Tuesday, June 3, 2014

Flash Fiction -- Flight of the Herons

The sun comes up in the east and summer follows spring. I’m a literalist, a black-and-white person, comfortable with the way things are, the way they've always been. When we moved here, not that far, a thousand miles, and landed at the tiny airport, I expected birthdays and Christmas would be celebrated just like before—a special meal request from the birthday person and a homemade cake. On the 15th of December, we’d put a Christmas tree in the front window and on the 25th we’d bake a ham, boil potatoes.

But, relaxing in my recliner sometime after we’d arrived last year, my son looked at my feet and asked why I didn't paint my toenails like other moms. Honestly, I had noticed the women in grocery stores and at Little League games painted their toes, but chalked it up to working class affectation. If you wear closed toes shoes, like I do, what would be the point of painting your nails?

And there’s the issue of toxic chemicals and slave wages for the salon workers. Perhaps the women here do it, I thought, but it’s likely they don’t realize clear nails provide vital insights into ones health, a window it’s wise to gaze through often. For my money, a pedicure is about as stylish as shoeing a horse.

My husband gave me a gift certificate to the neighborhood nail spa for my birthday last year, his way of criticizing without saying a word.

I have principles, but don’t waste money, so I settled into the big recliner in front of the foot bath and he turned on the vibrator, gently pressed my shoulders back, whispered "relax." I didn’t tell him it was my first time, but he seemed to know. He picked up my gnarled right foot like it was a pink carnation and settled it in warm water tinted aquamarine. Then he took my left and nestled it beside the first, the water jetting around my ankles.

He was beautiful, his black hair gleaming as he bent over the foot basin, swiveling from side to side on a rolling stool. He rubbed, scrubbed, and buffed, then painted each nail cotton-candy pink. “Good for summer,” he said, almost smiling, before extending his hand and leading me to the drying station where a fan sent breezes dancing across my toes. He was crippled, stood over me like a heron balanced on one leg. He massaged my shoulders and I yielded to his touch, surprised us both with a soft sigh.

I presented my certificate to the cashier, who called the manager, who called a grandmotherly woman from the back. They studied the document and I watched him with one eye as he ate sushi with chopsticks from a Styrofoam box, seated beside a golden Buddha statue. Above him hung a poster of a beautiful girl in an apple-green sari and characters in black type that I guessed promoted an airline.

I began to feel anxious, not from the questions posed by these people who examined me head-to- toe like a fake twenty dollar bill, but because I knew eventually he would fly away and leave me. They took the certificate and then I gave them all my cash. "Tip," I said, feeling foolish until he looked up and I caught a glimpse of his cinnamon eyes. 

Last week I went in for my standing appointment, expected to see his twisted grin, watch him hobble to my feet. The grandmotherly woman said, “Rocky gone. Went home. Polio too bad. You want somebody else do you?”

I flew to my car in tears, collected myself. At home I found my family watching baseball, too absorbed in the game to say “Hi.”

"Flight of the Herons" is from Hard Holidays, a flash fiction collection. Catch up with my new serial novel, Drowning in the Delta. Installments are free online or for download on serial fiction site www.jukepop.com. Lots of great stories in every genre. Perfect for summer reading. Vote, Comment, Enjoy.