KingMidget's Ramblings

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K Street Stories — Chapter 1


Because I’ve yet to post it here and need to add it to the tab above…

 

She arrived shortly before 7:00, which is when the sign says Joe’s Corner Store opens.   Before unlocking the door, Sally nudged the form in the corner of the little alcove.  “Come on, John.  Time to get up.” 

From the mass formed by a blanket and his heavy winter jacket, John McDougal let loose a low grumble.

“Yeah, yeah, I know it’s early,” Sally sighed.  “But you’re going to have to get up and get your stuff outta here before I open up.”   The chill of the morning air accompanied her through the door.  “I’ll get coffee going for you.” 

A few minutes later, John wrapped his hands, covered by tattered mittens, around a stryofoam cup, tendrils of steam wavering into nothing a few inches up.  Without blowing on it first, he took a sip and gasped, and, then took a gulp before walking out the door without a word, pocketing a doughnut as he made his way out the door.

For the next nine hours, with a break for lunch at the diner, Joe’s Café, two doors down, Sally presided from behind the cash register.  It may say Joe’s Corner Store on the sign out front and in the gold lettering on the window, but Sally runs the place now.  Even when she’s stepped outside for a smoke.  Customers looking to make their purchases have to wait for her to come back in and lay down her half-smoked cig with the gloppy red lipstick imprinted on the end before she settles herself at the cash register and rings up the sale.  “That’ll be $2.78, please.”

Throughout the day, Sally wishes for only one thing.  Something real.  She spends her day with people and feels utterly alone until her day ends.  From 7:00, when John walks out to find his next destination in his homeless journey, and 4:00, when Buddy walks through the door, Sally sits and waits for somebody to recognize who she is.  A real person with a real history.  She has stories to tell, but nobody ever stops, let alone asks to hear her tales.

Back when Joe was still around and controlled the corner, he sat on a stool in the same spot where Sally now stands.  Dispensing the latest gossip, stories, and his own little pearls of wisdom, Joe ruled from his perch.  Not just the little market.  Not just the diner that most decidedly was not a café.  What café serves a T-Bone meal for $5.99?  Not just Joe’s Bar, with its blinking white lights around the mirror behind the bar and it’s strong scent of eau de urine.  And, not just Joe’s Inn, the single occupancy place for those down on their luck and even lower in the pocketbook.  No, back in the day, here on the corner of 9th and K, it was Joe’s Corner.

“Hey, buddy.  What’s the news?” Joe would inquire of anybody who walked in the door.

More often than not, a response of “Not much,” was met with Joe launching into a story.  “Not much?” Joe would sigh.  “Why, did you hear about what happened the other night?  Ol’ Senator Nelson caught walking out of Simon’s with his arm around a girl who was most definitely not his wife.  Hell, the girl was young enough to be, but wasn’t even, his daughter.”  Joe would cackle.  “The Senator was dipping his pen in an ink bottle that aint his.”  

Joe’s stories of the latest doings by the politicians plying their trade at the Capitol building just a block down the street were interspersed with recaps of the Solons games the night before, at least when the Solons still played baseball down on Stockton Boulevard.  Just as frequently, conversations with Joe turned to the weather, lamenting the wind and rain that whipped through the city streets in the heart of winter or the scorching summer sun that beat down on the concrete of the downtown core.

Joe’s laughter would draw out a conversation from more customers than not.  Many would realize ten or fifteen minutes later that there was someplace they needed to be that they had forgot for those few minutes.  It wasn’t a bad thing they would also realize.  Joe had a way of putting people at ease and leaving them with a smile.

Back to now, years since lung cancer buried Joe.  People no longer stop to talk.  Not a “hello,” or a “how ya doing?”  Sally can’t think of how to draw them out the way Joe did.  The teenage punks come in to buy Oreos, Funyuns, and a 44 oz. Pepsi, before they hustle their way out to loiter and whistle at the women walking by.  Sally would love to stop them and tell them to eat better.  Maybe, even to go home and spend some time with their families instead of wandering the dirty downtown streets.  She doesn’t because she knows they’d just laugh at her.  They have no time for an old woman with aching feet and a couple of missing teeth.

The government bureaucrats who stream through the store, stocking up on M & Ms, chips and Ho-Hos are in too much of a hurry to stop and shoot the breeze.  Quickly paying, accepting their change, and hurrying back to their offices with barely more than a “thank you” mumbled in her direction.  If she could, Sally might hold the change back from that one gentleman who always seems to hesitate for just a moment before he says his thanks and shuffles out the door with his purchase.  She knows his name is Silvie, but nothing more.  Sally imagines that in the brief pause, he is thinking of asking her, “How are you doing today?” because he knows nothing about her and shouldn’t he want to know something after all these years of his pack a day habit.  M & Ms, not cigarettes.

How would she answer?  “Just fine.”  And, then, he’d be on his way.  Just like all the rest.

