I am lucky, I remind myself. As I watch my face change in the reflection of the silver decorations on the bed. Shiny pressed buttons adorn the fancy head board.
Or at least, I was lucky. I had been fed enough that my face filled each miniature mirror, about a dozen in total spaced several inches apart. Solid wood engraved spirals with gold leaf pressed on expertly, in precision places. I took extra care when moving around the room, I didn’t want to accidentally scuff the bed frame with my suit case. I am klutzy enough for that.
One night I had drank one too many beer and now my finger traced a deep scratch in the wood from my bump. Guilt snapped fresh in my mind and I wonder if I could purchase one of those paint pens to cover the incident.
I rolled away from the incidental damage I had caused and grab my book to read. The feeling of waking and staying in bed to read for hours if desired is amazing. It is fantabulous. It is beyond words and I already feel my damaged psyche healing.
Luck brought me to this Bed and Breakfast. I met the kind smiling woman at the local used bookstore. The front half of the store appeared to be just another smoke shop that sold fancy blown glass bongs but I had overheard locals discussing the towers of books located in the back. I felt odd walking straight through the beaded curtains to the back of the store, something I would never typically do. There was no one sitting at the front and this trip was all about change, was it not?
Through the doorway, the small store had expanded into a massive collection of every imaginable book. Within my short time staying in Parksville, I had already met the owner, made friends and learnt his favorite coffee to bring the vertically declined man.
The kind smiling woman had been in the back that day. We had struck up a conversation over a Margaret Atwood book I was considering purchasing, Edible Woman. She mentioned she stocked it for travelers to read, and the rest unraveled from there. I had asked what she meant by “stocked it,” and that’s when I learnt of her B&B.
So, for thirty five bucks a night, I get a roof, a gorgeous bed and a home cooked breakfast. Her name is Doris and the house is a colonial style, pure white and located right on the beach. Since it is off season, she offered me to stay with her at a discounted rate until someone else booked the room. I openly offered to help with household chores, grocery shopping and lawn maintenance.
I ended up with a arm load of books and find myself most days sitting on the beach reading. Or at the end of the dock with my feet swinging, reading. Unfortunately, I had come with the intent to finish writing my novel, Catywampus. I had not typed a single word. I vaguely recall one day when I had opened my laptop only to find myself drawn to staring out the window at the lapping waves on the beach. My mind cried for rest.
I had to do something to give this hiatus a proper kick start, or maybe I had to do nothing.
Doris is old, and by old I mean I’m sure that a fan of Pet Semetary brought her back from the dead. Her smile is kind but that’s about the only nice thing I could say about her look. Her frame is frail, her wrinkles have wrinkles, the skin no longer wants to cling to the bones. No doubt she’s in her nineties and it’s no small miracle that she runs a B&B. Her food is amazing too! Many nights I would find myself sitting in the kitchen drinking her English brewed tea (with five sugar) and eating syrupy sweet treats. She spoke of her life stories in a frenzy, as if she had run out of people to tell. Possibly this was the sole reason she ran a bed and breakfast. To find someone who would listen.
She had immigrated to Canada from England when her children where babies, her late husband had built the house with a full suite to help pay the mortgage. He died over twenty years ago and with her children moved out, she found herself lonely. Long term renters would never sit around and talk in the evenings. Desperate for company, she changed the suite into a B&B and suddenly she had visitors almost every morning. Some evenings too.
There was a coop of at least twenty chickens in the backyard, I didn’t think it was legal but no complaints from me with the fresh eggs for breakfast. And lunch, and dinner. Toad in a hole, dippy eggs with soldiers and cloud eggs often. Dinner held ham and cheese quiches or fried egg sandwiches. I never turned down a greasy fried anything.
This morning, I smelled freshly made hollandaise sauce with the rich melted butter and raw yolk whip. I guess once love is gone, all you have left is food and I was falling in love.
“Good morning sunshine!” Her chipper voice called when the floor boards gave away my location. No wonder she made it to ninety and was still kicking strong, her senses were keen as a Mongolian white bat, with the skin shade to match.
“Good morning Doris,” I smiled as I enter the kitchen, the egg poacher boiling ferociously.
“Did you get very far on your typing last night?”
“No, I fell into my book instead.”
“Which one are you reading now?”
