He’d heard somewhere that women like dolls. As he walks down the cobblestone street with a defeated drudge to his step, this thought bothers him. The rain is coming down from the cloud covered sky to form little droplets on his curly-q hair. The on pour weighs down his shoulders even more, and he walks hunched over, hiding his face as he thinks. His hands clutch at his navy blue pea coat, drawing it tight around him to shut out the cold. His coat has no buttons. At least he has on nice shoes. Shinny dress shoes with silver buckles. Women like men who wear nice shoes. One corner of his drawn mouth turns up into a slight sarcastic smile. Yes, it was his father who told him that. “Oliver, if you ever take a girl out for the first time, give her a doll. Women like dolls, pretty things. Take it from your old man.”
Idiot, he thinks as his shoes fill with muddy water and start to make a slight squish squish noise as carries on. A doll . . . But, Hanniah wouldn’t laugh at him, would she? No, no, he can picture it. A nice porceline doll with curly light-blown ringlets and emerald eyes. He can see her opening the box with her dainty manicured hands, maybe the fingers trembling a little from anticipation. He can see her staring down at a miniature version of herself. Her face would transform, an ear to ear smile, and a polite acceptance as she graciously appraises the awkward gift and ruffles his hair calling him, “Just too sweet, Oliver! You are just too sweet!” Yes, that’s what she would do, because she isn’t like other people. She never takes herself too seriously. She dances through life with a kick in her step, a whole-heated smile set ever on her dimpled face, and he wants to dance through life with her, just like that. He doesn’t think he ever wanted anything more. . .
Oooomph! “Hey watch where you’re going!” A face is in front of him, red and angry. A sudden state of panic as he watches the bags of groceries fall onto the muddy street, spilling tomatoes, apples into the gutter below. The old man he’d run into shakes his fist in Oliver’s direction, “Good for nothing! Look what you’ve done!”
“I . . . I . . . Oh.” He scrambles to pick up what he can salvage, but the paper bags have ripped. “I. . . I’m sorry.” The old man glares at him and shakes his head. Oliver becomes increasingly aware that people on the street are watching, stopping their routines to stare at the ever increasing spectacle. A small child wearing a yellow raincoat and eating one of those spiral lollipops and swinging her white stockinged legs off the bench, a man in a taxi across the street has rolled down the window to get a better view, a young lady in a sky blue dress three sizes too big for her is giving him a puzzled look, a few youngsters three paces away have stopped to point and give deep throated laughs. He awkwardly shoves three tomatoes at the man, “Maybe . . . maybe you can put them in your pockets or something? I . . . I’m s-sorry. I was just . . . I don’t know. . .” I was thinking of Hanniah.
The old man spits expertly into Oliver’s face and the tomatoes fall to the ground. “Oh, fuck off!” the man says with much added venom and makes his way down the street at an agonizingly slow pace.
Oliver wipes the spittle off his check with the sleeve of his buttonless jacket. He’s glad no tomatoes landed on his shoes. Such nice shoes. Something touches his arm and he grudgingly turns. The lady with the oversized blue dress is standing there, giving him the same puzzled look as before. She’s holding something in one of her gloved hands, ripe and red, “No sense wasting a good tomato.” She says. He stares at her wide-eyed, still horror stricken. Everyone is watching. She smiles, “I mean, you can just rinse it off. It’s still good.” She gives a smile and a wink and slips it into the pocket of her coat.
“Yes . . . I-I suppose not . . .” He stammers, but she’s gone now. Actually, everyone has gone on their way and he is only one left standing there, watching the tomato juice mix with the rain like blood flowing into the gutters. A crime scene. Keep walking. Not very much father to go.
As he turns the corner his breath starts to return to normal. He hugs his jacket tighter to himself, not to keep out the cold this time, but to protect himself from something different. His Hanniah, had she been there, would have glared that horrid old man down with her emerald eyes, would have said, “Oh! Of all the things to get your panties in a bunch about!” She would have then taken his wrist in between her index finger and her thumb, rubbing in a gentle circular motion and said with pity in her eyes, “Poor, sweet Oliver . . .”
Yes, poor, sweet Oliver . . . Who’s father gave him the wrong advice about women and now he just doesn’t know what to do. Poor, sweet Oilver who almost shits his pants because some grumpy old nobody spits in his face. Poor Oliver without any buttons on his coat. Well, at least he has nice shoes. . .
