretentious prick, thought Mark.  He put his earbuds in, trying to zone out with music while kicking salt off his boots.  Damn weather, he mumbled to himself.  He thought about his day and the Epic Fail it had been. His boss had reamed him in front of the whole team.  Then at lunch his usual sandwich guy had been out of pastrami, so he’d had to get a chicken wrap.  A freakin chicken wrap.  He hated wraps.  Only pussies ate wraps.

“Brooklyn is where all the artists live, the techies, the movers and shakers. Manhattan is just the old guard now.  It’s over,” Stan droned on.  Shut. The. Fuck. Up.  Mark thought.  What had he ever done in his life to deserve sitting next to Stan Kolonsky every night on the subway?  God had a twisted sense of humor.  He closed his eyes and thought about his mom’s meatloaf that he’d be eating soon.  She served it with a spicy red sauce.  It was a Saracino secret family recipe.  He loved his mom.  His mom rocked.  He saw Stan’s mouth moving but he couldn’t hear him.  The Guess Who flooded his eardrums. Searching his left pocket he found a PAM and popped it in his mouth like a tic-tac.  He thought about texting Sally to see if she wanted to hook up this weekend.  She was kind of dim, but she was hot.  His mom was on his case about asking out Carla Rota, the young widow down the street.  Carla was good-looking, but there was no way he was dating a widow.  With a widow you’re never their #1 man.  Their #1 man is always their dead husband.  Of that Mark was sure.  He started to PAM-out and it felt good.  He felt the sharp edges starting to melt away like he was a piece of plywood that had just been sanded down.  He smiled at Stan.  Three more stops and he’d be home.

Bright Ribbon

“I look like I’ve been pulled through a hedge backwards!” Brenda squawked, adjusting her bouffant hairdo.  She whipped out a coral lipstick and started applying it without a mirror, painting two large half circles.  Clown-Chic, thought Shannon.

“You look fine,” Shannon said, as she un-packed the bags of clothes dropped off by Mrs. Blackwell.  Mrs. Blackwell – one of their best clients – brought in high-end designer clothing almost every week.  Chanel, Valentino, Hermes.  Most of the items had been worn only once or twice, many not at all.  Last week’s haul had included a black Gucci dress with its Saks Fifth Avenue price tag still on, $6500.  A year’s rent for Shannon.

Brenda came around the corner, red stiletto pumps clicking on the floor, each click like an exclamation mark.  “You know about Mrs. Blackwell, don’t you?” asked Brenda leaning in, last night’s scotch masquerading as today’s perfume.  “No,” Shannon said, arranging Mrs. Blackwell’s Louis Vuitton luggage set, one on top of the other.  Shannon thought of her own luggage, a set of black hand-me-down Samsonite from her mom who’d told her to tie bright ribbon on the handles so that she’d be able to easily identify them at the airport.  Shannon had tied bright ribbon on the handles, but then everyone else’s mother had given the same advice and now luggage carousels were overflowing with plain black suitcases tied with bright ribbon.

Brenda took a swig of her coffee, leaving a ridiculous coral outline on the white cup.  “Mr. Blackwell, her husband, never gives her any actual cash because he’s a fucking control freak.  He makes her use credit cards for everything so that he can track her every move.  Bastard.”  Brenda lit the first of endless cigarettes, blowing smoke out the open window.  Shannon continued to hang clothes, admiring the fabrics.  Silk satin, wool crepe, cashmere.  To pass the time she often played a game with herself called “Name that Fabric.”  For every correct answer she won a quarter, which she took from the cash register.  Shannon was getting pretty good at the game and she wondered when Brenda would ask why they were always out of quarters.  Thankfully bookkeeping was not Brenda’s forte, though gossiping was.

“The funny thing is he doesn’t give a rat’s ass about how much she puts on her Saks or Neiman’s credit cards, she can charge up a storm and he doesn’t care.  But he never gives her spending money, she never has even one damn dollar in her purse.  He wants to keep her powerless because he’s an evil prick.”  Brenda sucked deeply on her cigarette, which was encased in a 1950’s style cigarette holder.

“So Gilda, that’s Mrs. Blackwell’s first name, Gilda buys tons of expensive clothing and then she sells it here.  She squirrels away the money she makes selling her clothes into a secret bank account.  Can you believe it?”  Looking satisfied with her storytelling, Brenda stamped out her cigarette and pulled a red pen from her bouffant.  She started writing out price tags and barking at Shannon.  “Dior floral dress, $785.  Missoni red sweater, $350.”  Shannon tagged the items as they went along, struggling to keep up with Brenda’s caffeinated pace.

Shannon looked at Brenda’s reflection in the gold vintage wall mirror.  Back in the day, the 1970’s Shannon guessed, Brenda had probably been one of those cute, button nosed, petite yet improbably busty blue-eyed blondes.  Most likely she had been a cheerleader, or maybe a baton twirler for the marching band.  Yes, definitely a twirler, thought Shannon.  Brenda was still petite with great legs.  “I’ve got killer stems,” is what Brenda always said as she pranced around in her high heels and short skirts.  But now Brenda’s cute button nose was overshadowed by her puffy eyes, which looked like two mini puffed pastries sitting high on her face.  Her petite twirler body now accented by a swollen booze belly.  Brenda was a well-seasoned alcoholic, destroying her good looks one drink at a time.