I loved how intrigued she was by my life, questioned more than my husband had. As long as you don’t include, “where have you been?” I welcomed her questions.
I had already finished reading two novels in the short time I had been here.
“Three to get Deadly,” Janet Evanovich series; One for the Money, Two for the Dough, and so on.
“I read lots when I was your age!” She exclaimed, egg spoon making a grand entrance into the air. She added dramatics to her words with her hands.
I poured myself a cup of coffee and sat at the table. Her head bobbed as she danced like a skeleton around the kitchen. Reciting the book names I vaguely recalled learning of in school. Hair thin as fishing line, near transparent but long. It fell to her hips and miraculously stayed out of her cooking. She was happy in this space, this small kitchen with the leaf green tiled back splash. Apparently the last renovation was before floral print on everything went out of style.
Beige, steam stained appliances banged up to give a new shade of charcoal but they still clicked and roared to a flame when requested. Margarine containers littered the counter top for chicken feed scraps: banana peels, toast cuttings, strawberry tops and carrot peelings.
“Oh yeah?” I remarked when she spoke of the dark Alice in Wonderland. Originally by Lewis Carroll. She began speaking of the original fairy tales. Cinderella cutting her toes off to fit in glass slippers, I nearly had coffee out my nose.
“The crap these days, not worth the pages they are printed on.” A smear of yellow sauce hung from her arm, apparent to make no effect on her dancing or cooking style. Doris continued on, “don’t matter any how, my glasses too damn thick to read through!”
“Some women used to pay with books…”
“For your hospitality?” I inquired.
“No Becca, don’t you listen?” She shot me a look but I was sure she was the one that had missed something. I smiled weakly.
The women, at the wig salon.”
“Oh yes, when wigs were popular, there were salons to fit them. To wash, style and curl them. They were all the rage, women would spend hours getting them fashioned.”
“Really?” I tried to imagine her with wig glue in one hand and a curling iron in the other.
“Big business,” she winked and sliced tomatoes to fry.
“Yes, stunning wigs,” her eyes sparkled as she apparently recalled with passion the styling of wigs. Doris ghosted a hair twirl and began to pretend the tomato was wearing a wig of its own.
Breakfast was plated, the tower of ratatouille looking vegetables piled under the smooth cream sauce. Doris sat across from me and her eyes were crossed as she focused on popping the yolk in just the right manner, to have it run in every direction of her own egg benedict masterpiece.
We ate in silence, the warm meal cooked for me was a welcome change. I may have been lucky at home, but I had been suffering of late. No pantry full of food, no lavish dinners out. Doris had been a life saver before McDonald’s became a main staple.
Dishes were a small argument as she insisted it was her job. It took several minutes for me to convince her to let me do them, I was in fact paying a discounted price.
Within two days of staying at Doris’ B&B, she knew my life story. What brought me here, somehow she understood it better than I had. Most nights I laid in my room and stared at the ceiling thinking maybe it was just in my head. It was so hard to explain how James made me feel, how the situation would be twisted around on me and I would be left to suffer. I would be left feeling it were my fault all along.
I was beginning to feel a loneliness in my gut, I questioned daily what my husband was feeling. Did he miss me? What he mad, relieved or lonely too?
I knew at least my daughter was enjoying herself, somewhere close by on another beach and I knew my son was still working like a slave for ‘the man’. Money made him happy, I hope he hadn’t learnt that from James. There is so much more to life than money, it buys the house, it buys the bed, it buys the clothing but it also buys a quick path to negligence. Love does not grow where time is suffocated by cash.
Thanking Doris for breakfast once the dishes were done, I got myself ready to head out for the day. I left my laptop, I hadn’t hardly typed anything. A day away from it might be good.
Placed my feet to the concrete and I walked. No destination in mind. The sun was warm, it was the middle of May.
I passed a grocery store that brought a sharp memory. From my first visit in Parksville. My husband and I, having just caught a few large ling cod in the ocean. A large white meat fish that bottom feed, we caught a big guy by catching a little fish and putting that fish to the bottom again to continue fishing.
With the big guy caught, we had rushed to the local grocer to purchase some fixings. At the checkout I had realized I forgot something, dashed back through the store. Back at the checkout, I was out of breath and apologizing to the line that had developed. James held a face of embarrassment.