Ding-a-ling-a-ling! A man in his late-forties walks out of the store in front of him, wearing a grey suit with matching pants and blazer, perfectly tailored, and a nice hat to match. The man holds the door open and looks at him. He can’t see his eyes because of the designer shades but undoubtedly they are composed, taking in the world as if it were his. He’s successful and self-assured, this man. Oliver knows it. He just does. And he envies him. “What’s the matter with you? Are you going in here or not?” Suit-man inquires.
“Oh. . . I-yes . . .” says poor, sweet Oliver as he takes a step inside. “Thank you.” The door slams behind him. Oliver wipes his nice shoes on the mat.
“Hello! How can I help you? Must be a really special lady if you’re willing to walk here in the rain!” Oliver glances up to see a pink-faced man with his chin hanging over his collar standing behind the long display case. “Well . . . c’mon in” says the man as he waves one beefy hand through the air. “I ain’t gonna bite! I’d be happy to take your money though!” A deep guttural chuckle, the kind his father has.
“How did you know that I walked here?” asks Oliver as he approaches the man. He doesn’t know what else to say. His eyes glance over the array of jewelry, all different sizes and colors and price ranges.
The man points at him, “You’re all wet.”
“Said you’re all wet.”
“No . . . no, I mean. I’m sorry. That I am . . . wet.” Nothing behind the glass stands out to him. There’s a set of pearl earrings, but that won’t be good enough. There’s a silver bracelet, but it’s just too plain for Hanniah. He needs something that is special, as she is special. Something that is whimsical and colorful and jubilant. He’s so far removed from those things, he isn’t sure if he could know it if he saw it. It has to be like her. But it has to be like him too. He rings his hands together.
“Something for the girlfriend?” Oliver jumps, yes, of course, the man is still there.
“No . . . uh, she . . . uh. I-I very much want. . . her to be my girlfriend.”
“Ha! Well, then you’ve come to right place! Woman love jewelry, take it from me. You get her something from here and she’ll be all over ya like peanut butter on toast.”
I don’t put peanut butter on toast and you sound like my father. “I just want to give her something nice. . . um. Something so she knows that . . . I-I . . . you know . . .”
“Any. . . doesn’t matter.”
“Whew! Well, what kinda broad is she?”
Oliver pokes his finger through the hole in his coat, the one that will never see a button, and he idly wonders if Hanniah can sew. She’s like when you’ve had a terrible day and all you want to do when you come home is drink a fifth of vodka and pass out, but then you turn on the television and something makes you laugh unexpectedly when you didn’t even know that you could. . .
“She’s nice.” He stammers.
She’s like when you were a little child and you couldn’t sleep because you’d imagine monsters around every corner and your mother would come into your room and turn on the light to prove to you that all was safe and there was nothing evil there. Hanniah is like that light . . .
“She’s nice to me . . . and she’s very very pretty. And she’s a good friend of mine.”
And there’s a kindness in her eyes that I wonder if other people can see. They’re the color of freshly mowed grass that children roll around on in the summer time, and lovers have picnics on, the kind of grass in which you used run around on when collecting bugs as a kid when everything looked a lot brighter. Inviting color, inviting eyes. . .
“And . . . and . . . she has green eyes.”
“You’ve had a crush on her for a while, huh?”
“Green eyes, you say?”
“Speak up, I can’t hear you.”
“Yes, Hanniah has green eyes.”
“Hanniah. That’s an unusual name.”
“No . . . no it isn’t” He shakes his head with much animated vigor, “It’s the first version of Hannah. It means a place to rest and be happy.” Oliver looks into the man’s eyes for the first time. They have no color, mostly pupil. The man gives him an odd look and tilts his head to the side. “It’s Hebrew.” Oliver says and shrugs.
The man laughs. “Whatever you say. But here, this may be worth taking a look at.” The man wobbles to the other end of the counter and unlocks the back with a key. When he comes back he is holding a silver necklace with a large emerald pendant. He turns it over in the light, and the gem seems to change colors and glitter. “She’s got eyes like that?”
“Yes . . . yes, Hanniah has eyes like that.”
