Mrs. Anderson rang as Rosie was getting out of the shower.
“Have you checked the weather? It is simply pouring outside.”
“And it is pouring inside. I’m not quite out of the shower yet.”
“Then child, why on earth did you answer the phone?”
“Well, Mam. Last time I didn’t, you came over in your jammies.”
“I got worried when you let the voicemail answer it.”
“It was three in the morning.” She put the phone on speaker and set it by the sink. “Mam, I’m already running a bit late.”
“I want you to know, the sidewalks look very slick. You did get those rain boots I ordered for you?”
“I did,” That she encouraged the dog to use them for a chew toy was best left unsaid. “But I need to towel off and get dressed.”
“Please be careful today.”
“As always. Look, we have scones and coffee at the shop. I’ll pop around for a proper breakfast this weekend. Much love! Bye!”
A few months earlier, after the three a.m. call, Geoff had gotten up, dressed and left, and she never heard from him again, which suited her fine. During their short three date relationship, he had proven to be selfish in and out of bed and the last thing Rosie wanted would have been to have Mrs. Anderson walk in on them, although Rosie knew the older woman’s hollow civility would cause her to ask when Rosie would be bringing “that naked man to Sunday dinner”. Rosie now thought of Geoff as ‘that naked man’ in a mocking nod to her American mam.
Despite the weather, the buses were running efficiently and she arrived a few minutes early so the bookstore’s door was still locked. Thom Choate, manager, wasn’t trusted enough by the owner, his mother, to hand out keys nor alarm codes, as if bookmarks and yesterday’s pastries were desirable to the criminal mind. Rosie imagined shifty-eyed, trench coat-wearing men slipping the slim pieces of yellow, teal and pink beribboned cardboard into their pockets, all while she and her co-workers brazenly used them to scrap gum off the floor.
While she waited, she went to the fruit stand next door and bought a banana from Mr. Patel, which gave her the right to stand under his tiny Hearty Mart awning. Then Parker strode up.
Hate was a strong word, and she didn’t hate Parker, but the man was unbearable even in small doses. Offensive and smug, he was oblivious to how she viewed him and even if she told him, which she wouldn’t, so high was his opinion of himself that he wouldn’t believe her or worse, mistake her disgust for desire and then she would have to quit her job. Rosie wished for an illness to strike him, mild, but lingering, a disease with knowledgeable medical professionals who were located out of state.
Parker edged his way under the awning and shook out his collar, sprinkling the pyramids of fruit behind them. He wrinkled his nose at her banana before pulling a packet of sugar-coated donuts out of his pocket.
“It must be your time of the month.”
Motherofgod, here we go.
“Or you’re pregnant. Women need a lot of potassium when something’s going on down there.”
“You mean in Australia?”
“Australia? No, down there. In your lady parts,” He waved a donut at her.
If Mr. Patel hadn’t been there, she would have given the banana a good, slow lick just to see Parker squirm. She had found it was the ones who made the most references that had the least knowledge, and Parker could always be counted on to make a joke or crack at the size of a customer’s backside or breasts, evidence that he hadn’t physically inspected more than his own.
Instead, she pocketed the banana, popped open her umbrella and stepped aside. Usually, the aroma of grilled meat from the hamburger truck down the road covered the industrial odors of the area, and she looked for the smoke from the truck’s exhaust pipe. Perhaps he didn’t open in the rain.
A few weeks before, she had bought a burger there, and found herself blown away by the man behind the counter. In her mind’s eye, he was a sensual, wild thing, with muscular arms and brilliant eyes. Her da had been tall and thin, soft-spoken and clean-shaven. Rosie had inherited his high wide forehead and found she gravitated toward men with a similar physique. They tended to be studious sorts who didn’t like their knowledge questioned, like ‘that naked man Geoff’. A fry cook, though. He might not know Locke and Hobbs and contract law the way she did and really, she didn’t care because his strong arms with their delectable downy black hairs wouldn’t allow for conversation. On that day, looking up at the beautiful smile and mesh-covered beard of the cook, she could only gape, coming back to earth after he asked a third time if he could take her order. By focusing on the counter’s gleaming chrome trim in front of her, she found she could mumble “ketchup, with a chips and some burger”. Many times since then, she fancied herself in those arms, redolent of the grill, satisfied.
She had seen he was in a wheelchair up there. A body didn’t move that smooth on feet. Sometimes, he rolled past Uptown Books on his way to and from his food truck, but she had also seen him walk, carrying the folded chair. Perhaps he, too, had MS. When Mammy’s symptoms worsened after the twins had been born, the chair the HSE had offered was no longer folded in half in a closet, but was used daily. She hoped Mammy had gotten a better one since then.
Rainy days like this, she missed them even more, Mammy and Da. It was one of the many things that woke her at two a.m. — wanting to go back to Ireland, see Mammy, her brother and sisters, place some flowers on Da’s grave. She no longer harbored a grudge for how easily her mam gave her to the Anderson’s care. “Water under the bridge.”