“Hey girly, all good,” the surfer style cashier had said, he winked, “you’re on the island now, relax.” Calm, cool and collect. I had envied him for months after, trying to instill the same tone to my life.
Now I was back, and no career to concern myself with. I strolled toward town, the beach at my back and the birds around my head. They sang and made sweet promises with their charisma. The houses were perfectly symmetrical and placed expertly to show off the crisp green lawns, the expensive parked cars and drawn peach window shades.
Store fronts were small, eclectic stores. Antiques shops, clothing shops with hand stitched garments, and candy stores with treats brought in on a boat from England. I am sharply reminded that I have no money to shop, I pause in front of a dollar store. Staring through the window, I wonder if I could get just one bag full of trinkets. New writing pads, hair accessories, I could maybe just spend a small coin.
A large figure appeared down an isle, a cold ripple of fear told me it was James. My feet move to flight and my vision tipped to panic. I hold the world upright long enough to see the man turn. It’s not James.
I’m sweating, I need to get out of here. There’s no breeze in town, the buildings cut off all ocean freshness. My breathing was not smooth, the glance of what I thought was James, kept my throat tight. I sped my footsteps to get away from the grocery store and the dollar store. I found myself standing in front of a coffee shop.
The coffee smells enticing, but I had to remind myself to keep my food bill down. My cash balance was down to just over $27,975. I furrowed my brows, the last thing I had wanted to do was stress about money. The noise of the velvet flower pots called me. Swayed angelically in the invisible breeze. As if the coolness was emitted from the cafe itself. Specific Brimm Café.
The marble tables out front were full, busy talks around steamy cups by patrons. Empty breakfast plates boasted danish crumbs, cookies chips and cake smears. My mouth watered but my mind reminded my wallet that I had just ate. My mother used to say I had a hallow leg, I could eat all day if given the opportunity. Only a coffee, I tell myself as I enter the polished cafe. I kept my eyes down, not wanting to catch eyes, I didn’t want to see another James ghost.
I needed somewhere for sanctuary, even from my own thoughts of how I had shattered my household by walking away.
The household built on diamonds and empty dinner plates. The rose gold watch purchased for my last birthday after not seeing James for two months. I glanced at my naked wrist, imagined the weight of it as a shackle. Holding me to a house wife duty that I never wanted.
“Are you trying for the, ‘I have no watch but am irritated enough to pretend’ look?” A voice commented.
My head snapped up, I am met by the gaze of the barista. Next in line and oblivious to my surroundings once more, I am much too far back from the counter to order. I feel intimated by her stare, as if bonded suddenly to the floor by her enchanting appearance. A scream of flight from my nerves would help but they are knocked out from the overload just moments before.
Her blonde tipped dread locks hold my attention, centered with a square nose and deep red lips. She raised a black sharpie in her hand and is tapped it on the counter, “what can I get ya?” Her eyes sparkle with something unfamiliar, a look I have never seen before. Her smile widens as if welcoming the trance. I am gawking. A hand on her hip and she swings her side toward me, as if a wink with her body. Her demeanor is welcoming, I hear unfamiliar thoughts in my mind.
To my own surprise, I survive the five steps to the counter.
“Oh, um.” I quickly scan the too large of a drink menu behind her. I could feel her royal aquamarine eyes outline my body. Down one side and up the other, tap, tap of the pen on the counter. Focus on the menu board, I told myself. A soft snap of her luminous lipstick popped a bubble and grabbed my attention back.
I struggle to find a familiar name in the list of coffee, I felt my face grow hot. I am not a coffee connoisseur and quickly overwhelmed with the enormousness of it, “medium roast is good.” I finally stutter through the daze she placed me under. I struggle to inhale but make some type of gargling noise instead. Sweat forms on my brow, I curse my flimsy nerves.
“Large? Extra large?” She fixed her apron which drew my eyes lower. Her hands roll down the sides of her hips and she shifts ever so slightly, so erotically.
“Um, uh,” I can’t even find my words, the rest of the café fades away from me and suddenly it is just her and I. A feeling I have never encountered before. A fantasy stashed in the dark depths of my mind.
“Extra large then,” she winks, “with extra, caramel.” She turned from me and I could breath, a man standing behind me grumbled and I nearly fell from my awkward stance.
