Thirteen short stories about all aspects of relationships from the first meeting to breaking up
Three homeless women go to a dance, a young girl meets a silkie, and a new divorcee joins the Flying Dutchman on the back of his motorcycle in this set of 13 stimulating short stories about relationships, meeting people, one-night stands, romance, dancing, unusual bedfellows, corporate life, love among the homeless, and breaking up,
"I've an idea," says Iona Brown, "Let's go dancing."
Iona, a short stocky woman with long graying hair that reaches almost to her waist, has an erect carriage and a dignity that would be striking even in a suburban matron. Her dress is a simple smock that can easily be removed, washed, and worn again, but it flatters her figure and empha-sizes the dignity of her carriage. You can sense she adopted the simple style long before she descended into poverty.
Her two friends, Margie and Sonja are more careless in their dress.
Margie clothes herself in clashing color combinations that always make those about her uneasy, even self-conscious. Today, for example, she wears a bright green scarf, a red silk blouse, and a skirt with black and white polka dots.
Sonja seems to have no pride in her dress at all, or perhaps it is sim-ply a lack of caring and being cared for. Her clothes are soiled from the pavement on which she sleeps, and the food stains reveal the haphazard way in which she feeds herself. She wears the same clothes over and over, with no thought of a change, until her friends, Iona and Margie, con-cerned, force her, in the polite way women have, to change them: "Try this on, dear?" they say once they have led her to the secondhand shop or the mission, and while she tries the new dress on, they throw the old dress away.
Iona already knows what she will wear to the dance--a pair of black leather pumps, well hidden in the weeds near an abandoned oil well. One barely-visible scuffmark toward the heel of the right shoe soils their per-fection. For Margie, the dance poses a problem: "It's country-western, ain't it. I got the dress, I think,"—(Margie has many dresses, skirts, and blouses all bundled together in the plastic shopping bags she carries with her eve-rywhere)—"but I don't have the boots."
"I got boot, see," Sonja interjects.
Indeed, Sonja is wearing a pair of sturdy hiking boots with the Kelty label that were recycled through a local church by a member of the Sierra club.
"Yes, dear," says Iona. She intends to see that Sonja's shoes are changed to something less outre before they go. But for Margie, she senses, nothing but a pair of authentic cowboy boots will do. "We must find you a pair of boots, dear."
At the Salvation Army outlet, clerks can be persuaded to lower prices or even to give merchandise away; a token amount always changes hands, but, frequently, even this small amount will be supplied by the clerk in charge of the store. Alas, no cowboy boots are to be had though, as Sonja remarks, "plenty warm boots" are available.
A Deseret outlet is down the street, but this shop, too, is bootless. A secondhand shoppe and even a discount shoe store are visited before Margie suddenly remembers a church in Corona del Mar that never quite got around to holding a promised rummage sale. "I'm sure they got the boots I need; those people got class."
Panhandling gets the three the bus fare to a few blocks from the Co-rona del Mar church and, when the rumors prove unfounded, a parishioner gives them a ride to another church in Newport where shoes must certainly be on hand. There are boots at this church, down in the basement, several boxes worth and even some in Margie's size. But, "not quite what I'm looking for," Margie says in the end.
"What size are you?" asks the woman who gave them the lift. When Margie tells her, the woman says, "I wonder if my sister...?" She leaves them in mid-speech to make a phone call.
They are offered a cup of instant coffee by a fluttery matron who ex-presses equal amounts of charity and apprehension. Iona wonders, though she knows the answer, why charity is always accompanied by suspicion: in her experience, a charitable person may bend over backward to see the homeless get a meal, or a cup of coffee, or a pair of boots, but always at some remote neutral location and never in that same person's home.
When the Good Samaritan returns from telephoning her sister, she tells the three the boots and her sister will be there shortly. By the time the sister arrives, the matron who serves them tea and coffee is reduced to a nervous frazzle. She jumps up each time one of the homeless women rises from a chair, and follows them everywhere, even, as Margie observes, "to the bathroom."
The women, restrained and fretful in their chairs, respond to the sis-ter's arrival like a kennel full of puppies freed at last for a run. But the best news is the boots are not only a perfect fit but, says Margie, "they are exactly what I wanted." She starts to step out of her skirt then and there, planning to exchange the soiled skirt for the one she will wear at the dance, when she is told, kindly but firmly, that there is a restroom where she might change.
"No, never in their homes," thinks Iona, but says aloud, "She's so pleased," bridging the awkward gap as they wait for Margie to return.
"I'm pleased too," says the Good Samaritan's sister, "To tell you the truth, I bought the boots originally because I wanted to take up country dancing and then my husband said he wasn't interested.
"Men," she adds scornfully and, at last, there is a topic on which all the women in the church, rich and poor, can agree.
