Picture It Like Life

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Summer had arrived in all its gaudy glory, as observed by scores of purely tinted blossoms, multi-greens of leafy things and people sporting spare, candy colored clothing. Several children added to that tableau, creating gleeful havoc in the refurbished courtyard fountain of Mistral Manor Apartments. Why did everyone make such a fuss over this time of year? Was it being seventy-one that made the difference? She hoped not. But awakening in a damp bed–unless you had the wherewithal to purchase window air conditioning units–was soon followed by the quandary regarding her tea, hot or iced. Evangeline preferred hot but even when it had cooled for fifteen minutes she felt as if she was on her way to being steamed half to death. She opted for iced for the third day in a row and enjoyed the chill seeping into hand and down throat as sipped at her balcony table.

Van Garner waved as he zipped by in his wheelchair, en route to the corner mailbox. She knew his destination because he waved the envelopes.He did not trust the mail person to pick up things before they were snatched by thieves lurking nearby.

Natalie-from-New-York, her daughter, told her with frequency that she ought to break down and get an air conditioning unit for her bedroom. She’d then order another for the living room so it was tolerable when she visited in August. Evangeline considered, so far not going along with plan.

Natalie, aged forty-nine, firmly entrenched in pushing her clients up the ladder via her talent agent prowess, apparently had sixth sense when it came to what her mother needed. Evangeline wondered why since she wasn’t there enough to observe her mother’s life. In point of fact, two tall floor fans did a decent job. Her insides just flared up at night and resultant heat sought escape through her pores. She always ran hot, handy in winter. Evangeline shivered involuntarily, another anomaly. She blamed it on an odd gust from the North. There were many strange winds in this part of the city.

From her balcony she peered three stories down at the crowd of kids making havoc in and around the fountain. There was a sign that stated: “Do Not Climb or Play in Fountain”. No one paid it any mind. It was big enough that six or eight medium sized kids could jump in, flap about. It looked like fun. She wished Riley, her past babysitting charge and not yet a year old, still lived here. She’d help him wiggle bare feet and legs a few times, maybe get in with him to wade about. A twinge in her middle came and went.

The summer brought out the worst in her, she thought. All those giddy, spontaneous things younger people did. Her plumpness making the heat feel more a burden. Her silver hair so long and heavy that anyone else in their right mind would chop it off and look sensible at last. A chignon required dedicated effort. She watched the kids romp and then picked up her book, photographs by a previously unknown street photographer. She had been pondering photography lately, wondering if she had any business trying it out again. Carter, her deceased ex-husband had always complained she got things crooked. Maybe she could get it right this time; she might have more patience.

The peppermint and black tea mixture was bringing her closer to feeling civilized. She smiled down at the children now drenched and likely filthier, soon to incur wrath of a mother or two.

The doorbell was rung, chimes sent into a frenzy of excitement. She yelled toward the door.

“Come on!”

She turned a page, then flipped it back again to study the picture of a woman in the fox stole and veiled hat. Hideous dead creature draping her thin shoulders but a riveting shot.

“Come on, whoever it may be!” she called out louder. She glanced through the French doors, the dining and living room. “Who is it?”

There was a loud thump, then a hard bang. Evangeline pushed herself up from the wrought iron chair with its plump rose covered pillow. Maybe a delivery person she’d missed seeing. She had ordered books. She found the door half-open, and pulled it wide. Van’s barely wrinkled face had a scowl that melted into a half-grin.

“Why won’t you just come and open it? Is this inconvenient?”

“I just did. And it often is, but not today.”

He maneuvered his way in.” I get stuck at the door jamb. It’s hard to attempt opening a door while pushing a wheelchair through it. You should lock it, by the way. ”

“Well, the solution is obvious, stand up and leave the wheelchair in the hallway. You don’t need it now per your doctor, correct? Now that you’re fit again?”

