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A young woman finds out what a magnolia smells like
Writer and artist living in South Florida
|AUTHOR'S OTHER TITLES (22)
A Thousand Camels (Poetry) A caravan of long ago [173 words] [History]
A Treat For Heinke (Short Stories) A girl finds hope during wartime [1,028 words] [Spiritual]
A Werewolf? (Short Stories) A man entrances a woman in Miami, or is he a werewolf? [1,492 words] [Mystical]
And The Winner Is (Short Stories) A summer camp sports competition has a surprise ending [1,132 words]
As It Comes (Short Stories) A discarded, ragged notebook found on the sidewalk brings impressions and thoughts to the person who found it. [756 words] [Drama]
Down In The Country (Short Stories) The end of the line ain't what it's cracked up to be. [840 words] [Drama]
Endangered (Poetry) A love goes bad [45 words] [Romance]
Garlic, Ginger And Golden Seal (Short Stories) An old woman's recipe for a long life [1,868 words] [Mystery]
Grandma, I Love You (Non-Fiction) Memories of my maternal grandmother [1,027 words] [Biography]
How Lizard Lenny Svaed My Life (Short Stories) A woman escapes life under the El thanks to a man called Lizard Lenny [1,255 words] [Relationships]
It's About Time (Short Stories) Ups and downs in the world of quantum physics [1,475 words] [Humor]
Just Another Joe (Short Stories) A gumshoe takes it as it comes [1,096 words] [Health]
Kylie (Short Stories) Success is not always what we think it is. A girl chooses between fame or love. [1,700 words]
Ode To Wayne Dyer (Poetry) A light roast of self-help books [262 words] [Humor]
On Turning Seventy (Essays) A woman ponders the march of time [717 words] [Motivational]
Ovidio Gets A Smoke (Short Stories) A party turns sour but Ovidio ends up sittin' pretty. [1,160 words] [Suspense]
She Saw It All (Poetry) Statue of Liberty Saw 9-11 [190 words]
Teacups And Time (Poetry) A troubled, cold soul finally finds warmth [151 words] [Spiritual]
Thank You For Not Sleeping (Short Stories) Thoughts go all over the page during the night [1,257 words] [Mind]
The Mysterious Gypsy (Short Stories) Among old photos of Northern people, an exotic gypsy's photo appears. Who is she? [1,457 words] [History]
Tom's Moon (Short Stories) A little doll makes a difference [857 words]
Too Late For Coffee (Short Stories) An old man's last days with an angel [1,489 words] [Spiritual]
It was nine thirty. The waiting room filled quickly, even though the window didn't open until ten. Children cried while young mothers yelled. Old people sat rigid on hard, metal chairs. One man, who was too late to get a seat, stood in a corner. His face and body dripped with large nodules. The security guard opened both sides of the entrance doors to allow a corpulent woman, wearing tight, spandex pants, to enter. He also gave worn pieces of paper with a number on it to each person as they entered the waiting room.
"What you in here for?" Sharon, the mother of an active two year old, asked a young, well dressed man. "You don't look like you need no help like the rest of us po' folks."
"Oh, mind your own business," another woman said. "You ain't as hard up as you's tellin' them, neither."
"Oh yeah?" Sharon said, "and what about Cleatus? Don't think I don't know about dat."
A hush came over the room as a clerk appeared behind the counter. All eyes turned to the thin, stern looking woman with wire rim glasses. She shuffled papers on a counter, hidden by a paneled wall that separated the very poor of St. Augustine from the somewhat orderly government program that put food on the tables of those in great need.
A girl of about seventeen entered from a door behind the clerk and sat down on a stool behind the counter.
"What you doin' 'dere?" Sharon said. It was Charmaine, her neighbor.
"I work here, in case you need to know," Charmaine said. Her voice was frosty.
Sharon did not say anything more, turning her attention instead to Alvin, her little son.
"Number one," the clerk called out. Soon the room relaxed as people were called, disappearing into back rooms, where counselors checked how badly they needed the food.
"White lung," the well dressed young man said.
"Say what?" Sharon said.
"I've got white lung. You asked me why I was here, didn't you?"
"Oh, I'm sorry about dat."