Brenda grabbed the ringing phone “Uptown Consignment, Brenda speaking,” she answered in her smoker’s gravelly voice.  “We DON’T do vintage, that’s for those young, trendy, Instagram-selfie girls,” groused Brenda.  “We only accept clothes that are 1-2 years old and in perfect condition.  And don’t bring me any mall crap, we are a high-end designer’s resale shop.”  With that Brenda slammed down the phone.  Well, that’s one way to approach customer service thought Shannon.

As Brenda stilettoed back to her office to refill her cigarette holder, Shannon took Mrs. Blackwell’s new Dolce & Gabbana strappy heels and put them in her tote bag.  She would add them to her eBay shop later tonight when she got home.  She could probably get $225 for them.  Shannon’s dream was to go to Paris next spring and she had already raised $925 towards her trip.  Although stealing was not the most legitimate way to raise funds, Shannon was surprised at how little she cared.  Plus, she only stole from ridiculously rich ladies like Mrs. Blackwell, ladies who would never know the difference.  In fact, now that Shannon knew about Mrs. Blackwell’s scheming, she felt a certain camaraderie with her.  They were both essentially doing the same thing and Shannon thought that Mrs. Blackwell would probably approve of her fundraising efforts.  The fact that Shannon was also stealing from Brenda didn’t faze her either.  Brenda’s father had made a fortune in the steel industry, leaving her a massive inheritance.  So why Brenda even bothered with this stupid resale business was beyond Shannon.

As Shannon waited for Brenda, she patted the Louis Vuitton luggage set like it was silky cat.  Sadly she wouldn’t be able to steal luggage from the store.  Brenda was clueless, but not that clueless.  Yet Shannon would not fly to Paris with her crappy hand-me-down Samsonite – I mean God, how ghetto would that be? – she would have to figure something out.  Shannon’s luggage thoughts were cut short by Brenda’s bellowing.  “I need you to go out and pick up some party supplies.”  Party supplies was code for Brenda’s weekend bingeing supplies.  “I need two bottles of Glenlivet 12, three bottles of Veuve and an assortment of cheese, crackers, grapes and olives.  And don’t get me that hideous blue cheese, that stuff looks grim.”  As Brenda went to find her car keys and get cash, Shannon stashed her incriminating tote bag in the back cupboard.  “We’ll do Mrs. Blackwell’s inventory when you get back” yelled Brenda from her office.

Just then two of their regular customers came in, both were secretaries at a big law firm.  They were always dressed impeccably.  In fact they looked almost as good as the female lawyers they worked for.  This pleased them greatly and irked their bosses.  How could they afford such style on their measly secretary salaries the lawyers wondered.  “Uptown Consignment” was their secret and they made a point of telling only the firm’s support staff about the shop.  Let the lawyers pay retail.

As Brenda chatted them up, Shannon went out the back entrance and slid onto the luxurious leather seats of Brenda’s Mercedes convertible.  Shannon didn’t have a car.  She took the bus to work, along with all the cleaning ladies and day laborers.  Growing up, her mother’s car had always had those grimy fabric seats that stuck to your clothes.  Shannon hated those fabric seats.  One time, her friend Lacy, who came from a well-to-do family, had commented on the seats.  “Oh weird, I’ve never sat on fabric seats before,” she’d said with surprise.  Shannon had felt humiliated.

Shannon put the top down and rooted around in her purse until she found her new Oliver People’s sunglasses.  Mrs. Stein had accidentally left them at the store last week.  When Mrs. Stein had called asking if anyone had found her sunglasses, Shannon had told her “no, but I’ll let you know if they turn up,” and then put them in her purse.  The thing was, they really looked better on Shannon, they just didn’t suit Mrs. Stein’s heart-shaped face.

Shannon drove so that she hit every red light.  That way the other drivers, especially the men, had plenty of time to admire her.  Her long wavy blond hair blowing in the breeze, oversized sunglasses, sexy car.  She was dazzling and she knew it.  Just then her phone beeped, it was a text from Brenda: “add to list: box of Parliaments, DARK chocolate – NOT milk!  NO blue cheese!!!”

At the next light a handsome young man leaned out of his convertible Porsche, “You need to go to lunch with me NOW.  Four Seasons Patio.  Meet you there in five.”  The light changed.  Shannon thought about it.  She WAS a little hungry.  I mean it was almost noon and all she’d eaten for breakfast was a Pop-Tart and a cup of coffee.  The Four Seasons was just a couple blocks away, she’d seen it before but never been.

She pulled up to the valet, smiling and taking her ticket like it was the most normal thing to do.  Like she always pulled up to 5 star hotels in her Mercedes.  Like the Oliver Peoples sunglasses now perched on her head truly belonged to her.  Like the blond streaks in her hair didn’t come out of a drugstore box.  She applied some lip-gloss, muted her phone and walked towards the patio.  Porsche-man was just being seated at a corner table.  Shannon breathed deeply, tossed her hair and smiled widely.