I put myself to the side of the counter, watched her move with ease in such a small space. Her sway as the espresso machine blows off steam. I am suddenly self conscience watching her grace. I try to fix my own clothing and wonder how horrible my hair looks. From the corner of my eye, I sense funny looks from other patrons. Judging my strange behavior. Sensing my sudden lust. I turn and nearly collapse as I see James face glaring at me between the lineup. His forehead wrinkled with anger at my silent feelings. He can see them. He can sense them. I recoil and turn from his ghost face.
“Not women too,” I mutter to myself, exasperated with my own paranoia.
The possibility of him knowing made me wretch with guilt.
“Nothing wrong with a good woman, hun.”
My face snapped back forward and she is smiling from ear to ear. Her cheek bones high as a queen, peach as a lovers kiss. She is holding my coffee, I snap it from her hand and turn to run.
Straight into a body purposely put there to spill my coffee. I cry out in shock as the coffee burns my arm and coats my shirt and pants. The woman profusely apologizes and grabs up handfuls of napkins for me.
“Except that one,” the barista behind me chuckles, “go take a seat, I’ll make ya a new one.”
I don’t even turn to face her, I take my half empty coffee and pod to a table in the back. Embarrassed and stuck in the cafe with drenched clothing.
I situate myself into an over filled lounge chair at the back of the café. The table is too narrow and too tall for the cushioned chair. I feel strangely on display. The quake of my knees not even concealed under the table.
The windows encasing the front of the café do nothing to protect me from patio onlookers. Chuckling to themselves on my behalf, certainly. The green eyed gem with blonde dread locks is busy brewing me a new coffee.
I had meant to come to the coffee shop to observe people for the day. See how they walk and talk, interact with strangers to maybe kick start the typing of my novel. It back fired and all I want to go is get back to the B&B and play cards with Doris. I think I have officially become old.
I have for sure become old, I now check the second box of ages for statics Canada. No longer am I the first box: 18-24. Now, the dreadful second box: 25-36. Only death for the last box: 37 and up.
Plus, I show my age in my blundering of ordering coffee at a café when everyone else easily ordered their half fat, soy latte, caff free at 110 degrees.
“It’s okay,” the barista materialized through my woes. Holding a plate and a fresh coffee. Flashing me a reassuring smile, “no one saw, really.”
My right hand instinctively goes to my left ring finger to twist the missing wedding ring, never have I done this gesture with a woman. She notices. Immediately, and there is no going back.
“Oh, I’m sorry Hun. Did you just go through a break up?”
“Well, yes. No. Not really. I don’t know.” I dropped my gaze to the table, she lowered her curvy body into the chair across from me. The plate holds a blueberry scone with cream cheese icing so fresh I can smell it. “I didn’t order…”
“I know, it’s on the house. I’m sorry you spilled your coffee. I see many types come through herd, but you hun, you look like a hurt deer.”
I reached for the plate and she took the chance to touch my hand. Her touch soft and reassuring. I immediately pulled back, I am not accustomed to this touch, my husband was never a touchy guy. In public, it was forbidden, at home it was forgotten. Hand holding was unheard of.
“I don’t mean to over step,” she pulled her hand back, I sighed.
“No, you didn’t over step. I just, yes, I did go through a break up. Of sorts. I left my husband, it wasn’t good. It was bad, not physically, but maybe more, like emotionally?” I was rambling again. I stuffed a bit of the scone in my mouth to stop the words. My chest tightened from anxiety, and I forced a sip of coffee. It was extra hot and scorched the roof of my mouth, that’ll teach me.
“I have a break in ten minutes. Do you smoke?”
“Yeah,” no it didn’t teach me. I gulp another large burning mouthful and cringe as I swallow it to burn my throat too. Subconscious was pinning down my conscious and trying to beat sense into it, I don’t smoke. I quit cigarettes years ago and marijuana decades ago.
“Great, hang out. Enjoy the treat. Meet me out back in ten minutes.”
She was up and gone in an instant. I catch the stare of a guy leaning against the red velvet pole of the line up. His palm on his chin and he’s wearing an expression of, “that’s so hot.” I roll my eyes and indulge in the sweet treat the barista had gifted me. I guess it wouldn’t be the worst thing I could do on Vancouver Island. I am on vacation anyway, vacation from life. Vacation from sanity. Why not, right?