"What is dat?" another woman said.
"I'm a hairdresser," the young man said. "The hairspray got to me, though. My lungs are shot. I can't work any more."
The room absorbed this bit of information. It was gently folded into the communal suffering, the sum total of all the tragedies of the people in this room, past, present and future.
"Please get the file for Andrews," the clerk told Charmaine, who was assigned to help with paperwork. Since the teen was from the neighborhood, the supervisor figured there would be less problems with clients. They might not make up so many stories to get more food.
Soon it was lunchtime. No numbers would be called for an hour. Most people remained in the waiting room. A few went outside to smoke or get some fresh air. Any urgent conversations were taken outdoors. One never knew who might be listening.in that room and spread rumors.
Sharon took Alvin in the back where the boy could run around, when she saw Charmaine come out the back door.
"Hey Miss Fancy Pants," Sharon said.
"Don't give me no trouble," Charmaine said. "If you wasn't so lazy, you'd go out and get a job, too."
Sharon decided to let that drop. Charmaine might say something to the office. That would be the end of Sharon's food allotment.
Charmaine was finished for the day. She walked down the dirt road leading to her grandma's house. She had grown up here and knew every stick, stone and bush on the familiar path. She walked past the tree where men sat on crates and boxes all day, talking, gambling, playing cards. They would whistle at her, now that she had new clothes, high heels and wore her nails long and red.
Soon she reached the tall magnolia tree next to her grandma's house. In summer, there would be big, white blossoms way up in the dark green, shiny branches. When Charmaine was small, she often dreamed of touching one of these big, white flowers. She wondered if they had a smell to them, like the tiny, scraggly, pink roses did in the backyard.
The home was a one room shack, with no electricity or a real floor. Charmaine's father and mother had disappeared long ago. The grandmother, who raised the girl, never mentioned why, nor did the neighbors say anything.
Charmaine lifted and pulled open the old wooden door. It was dark inside. She could hardly see the old woman lying on the cot.
"Child," the grandmother said in a feeble voice, "I'm sick. I don't know's I gonna make it, honey." Then she stretched a bony arm into the humid, hazy air.
"Can you reach me my cup?"
Charmaine picked up an old tin cup from the floor. It was half full of well water.
"Here grandma." The old woman took a sip and spilled the rest of the water on the front of her cotton dress.
"You're gonna be okay. Don't you worry."
"No child, I knows when I'm ready for the Lord. I got the fever. I got the fever."
Charmaine kicked off her shoes and clothes, leaving them on the earthen floor. In her bra and panties, she lay on her own cot, looking out a little window. She took two pieces of bread from a shelf and, placing a slice of bologna in the middle, began to eat.
"What a bunch of stories these people tell," she said.
"Honey, don't you worry about other folks."
"They make me sick."
"Honey, you're smart, just like your ma. You got a job, ain't you?"
"My ma! My ma," Charmaine screamed. "You never told me nothin' about my ma. Don't you think I wanna know?"
There was no answer.
An uncle and aunt from Zolfo Springs came and helped bury the old woman behind the shack, next to the pink rosebush. Those were the only flowers by the grave. A few neighbors brought food and drinks.
"The Lord called her," they said. "It was her time."
That night, Charmaine looked out the window. The trunk of the magnolia tree blocked any view of the sky. She reached over to her grandma's empty cot where she had put her new clothes. She dressed quickly, slipping on her high-heeled shoes.
"Girl, what you doin' out here this time o' night?" one of the men under the gambling tree said.
"I need a favor," she said. "A big favor."
"Sure, honey, one of the men said. "Just name it."
The neighbors were asleep when the man climbed down from the magnolia tree. He handed Charmaine the large, white blossom.
Charmaine cupped her hands gently around the thick, curved petals. Then she raised her hands to her face. The fragrance was delicate. It was like nothing she had ever smelled before. It was like pale doves sitting on lemon trees in rainbow-covered clouds; like the soft touch of a little child who will never grow up. Grandma would like it.
"Hey, let's go," the man said.
"Just a minute." Charmaine walked behind the house and placed the magnolia blossom on her grandmother's grave. Then she reappeared from behind the shack.
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© 2007 Liilia Morrison
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