He pulls the little green box out of his coat as he walks. He’s had the man put a little green bow on it. He tentatively opens it just for a moment, to pretend that he’s her and that she’s seeing it for the first time, a dazzling ray of color, a perfect demonstration of how he’s felt all this while. He puts the lid back on and shoves it back into his inside coast pocket to keep it from getting wet. But wait, the rain has cleared. He turns his eyes to the sky and notices a patch of sunlight peeking through the clouds. A smile forms on his lips. He takes the box back out to look at the necklace again, and this time the sun hits it and sets it alight with a rainbow of emerald tones that dances to Hanniah’s song.
He wishes that he had a watch, but he is almost certain she’d be getting off work right about now. He knows he won’t miss her. He knows she likes to have at least three Camel Turkish Royals after work before getting into the taxi that takes her home. He knows the exact spot she’ll be sitting, right on the side of the coffee shop on that blue bench next to the ashtray and the arrangement of magnolias, and when she sees him her face will come alive and she’ll wave him over, “Oliver! Hey, don’t you know how to brighten my day?” And then he’ll sit there next to her, smelling the scent of her Olay body lotion. He’ll give her the little green box and tell her . . . no, he won’t have to tell her, Hanniah will just know. That I love her . . .
He stops in his tracks abruptly. He doesn’t see her sitting on the bench as he expected. Perhaps she isn’t off work just yet, he thinks. He knows what he will do; he will sit there and surprise her. But then he hears that beautiful light music that is her laugh coming from around the other corner of the building. It can’t be anyone else. His palms turn sweaty and his saliva dries up in his mouth. He forces his feet to move in her direction. A simple thing, smile, say hello, give her the box. But when he sees her, she is not alone.
He stops. There is his Hanniah, all beautiful sunlight and ruby red lips, her dainty fingers playing idly with those of a man standing before her. It is he who is making her laugh. They talk, about what, Oliver cannot not hear. But as they talk their noses touch here and there and her hand slides to his shoulder.
Oliver stands, clutching the little box as if it were a life line, white knuckled.
And it starts raining again.
The man opens his umbrella to cover both himself and Hanniah. Oliver is supposed to be the one to share an umbrella with her. And as the man leans in to place a kiss on her lips, the ease with which she accepts it tells Oliver that it is sadly not the first time. He doesn’t want to look, but his eyes are frozen in place. He watches them laugh again, and watches them walk off together, holding hands, sharing an umbrella. And then she is gone. Most likely gone forever.
At least he has on nice shoes.
“Oh my, you look so sad!” Grudgingly he realizes that someone is talking to him and without turning his body that stands frozen and paralyzed from shock, he moves his eyes to see the lady from before, the one with the sky blue dress three sizes too big for her.
“I. . .” his voice cracked. “I. . .”
“That girl, you like her?” The lady inquires, playing awkwardly with the hem of her oversized dress. Oliver cannot respond. She tilts her head to make him look at her. “Awww. We’ll it’s like I already told you.” She produces the tomato from her coat pocket and holds it out. “There’s no sense in wasting a perfectly good tomato. And your heart, it’s just like that too. It may get dropped on the floor and dirtied up a bit, but then you just pick it up and rinse it off. It’s still perfectly good. . . someone still might want it.” And she winks again. The rain is coming down hard. Oliver hugs his coat to himself and says nothing. “Do you wanna share my umbrella?” She asks, amused about something, but he can’t place what it is.
“Mhm.” He nods. She unfolds the umbrella over both their heads, and suddenly Oliver doesn’t feel so cold anymore.
“What’s your name and where are you headed?” she asks.
“Oliver . . . I’m headed home. I live six blocks up that way.”
“Mmm. Interesting, I live up there too. My name’s Natalie. Hey, what’cha got there?” she asks, eyeing the little jewelry box.
“Oh. . . I-I, its nothing.” He says and slides it back into his pocket.
“Mhm.” She says, still eyeing him. They start to walk down the street, making their way back home, under one umbrella. “Hey Oliver, by the way, those are some fancy shoes you got there! I’ve always liked a man with fancy shoes.”
He looks down at her little ballerina slippers, they are dark blue with little rhinestones. He hadn’t noticed them before.
He finds himself smiling, “Thanks. Your shoes are pretty fancy too.”
* This work has been copyrighted and is the sole property of the owner
© 2015 Marié Patricia Nicolina Murray