She took his grey tweed hat–he had to take it off when he arrived or he wasn’t coming in. He ran a hand over bald head and grabbed his cane. Van’s height never ceased to surprise her; they’d met when he couldn’t walk yet. When his legs healed so he could stand up to greet her, he was over six feet tall to her shrinking five feet two (once five feet five, she thought). Had he once been a giant on the smaller side?

“Oh, spare me, what do they know? They didn’t fracture both legs falling into a ravine while hiking. It’ll take more than rehab and a fortnight or two.” He slowly walked into the kitchen off the dining room, emphasis on his small limp, and waited.

She looked at him, eyebrows soaring like white wings, one hand on a rounded hip. He was in better shape than she was except for the limp.

“I’d like whatever you’re having, please. And one of those muffins.”

Evangeline poured the iced tea, he grabbed a blueberry muffin and paper towel and they settled on the balcony.

“What are we doing today?” he asked with mouth full. “Sorry, I’m hungry.” He held up a finger to ask her to hold on as he chewed while she looked through her book. He washed down the bite with more tea.”I’m up for adventure.” He waved at a girl below. “Valerie! Good job, you got everything completely drenched!” He swallowed hard. “That fountain is a lifesaver in more ways than one. The sound of it helps me sleep. The flow of water is cooling and it keeps the kids happy awhile.”

Van ate, thinking Evangeline was ignoring him or bored, neither what he was hoping for.

“You know what? I’m thinking about buying a good camera.”

“Good, I have one for sale. I was given it for a birthday a few years ago and hardly ever use it. It’s a point and shoot thing. Want to give it a free trial?”

“That’s interesting, you also like taking pictures? For your band gigs or what?”

“For nothing. My sister bought it for me  out of lack of imagination. She doesn’t know me, obviously, but it was a decent gesture. We have a photographer for publicity shots.”

“Of course–well, wait, I didn’t know you had a sister.”

“You never ask about my family, not that I talk about them much–”

“And yes, I’ll take it. Today. Let’s go out this afternoon with camera in hand and see what we can find.”

Van ate most of the muffin, took a swig and swiped a hand across his lips.”Let’s go, then. It’s in a plastic storage box keeping company with other useless gifts.”

“Finish the muffin, no wastefulness allowed if I can help it.”

“You ever stop being the stern, dare I add formidable and irritating, librarian? I’ll bring you a bag of mixed muffins this week.”

“Dare say anything you want. But also, I’m not pushing that wheelchair, so it’s walk or nothing.”

“No wonder your Natalie’s too busy to visit!”

He glanced at her to see if he had hit a sore spot, regretting his fast mouth. But she shrugged, made a face that said well, so it goes, then buckled her sturdy sandals, gasping a little as she bent over. That was the thing about Evangeline. She was possessed of a fluid perspective, leavened with pessimism. It might be a bulwark against serious breaches of her heart’s locked entrance, unlike her actual front door. A mystery. Calamity may have met its match, Van speculated, and he didn’t even know her that well yet. She just seemed well-suited to life. Able, ready.

Evangeline didn’t belie the bristling inside. She thought how little it seemed musicians could muster much less master spoken language. Language that actually said something on target, with finesse. Give them an instrument and they’d become voluble, show grace and inspiration. Give them a chance to use actual words and out tumbled things that could run downhill fast. But she’d give him more of a try.

******

Van explained the few basics. She liked the camera or rather she felt she would once she got more comfortable. It was small and slick; she worried it’d get lost without a strap to hang it around her neck. It was digital which meant another set of troubles. She’d had a fancy Nikon once long ago. She and Carter had used it for family pictures or on the trips they’d taken, joining up with his famed bossa nova band, “Laguna Azul.” Those pictures were probably worth something now, if she could find them. She’d research that.

She snapped a picture of the high wall with entry gate to the salmon-pink stucco structure of Mistral Manor Apartments. Usually it struck her as a sad attempt at replication of far better places in the Southwest. Now it appeared refreshed in the viewfinder, better than she’d hoped, mature deep green trees bending gracefully about, their funny grand fountain looking bright in late morning sunshine. She focused close up so she could capture the kids splashing about but felt it didn’t turn out. She tried a couple of different views, then they went on.

