IT’S NOT A STORY about a woman, but a tale of a person who happens to be a woman. A wonderful woman. A determined human being. Flawed in ways we all are. Her character is a mixture of people I have met, or would like to meet. Still… there’s something interesting about the feeling of wanting more. We all want something. Unless our lives are perfect, which in that case; why read books?
Most of us dream of winning the lottery. Acquiring a promotion. Or being accepted into a group of shared believers. It’s normal to desire. But this emotion often encourages us to do things.
Funny things, making us laugh. Smile. Sigh.
Bad things that make us weep, and cry.
SHE TIPTOED ACROSS THE LIVING ROOM while loading her laptop into her bag, then stepped towards the hallway and smashed her naked foot into the metal leg of the coffee table. A lightning bolt of pain-shot-up her body.
Drew was jolted awake by her yelp, “What’s wrong with you?!” Mag tossed her bag onto the sofa and sat next to it. Massaging painful toes, she pointed at the coffee table. “I smashed my foot into this stupid thing!”
“How many times are you gonna do that before you realize where the table is?! You bump into it twice a month.”
“No! I don’t!” Thinking back to the last time she smacked her foot into the table leg… was it last month? Or was that my knee? Who cares!?
“Can you show a little sympathy?”
Drew sat up in bed, “I would, if it were possible for you to learn from what repeatedly happens to you. But clearly, you don’t learn.”
“I don’t have time for this!” Snatching her bag from the sofa. Guiding her feet around coffee table legs. She walked to the apartment exit and opened the door, then slid throbbing toes into flats.
“Don’t forget to lock it!” Drew’s condescending tone pierced her ears like stiletto blades and Mag fumed internally… now I wanna leave it unlocked!, though she replied, “I won’t!” before slamming the door shut and locking it.
Limping downstairs. She walked gingerly to her car, then drove downhill towards Van Ness Street. Eyes squinting against beams of streaking light. They penetrated pockets of clouds from her left and she decided… I need coffee.
A HALF MILE LATER, approaching a café window, she placed her order.
“One medium cappuccino please.”
The tiny, drive-thru only café, sat in front of a sprawling gas station, centered in its lot, facing Van Ness Street. She assumed The Coffee Hut to be a family-owned business since everyone inside had similar facial features and spoke with the same accent. The cashier (a middle-aged Eastern Indian woman) glanced up from her mobile phone and verbally relayed Mag’s order to a younger male barista behind her.
She glared at Mag, “Tree fiddy,” then returned her attention to her mobile. While handing her payment, Mag noticed the cafe’s confined interior space and wondered… how can two people work so close to each other without wanting to escape?
“Vit vip?” The man in back yelled.
His thick accent made it difficult for her to decipher the question. The cashier rephrased, “Vip. You vant?” Her interpretation provided no help.
Stopping at the same café twice-a-week before taking the 101 freeway South to work. Each visit seemed like a new experience. Different employees came and went. All accents, difficult to understand. Mag empathized… maybe my Australian accent is challenging for them too. Attempting to avoid confusion, she mimicked a stereotypical San Francisco dialect.
The cashier shouted back to the barista, “Ya! Vip!”
“Wait! I don’t want whip cream. I asked, if you asked me, if I wanted whip cream.”
“You said vip. Vee add vip. Done!”
The barista yelled, “Vip done!”
Mag sighed, “Okay. No problem. Do you have sugar?”
“It’s no sugar.”
“Can I have sugar?”
“It’s no sugar. You should ask before vee make!” Her stern imperfect English and deadpan expression were impossible to miss.
Receiving her cappuccino and change, Mag decided it would be too much trouble pursuing the question. She only wanted sugar packets. But had an hour of driving to reach ADKAR’s (work) office in Mountain View. No time to waste. There would be little forgiveness granted if she missed her 9 a.m. meeting. Glancing at her car’s interior clock. It incessantly flashed the time… seven-thirty.
EVERY MONDAY MORNING San Francisco Bay Area freeways were overly congested and slow, due to thousands of commuters entering the city. They worked at high tech businesses in the North Bay. An opposing number of commuters traveled south, employed at hundreds of high tech corporations in Silicon Valley. Mag joined the latter. Though, she didn’t consider ADKAR as part of the ‘Southern occupation’… ADKAR was different.
Steering out of the drive-thru café, back to Van Ness Street. She merged into the freeway entrance and positioned her coffee cup, front of her lips for a sip.
Another vehicle swerved from the left.
Jerking the wheel. Slamming brakes. “Friggin idiot!” Her cappuccino lid popped off and an eruption of coffee spurted out. Splattering the middle console. Soaking her passenger seat upholstery. Bathing the vehicle’s light-beige fabric with dark, Jackson Pollock style stains. The spilled liquid somehow managing to miss her hands, arms, and legs.
