eyed her thin, tiny, almost sexless looking body with distaste. “It’s hard to imagine anyone wanting me when I
wouldn’t even want myself,” she told the unresponsive mirror.
Her mother told her long ago, “The mirror does not care what it
reflects. It does not judge. Only the viewers bring attitudes and expectations and hopes to what is seen.”
Her mother was
dead now and she was an independent adult, twenty-two, working, a half-assed education destroyed by her failure to decide
what it was she wanted to be, a two year degree in journalism and she could tell by what was being printed that she had no
hope of a job in newspapers or literature.
“Even my poetry stinks,” she thought bitterly, recalling
the last reading where the mike didn’t work, her soft voice wasn’t heard, and her one funny line got no laugh.
The applause was pitiable and the only woman who had even said hello to her was a fag in drag, which she hadn’t even
realized at first to his vast amusement.
“I’m always a day late and a dollar short,” she mumbled to herself.
“Christ, I’m lucky I even have a job.”
In this mood, the fact that she had her mother’s insurance safely
locked in the bank meant she wasn’t going to starve but God, life was so unfair to those who were not fair.
had always been what her brother called a “dingle berry.” She had had to pry out of him that height in the military
was carefully calibrated and the short ones were assigned to the ass end of the line. The phrase meant “little turds
the paper didn’t catch,” her brother finally told her. Now he was dead in Iraq and her father had managed to drink
up his death benefits in a three-month carouse after which he had vanished. For all she knew he might be dead too. She didn’t
even have a dog now. Her brother’s big German shepherd had run into traffic the day they got the telegram and died in
a three-car collision, which killed a neighbor as well. Portland had sounded like a friendlier city than Van Nuys could ever
be. She’d managed to get two semesters in at Concordia but her heart wasn’t in it.
“If I didn’t
have a job, I think I’d just say screw it and go to Momma and Tommy and Radar.”
Death sounded peaceful
but she’d always thought of it as a coward’s way out. The fact that God hated cowards didn’t bother her.
After all, hadn’t she had enough hell already? What kind of loving God was going to care how she joined Him if it was
combed the drab brown hair and tied a scarf around her head. She didn’t mind the “lost little waif’ look.
“Hell, I am one,” she growled and threw on her coat and started the short walk to work.
She had a four to
twelve and did mostly setups for the next day. It was a short walk to New Seasons and soon she was moving vegetables and fruit
and trying hard not to sound as sullen and hopeless as she felt.
Some bald old man asked her about iodine which she realized she knew
the location of although the regular drug clerk had no idea. She pointed it out to the old man. His earnest gratitude made
her wonder if he was coming on to her but she decided that was ridiculous. He was OLD! At least sixty, she supposed, and his
alert eyes had already taken in what she considered a nondescript barely female body.
She assumed that he had already
discounted her reality as the rest of the world did. “Damn!” She hated these moods and the lack of stimulation
and friends in her life. Even the French group she had joined with hopes of France someday was made of earnest but unsociable
people of varied ages and reasons for wanting the skill of an extra language.
Oddly, she realized that she did speak better French than the rest of
the group. She had impressed the teacher but she was an old woman with six languages and years of travel. However, Kira had
at least that one solace for her soul. The qualities she thought missing, were still missing. But, she had been praised there
and that one tiny star would have to solace her full-of-holes ego until she got something better.
Carrying the culls
and debris from the fruit and vegetable bins to the back of the store, she found the old woman and her kitten. She had seen
women like this before, poor, underfed and ill prepared for
the ferocity of Portland rain. This old lady followed her to the garbage
was scrawny and the cat was too. Still the cat followed close to her heels as she eyed the damaged apples. She looked at Kira
and said in a thin voice, “Can I, can I...?” She pointed to the piles of damaged goods.
“Sure, go ahead.” The sight
of the old woman did not help her mood but she had known other poor people except they weren’t as obvious as this poorly
fed and dressed lady with the cat.
On impulse, she asked, “What’s your cat’s name?”
“This is Samoa.
I named her that when I still hoped I might go somewhere in the world. It’s an island you know out in the Pacific. I
always dreamed that I’d go there some day and see those beautiful brown peaceful people living where it never gets cold.
This rain is so cold. I swear, when I came to Portland, they had seasons but now it feels so drizzly all the time.”
She reached out
to pet the cat but the snarl warned her off.
“She’s hungry but the only fruit she’ll eat is antelope or watermelon.
She needs meat but she’s too old to mouse and I’m too poor to buy cat food.”
was touched. Her own problems seemed somehow dwarfed by the tragedy before her. She had an idea.
“Wait here,” she said, “I’ll
get something for your cat.”
“I really can’t pay or give you anything,” said the old lady.
“Don’t worry about it,”
Kira replied, “I’ll be back in five minutes.”
