Monday, September 19, 2016

Pumpkins and Shoes and Other Autumnal Musings

The Pumpkin Eaters

They're first in the coffee shop every morning, six a.m. sharp,
her drinking a mocha, him only black coffee, as they pass
the morning paper, a Wall Street Journal, from her thick hand
to his thin one. She wears dark pants and a peach-colored blouse,
her kitchen uniform will be specked with white flour by noon.
He's in jeans and white button-down shirt, simple working

man's clothes, honest. He's someone who enjoys working
with his hands and brushes, in the store he must look sharp.
She's never had a manicure, her hands dirty every noon,
washed too many times but back in biscuits dough, pass
on beauty treatments. She works ovens and grills, her blouse
stained with grease and sweat. Lunch—a sandwich in one hand

eaten at the counter as she chats with patrons, her other hand
gestures to the pumpkin ravioli, a new recipe she's working
on, soliciting opinions. Name embroidered on her blouse,
diners call her over to compliment pumpkin bread, the sharp
garlic kiss in her pumpkin soup, pumpkin cake you can't pass
up. Coffee runs through her veins, pumps her during noon

lunch rushes for curried split pea pumpkin burgers, noon
delicacies found nowhere but her cafe. Her knife in hand
to cut thick orange pumpkin rinds, scoop out the flesh, pass
through a food mill, a puree used in twenty menu items. Working
eighteen-hour days, she tinkers with pumpkin ice cream, sharp
scent of nutmeg a perfect complement, a flavor to blouse

the tongue. An odor of squash permeates all—her blouse,
skin, and hair. She is warm and bright, radiates heat like noon
sun and doesn't need rest, a night baker making cookies, sharp
at three a.m. while her husband sleeps. He touches her hand
mostly during morning coffee, why they live apart. It's working
as marriage—he grows pumpkins in their backyard, you pass

her apartment and don't even realize it's there—it could pass
as another squash but for the door, windows, and her blouse
hanging on the line outside. His art and investment, working
to cultivate prize-winning pumpkins, state fair champs. At noon
she transforms them to pies, fluting pastry crust with a deft hand
he appreciates when he stops by for lunch, paint fumes sharp

on his jeans. She breaks from working, they chat, pass biscuits,
trade a sharp kiss on the lips, he pats her arm under her blouse
the noon ritual, squeezing each others' hands behind the counter.

The Old Woman Lives in a Shoe

A modest leather three-story boot at the end of a cul-de-sac, toe
pointed west. Marigolds and zinnias line a path to the front door
and welcome mat. There is no garage, but she doesn't mind
scraping windshields in winter, a fact like ten pairs of shoes
that lined the hallway—can't wear them inside and dirty the floor.
Her days have always been composed of shortcuts, lists. Organized

as an army regiment: straight line of ten brown sacks organized
lunches, calendar crammed with activities, but they had to toe
the line, do chores—washing dishes and clothes, sweeping the floor—
until they moved out one by one. Seven gone, three duck the door
every night. Tall boys with football, basketball, track star shoes
as long as her forearm, wear out too quick, but the boys mind

their curfew and have sweet girlfriends. She can't complain, mind
you, she saw ten kids through storming puberty and organized
her budget to feed them on a church secretary salary—their shoes
patched with worn leather jackets from Goodwill, and the toe
of her home treated likewise. Little trash tossed out her door,
she scoured sales, saved grocery pennies. Coupons littered the floor.

Some wanted to elect her mayor. Clearly her feet didn't touch floor.
She was superhuman. She scoffed at the rumors, but had a mind
that knew how to run things, could save town from aliens at the door,
and while everyone questioned father's whereabouts, she organized
her private life to be her own, went to town council meetings to toe
the mayor into supporting after-school activities. Her sensible shoes,

that of a working mother no one would cross. So what if her shoes
had been high heels when she was younger, skirting the dance floor
from man to man. Now she was more handsome than pretty—the toe
of her home reserved for her desk—working part-time nights to mind
the books for several businesses, support three kids in college, organized
to fund the part of their education not covered by scholarship. The door

to a good life being to enhance one's mind. Four others grace her door
every Sunday for supper, chicken and potatoes and pie, leaving shoes,
as always, on the mat. Her dining room table cluttered but organized
for a crowd—chef, plumber, carpenter, mother. Grandkids on the floor
making messes before she sweeps them in her arms. She doesn't mind
the arthritis in her fingers, her face determined to swing them tiptoe

so they touch ceiling, her life organized to become generations, a door
to continuance. Heel to toe, walking straight, shoes buffed for work.
Her daily dance 'cross the floor. Smile devious and mind determined.

by Teresa Milbrodt
in volume 5 issue 1

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