A year ago Jean had a love affair with a man who moiled the river. He was a lanky man, with a day’s growth of stubbly dark brown beard on his ruddy cheeks, a man with an easy laugh. He’d come from a different era, a ghost from the gold rush, whom Jean had met in the summer heat, smelling of fennel and mint. He dwelled under the cottonwood tree where his body had surfaced a century before. He called to her and she answered, though she understood she was the only one who could see him. He had long stories to tell and she returned again and again to listen and be charmed. She knew he was trapped in the space between. “If you could,” he asked one afternoon, “if you could alter time. . .” and she immediately breathed an enthusiastic “yes,” but even then a tear slid down her cheek, for she knew he would be gone in the morning.
After, she sequestered herself, focusing on pandemic protocol, working from home. She nursed her secret heartache and spoke to no one but co-workers online, and in person?—only her sister.
Leigh was eight years Jean’s junior, still in school, and naïve enough to believe in luck. Leigh didn’t own a car, but that wasn’t a problem for her. When she needed a ride to campus or downtown to shop or meet friends, there was always someone going in her direction. One night in a fit of resentment, Jean said to Leigh, “It’s easy for you: you’re pretty.”
But Leigh was defiant. “You understand nothing,” she countered, and Jean, already regretful, conceded. “Yes,” she said. “You’re right.”
Now Jean smelled corn tortillas frying in oil and she knew Leigh was home. Jean had been working hard; she felt spent. She had little energy for a chatty meal with her ever-cheerful sister. What, she wondered, would it be today? Yesterday, Leigh told how she’d been given two political flyers on campus, both printed on sunny yellow paper. On her bus ride, Leigh folded them into origami cranes. When she got off the bus, she placed them in a blooming camellia bush.
On Monday, a man was handing out free samples of toothpaste on the campus quad. Of course they had toothbrushes too. Leigh gave the small packet to a homeless woman she often met at a midtown transfer stop.
Last week there were representatives from a popular radio station in the student union and they gave Leigh two SRO tickets to a Kings’ game. Leigh gave them to an army veteran in her English class so he could take his teenaged son.
When Jean entered the kitchen, Leigh greeted her with a big green bowl. “Look! My history professor gave us all ripe avocados from her tree. I’ve made guacamole!”
“I don’t like guacamole,” Jean said.
Leigh stood stunned, arms akimbo. “You used to like guacamole,” she muttered.
Jean shrugged, a bit contrite. “The tortillas smell good.”
Leigh silently pushed a tray of fresh chips in Jean’s direction.
Jean picked one up and bit into it. It was hard, triangular, crispy, fragrant. It was solid, it was real, it coated her tongue with salt. “These are good,” she said.
“You have to allow good things to come to you,” Leigh said, her voice a near whisper.
Jean ate another chip, considering this. “What do you mean ‘allow?’”
“Well,” Leigh said. “I’d have to show you. But the secret I think is to keep the energy moving.”
And Jean knew this would be worth the effort to learn.
Photo by Bethany Randall on Unsplash