Ponderings of life dropped in the gap separating my emotional and chronological ages.

Location: Comox Valley, British Columbia, Canada

Monday, October 09, 2006

Man With a Quarter

Gifts from Strangers

Val checks her face in the small mirror from her soft leather purse as I pull the car up in front of her house, a two story with white siding, green trim and matching shingle roof. She folds the mirror back together and smacks her lips in time with the click it makes when it finds its latch. I’m surprised to see her checking her face because it doesn’t appear to me like she wears much make up at all. Round blue eyes set in smooth, peachy skin and lips the colour of pale plums. Then again, I notice there’s a manicure kit beside her make up bag in her purse, so maybe I am wrong. She’s telling me about the gift with purchase event coming up at Sears as we cross the front lawn.

“You do use Clinique, don’t you?” The question has bubbled out amid a torrent of chatter and catches me by surprise. I’m fumbling for my answer, self conscious that my choice in face cream doesn’t come with a label, when she turns the handle on the front door and I am saved by a roar of greeting from inside. The men have arrived here before us and have already served themselves drinks. A bottle of rye is open on the counter with a couple of inches missing from it. Fred, the neighbour is holding a beer at the top of the stairs. He makes a crack about the girls being fashionably late. Of course we’re late I muse, we were working, they were playing hockey. Val’s husband Don bounds up from the basement ambushing us on the landing.

“Do we have any of those things to eat…you know, shrimp and stuff, frozen, baked, but it’s like they’re fried?” He hangs there waiting for an answer.

“Let me think…we had some when your sister came, and…Yes. They’re in the bottom of the downstairs freezer on the right hand side. I got lots because”

He takes off and in three bounds he’s on the basement floor and disappearing around the corner, “because you never know when you’re going to need them.” She smiles at me and continues, “And look, I was right.” We share a chuckle as we ascend the ten steps to the main floor where the living space is.

Off to the right there’s a tall, thin man taking up nearly half of the couch with his arms and legs angling out in six different directions. He’s holding a glass with amber liquid and ice on his right knee. He gives us a sloppy wave and announces his name is Dave.

Gracious as ever, Val walks a smile over to him and introduces us. He stays seated, grinning and swallows the last of his drink. Val offers to refill it and disappears through the adjoining dining room and into the kitchen. Her husband joins her there and I can hear the clang of baking sheets being pulled from cupboards. I sit on the ledge in front of the fireplace, at right angles to Dave on the couch.

“So whose team were you playing on?” I ask.

“No, I wasn’t playing”, he says. Then offers, “old knee injury” and pats the inside of his left leg.

An awkward moment passes. I want to enquire further about how he fits in with the oldtimers team, but I don’t want to appear like an interrogator. Val returns with his glass and a coke for me. She’s just turned to go back to the kitchen when a small voice from down the hall speaks.

“Mommy, is that you home?” Round blues eyes under a cap of shoulder length blond hair have lassoed Val from the edge of the room. Val immediately goes to her and sweeps her up from the floor where she was standing like a blinking doll. A small smile replaces the pout on the young face aand she wraps her arms around her mother’s neck.

“I missed you Mommy” and by reflex Val responds with a squeeze and says she missed her too.

Then Val turns around and announces, “Hey everybody, this is Georgia. Georgia, you know Mr. Johnson, and this is Ms. Adams from my work.”

The little girl, of about six years and dressed in a nightdress with red daisies on it, sits in the crook of her mother’s arm, hanging one hand around her neck. She says, “Mrs. Sites made me eat creamed corn for dinner, Mommy. I don’t like it.”

Val’s in the process of switching her bundle from one arm to the other and consoling her when Dave speaks. Because my attention was so focused on little Georgia, I hadn’t noticed he’d risen from the couch and approached the mother and child. He now stood near the top of the landing, a few feet from where the little girl entered the room. “Well, hello Georgia. You are a beautiful little thing aren’t you?”

Georgia stuck two fingers from her free hand into her mouth and blinked at him. He stood there grinning at them and swaying on his feet. A moment passed until his face lit up with an idea. He stuck his hands into his pocket and produced a shiny coin.

“In fact, I have a present for the prettiest girl in the room.” He crouched down with one hand on the top of the railing leading up from the landing and the other holding the money out like bait. “Wouldn’t you like to have this?”

Georgia stuck her face into her mother’s neck. Val gave her daughter a little bounce and whispered something to her. Georgia picked her face up and gave the man a shy smile.

“Do you know what this is? This is a quarter and it’s all for you. Aren’t you going to take this nice present from me?” Dave’s smile wavered a little, just like his balance but he recovered both. A tinge of red was creeping across his face.

Don, Georgia’s Dad, was watching from the kitchen, leaning on the fridge with an open bottle of beer in his hand. He said, “Put her down Val, let her get it.”

Val bent over until her daughter’s feet found the floor then slipped out of the little girl’s hold on her neck. “You go to the man, Georgia, and don’t forget to say thank you.”

Georgia stood for a second then turned and buried her face into her mother’s leg whining, “No, I don’t want to.”

Her mother’s voice becomes firm as she explains that it's rude not to take the present from the man. Meanwhile, her father was getting impatient so he urged her from the kitchen, “Go on Georgia, don’t be scaredecat. It’s only a quarter.”

Georgia pulled her face away from her mother’s pant leg, looked at her dad and then over at the stranger. She took the few steps to his outstretched arm and retrieved the quarter. Scrambling back to her mother’s side, Val reminded her to say thank you which she did once her Mom collected her in her arms again.

With an announcement that it was way past Georgia’s bedtime, Val turned and retreated down the hall with her daughter in her arms. Don laughed and rebalanced himself back on his two feet again, while making a comment about kids and how funny they were. “She’s always looking for change. Harvests the bloody couch anytime I take a little nap.” He bends over to look through the window in the oven door.

Dave stands up and watches the girls go down the hall. When they’ve entered a bedroom he turns to find the drink he left beside the couch.


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