“There’s water under every bridge. That’s why they build them there.” Parker’s voice intruded on her thoughts. “You know, I’m sure I read somewhere, probably in a textbook, that talking to oneself is a sign of a mental illness. Or a high IQ.”
She sidled further away. “Can’t have you catching either of those.” Not that they would linger long in your empty head.
A flash of green plaid caught their attention. Thom, their boss, raced across the street, unlocked the door and marched in, stamping his shoes on the mat, followed by Parker who in turn let the door slam behind him. Rosie stayed put a moment.
“Why thank ya, what a gentleman” she muttered. More like a feckin eejit. The men shook like dogs, droplets of water scattering across the glass and floor. My busywork for today, no doubt. Thom motioned for her to come in. She composed her face and, now that they were finished making their man-mess, she did.
This was to have been a temporary job while she took a gap year. The Anderson’s expected her to finish her master’s degree and apply to law school. But the spring semester turned into summer and she found she had neglected to enroll in any classes. Mr. Anderson had been patient, but asked that she take a class at the community college ‘to keep her transcripts up to date’ while offering to take her on yet another tour of campuses. Meanwhile, the Andersons — she would never call them Mama and Daddy as they had asked — allowed her to live in one of their rental houses, helped her find this job and frequently left school application folders on her kitchen table.
Thom moved the coat rack to the front door for customers, his and Parker’s dripping coats taking up half the spaces. He planted it within inches of Rosie, nodded and walked away, oblivious of the water pooling on her feet. Pathetic wretch. She hung her umbrella so as to drain into Parker’s coat pocket.
She surmised Thom was not stupid, only miserable. He opened and closed every day, but when he stuck around in between, he stayed shut in the back office. Mrs. Anderson had told her this bookstore was only one of several businesses his parents owned and Rosie questioned if Thom had made a bollix of one or two already. She had yet to see him so much as hold a book.
She also knew one of Thom’s secrets, that he spent the days playing porno video games on the business computer. Once, he left his office door open and she popped in to ask a question. The computer screen had caught her eye, the way it was subdivided into colorful charts and boxes. A man, with a headset on, set a bowl of popcorn down in one corner box, and in the center, two animated women had stood, naked and staring at one another, their double G cups heaving. The camera was still on, the live man had stared back before looking Rosie up and down, and she had stepped back out into the hall.
Considering how much gossip went on between the workers, she doubted anyone else there knew, but she wasn’t going to add fuel to any of their fires, nor did she consider this to be ammunition against Thom. His mam would be making this discovery on her own.
Besides Thom and Parker, she knew that Simeon and Raelene were scheduled. She had discovered that Thom’s password for everything was ‘abc123’, and occasionally she would use it to change the schedule to suit her. Unfortunately, the computer kept her from giving any one person too many hours and today she found herself stuck with both Parker and Raelene.
The woman, Raelene, would probably spend her shift texting her best friend and unscheduled co-worker Christa, eyeballing the cute male customers and ignoring the female ones. The two former high school friends of Thom’s pored over fashion and bride magazines during their many long breaks. They usually asked to worked their shifts together, and were known to hurry people out early on Fridays and Saturdays, and open late on Sundays, marveling at the ferocity of each other’s hangovers.
During her first week at the bookstore, Thom’s second-in-charge, Earle, had sent her to haul the women away from the café and back onto the floor. They pouted and scowled at her until she admired their nails and asked if they knew a good manicurist.
“Let me see your hands. Our tech is very picky about her clients.” Christa was the most angry at having to work.
Rosie had held out her hands. Christa inspected them and then invited her to join them the following day for a cuticle treatment. After her first ever mani- and pedicure, the two women included Rosie in an evening of bar hopping along with some other women they knew. Through the din in a darkly lit retro disco bar, Christa was overheard telling someone that Rosie was faking a British accent as a way to get on a reality show. Rosie spent the rest of the evening speaking only in Gaeilge, cussing at them albeit with a polite tone.
Earle and Thom pretty much ignored her, intimidated, she reckoned, although she wasn’t sure why as they were both college educated and knew women. Parker took it as a personal challenge to get under her skin and was genuinely puzzled as to why she didn’t like him. The newest hire, Simeon, was an enigma. He kept to himself and was polite. Like her, he didn’t drive, but got a ride every shift. Rosie took the bus. She put him in his late twenties — he could be younger — with the unpolished manners of a teenage lad. He ran to extremes, staring at people, frozen like a squirrel on a curb when he was not running off at the mouth, and he apologized constantly for both actions. His habit of rubbing his shaved head, his eyebrows raised in question, affecting nonchalance, made her want to cuff him, tell him to get over himself.