They walked to the corner and turned down Market Street, Van stumping along with his handhewn cane. He had carved it himself and proudly showed her the hawk’s head upon which he rested his hand. She noted his skill, said he’d unearthed a talent born of need. Now she walked as briskly as she could manage with him along.

“We could go to the park,” Van suggested hopefully. He might sit on a bench and watch her work. He had felt tired out since the accident  but tried to muster good intentions.

“And let you remain idle while I snap away? No, let’s go around the neighborhood. I have some ideas. You recall the second hand stores that sell old records and books and such? Maybe I’ll feel inspired by random things.”

“And the people who shop there.” He chuckled. “Of course I know it.’

She smiled and put her arm through the crook of his. He was a help just being there. She might not venture out on the street with a new (if simple) camera. It might have felt eccentric, unseemly at the least, taking pictures of this and that. Of course, being odd was not new. She just arrived that way but had a skill for camouflage as needed. Like “The Librarian” she was most of every day for decades.

The older people got, the less others seemed to care, anyway. Maybe that’s why older people gradually forgot about how they appeared.

“Hey lady, enough already!”

She was photographing a wide shouldered, beefy man who was with perky white terrier on a stroll. It looked good to her on the camera’s screen. She moved along as Van tousled the dog’s fuzzy head.

“You have to be careful out here, Ev.”

She halted. “Why must you call me that? You’ve only known me…four or five months. It’s presumptuous.” She put the camera back to her eyes, snapped a few of colorful store fronts and a stray tabby cat lounging smack in the middle of the warm sidewalk.

“But I like it–you don’t, honestly? There’s that record–well, CD and vinyl store. What, they now serve coffee at the back? Let’s go in!”

Once inside they noted music rolling around the grey spartan room and stopped to talk with a sales person whom he knew. There were listening booths in the back with a coffee bar nearby. He purchased an iced cafe latte with two espresso shots and meandered.

Evangeline watched from the blues section, rifling through the CDs and recognizing nothing, to her dismay. She used to like the blues, who were those good artists? Van was engaged in conversation with a young woman by the rock section. The contrast was interesting. She with her mass of purple hair and tattoos on arms and legs, vitality strong. He showing wear and tear in the barest bent-over stance; his skinny-legged limp (which got better as they’d walked); the scarcity of hair hidden by his old tweed hat; deepening furrows about mouth and over eyebrows. His aging was eclipsed by ferocious interest in many things, music being number one. He played his trumpet four nights a week, despite being partly retired.

She saw that everyone he spoke to seemed to know him. He had something she did not, natural gregariousness which arose from an appreciation of humankind that would not be contained. She envied that at times.

Evangeline snapped pictures of faded and torn event posters tacked at angles to one another. Of a young man with bushy blonde hair keeping time to the beat with eyes closed and head bobbing. Of a small woman with a swaying floral sundress and singing along with whatever was playing in headphones as she browsed, intense voice noting love lost. Perhaps no one quite heard her or cared to hear.

Vinyl records were discovered in their tattered, marred sleeves. Holding them brought her to the past quickly, as if someone plopped her into dream time. She slipped from one grouping to another, finding ones she recalled enjoying, but did not look for Carter’s old band recordings. Not today. Changing from color to black and white, she took a picture of a beautifully suited businessman grasping a Beatles’ record close to his chest, sunglasses pushed atop his head.

There was something to this, being swept up in incremental bits of life, fractions of seconds she could pinpoint and hold still. She liked it just as she’d had suspected, the seizing control of the moment. Or, she thought with a light shock of recognition, perhaps it actually found and seized her, held her in thrall.