Located on the main floor of a luxury hotel in Newport Beach, Duke's is a stone's throw from the tennis club where "Duke" Wayne himself once played; it is not intended to be, nor is it often, reached by public transpor-tation, but, somehow, Iona discovered a bus stops just two blocks away. Transfers in hand, and only a few hours later, the three women walk up the palm-lined driveway to Duke's front entrance.
The dress code at Country-Western bars, even one so elegant as Duke's, has always has been pretty much wear-what-you-look-good-in. The men go for jeans, long-sleeved shirts, and Stetsons, and almost all of them wear cowboy boots, but the women still tend to dress in whatever accentuates their best features or hides their worst. Some favor deep plunging necklines, some short, thigh-revealing skirts, and some school-marm gowns of the sort that cover the throat and reach clear down to the ankles.
The three homeless women, faces washed and hair brushed for the oc-casion, pass unnoticed.
Sonja stops a passing waitress, "drink," she says, "and two wawah." The voice is strained, rusty, but, undeniably, it is Sonja speaking.
"What kind of a drink?" asks the waitress.
"Gee, let's see," Iona begins, "It's been such a long time."
"Vrum," Sonja says, "Something with Vrum in it."
"We gotta special tonight," says the waitress, "Two for one on well drinks."
"Two vrum's" says Sonja immediately while the astonished Margie and Iona look on.
They are still more astonished when the drinks arrive. How many times have they been turned away unserved? Even waving a bill often is not enough. But these drinks are real and look cool and delicious on the waitress' tray. The drinks have to be paid for, of course. "Gaw mony?" Sonja asks, taking one of the glasses from the tray. Margie shakes her head. Thankfully, Iona has brought money.
"My God! Look who's over there by the buffet," Margie says, stealing a sip from Ionia's glass. "It's Pinkie."
"And look, they have a buffet," Iona replies cautiously, adding, almost as if were an afterthought, "Pinkie?"
"He's wearing a suit. Oh, doesn't he look good in a suit. You know Pinkie always was sweet on you, Iona."
"Yeah, well, I've never been that crazy about him," Iona replies, though the truth is she simply hasn't decided whether she likes Pinkie or not.
"Look who's with him, Paul and Arthur."
"They don't look as good."
"No, not at all."
"It's their clothes. They should have worn a suit or something. They should have fixed themselves up like Pinkie.
"Let's ask them to dance," Margie suggests.
"I've never asked a man to dance," Iona replies indignantly.
"Well, la-di-da. Who cares?" Margie says, "We came here to dance. Let's enjoy ourselves."
"Dans," Sonja echoes.
Iona is not unaware that Pinkie is attracted to her, has seen his fre-quent furtive glances as she walks along the sand. She has caught him watching when she goes for her shower in the morning, though he has not followed her, a gentleman, and looks away quickly if he encounters her nude by accident. He has had numerous awkward, barely believable ex-cuses for standing near her, usually while she is talking with someone else. He has even said hello to her, what, half a dozen times, but he has never once had the courage to say, "Hi. I like you," or "Iona, would you go for a walk with me?"
Why can't he be a man and play the man's role?
She can sympathize, a little, with the blows his pride has suffered on his descent into poverty. But haven't they all suffered and in exactly the same way?
Forced to flee from an abusive husband, Iona took to life in the open more like an animal released from a cage, than a prisoner condemned to poverty. Food was scarce on the outside, of course. And there were preda-tors to contend with, but oh, my God, it was so much better than what she’d lived with before.
She loves the outdoor life, the strange calm after a storm, the shore clouds furious. Bothered early on by those about her, she found a stretch of beach that was hers alone, beneath the cliffs. She slept there, made her toilet, and learned to make and enjoy the long walk to and from the pier in a daily search for food.
Once, an ugly, barrel-chested bearded man followed her to her home beneath the cliffs, took her, furiously protesting. She scratched at his eyes; he hit back, punching her in her stomach, and while she lay heav-ing, raped her.
She learned then about "free" clinics, about police indifference to crimes among the poor.
When the man followed her home again, she waded out into the surf. And when he snarled at her, "you'll have to come to the shore soon enough, bitch!" she simply swam away.
A youth, surfing alone in the moonlight, was amazed by the unex-pected presence of a grandmother, like a mermaid, treading water inches from his board; they rode together into the beach close by the bright lights of the pier. She was wet from head to foot. But she merely disrobed, wrung out her dress, pulled it on again damp, and sat with the young surfer and his high school pals around a campfire till her dress had dried out com-pletely.
Now, she has a dozen different places to call home. The place beneath the cliffs is still her favorite—she has purged her mind of all the hateful images, but she has a half dozen alternatives for when she must sleep, she must have shelter.
Pinkie. Pinkie! Why can't he also be a man and make the best of it?
Shit! She doesn't want to marry him; she just wants to dance. This time, when Pinkie gives her one of his furtive glances, she looks back eye to eye and waves. When he smiles, she walks over toward him, drink in hand.