Nothing much had happened for Lynne in the thirty years since high school. She had somehow failed to progress. She had a job once as a nurse’s aide in the pediatric ward. With the babies, they called it “failure to thrive.” She’d better make some progress now. Her apartment was dreary, but roommates were worse and she didn’t want to need any. In the Riverview Daily News, she found this: Clerk needed for resale shop, full-time. The Second Hand Rose. 2315 Market Street.
When she got there, the owner, Larry Bell, didn’t question her many jobs and addresses. He was probably used to patchwork applications. She had the pleasant feeling that he watched her leave. She added a sway to her step, thinking of that old saying, wish I had a swing like that in my backyard.
The Rose harked back to when her life fit her better. She happily toiled among dial telephones, macramé wall hangings, and peasant blouses. She set aside treasures for payday. Her first day’s haul:
- Tupperware canisters in harvest gold, the ones that had graced her mother’s kitchen.
- A date with Larry Bell.
The restaurant was busy Friday night. Larry’s teeth glowed under the black lights in the bar. Live music played from farther inside, Bob Dylan. “I think you like the good old days as much as I do.”
“I do.” Larry asked the hostess for the smoking section.
“I haven’t seen a smoking section in years.”
“The owner’s my buddy, Jerry Townsend. He gets fined for it every few months but he doesn’t care.”
“I didn’t know you smoked.”
“I don’t. This is where the band plays.”
The smoky room sent her back. Smoky rooms had meant visitors when she was a kid, with the inevitable passel of other kids they brought along, big fun. People used to have lots of kids. She settled in to the leather booth and slipped her high heels off under the table. “This is my kind of menu. Steak, garlic bread, baked potatoes.”
“Whatever do you mean, dear?” He raised an eyebrow in mock horror. “Don’t you want any chipotle-pomegranate soba noodles?”
“Ha. I saw a show with Chef Ramsay last week. The restaurant had lovely food like this, and he told them off for being ‘too seventies.’ He changed their menu to some stylish international slop, and I switched off the TV. It was just sad.”
He ordered a bottle of merlot. She learned he once discovered a $25,000 Basra pearl necklace in a box of junk.
Over prime rib, she found out he was divorced, with a grown son. His ex-wife was Canadian. He’d gone there to dodge the Vietnam draft.
By the cheesecake, she knew she’d go home with him.
“Harvest gold!” His old kitchen appliances delighted her. Most things did, after a few drinks.
“Better than avocado green, anyway.”
In the living room, she picked up a bong from his coffee table. “Oh, man, these are still around?” It seemed very funny to her.
They smoked a bit, and looked at his albums. Albums. He put on "Stairway to Heaven." She’d never slow-danced to Led Zeppelin before. The sad old song made her wipe her eyes and smear her mascara. He said she had raccoon eyes and put on “Rocky Raccoon,” which kind of annoyed her.
She awoke to breakfast in bed. Larry had even placed two aspirins on the tray.
He said “What was that you said last night, about reaping your harvest in your golden year?”
“I said that?” When she had closed her eyes to sleep, harvest gold color swirled behind her eyelids. She’d wondered if it was a sign. If this, her golden fiftieth year, would finally be her harvest. Her chance to progress like everyone else. I said it out loud.
She focused on stirring her coffee. Damn her Irish skin. Her face burned.
“Excellent coffee,” she said, at the same time he said, “Move in.”
Move in. After one date. Crazy.
Soon Larry’s house, friends, and business seemed like they were hers, too. Maybe she was finally progressing.
Her only worry was that he grew weed, under grow lights in the spare bedroom.
“It’s no problem, babe,” he said. They worked late at the shop, putting away a houseful of stuff from an estate sale. “I don’t smoke much.”
And he didn’t. He’d smoke a bowl in lieu of an evening cocktail, or offer it to guests. “But it’s illegal. Why have something around that could ruin everything?”
“Nah, it’s fine.” He held up a tan yellow smiley face button.
It broke the tension. “Harvest gold, huh. They were usually bright yellow. Can you at least get different lights, then? Those grow lights get too hot, the carpet felt hot the other day.”
“That’s what they’re for, babe. They’re grow lights.” He pinned the button on her top and she felt like it was a step. Like a pre-engagement, in a silly way.
They went to the Townsend’s for dinner, the owners of the restaurant where they’d had their first date. Jerry Townsend’s wife, Tammy, had some nice old pawn jewelry. On the way home, Larry told Lynne the differences between good Navajo turquoise and the commercial stuff.
They pulled in to Larry’s driveway. His furniture littered the lawn. Two windows were boarded up. Even in the dark, it was clear there had been a fire.
The inside was flooded and stank of smoke.
Where the pot plants should have been, they found a note instead: Contact the Riverview Sheriff’s Department.
Lynne covered her mouth. The grow lights. I told you, dammit.
“Larry? What are you doing?” Two suitcases lay open on the bed.
“Going back to Canada.” He tossed clothes into one of them.
Lynne’s chest emptied as if her heart fell into her stomach. How stupid of her to hope for more, always too eager. “Oh. Sure. Can you drop me off somewhere?”
“I’m sorry I kept the plants. Pack what you need for a few days. Please. Trust me, this is better sorted out from a different country.”
Her heart fell back into its rightful place in her chest. She piled her clothes into the other suitcase. On the way out, she grabbed the silly smiley pin off the dresser.
About the Author: Carly Berg's stories appear in PANK, Scissors and Spackle, The Molotov Cocktail, and elsewhere.
Story Song: "At Seventeen" by Janis Ian