Or maybe Sally might tell him, “Well, my feet are really starting to hurt me.  A lot earlier than normal.”  To which he might reply, “I’m really sorry to hear that.  Maybe you should get a chair to sit on.  Take a load off, you know.”  Over the course of the days that followed, she just might learn from him how he got his name, and he might learn a thing or two about her, too.

But, no, none of these conversations happen.  Nobody seems interested in stopping to talk.  Sally’s just a nameless, faceless stranger who barely exists in their world.  The tourists, always in groups and always chattering amongst themselves, stop by only to find out how to get to the train museum or to the Capitol building.  Their own conversations fill the little store with noise.

The homeless stop in with their pennies and then scurry outside to drop to the sidewalk on their haunches to scarf down the hot dog that serves as their only meal that day.  The homeless always travel alone, but they don’t need Sally to carry on a conversation.  They have their own.  Except John, of course, but even that is limited, following the same script with barely a variation each day.

Sally wants to ask them, all of them, “What’s the hurry?  What’s out there that’s so important?”  How would they answer?  That they have work to do?  Places to go?  That their lunch is waiting for them?  That …?  Maybe there is no answer.  Maybe they don’t stop and talk because they don’t know how to, anymore than Sally does.

There are things that Sally wishes she could tell these people.  Stories of her youth, growing up on a pear orchard down near Clarksburg, and how she still dreamed of those days.  Of the peace and happiness she experienced in the comfort of her family home.  She could tell Silvie about husband #1, who died and was replaced by husband #2, who she left and exchanged for husband #3.  All before she was forty.  She is sure her stories would be amusing.  But she doesn’t have the nerve to tell them.  Husband #3, by the way, was long gone as well.

What she really wants to do is tell somebody about Buddy.  Even though they have been together for several years now, Sally still gets butterflies in her stomach as the hour draws near.

* * *

Promptly at 4:00, as always, Buddy walked through the door.  “Hey Sal,” he said in his teddy bear voice as he leaned against the counter and smiled at her.  “You ‘bout done here, beeyoootiful?”

“Yeah, just give me a few minutes.  Okay?”

“Sure, darlin’.”  In the few minutes Sally spent closing things up, he noticed.  “Looks like your feet are botherin’ you again.”

“It’s nothing,” Sally replied.  “Nothing more than the usual.”

“If you want, we can take the bus home.  I got a few quarters burning a hole in my pocket.”

For a moment Sally considered Buddy’s offer while she flipped switches and turned off the machines – popcorn machine, coffee maker, the hot dog wheel.  The bus would nice, sitting next to Buddy with his arm around her.  Staying off her feet for a few minutes would be a relief as well.  “No.  Let’s go.”  Sally looked at Buddy and smiled as he reached to the door and opened it for her.  “I enjoy the walk.”

“Very well, my dear.” Buddy said, sweeping his arm towards the door and bowing ever so slightly.

“Buddy, there’s something I want to tell you about.”  Sally held her hand out and allowed him to wrap it in his meaty paw, accepting the warmth and comfort his hand provided.

“Maybe we can take the bus to San Francisco this weekend.” 

“Yeah, maybe we could.” Sally stared down L Street and thought about the dream.  “But I need to tell you something.

“Hey, Sally, we could sit on the beach and watch the waves.  I love to dig my toes in the sand.  We aint been to be beach yet, have we?”

“No, Buddy,” Sally sighed.  “We haven’t.”

Dark gray clouds moved swiftly across the sky and piled up on the mountains to the east.  Any minute, the clouds could start spitting, or just open up and drench them by the time they got home.  She wriggled her hand deeper into Buddy’s.  As they always did, at 10th Street, they crossed over to the other side of the street to be able to walk through Capitol Park, its collection of trees, expanse of lawns, and roses offering a quiet away from the end of the day traffic taking downtown workers home to their suburban existence. 

“Have I ever told you about my dream?”

“To sit on the sand and wiggle your toes with me?”

“No,” Sally laughed.  “Not that.  I have a dream that wakes me at night sometimes.  I had it again last night.”

“I dream of Hawaii.  Where the sand is warm.” 

For more than four years now, since he came in the store one day, bought a bag of Funyuns and a diet Coke, and told her that he liked when she smiled because her eyes sparkled, Sally has wanted tell him of her dream. 

“I dream about a little girl. She’s just a baby.  Every time I have the dream, it’s the same thing.  I hold her in my arms.  She clenches her fists and scrunches her face up, ready to scream the scream of a newborn.  I call her Angela and then she’s gone.”  Sally sighed.  “And then I wake up.”

“We could have one of those drinks with the umbrella in it.  A piña cola-a-a-a-a-da.  Two straws.  One pink umbrella.”

“She was mine, Buddy.  My little girl.”

“I’ve heard the sunsets there are beautiful.”  Sally stopped walking.  Buddy kept going until their hands parted.  He turned and looked back at her.  “Hey, Sally, you OK?  Is it your feet?” 

“No, Buddy, no,” Sally said quietly. “You haven’t heard a thing I said.”

“Why, sure I have.  You were telling me about your dream, and I was telling you about mine.”