She re-corrected her steering and placed the coffee cup in a holder before attempting to retrieve its lid. Stretching to the passenger side floor. It was too far away. She tried again and failed, then glanced at the coffee infused seat.
“Great! Now I have to explain new seat stains to Drew!”
Drew would never notice. Numerous stains covered each seat in their sedan, most of which came from their dog, Popper. The source for the rest, a total blur. They’d purchased the vehicle brand new five years ago, and already accepted its interior looked and smelled like ten years of wet dog. Specks of dirt displayed brilliantly. Each seat portraying an artistic patchwork of connect-the-dot-stains. Attempting to clean them, they had little success and eventually conceded; ‘Next time we buy a car, we’re getting leather seats.’
Lunging exasperatedly towards the passenger-side floor, the tip of her fingernail flipped the lid into reach… got it! She exhaled triumphantly and secured the lid to its cup, then drank a mouthful of cappuccino before debating to spit it out. It was too bitter. She groaned… needs sugar. Forcing a few sips, she enabled her mobile Bluetooth to dial her parents.
EVERY WEEKDAY MORNING she made effort to call her mom and Dad. Mag hoped today’s call would be brief. Recognizing, thanks to the aspiring NASCAR driver who cut her off and the pulse of pain-numbing toes, her morning so far was… dismal. Remaining confident however, her forthcoming breakfast; the one waiting at ADKAR, would make everything better. It usually did.
Her mom answered the call and Mag placed her on speakerphone.
“Good Morning! How are you, Maggie?”
Mom’s soft Aussie accent… flashed images of home. Brisbane.
“I’m good, how are you both this morning?”
“I’m not sure what you said. It’s hard to hear you.”
“Sorry, it’s this Bluetooth. I don’t know why it works fantastic some days, then turns to crap on others.” Positioning her phone overhead, she pressed it against the ceiling.
“Can you hear me now?”
“I think so, but your voice is dropping out.”
She laid her phone on the ledge, in front of speedometer. “I’ll try to talk slow.”
“How was your weekend?” asked her dad.
“It was good. We took Popper to a new dog park on Saturday, then went on a day trip to Monterey on Sunday.”
“We haven’t been to Monterey in years,” said her mom. “How was it?”
“It was nice. We visited a small winery for the first time, and took their wine tour.”
IN THE PAST, SHE’D TOLD HER PARENTS about different breweries and wineries Mag and Drew visited. Remarking upon the variety of concoctions they drank during each excursion. Priding herself on interpreting descriptions of varietal qualities from residential sommeliers. After providing additional information over the course of several conversations, Mag’s mom inquired about the number of alcoholic drinks they consumed during each tour. More importantly, how many glasses of wine Mag drank each night. The inquisition forced Mag to admit internally… I drink three or four glasses a day. Is that too much? Having no desire to find out, she fibbed. Telling her mother she only consumed one glass-a-day.
“Did you buy any wine?”
Mom’s rising inflection forced Mag to realize… she’s worried about my drinking again. Worse than the fear of actually being an alcoholic; she dreaded the idea her parents might think she had an alcohol problem.
“We only bought a little. It costs too much to buy a lot.”
“Darn right it does,” said her father. “That’s why I only drink beer. Hell if ah’m ‘onna pay a buncha hairy-toe strangers to stomp on grapes with their dirty feet, so I can consume the excrement produced.”
“Yeah, it’s disgusting, but it’s also funny, isn’t it? Come on!?” He laughed and Mag chuckled with him. But Mom’s resolution remained, “Well, it’s good you didn’t buy too much. You don’t wanna be like my brother Lewis.”
How could I possibly forget Uncle Lewis and his lucrative career in agricultural sales? He earned a high, six-figure salary, then threw it away because he couldn’t stop drinking. Uncle Lewis drank in anticipation of acquiring a sales deal, then drank in celebration after closing one. He even guzzled in regret after missing one he felt he should’ve closed. The outback sheep of the family. He overindulges at holiday gatherings. Escorting anyone who’ll listen down his one-sided version of memory lane.
No!… Mag thought… how can you think I’m like him? Understanding her mom’s concern, she dared not belittle it. “Don’t worry Mom; I have no desire to be like Uncle Lewis. I could never be as committed to drinking as he is. I seriously lack his. Uhm…” Eyes gazing up. “What’s the right word? His conviction?”
“That’s ripper,” said her father. “I think we all lack his conviction. Since it’s safe to say, Lewis is overly committed.” Recognizing a brief opportunity to change the subject. “You guys went to the doctor last week, right? Did you get results yet?”