As she scanned the room, she paused on a good-looking young man, perhaps sixteen, well dressed, whose hands ran over the cases of the CDs as he nervously scanned the room. He chose three or four as he moved down the row. No salespersons were in sight. She lowered her camera and studied him. He felt her eyes, looked over his shoulder, noted her white hair and bland face, her harmless bulk, then returned to the music. He snatched up two handfuls of CDs and stuffed them into his field jacket’s deep pockets. Evangeline raised the camera and shot the act of theft.

“Jonathan? Son, are you ready?”

It was the businessman. He had gotten a couple more albums and appeared pleased with his finds.

Jonathan nodded, smiling back at him. “Yeah, let’s go, Dad.”

“Find anything?” his father asked as they moved away.

His son shook his head and his eyes bore into Evangeline’s, then offered a mocking smile. He was getting away with his crime. She made a quiet sound like a tiny growl, then walked rapidly toward them.

“Excuse me, sir.”

The man stopped and turned. His son pivoted, threw a challenge with his glare.

“I feel you should know your son is attempting to rip off the store. I watched him stuff CDs in his pockets.”

The man shook his head as if dismissing a peon. “Lady, you’re mistaken. That’s absurd. He can certainly afford a few CDs. Jonathan? Do you have purchases to buy?”

And then turned away, took him by the elbow, conferred in a quiet voice.

“No, sir, not mistaken, rather, my trusty camera is not. Please check his pockets or I’ll call the manager over.”

The man drew himself up so that Evangeline felt shorter and broader than usual but she, too, straightened herself, stood with shoulders back and head high.

“I don’t think you realize who you’re talking to, madam. I’m Jeffrey Rickard, a state attorney, so I suggest you step cautiously here. Now what seems to be the actual issue? Do you have a bonafide complaint to lodge against my son and, by virtue of being the father of a minor, me? Or was he rather rude? Then he must apologize. Are you irritated with his music choices? Then perhaps you need to apologize–we all have our tastes, not to be confused with good or bad.” He looked her up and down calmly.

Jonathan was showing a slight concern with nervous tapping against a thigh of his right hand, eyes downcast, but he now placed hands on hips and stood with feet apart, as if mustering for a round of punches.

“Now wait a minute–” she started.

“What seems to be the trouble here, Evangeline?” Van appeared and stepped forward to join her line of defense.

“And you?” the man demanded. “If this misguided woman your wife?”

Van showed his false white teeth. “That is certainly not part of this problem. Apparently there’s been a dispute over something I sadly missed.”

“I said wait a darned minute!” Evangeline stepped forward and held up the camera.”I want you to take a look at this. I took pictures of his offense. It’s clear what he did and he needs to rectify that wrong or there will be an problem neither of you can so easily dispel.”

“Ah,” Van said and stepped back a bit. “Yes, better take a look at her evidence. She means business.”

A sales person had been alerted and was warily watching them. He didn’t really want to have to intervene with that customer; the man often came in to buy up the best and priciest offerings.

But Jeff  and Jonathan Rickard watched as the condemning pictures paraded, five of them. Then then fell silent a moment.

Van shook his head at the boy.”She’s on it, this lady, really on top of things.”

“Dad.” His arrogance had been whittled a bit, but he was still trying for the long shot.

Jeff looked as if he was going to spew all sorts of legalese, then thought again.”Jonathan, march back over to where you found those–your pockets are nearly bulging!– and put every one of those back, you hear me? Now!”

Jonathan shot Evangeline a last withering look and hurried back to the scene of the crime.

“Do you like Latin music?” Van asked. “I just wondered as I saw you over there earlier. I was looking for something, too.”

Jeff was angry and embarrassed, his face going pink and splotchy. He swung around to Van with impatience. “What’s that now? I like many kinds of music. Look, lady, sorry this happened but really, it is not worth making a scene about…My son is a good kid and he slipped up.”

“Evangeline Templeton is my name. I’m sorry it happened, too, but he needs to be held accountable or it will happen again. I’ve seen it before–the end result is not good, surely you realize! That was bold to take something in your presence, in a store you enjoy.” She looked straight into bloodshot eyes. “He should have punishment.”