My coffee turned cold, I downed the last sludge in the bottom of the cup. My mouth stung from the stupid words that had fallen out. The scorch of coffee did nothing to cleanse it. I attempted to not stare at the barista as she continued her ten minutes of work, which had turned into nearly thirty. I remained waiting.
She had an elegance in the heavy social setting that I envied. Her demeanor welcomed all the patrons, it shone that she loved her job. Her features said she was close to my age but her clothing boasted hippy. Oversize flowing flower print pants with a white tie up shirt that came off her shoulders and showed off her large bosom beneath the coffee stained apron. I couldn’t see her shoes from behind the counter but I imagined they were sandals, I dream they wrapped halfway up her legs with thin leather straps as a Greek goddess. The mental picture of the strappy scandals sent another warm flush to my cheeks. She had a beautiful aura, an instant friend type of personality.
Anticipation was a hammer in my body, like the first few moments as the top buttons popped.
It took only one glance of hers, a click of her tongue and I was up on my feet. She held two fresh brewed cups of coffee and balanced them unnaturally as we sauntered down the hallway. We spilled outside into the alley and suddenly the air changed.
All too familiar, I was not fond of hanging out in alleys. I had done so too many times in my rebellion teen stage and now felt I had no place here.
“Where ya from?” At last she broke the silence, flicked the lighter and lit the marijuana joint. Her crimson lips puckered gracefully on the rollie as she inhaled. Exhaling she closed the space between us with a warm smoke cloud. Creating a secret world for the two of us.
“Fort St John, well, Vancouver. Actually Edmonton,” I stammer and she smiled, at least she’s used to my awkward replies.
“Okay, so you don’t know where you’re from,” she took a second pull before turning it to me. The end of the rolled paper smoldered, added to the cloud of our space. I recalled all the hundreds of days of high school I would smoke this stuff to add confidence. It seemed to only strip children of confidence these days. Gone are the weed highs when you would munch out on nineteen cent cheeseburgers and laugh the day away. These days it caused weight loss, anxiety and insomnia. I was pulled in though.
Not by the marijuana joint, by the smudge of her lipstick left behind.
Pretty sure I’m cross eyed as I speak and look at the joint, “yeah, well. I do know. I just, I don’t know. I’m all kinds of fucked up right now.”
“I can tell,” she responded, “look, you don’t have to talk about it if you don’t want to. But sometimes, a strangers ear is the least to fear.” She put her hand on my shoulder but gave me the space and time I needed. My immediate thoughts were still on the joint, one thing at a time. Layers of stories and concerns piled up and crested, just wanting to get out. The joint burnt freely in my hand.
It’d been so many years since I smoked, I could have a really bad trip. Worst case, I would end up back at Doris’ with the bedroom door locked for the rest of the night. Heck, Doris probably smoked weed too. “Cause you’re afraid,” I see James’ face through the smoke. Trying to break into the secret world the barista and I stood in. I see his mouth move the words, “you’re afraid of life.”
I swatted my hand through the cloud, the barista giggled and then silenced in anticipation of me taking a haul. I inhaled lightly, full well knowing I could vomit if I tried to look cool when really, I am not. Expertly, I exhale and am astonished how mellow the weed appears. A second small pull and I turn it back to her.
The high comes over me, swift and smooth. The curtain of doubt lifting easily, as if it were the easy roll; just a quick tug and it disappears where it came from. It soothed my panic, it melted any lingering James’ faces I saw around me. My chest lightened and I exhaled life. The mask I had been hiding behind crumbled away, and I exposed the real me. I exposed my deepest fears and worries and I opened my mouth, and I began to talk.
As a child, I had clay masks hung upon the wall
With strong nails, I was reassured they would never fall
Some painted with sparkles, stars or a musical note
The best one, had a peacock with feathers that float
I wore them, everyday, never a day, or whenever I pleased
No matter the words I heard, I wore them even if teased
But then one day, I grew old
“Those aren’t the right masks for you,” I was told
New ones were bought for me, hung upon my wall
And it didn’t matter if the old ones were knocked over to fall
Childhood dreams, stomped and crushed and left
Because these new masks, I was told, is what fit best