A is for Annabelle

Annabelle stretched out on the park bench, hiking up her dress a little to try and tan her legs. “Sweet Jesus, I’m white as cake flour.” She tilted her head, sunflower-style, hoping that her tiny freckles would soon turn to Jennifer Aniston bronzed skin. She kept a tight grip on her purse. Her parents had warned Annabelle about New Yorkers – “they’re savages!” her father had hissed when she’d told him about her plans to visit the city. “Don’t let go of your purse for one second!” her mother had cried. Her mother had also secretly packed Annabelle’s bag with bandages, power bars and a “rape whistle.”

Ever since watching Breakfast at Tiffany’s as a child, Annabelle had dreamt of visiting New York City. Of course as an eight year-old she had not been aware of the dark undercurrent of the movie, she had simply been in love with Audrey’s style, her milk-filled champagne glasses and the glamour of Manhattan. So after earning a degree – and top marks – in Paralegal Studies from Emmerson Community College, Annabelle had decided to reward herself with her dream trip.

She was starting to get a little hungry, so she decided to take herself out for a chic lunch. Annabelle had made a list of all the fashionable restaurants that celebrities and style-makers frequented and she made her way to one of them, “Saint Martine” in Soho. On the subway downtown, Annabelle chatted with a young woman named Crystal who told her all about her cheating, no-good boyfriend. Annabelle advised her to leave him immediately: “Life is short and precious! Don’t waste one more minute on him!” Crystal had been moved by Annabelle’s warm demeanour and had giver her her phone number scrolled on the back of an old prescription. “If you get in a jam and need any help, call me!” she said as she hopped off the train.

Once on the cobblestone streets of Soho, Annabelle took a moment to fix her face and smooth out her Kate Spade floral dress. She’d bought the dress for fifteen dollars at The Salvation Army. Annabelle shopped thrift stores on a regular basis, but she only frequented the ones near rich neighborhoods. She also had a brand new Coach purse, a graduation gift from her Aunt Helen who understood the importance of dressing well. “Annabelle is going to be surrounded by high-end lawyers, she needs to look the part,” Aunt Helen had said when her mother protested that the purse was too expensive.

Though the restaurant was full, the hostess took a liking to Annabelle, there was just something about her face, it was like a friendly, round moon pie and most people couldn’t resist spending a few minutes with her. Before long Annabelle was seated at a corner table with perfect people-watching views and the hostess – Jaimee – was telling her all about her latest audition which had gone extremely well. “I think I nailed it, I really do. I think I’m finally going to get my shot and I’m sooo ready! Know what I mean about being sooo ready for something?” she asked Annabelle. “I totally know what you mean. I was sooo ready to get out of Chilton Missouri and now here I am! And you know what? You ARE going to get the part, I just know it. You have that star quality, that ‘je ne sais quoi!'” Jaimee put her hands in an emoji-style prayer position and then quickly walked off to seat two boho-chic model types. Suddenly a glass of champagne appeared in front of Annabelle, “it’s on the house,” said a beautiful waiter as he swept by her. Annabelle took her very first sip of champagne, delighting in how the bubbles danced on her tongue. New Yorkers are not Savages, she thought. And I’m not going home.

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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February

The air smelled clean, like Ivory soap. But then you felt the wind, a cold hard slap on your soft skin. Like a strike in the face from your lover that you didn’t see coming.

Dirty snow crunching. Discarded cans, bottles and garbage seemingly everywhere. Who still litters? It’s 2016, not the 1970’s. The snow is angry. It should be pristine and wedding-dress white. Instead it is brown and mucky, like an old forgotten river.

Crunch. A mitten propped up doll-like on a tree branch. One boot, laces un-done, lying in a bush like a body about to be discovered by the special victim’s unit. A hoodie left lonely and abandoned on a bench. Maybe this was an urban art exhibit by one of those media savvy types, soon to be featured in The New York Times.

The snow actually does make a crunching sound, it’s true. Crunch. Crunch. “Is your dog a lover or a fighter?” asks the man. His eyes are both watery and wild, his energy a mixture of deep sadness and frantic rage. “He’s a Lover” you say, trying to act casual, even though you want to take your elderly one eyed dog and run away across the street. “Good boy, good boy,” the man says as he lovingly strokes your dog. His watery eyes no longer wild, but soft, like pillows. He walks off and you and your elderly one eyed dog watch him go, both suddenly missing him. Why didn’t he stay longer?

Mister Lover stealthily slithers up to a large pizza crust and starts eating. You consider wrestling with him to try and retrieve the dirty pizza, but change your mind. He is old. Let him enjoy his garbage picking, it makes him feel like the King of the streets he once was.

Crunch, crunch. A couple walks by, two women holding hands. They look content. They look like they know that if one of them gets sick, the other will take care of her. A guy wearing grey skinny jeans and a low ponytail ambles along. He is carrying a granny style purse with giant knitting needles sticking out of it.

We finally arrive home. “Slowly baby, slowly” I say to Mister Lover. The front porch steps are slippery and his once powerful legs are now just little twigs. We make it up to the door and he lets out a soulful howl. A “damn that was a good walk girl!” kind of howl. February is really not so bad.