Previous Challenge Entry (Level 2 – Intermediate)
Topic: Memory (07/10/08)
TITLE: Coarsely Ground
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Regal was the adjective he associated with his own mother, her memory never far. Regal—not because of station, nor because of money. It was something fused into the straight line of her spine, whispering gentility, whereas with someone else, it might have screamed haughtiness. It was the work of her hands and arms, moving as a single unit in curved grace. It was her words and more strikingly the tone of her words, caressing and soothing, quieting the heart.
“I gotta go to the bathroom,” Marigold said, standing up, not waiting for him to hold the chair out for her—instead using her calves, scraping the carved walnut along the polished mahogany on which she dropped her napkin. Was she really bending over, picking it up, plopping it on the starched linen tablecloth, in such a way that a corner of it overlapped the pewter charger and poked her half eaten Gruyère Gougéres? She was.
He watched her, as though through the bars of her gauche prison, even as he rose ineffectually. She was already off; the clop, clop echo fading with her. He eased his worsted wool slacks at the knees and lowered himself back to his chair.
Had he been too hasty? It had only taken a moment to decide upon her.
He recalled his habit of enjoying his coffee and paper at a shy café wedged within the movement of Chicago’s business district. Adjacent to the café, under the same awning, stood a rickety flower stand, operated by an old aproned man, ensconced in the scent of carnations.
It appeared to Vincent, early morning hours were a waste of the florist’s time; it was hard to peddle beauty to the ambitious. Nevertheless, he proffered daily his wares as the sun crested the horizon, rays spiking in between the skyscrapers, even as he remained invisible to the head-down, striding public.
The morning Vincent met Marigold was a drizzly mess; the faithful old man, however, caught her eye. And she stopped. Her synthetic clothing hung limply along her curves, as she had no umbrella. Yet, she stopped. Her voice was too loud, too jangling. Yet, when the old man offered a blood red rose, a sacrifice, as he refused payment, she accepted it into both of her hands with a simplicity of joy that reminded him of his mother.
Nodding now to the bored-looking waiter to remove their appetizer plates, a long forgotten memory from boyhood came to him. He and his mother were watching “My Fair Lady.” Eliza had just hurled a slipper at Professor Higgins, when Vincent noticed his mother wipe a tear. She laughed at herself: “I can’t help it,” she said to him, pressing the folded handkerchief flat in her hand. “I married Colonel Pickering.”
He heard the return clop of his wife and observed her approach under the incandescent warmth of chandeliers and the icy stares of both patrons and staff.
He thought of his father then. Their family had little money for extras, but one day, to their surprise, his father brought home a sterling-silver saltshaker and pepper grinder set. It seemed an unnecessary extravagance.
But from that day on, until the day he died, his father offered his mother his pepper-grinding services, complete with an erect posture, a tilt of his head, and a cloth draped over his forearm.
Marigold’s clopping ceased at the table. Vincent held her chair for her, but she sat too heavily causing more scraping. He stifled a sigh and returned to his own seat. Through the flickering drops of candle flame, she leaned forward and said softly, sincerely: “Next time, I’ll try to sit myself a little lighter.”
Vincent rose yet again as the waiter arrived, bearing their spring salads upon a large bronze tray.
“May I help you, sir?” the waiter intoned, setting the small plates on the waiting chargers.
“I would like to do the honors.” Vincent opened his hand and gestured to the pepper grinder. He folded his napkin over his arm, ignoring the disapproving turn of the waiter’s nose. Vincent tilted his head and offered her pepper as if it were a two-hundred-dollar bottle of champagne. He had, in fact, chosen very well.
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