Hooker Boots and Cinnamon Sticks

Sometimes you have to have your character flaws tossed on the ground before you, like a game of Fifty-Two Pickup, by a girl in hooker boots and a sock monkey hat.  Sometimes that’s what it takes.

It’s Christmas again, and I am not in the mood. People keep needing me. Ungrateful people. Today I spent yet another day carting my mother across town to doctor appointments and physical therapy and the grocery store. I listened to her physical therapist say, in a roundabout way, that much of her mobility problems are “anxiety related,” which means that, in part, this dependence on me is self-induced. A preference, not a need. Which I knew. I lost that battle a long time ago.

At lunch, this conversation, for the 100th time:

Her: “Did you do something different with your hair?”

Me:  “Yes.  Cut and colored.”

“Well, I can tell something is different.”

“Lighter on top, darker on bottom.” I know what’s coming.

“I guess I’m just used to it longer/shorter/darker/lighter/straighter/curlier/up/down/the way you had it before. I’m sure I’ll get used to this, too.”

Fabulous. You do that.

We need quarters and Q-tips, for things I don’t want to hear about but she tells me anyway.  We stop on the way home, at the first place I see that might have both, because “The quarters aren’t an emergency, but the Q-tips are.” Gross.  She stays in the car, with her walker and her belief that God himself has forsaken her, and that is fine with me.

It’s noon on a Friday at customer service. The only time this place will be busier today is after 5pm. The line is stupid long, and scary. In the front of the line a young man dances to a song on his earbuds. He’s not wearing earbuds.

A middle aged woman three deep from the front is talking to herself.  I feel her pain.  Behind her stands a woman clearly on the edge, who is trying to keep one child in the cart and the other from repeatedly head-butting her in the crotch.  Halfway down two men argue and laugh loudly, as if they are the only people here.  In front of me, there is a young woman, can’t be much older than 18, with the biggest rack I have ever seen on a woman who wasn’t a comparable size all over.

Cheese. And. Crackers.

She is wearing yoga pants that appear to belong to a seven year-old stripper, with huge sequined hearts on the ass.  They end at her knees, tucked in where the boots begin.  The white leather boots, hooker boots with fringe down the back, boots that could turn tricks all by themselves, with 6 inch platform heels and dirty gray scuffs covering the toes.  She’s wearing a wife-beater under a bland, surprisingly clean wool coat.

She has a piercing through anything that can be held in a pair of tweezers, and she is wearing a pink sock monkey hat.

And she, and her ridiculous hat, are smiling at me.

Fuck.

Understand: the last time I trusted someone who smiled at me like that I was out two-hundred bucks. They say junkies will steal from you, but tweekers will steal from you and help you look for it.  My rule on both is the same: Do not engage.

“How are you today?” she asks, clear and friendly.

And I think about saying broke, hon, how about you take this show somewhere else?

But instead I say, in my frostiest suburban mom voice, in a tone that I hope will discourage conversation, “I’m well. And you?”

Nope.  “I’m good,” she says. “Have you finished your Christmas shopping?” And she looks from the wallet in my hand to my eyes and I hold her gaze for a beat longer and she looks at me, looking at her. I am assessing and judging, and she knows it.

And I say, without smiling, “I am mostly done.”

“I’m just starting,” she says quietly.

Fuck.

I shove the wallet back in my purse and look at my phone. I have a recipe for Apple Pie Moonshine on the screen, that I am planning to make and put in quaint little mason jars with Christmas bows for gifts.

“Moonshine?” she says, looking over my hands, and laughs, and for a second I can see the teenager behind all that life. “How does that work?”

And for a moment, my guard is down, as I explain the science of dumping grain alcohol and vodka in a pot with apple cider and sugar and cinnamon sticks. “Not real moonshine,” I say.  “And I couldn’t find cinnamon sticks, so I think it’s gonna be a fail.” Smile.  Remember myself.  Look away.

She brightens. “They are in produce.  With y’know, the Mexican stuff. Not with spices like you’d think.  Wait here. I’ll be right back.” And she walks off like fashion-fail Barbie in those stupid boots, all the way across the store as I protest, still wondering – is she gonna ask me for a ride now? Is there someone outside waiting for her to walk me out?

Fuck.

She is back just in time to take her place in line, with a jar of cinnamon sticks.  She hands them to me with a giggle.  “Now you can make your moonshine.”

“Thanks,” I say. “That was a nice thing to do.”  And I wait for the inevitable. But when her turn comes she walks to the cashier, finishes what she came to do.  Turns back to me, and she and her pink sock monkey hat smile at me again, and she says “You have a Merry Christmas, ma’am.” And she is gone.

She wanted nothing from me.

And I am not a fool.  She was no angel, sent to school me. There were some hard lessons in those boots. Tomorrow she may be someone else entirely. Tomorrow, I may be, as well. This story could have had a very different ending.

But for a moment, I was just wrong. And she knew it. She went out of her way to do me the smallest favor, one that saved me a little time and trouble and let me make my pretentious, trendy moonshine.

And she did it in shoes that had to be killing her.  They were killing me.

I have a good life. Maybe better than I deserve. I have a car, many pairs of shoes, and a mother who sometimes makes me want to eat my own face.  Not perfect, as magnificent as often as it is intolerable, but it is mine. Mine to cherish, mine to squander. People need me. What if no one did?

Sometimes you have to see your character thrown down on the ground before you, by someone who doesn’t know you at all, who you don’t know anything about save her taste in hats, to see the parts of yourself that maybe you shouldn’t hang on to quite so tightly.

Sometimes that’s what it takes.

(previously featured on Original Bunker Punks)

(Also, these are not my boots)

(But I wish they were)

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