An old woman walks, stooped so far forward that she can hardly see through her thick eyeglasses. She wears a cotton dress with a floral pattern of red, pink, blue and white flowers under a purple wool coat. A little wobbly on her feet, she puts her arms out for balance—stops and goes, stops and goes. She uses a cane and it swings like a pendulum when she puts out her arms. Everyone’s a little out of sorts after last night.
Dead blossoms lie on the street under bare tree limbs. Tangled new growth struggles to push through the thin brown skin from the darkness below.
The old woman’s name is Dora. Lorna, the hostess at the Frolic Café, shortens the Dora’s dresses and coats six inches in the front to allow for her stoop. Dora has a son, Clifford, who lives across the freeway. He’s in his car driving to town with some flowers he picked for the tables.
A Chinese man from an ancient dynasty walks carefully leaning on his crooked oak walking stick, his slanted eyes glaring in Dora’s direction. His withering hair holds tightly onto his head, struggling against the persistent entropy of life. Dora observes him silently as he looks up at her. They are two Samurai rattling their swords.
“This shit town! Why you live this shit town? I leave soon, sell store. I leave shit town. No come back.”
Dora believes she is still young and beautiful, and she smiles into Old Lee’s wild blue eyes, unusual eyes for a Chinaman. She sees the lost memory of another life and it rekindles her past scene by scene. She’s almost deaf. She didn’t hear a word of what he said.
“Good morning, Old Lee. It’s a nice day, don’t you think?”
An endearing child, a young man passionate with curiosity wanting everything at once, grows to maturity in the fullness of time, in the emptiness of time, is ravaged by the cold black winds from the canyons, is covered by the yellow velvety pollen of the angry pine trees that soar to the sky and now looks out as an old man with cold rage.
“Shit town! No nice day for me.”
His head drops like rotten fruit. Steadily along he treads, ignoring the last of the seagulls flocking in the gray sky as they dissipate into ever widening circles.
Dora makes a sound like doves cooing, wheezing as she walks, still struggling with her balance. This morning she put her coat on inside out. These things happen. It’s a worry. Her body itches, a long dormant virus reawakening. She walks along silently or noisily. She cannot tell which. This too bothers her.
A blast of cold air follows her into the Frolic Café. The place was named for a clipper ship that sank off the coast near Mendocino over a hundred years ago.
Clifford arrives and gives the flowers to Lorna.
Last night Old Lee saw himself floating above the bed. As soon as he realized what was happening, he fell back down. He decided it must have been a fever, or one of those holograms. He feels unwell. He turns the key in the lock to his antique shop. He does not immediately enter fearing he will choose the wrong time. Success in business is all about timing. He read this in the Chinese newspaper that always comes several months late. He stands outside and waits. The clutter of a thousand years quivers under a complex patina meticulously formed and trained to protect the fragility of the junk inside.
Dora sits at a table in the coffee shop and orders eggs poached well, toast and tea. Clifford joins her. He orders coffee.
The cook waves at them but all Dora sees is a blur.
“Did you hear the news, Mom?” Clifford speaks in hushed tones, almost whispers.
“The siren woke me up last night. I didn’t get much sleep.”
“Shhh. Don’t talk so loud.”
Clifford leans over and whispers into her ear.
The waitress brings her eggs and toast.
“I guess they’ll have to do an autopsy,” whispers Clifford.
“No, my eggs are not too sloppy. They’re just fine, son.”
Clifford leans over and whispers into her ear to make sure she hears him.
“Autopsy! What?” She leans over her eggs and looks at them curiously.
Clifford gets up and walks into the kitchen taking his coffee with him.
At another table, a man in khaki pants, blue coat, white socks, and black shoes talks to himself. He’s very thin. He blows his nose on a white handkerchief and puts it back into his coat. He makes nervous movements with his arms and his head. He wipes invisible crumbs off the table with his hands every few minutes. A lady in a large black hat with yellow flowers joins him. She has an enormous handbag made of black leather with red and green designs in a Picasso-like cubist motif. Her face is over painted. She talks about driving to Willits.
“Inheritance is important on the West Coast,” she says.
He looks at her and frowns.
“You’re a liar, a cheat, and a thief, you Bitch! But you don’t know that. You’re under the illusion that you’re perfect.”
“What?” The woman shrugs her shoulders and doesn’t respond.
Clifford’s mother finishes her eggs and toast and tea. She walks up to the register to pay. The tag is printed on green paper with the Frolic logo on top, two copies, one for the kitchen and one for the customer. Lorna told her that’s how they keep track of people who skip out on the bill. Clifford is outside with the man who drives the Clover Dairy truck. In the distance over the little town she thinks she sees the ocean.
Three boys show up to wash Old Lee’s windows. He wants to sell the shop. He thinks clean windows will attract a buyer. The three boys arrive wearing clothes that make them look like vendors at an English country fair or like organ grinders without a monkey, heavy black pants, black boots and thick red blazers trimmed in yellow with big brass buttons. Each wears a different hat. Sticking out of the hats are the tools of their trade, squeegees, brushes, spray bottles, towels. Dora notices the boys as she leaves the Frolic Café. She thinks the costumes are very creative.
“What you are, joke? Go home! Go home! You no good for window wash. I wash own windows. Shit town. Stinking town not have no one know how wash windows?” He shakes his fist at them and walks back into his shop.
The boys walk past Dora as they leave Old Lee. She smiles at them.
“The windows look very nice boys! Did that Chinaman pay you? Sometimes he tries not to pay. Make sure he pays you.”
Dora opens the door to her old white house on the corner across from the Frolic Café. She turns before she goes inside and sees Clifford still talking with the Clover Dairy man. She’s happy he has friends.
Sometimes Dora ate all three meals at the Frolic Café. One day she didn’t come in. Lorna was the one who checked. Dora had died in her sleep. Clifford fixed up the house and sold it for more than he’d ever dreamed. He took his wife and stepson on a trip around the country.
When he got back, old Lee was gone and the antique shop had been converted into a real estate office.