The old lady was munching on an apple with one hand and sifting the
vegetative debris with the other. Kira could see she could only bite on one side and realized that the woman didn’t
have many teeth.
Back in the bright lights of the store, she wondered if she was really doing the right thing. The
baloney they had fed her in school about teaching villagers to fish obviously would not work with this senior. Behind the
counter, she said to her super, “Can I get my lunch now.”
“Sure, see you in half an hour. We’ve got a walk-in to empty,
sterilize and restock when you get back.”
“Okay,” she replied. Soon she had a tray and wangled a small
ball of hamburger from the black butcher. A large cup of the delicious cheddar/broccoli soup and a smaller cup of the rich
thick pea soup with the ham dotting the top reached the tray. She pulled some pepper and salt in tear-off papers and added
extra rolls of bread and butter from the soup counter. She checked out her meal at the register and went back outside.
The old lady was
sitting on the bench, cat in her lap, petting and talking to it like it was a person. She looked up in surprise at Kira and
said with pathetic eagerness, “Oh, you came back.”
Kira smiled to see the cat become aware of the
meat that she handed the old lady. There was a loud sound of purring which surprised her since the cat seemed quite old.
Kira offered the
hot soup and she started to eat too. So did the senior with bursts of gratitude between bites. Kira managed to get some of
the tasty pea soup down.
After both had cleared their plates, Kira excused herself and went back to get some coffee and some creamers.
When she came back out, the old lady was still sitting where she had left her, She looked a little better and the cat was
sleeping in her lap.
“Are you on the street?” Kira was surprised at how much the whole scene was affecting her. The
old lady’s gap-toothed smile was wide as she confessed.
“Two years now since Dotty was killed
and they threw me out of the apartment we shared. I can’t blame ‘em. I couldn’t pay rent. I
have never worked. Dotty was my lover and she took great care of me but her kids took the insurance and ignored me as though
I didn’t exist. They didn’t like our relationship, hypocritical Christian bastards with phony love in their hearts.
They didn’t realize how we made each other happy. Samoa was Dotty’s and she’s never been the same either.
She likes you though, see?
Kira wasn’t sure it was liking or food but the oversized purr coming from the frail feline body was
followed by the faintly cross-eyed animal’s leap into her lap. She held her coffee with one hand and petted with the
“She used to jump in Dotty’s lap that way, too. Hasn’t she got a
Kira agreed and checked
her watch. She had another five minutes. The lady looked a little stronger now.
“I don’t mean to be personal but, are you a...” she
hesitated to say the word, she had only read it before, “a, a lesbian.”
“Good Lord, honey, don’t tell me
you believe it’s a sin too.”
“Oh no,” Kira realized she was embarrassed by the directness of the question,”
it’s just that I’ve never known one.”
“Ha! That may be what you think but how would you know anyway?
The fact I’m queer and here won’t prove anything to you. We don’t wear butt stickers like cars, you know.
I met Dorothy in college and she brought me out. Until then, I thought I had a sick mind. That’s how our system tries
to shame us for natural urges. Dotty got out of college a year ahead of me, tied in with a computer outfit and had us an apartment
when I graduated. I was a French major and we always hoped to see Paris together. I’ll tell you this. Those high-paying
jobs are as hard on women as they are on men. She had a heart condition and smoked like a furnace but she loved just like
a woman and cried just like a little girl.” She chuckled, “I think Bobby Dylan sang something like that once.
Anyway, the whole point of life is love. That’s what God is and that’s what we had.”
Kira rose and placed the cat back in the
“I have to go back in now. Thank you for the talk. I was feeling a little let down but I’m
better now. You and Samoa have changed me a little, I think.”
“I’ll just snuggle here for a while with Samoa, if you don’t
mind. The security guard ignored us so maybe I can stay a while.”
Kira nodded and left for a heavy four hours of lifting and scrubbing
the end of her shift, she started the walk home and went past the bench on the corner. The old woman was still there. The
cat was in her lap but not purring, just sitting there looking wide-eyed and nervous. She recognized Ken though and rose.
looked closely at the old relaxed face. She knew, even without touching her, that the old woman was dead. Gently she pulled
the cat into her arms. She straightened the old woman’s legs and
arranged her clothes a little better. The cat stayed in her arms as though glued there.
Kerry saw George, the security guard and waved him over and pointed at the old lady.
George walked over and checked
for a pulse. “I’ve seen her before,” he said. “She has a cat. Is that it? Do you want me to take it?
They’ll probably send it to the pound and dispose of it.”
“No,” Kira said,
“I talked to her. She’d want me to take care of Samoa.”
She waved George goodbye, blew a kiss to the dead
woman and started for home.
Life isn’t all bad,” she thought. I’ve got a cat and she can purr
By bil Forshay