“Why yes, we did!” Mom’s voice soaked in smugness. “You know… in spite of all the special meals I make for your father every day, and the late night walks we take each evening. His blood pressure is still high.”
“I’m positive he’s hiding snacks in the house and sneakin ‘em when I’m not about, but he claims I’m off my rocker. I can’t be everywhere to watch him Magenta. I’ve no idea what he’s up too.”
“Hang on a tick,” said her dad. “Ah’m not hoarding food anywhere in the house.” He sighed exaggeratedly. “Now, ah’ll admit. It’s quite possible ah’m stashin’ the occasional snack or two in the garage. But absolutely not in the house!”
“That’s not funny Dad! This is serious. I read an article last week. It said a large percentage of retiring adults struggle with health-conscious changes made late in life. The one’s who persevere and commit to change, drastically improve their health. The others had horrible results. Using every excuse in the book, they continued damaging their lives. Had super high percentages of life-threatening conditions. Like diabetes, heart disease, and obesity. High blood pressure can lead to any one of those conditions.”
Taking it on the chin, her father responded in stride, “I’m an old wallaby. Ya can’t teach me new tricks. But seriously, ah’m given er’ a go.”
“Thanks, Dad. Please do.”
THERE WAS MORE SHE COULD’VE TOLD THEM as the conversation ended. She could have mentioned her lagging interest and lack of energy towards marriage. How she was bored at work. Desired switching departments to work for a manager who didn’t micromanage her team. About Drew’s overall lack of sincerity and non-committance to retain a full-time job. Their failed attempts at pregnancy. And Mag’s rising concern… did I marry the wrong person? However… why burden them with worrisome details of my life? They worry enough about me already. Why not let them think I’m happy?
“Okay, honey. We’ll let you go,” said her mom. “We’re heading out for a walk before your father leaves for work.”
“Enjoy your morning exercise. One of these days I’ll exercise again too.”
“You’re welcome to join us,” said her father.
“Talk to you tomorrow.” Mom ended the call and Mag checked her dashboard clock… 8:15 a.m. A positive by-product of morning check-in was how quickly time passed. What felt like five minutes of conversation, resulted in forty-five minutes removed from the commute clock. And like a grade schooler anticipating cookies at Grandma’s, she grinned. Then sang aloud in a happy-go-lucky voice.
“Yay! Now I can listen to my music.”
Rhythm & Blues
GROWING UP IN BRISBANE, most of her friends listened to top-forty music from the United States and Europe. But a few of her closest friends listened exclusively to popular American, rhythm and blues. Taking advantage of every opportunity, Mag still enjoyed modern R&B. Knowing the sex-rated lyrics of today’s songs didn’t compare to the tongue in cheek innuendo from the nineties. Regardless, she gained appreciation for modern music rhythms and the enhanced sound quality much more. But with each passing decade, R&B lyrics became more explicit and increasingly difficult to defend. Throughout twenty years of appreciating the music she loved, Mag grudgingly decided… the lyrics don’t matter as long as the beat is good. Though… why do the most lyrically crass songs have the best beats?
Launching ADKAR’s music application on her mobile. She located her favorite song, ‘Put in You,’ by ‘Thank God It’s Saturday.’ Fallen in love with it the first time she heard its buttery-soaked atmosphere. Adoring how the singer pursued each lyrical phrase (wantonly) like he wasn’t trying to stay in time. He sang. Or seemed to speak. Slowly, across each poetic passage; nearly falling out of time before being drawn back to beat. Lazily. Pulled… by persistent bass.
Turning up the volume in her car. She sang…
I’m gonna work all night on you
There’s nothing else I wanna do
Show me the spots he don’t know
When I’m done, you’ll be sweating on the floor
Now rock on it and roll on it
Stroll on it like you stole it
Own it, because you do
Every piece of me
I put in you
A fool would attempt defending these lyrics to anyone at ADKAR. So… she enjoyed her guilty pleasure. Privately. Riding to and from work. Absorbing music, provided the only sanctuary for escape. And escape she did. Floating. Automobile providing solitude. Nothing mattered. Only the feel of music. Rhythm of beat. Envisioning herself, dancing. An R&B diva. Sultrily, strutting in front of a full-length mirror. Unconcerned that a passing driver might inadvertently witness the in-car performance. Singing alongside decipherable lyrics. Head bobbing back-and-forth. Hips gyrating in her seat. Mumbling atonally during portions containing incomprehensible lyrics. Or no lyrics at all.
WITHIN BLOCKS of ADKAR’s campus, she turned down the volume. Eventually, turning it off. The fear of co-workers spotting her. Adrift. Hovering, over a sea-of-sound was too daunting… they couldn’t understand.