The wine shop was packed this month! We had eleven writers, all competing for some great prizes. Kathleen Valle shocked the crowd with the following piece and, not coincidentally, was crowned champion.
Character: The bearer of bad news
Action: Selling something
Setting: Neither here nor there
by Kathleen Valle
I walked through the café door and the screen door slammed behind me, but customers were not alarmed.
This town was in the middle of neither here nor there, meaning that in any which direction you choose to set off in from this café—there would be no significant destination to reach. They might-as-well have a sign out front showing each direction:
“North 553 miles to Neither”
“West 4,492 miles to Here”
“East 996 miles to Land of Nor”
“South 130 miles to There”
And at each of these places is a dusty old café with people like this—withdrawn and unalarmed not only by the screen door, but also unresponsive to my boots walking their badass selves down the room. Passed the counter, and passed the booths of people that looked like they should be sitting in front of a gambling machine rather than across from another person.
I walk towards the back of the room where I see Rodney with his headphones on. He’s unable to hear the sound of my boots. I personally don’t know how I could live without the sound of these boots. They’re the sound track to my life. Some women like bangles, some men like keys on their belt loop; I like the sound of my boots. But, that’s neither here nor there in this town where people clearly have had too many years of doctor prescribed meds.
Rodney, now he’s a character who always has the sound track of his life playing. His hands are always moving to jazz beats when his headphones are on. Rodney’s always listens to jazz. He sees me approaching, removes his headphones, and sits up all proper-like as if he’s been caught off guard or if he’s the bearer of bad news.
I sit across from him. His pigmented eyes are more clouded over than I recall. There is an orbiting to his eyes—like jazz records spinning…moving tracks as he scans my presence. It’s been a while. His black hands are still now and I see the aging spots on them. The kind that look like moles or freckles, but aren’t—it’s just a by-product of being old.
“Well,” he said, “Welcome home.”
“Thanks, Rodney. It was 4,492 miles from “Here” to get here.”
“Is that right?” Rodney says shifting a bit in his seat and looking away from my gaze. He eventually returns his gaze with purpose and asks, “So do you want the good news first or the bad news first?”
I laugh so loud that people actually turn to look.
“Is this some kind of fucking joke? What kind of question is that?”
“I know it’s a hard decision. Now, which is it going to be” Rodney says hoping to proceed.
I think on it for a bit. Long enough to order coffee—black.
“Bad news first,” I say grasping tight onto the mug.
“She’s pregnant,” Rodney says.
“Okay, and the good news?” I ask.
“She’s pregnant,” he says.
“Well, there’s no good news and there’s no bad news, its just news Rodney. This is the land of neither here nor there, remember?”
The screen door slams. In comes the “Prescription Sales Team” ready for their afternoon pitch. A doctor in a lab coat tells how these meds will help this, that, and the other. The doctor’s assistant, like an announcer at a horse race, rattles off as quickly as possible the many side effects. The people in the café instantly take out their pocket books out to pay for medications.
The exchanges are going on and I ask Rodney if the abortion pill has made it’s way here yet.
“Oh, that? Man where you’ve been. You been gone a long time ain’t you?” Rodney laughs. “Didn’t you hear that they give those out free now? These here doctors don’t even sell those. Can’t even find ‘em on the black market no more.”
“What do you mean, free?” I ask.
“Well, they’s made up them minds to not give no more health care to the womens. So, instead, they give out the abortion pill. It’s cheaper than takin’ care of the womens they say.”
“So, she has a pill then already, if she wants?” I inquire.
“Yes, she do” Rodney said.
© 2012 Kathleen Valle
Kathleen Culla Valle has lived in six different states and is calling Portland, Oregon home for now. She is a Writing Facilitator with Write Around Portland, because she loves writing. Kathleen has been journaling and penning stories ever since she can remember, but has never actively sought publication. She has an MA in English Education from Brooklyn College and is currently substitute teaching.