“Anything wrong over here?” A pimply faced youth not much older than Jonathan, a salesperson, sidled up.

“I was just telling Mr. Rickard that Evangeline, my friend here, was married to one of the greatest vibraphonists of all time, Carter Templeton. Pretty great, right?”

Jeff Rickard rubbed his chin thoughtfully. “Really? Impressive.” His eyes gave up their professional glaze; he nearly smiled. “I like that old band, wasn’t it ‘Azure’s Ocean’. No…’Five C Blue’?”

Van blinked. “Close…”

“Amazing, right,” the sales person added.”Looks, not my niche. But as long as you all are okay…”

“Fine, fine, right?” Jeff asked.

He left them to their own devices, then headed to the computer to look up that musician’s name.

Evangeline watched the boy swiftly slip CDs into their crowded slots as if each was a hot potato.

“Alright.” She put her camera into her pocket. “Harm averted. More or less. For now.”

“I tend to agree,” Van said, the added under his breath, “but he’s a slick kid.”

“Agreed,” Jeff stated with decisiveness and a hint of relief. “Thanks. You will delete those, right? Or should I wait to watch you do it?

“She will.”

Jonathan slinked back to his important father, hands shoved in his pants pockets.

Evangeline addressed Jonathan. “You need to realize the importance of music, even old music, even used and forgotten music. You need to pay for this music, for the musicians working hard to entertain or shake up or inspire you. Not steal it, got that?”

The boy’s face was caught between brazen amusement, regret and humiliation. He really looked at her, then away. She saw something deeper there, something sadder, smarter or both. He and his father paid for the Beatles and left.

Van and Evangeline slipped out without notice of a few eyeing them. Ambled past second hand shops, the new and used bookstore. She was too tired to stop and snap more.

“That was exhausting–and why bring up Carter’s name once more?”

“I thought it might help. It did, sort of.” They passed a rundown, packed cafe. “I need something to bouy me. Want to share a chocolate cupcake?”

“No, not now, let’s go back. I’m done with documenting humanity. I’ll make you a fresh French press coffee or you can have more tea and I might get my chocolate chip cookies out of hiding. Despite your sugar-burdened diet. Or make you a nice sandwich.”

“Yes, even better, Evangeline, I’m all for a sandwich–with cookies.”

She had an impulse to punch him on the shoulder but he stood too tall. Besides, it was best not to punch a man already limping about, rightly so or not.

“I do think you have a knack. You could become a private investigator and offer discounts for seniors–”

She slapped his forearm. “You never stop. I intend on taking more pictures, just not today. I see people and places, all kinds of life in a fresh light. May need to reconsider who, where and how… but it feels good. Just don’t bring up Carter again anytime soon. Please. That’s the expired past, my own past. This is the voluptuous present. Hopefully you like me for, well, me, not my deceased ex-husband being famous. Let’s mosey about in each new today more, shall we?”

“Quite right, Ev.” He liked this talk. It lent hope and delight to all things. “I surely do enjoy you for you.”

“And thanks for being there, too, Vanderbilt Garner. I may have had less restraint with the youngster had there not been a better-natured voice.”

Van made a strangled sound as if she had hurt him by saying his real name aloud. He placed a hand on her shoulder, squeezed a tad, then let it slip around to lower back. She laughed, good and rowdy. They hobbled home, Evangeline thinking Van had a valorous streak as well as a cheeky one. The summer might improve, all in all.

They felt relieved when they beheld the courtyard. The children had gone in search of other enticements. Mistral Manor’s fountain gushed and burbled as summer played on watery cascades, like fingers of light on a beautiful instrument.

 

Hello Readers, this is the second short story featuring Evangeline and her community at Mistral Manor. The first was recently posted here: https://talesforlife.wordpress.com/2016/05/23/three-lives-for-evangeline/

 

 

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