“Buddy.  She was my little girl.  I had her when I was fifteen.  They took her away from me.  I only got to hold her the one time.”

“Oh.”  Buddy scratched his head.  “I guess your dream is a little different than mine.”  He turned away from her momentarily to look at the crossing light at the corner, where they would exit the park and finish their walk home.  It was still a solid orange.  Buddy turned back to Sally.  “I don’t get it.  I thought you had just the one.  Tammy.  Isn’t she living in Phoenix now?”

“Yes, she is.  But before I had Tammy, there was Angela.”

“I don’t understand . . .”  Buddy repeated.  And, then distracted, he turned to a man walking past them.  “Afternoon, Fred.”

Fred didn’t break his stride and only slid his eyes to the side to acknowledge Sally and Buddy.  A slight smile peaked the corners of his mouth and then he was gone, marching along in his stiff new jeans and white t-shirt.

“I was young.  Only sixteen.  I had to give her up.  They wouldn’t let me keep her.  My parents were ashamed of me.  Disgusted.”  Sally stopped talking for a moment.  As the walk sign came back on and the sprinkles began to fall from the sky, she put her hand back in Buddy’s and pulled him along with her across the street.  “That’s why I haven’t talked to Mama for years.  I don’t even know where she is now.”

“What happened to your baby?  Angela.”

“I don’t know.  When she was born, a nurse placed her in my arms.  I thought she looked like an angel.  My angel.  So, I called her Angela.  I whispered her name.  I only held her for a few seconds before somebody came in and took her away from me.”  A tear rolled down her cheek, mixing with the rain.  “I never saw her again.”

“Oh, Buddy, I have my dream of her and that’s it.”  Sally let out a long shuddering sigh and wiped her eyes.  “Sorry.”

“Sally, what are you apologizing for?”

“For not telling you before.  For bringing you down today,” she replied.  “I don’t know why I brought this up today.  I guess it was because I had the dream last night.  And, I just … I just wanted to tell you.  Sorry we’re talking about my dream instead of yours.”

“You don’t need to worry about it.”  Buddy took his hand from hers and put his arm around her shoulders, bringing her closer to him.

They walked the remaining blocks home.  Sally made her way slowly up the stairs while Buddy stood at the top with the door open for her.  The apartment was filled with the aroma of beef stew simmering on the stove.  As soon Sally got settled on the sofa, Buddy went into the kitchen and finished preparing dinner.  Pillsbury crescent rolls, a packaged salad, and the stew.

When they sat down to eat, Buddy placed Sally’s food on a plate and set it in front of her.  “Here you go.  Hope you like it.”

“Thank you for making it.  It smells wonderful.”

“You know what I think, Sally?”

“What?”

“You should try to find Angela.”

With her fork halfway between her plate and mouth, Sally looked across the table at Buddy.  If it was possible, her eyes quivered as she placed her fork back down on the plate.  “I  couldn’t do that.”

“Haven’t you ever thought about it?  Trying to find her?”

“Y-y-y-es.  A lot.  For years.  But I gave up on that a long time ago.  I wouldn’t know where to start.”  Sally absentmindedly took a bite of food while still looking at Buddy.  “Do you?”

“I don’t know,” Buddy said, shaking his head.  “I don’t know.  But there’s always stories about people finding an old friend or lover a lot of years after seeing them.  So, I guess it could be done.”

“Buddy, I don’t think I could do it.  It’s been so long.  I don’t even know what they named her.  Or who adopted her.  Where they lived.  I don’t know anything.”  The quivering in her eyes grew a little more intense.  Sally could feel it and willed herself to stop.  “It’s not such a good idea.  Better off leaving that stone unturned.”

Buddy reached across the table and grasped Sally’s hand in his own.  They stayed that way while they ate in silence for the next few moments. 

When Buddy rose from the table to clear off the dishes, Sally held on to his hand for a split second before letting him go.  “She would have turned thirty-eight yesterday.”

 

 

 

6 responses to “K Street Stories — Chapter 1

  1. Bastet April 17, 2013 at 8:04 am

    This is a great story, but, if I can offer a suggestion, you should do a little editing, there are a few errors that break up the reading…It’s moving and gives you the feel of reality…I really enjoyed it.

    • kingmidget April 17, 2013 at 8:43 am

      What’s up there is an unedited of the first few pieces. Originally I wanted the stories about each character to connect to tell a bigger story. I’ve changed my mind about that and decided to have each character’s story stand on its own. I have taken a hiatus on working on K Street Stories for far too long.

      • Bastet April 17, 2013 at 8:53 am

        Could be an interesting idea to go for a Spoon River effect, only with short stories, without the characters necessarily hooking up one with the other, the connection being K Street.

  2. Kira April 26, 2013 at 9:53 pm

    This was really good. You have a comfortable way of engaging the reader…making them feel like a friend. This story struck a chord with me because I was pregnant at 17 and had to place my daughter for adoption because I was going to be homeless. My daughter will be 26 this year. You did a great job with Sally expressing as best she could what she was feeling about the adoption.

    I like the above idea of the connection simply being “K Street.”

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