Saturday, October 24, 2009

Pantry Girl -- Afterword

A few months ago I dug into an old box of stories and poems that I wrote almost a century ago -- I save them for some reason, maybe to see how far I have come. But I found a poem I wrote about growing up, becoming a woman...and what I thought was a woman when I was 18 years old is a far cry from what I think a woman is now. But the poem recalled a memory of a rainy summer afternoon on the lunch shift at Allen’s Clam House.

I was sitting on that ice cream freezer in the corner and there was only one diner in the dining room. I watched her through the round window of the swinging kitchen door as Fred waited on her. The wind was blowing across the mill pond and there were little white caps rolling in to shore...the sea was up enough that I could hear it slapping the floor boards of the dining room. The grey light poured in the big picture windows and lit this beautiful woman up as she ate lunch alone at a small table. Her white blonde hair was pulled back tightly from her face in a bun and she wore a grey turtleneck despite it being summer. As I watched her, she seemed as though she were aboard a ship, the dining room was meant to feel that way, but the way she looked out on the water made the dream of a voyage true.

Fred brought her a glass of white wine and took her order. She smiled and with aplomb, she handed him the menu. She was the most confident woman I had ever seen in my 18 short years. The kitchen door swung open and Fred quietly ordered a house salad, as if using his normal voice would disturb this woman’s solitude. I hopped down and made the salad for her and tried to make it better than usual. I wanted her to be happy with the salad that Fred would present to her. I put the salad up and without a word he floated it out to her -- I craned my neck to watch him serve her. She began to eat, all the while gazing out at the mill pond. As she ate, one of the swans that frequented the pond floated by, his neck curled in a sheltering way. He was tossed up and down on the waves, but he held his wings close to his body and remained like the woman, meditative, and brightly lit by the grey day.

Fred hung close as I watched the woman eat her salad...he was waiting for Mike to finish making her broiled scallops. The restaurant seemed to rock with the gusts of wind and I could see the swan drifting further away from shore. I wondered why the swan didn’t just take shelter in the marsh, he seemed so stubborn to be out there on the waves, pelted by the summer rain. The scallops were up and Fred delivered them to our lovely woman diner. The bones of her face looked strong, her shoulders were square, she seemed as though the wind could blow the whole place down and she would remain perfectly in her seat, solid against the elements...just like the swan.

I thought about her the rest of the day, long after she left the restaurant, her presence was with me. I carried her countenance home in my head and wrote about her -- I wrote that I wanted to be something like her someday. I suppose I still do.

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