Mac has the day off. He sits at one of the window tables in the Coffee Shop. It is his favorite pass time.
Across the street he sees Clifford’s mother, Dora. She 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. Her gnarled wooden cane swings like a pendulum when she puts out her arms. Everyone’s a little out of sorts after last night. One of the Inn guests died in his room.
Dead blossoms lie on the street under bare tree limbs. Tangled new growth struggles to push up through the cement. Lorna, the hostess at the Frolic Café, shortens Dora’s dresses and coats six inches in the front to allow for her stoop. Clifford lives across the freeway. He’s on his way to town with some flowers for the tables.
A Chinese man from some ancient dynasty walks carefully, leans on his crooked oak walking stick, his slanted eyes glaring in Dora’s direction. His withering hair holds tightly to his head, struggles against the persistent entropy of life. Dora observes him silently as he looks at her. They are two Samurai rattling their swords.
“This shit town!” says Old Li to Dora. “Why you live this shit town? I leave soon after sell store. I leave shit town. No come back.”
Dora thinks back to when she was young and beautiful. She smiles into Old Li’s wild blue eyes, unusual eyes for a Chinaman. She summons the lost memories of another life and rekindles her past scene by scene. She’s almost deaf. She doesn’t hear a word old Li says.
“Good morning Old Li. It’s a nice day don’t you think?”
An endearing child, a young man passionate with curiosity who wants everything at once, grows to maturity in the fullness of time, the emptiness of time, is ravaged by the cold black winds from the ridges, is covered with the yellow velvety pollen of angry pine trees, 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, ignores the last of the seagulls that flock in the gray sky and dissipate in ever widening circles.
Dora makes a sound like doves cooing, wheezing as she walks, struggles with her balance. This morning she put her coat on inside out. These things happen. It’s a worry. Her body itches as a long dormant virus reawakens. She walks along silently or noisily. She’s not sure which. This bothers her but she lives with it.
A blast of cold air rushes at Mac’s face as Dora walks into the Frolic Café. Clifford arrives and gives the flowers to Lorna. He joins his mother at the other window table.
Last night Old Li saw himself floating above the bed. When he realized what was happening, he fell back down. He decided it was some kind of fever, one of those bugs going around. He feels unwell. He turns the key in the lock to his antique shop. He does not immediately enter, fears he will choose the wrong time. Success in business as in life is all about timing. He read this in the Chinese newspaper that always comes several months late. True wisdom is timeless. He stands outside and waits. The clutter of a thousand years quivers under a complex patina meticulously formed, randomly formed. Either way it protects the fragility of the junk inside.
An idea forms in Mac’s head. He will speak with Old Li later.
Dora orders eggs poached well, toast and tea. Clifford orders coffee.
The cook waves at them through a window in the wall between the kitchen and the Coffee Shop. All Dora sees is a blur.
“Did you hear the news, Mom?” Clifford speaks in hushed tones, whispers.
“The siren woke me up last night,” shouts Dora. “I didn’t get much sleep.”
“Shhh. Don’t talk so loud,” says Clifford.
Clifford leans over and speaks into her ear.
“Oh,” is all she says.
The waitress delivers 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,” says Dora.
Clifford leans over and speaks into her ear again to make sure she hears him.
“Autopsy! What?” Dora leans over her eggs, looks at them curiously.
“Shhh,” says Clifford. He walks into the kitchen, takes his coffee with him.
At another table a man in khaki pants, blue coat, pink argyle socks and black shoes talks to himself. He’s very thin. He blows his nose on a white handkerchief that he pulls out of his coat then puts back in again. He makes nervous movements with his arms and 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. “I’m going to drive to Willits,” she says. “Inheritance is important on the West Coast.”
The man looks at her and frowns.
“You’re a liar, a cheat and a thief you Bitch!” he blurts out. “You don’t know it because you’re under the illusion that you’re perfect.” He wipes some more invisible crumbs off the table.
“What?” The woman shrugs her shoulders.
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. It’s how they keep track of people who skip out on the bill. Clifford is outside with J. Palacini, the man who drives the Clover Dairy truck. Palacini is feeding an old carton of cottage cheese to a dog. In the distance over the pitched roofs of the houses Dora thinks she sees the ocean.
Three boys show up to wash Old Li’s windows. He wants to sell the shop. He thinks clean windows will help attract a buyer. The three boys arrive in clothes that make them look like vendors in an old English country fair, organ grinders without a monkey—heavy black pants, black boots, thick red blazers trimmed in gold and sporting 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.
“Very nice costumes,” she says to the boys. “Very creative.”
“What you are, joke?” says Old Li. “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!”
Old Li shakes his fist at the boys and walks back into his shop.
The boys pass Dora as they leave. 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 house on the corner across from the Frolic Café. Like many of the houses in town it’s old, built in 1883. Before going inside, she turns to look at Clifford and J. Palacini. She’s happy her son has such friends.
Sometimes Dora eats all three meals at the Frolic Café. One day she didn’t come in at all. Lorna was the one who found her. Dora died in her sleep. Clifford fixed up the house and sold it for more than he’d dreamed. After living all his life as a bachelor, he got married to a woman who had a son. He took his wife and stepson on a trip around the country. When he got back to town, Old Li was gone and the antique shop had been converted into a real estate office.
Mac walks across to Old Li’s shop and goes inside. He shows Old Li the coin with the square hole he wears around his neck. He asks if Old Li knows anything about it.
“I talk divers come with these coins. They find in ocean where shipwreck was happen. They want know worth but Old Li don’t know worth. Old Li don’t know these coins. Too old. Too dirty. You go Kwan Tai Temple. Maybe them there know. Old Li don’t know. Nice silver chain though. Want sell?”
“No,” says Mac. He walks out of Old Li’s shop and toward the Kwan Tai Temple. As he thinks about it, he decides to wait. There is no hurry. If the divers who found the shipwreck found coins like his there, he thinks it’s best to sort things out before he asks more questions.
Mac walks back to his room. He’s confused. He doesn’t remember if he has been walking around or standing still. He is at the foot of the stairs. He sees that. But he has no clear idea how he got there. These lapses in memory come more often. The one when he arrived at Roy’s was the worst. Something is happening he doesn’t understand.
He remembers a story. “What goes around comes around,”says the boss. “ Last week as I organize the wine room, Lorna comes to tell me Mr. Seghesio has some wine for me to try. I don’t know any Mr. Seghesio. I tell her to have him leave me a couple of bottles and I’ll get back to him. Next thing I know a sixty year-old Italian grape farmer stands next to me. ‘I don’t leave my wine for someone to taste. I taste it with them,’ he says. I want to be polite so I take him to the dining room and we taste his wine. I order a couple of bottles to appease him. He says I could get a discount if I ordered five cases. I guess I could do that I say. He says I will get a much better discount if order a hundred cases. That is well beyond my means I say. He says his bulk wine would be a good choice for my house wine. He offers to deliver it over time and to let me pay when I sell it. Brin, shows up. She sees we have a glow on. She says we should have lunch. Mr. Seghesio becomes my friend. He sends lots of customers to us. Over time I know I’ll earn back every dollar I spend on his wine and more. It’s called karma Mac.”
Is my confusion the result of bad karma? Does it have to do with those two men I saw in the coffee shop? Was it the result of breaking up Beth’s group at Roy’s? Or was it something from my past I can’t remember? Maybe there is no such thing as karma. Micah said the arc of the moral universe doesn’t point toward justice. Is what the boss says then really true, that what goes around comes around, both the bad and the good? I am stressed about being stressed. I am very sleepy.