Between Simeon’s interview and first day, Rosie had reason enough to stand in the hall and overhear while Mrs. Choate her son that the lad, Simeon, had been fluthered for years, but was now on the mend. The words Mrs. Choate had used were ‘substance abuser’ and ‘recovering’, but he struck Rosie as a drinker. Before she came to America, she knew that several of her friend’s fathers topped off their breakfast tea from a hip flask, with one or two of their sons helping themselves to the bottle in the press after school let out.
Coat and umbrella settled, she went to the restroom for the cleaning supplies, passing Thom who was settling into his office for a day of cartoon erotica. “Rosie, Parker can’t find the can of Sparkle Shine. Can you help him? And then clean the window and door?”
“One step ahead of ya,” She turned around and waved the can in Simeon face. “Well!”
Simeon looked panicked, the rainwater trickling off his head. Her younger brother Cillian came to mind and she brusquely swiped at the water on his shoulders.
“How’s the form?”
He mumbled to her feet. “Sorry. My ride was late.”
She looked back at Thom’s closed door as she squeezed past. “I don’t think he cares, but I’ll vouch you were here already.”
She thrust the paper towels into his hands and motioned him to the door. “Come along, lad.”
While he wiped down the glass, she moved her umbrella and checked for damages with a small amount of discretion. She held up Parker’s now-soaked gloves. Simeon’s grin was brief and she put the gloves back. Next, she moved to the table in the window, wiping along the edge, checking for water stains on the books. The rain was letting up and she kept an eye toward the hamburger man’s trailer on the corner.
She wasn’t sure what it was about him that made him so enticing. She told herself it might have been the savory aromas of chips and frying beef, but she doubted it. No fella had ever made her feel as such, not even Wayne Hampden, the first one she slept with, more to get it over with than desire for him. But even then, the thrill of the decision, the fumbling in the front then back seat, the somewhat public breakup that followed a week later, it had all been well and good for a seventeen-year-old virgin. What she felt when she caught sight and smell of the hamburger man was the definition of sexual hunger. Which surprised her. The man was unremarkable although pleasant enough to look at, with his short dark brown hair and close-cropped beard and lickable soft spot under his jaw by his nicely proportioned ears. Thinking of that brought a pink flush to her face.
“It is a little warm in here.”
The voice bounced her out of her reverie. “I beg your pardon?”
Simeon gestured at the wall. “You look overheated. I think I can jimmy the box off the thermostat and cool us off.”
“I’m grand, thanks.”
Jimmy the box? Harmless pranks were one thing, but that sounded like his drinking might have led him to do some lawless capers in the past. Simeon didn’t sport the facial tattoos that Mrs. Anderson claimed criminals were known to have. Rosie drew the line at visible ink but only to keep Mrs. Anderson from saying out loud that Rosie’s genes were tainted. In the event of an accidental death, she hoped her face would be spared, that the doctors wouldn’t make the Andersons identify her using the tattoo of red poppies on her left hip and thigh.
She gave Simeon a smile with a shake of her head and her thoughts turned from tattoos and criminals to their attorneys and how much she didn’t want to be either. Mr. Anderson was keen on her following in his footsteps and studying tax law although he admitted that finishing her masters in accounting and becoming a CPA was just as good if that was what she wanted, that his firm would take her on in that capacity. She supposed their first child, Evie, had been clever with numbers, too. Rosie had never asked and they rarely spoke of her.
Rosie wasn’t sure what she wanted to eventually become, but she was sure that whatever it was, the only numbers involved were on a paystub, even if Mr. Anderson was convinced her good memory and intellect were a gift, a sign from his Protestant God of her destiny.
A sign from God. The Andersons viewed ordinary occurrences as a sign from God, that the hurricane made an sharp turn to the east and avoided their coast, that the city council rejected a proposed CBD oil shop, that the garbage hauler tipped over on another street. When Rosie’s father died, they interpreted that, too, as a clear a sign from God that she was meant to stay with them and step into Evie’s shoes.
She had slept in Evie’s old room, had been given a choice of painting her room in Evie’s favorite colors of pale pink or creamy white. And she was tacitly expected to like Evie’s favorite foods. Mrs. Anderson was prone to making certain recipes, with an eye on how much Rosie enjoyed them. American dishes like casseroles, cheese grits, and something called a pb&j. Rosie had not grown up with these, foods she felt should be separate, but were forced together, though on occasion, she had asked for the nutty jam sandwich for a school lunch if only to please Mrs. Anderson. It was easy to trade it with someone for their fish fingers and chips.
And their first daughter’s name. Evangeline for Mr. Anderson’s grandmother, Camille for Mrs. Anderson’s mother. A sign from God that Aoife Róisín, Eva Rose, had come to them in her time of need. That they personally chose Rosie to sponsor and no one had any notion her father would die when he did, well, that just meant “God worked in mysterious ways”. Privately, Rosie questioned whether their God smoked weed.