The ride to town was short and Mimi realized if she cut through the woods behind her house and the junkyard, it would be a fifteen minute walk. She wanted to kick herself for not exploring this during the past few days. The town itself was small, but lively. They passed a farmer’s market set up on a half-block of closed road, a liquor store, a few hokey boutiques, the used bookstore, the café which was indeed tiny, a corner grocery and deli, an ice cream parlor, a hardware store, and a large art gallery tricked out in burnished steel and planes of glass that was totally at odds with the countrified character of the town. People milled about everywhere, chatting in front of stores while small children played and stomped impatiently, tugging at their parents’ hands. The trolley clanged past, nearly empty aside from an ancient pair of lady twins wearing enormous, wide-brimmed hats piled high with ribbon and plastic fruits.
Their first stop was the Greek diner, a remodeled mid-century aluminum beauty. Mimi was disappointed to find the waitresses in black shirts and slacks instead of pastel smocks with pouffy skirts and stiff white aprons. She mentioned this to Kelly, describing her ideal 1950s diner waitress garb, realizing she had just said more than she had since they had moved.
“No one dresses like that anymore” Kelly sniffed, “Except in pornos.”
“How would you know what people dress like in pornos?!” Mimi squealed.
Several families looked around, disapprovingly.
“Shhhhhhut up!” Kelly hissed, hiding her face from Mimi with the menu.
Kelly ordered falafel and Mimi got the hummus, and they were both disappointed.
“They should hire you. Their cook is a retard.” Kelly said as they regarded the bill, her mouth a grim line.
Mimi crossed her fingers under the table, hoping Kelly would just pay the bill without making a scene.
“Let’s just pay and go…” She whispered, eyes downcast staring at the bill which came to $24 including tax and their drinks.
“Fucking highway ROBBERY!” Kelly huffed.
The families turned around again and whispered to one another. One man at the counter, already drunk at one in the afternoon, mumbled, “If you don’t like it, don’t come here.”
Kelly’s head snapped around and Mimi lunged over the table to grab her hands.
“Mom, just let it go, let it go!”
“I don’t know who the hell you think you are, but don’t you ever talk to a LADY like that again.” Kelly was standing, fists clenched and rising to a boxing stance, while Mimi tried to push them back down. Kelly always assumed that stance when angry, without realizing it, and it was just that sort of defiance that caused every fight to escalate.
“Mom!” Mimi screeched and pushed Kelly to the door, snatching some money from Kelly’s purse and throwing it on the table.
The man at the counter grinned at Mimi, and mumbled “Well at least one of you knows how to behave.” Mimi stuck her tongue out and scurried past the open door, shoving her mom into the parking lot.
After squealing out of the parking lot, nearly hitting a parked minivan, Kelly seemed to forget about the incident in the diner. She rambled on about getting their library cards, even though she never read anything, and going to the park, stopping by the art gallery, and visiting her new work friend who pulled a weekend shift at the liquor store. Mimi nodded and checked out the back window to make sure the drunkard hadn’t followed them out. As soon as they got to town, Kelly headed to the liquor store, handing Mimi five dollars. Mimi stretched and puzzled over where to go first. The café and art gallery were closest, but she decided on the library. After getting her card and checking out two books, she walked to the liquor store. She passed a boy about her age and she smiled, shyly. He pretended not to notice. Mimi sighed. It was always, always, always like this. There were always one or two kids who took immediate interest in her, purely because she was new, and quickly lost interest when some other new kid arrived. Then, silence. She didn’t get teased or bullied, just forgotten. It was like she didn’t exist. Not that she tried very hard to make a name for herself. She usually moved twice a school year and there wasn’t much time to establish herself among kids who had known each other their whole lives. The only point in which she was remarkable was her grades. She did really well, straight A’s, and her teachers went out of their way to make her feel “at home” as they all put it, at every single school she had attended. The students, however, just viewed her as a boring, quiet nerd girl useful as a study buddy or lab partner but nothing more. Better than getting beat up, she told herself.
The liquor store was dark when she arrived. The sign said they were closed for thirty minutes. She looked around, unsure of what to do. She had planned to meet up with Kelly and check out the rest of the town. She peered in the glass-front door but all she could make out was a dull gleam on the rows and rows of bottles. Turning around she spotted the café across the street. She would wait there, at the table by the window, and wait for Kelly to appear.
Inside there were only three tables with boxes stacked high all over the floor. No one was around, but she heard someone peeing in the bathroom. She squeezed and shimmied her way to the counter and waited. A minute or so later a woman with wild white hair came out of a back room. When she saw Mimi she jumped back and screamed. Mimi ducked and then slowly raised her head. The woman was laughing now, apologizing. She was easily scared, she said, weak nerves. Mimi nodded, keeping her eyes lowered but peeking up slyly. The woman came and leaned on the counter, plopping her large breasts down like a bag of groceries. She wore a tight tank top that she was tumbling out of and a long gauzy hippie skirt with bangles up to her elbows. Mimi liked her right away.
“What can I do for you sweetie?” The woman asked.
Mimi stared at her silently. She didn’t know what this woman could do for her.
“Um…um…Italian soda?” She asked
“Oh we don’t do those.” The woman said pursing her lips in sympathy
“Aren’t you a little young for caffeine?” The woman asked, playfully, as she was already pouring a cup.
“I hadn’t thought of that.” Mimi whispered.
The woman handed Mimi the coffee, filled to the top and spilling over the rim. Mimi sipped it and pointed at the table in the window. The woman nodded.
Mimi plunked down in one of the mismatched chairs, squinting at the liquor store. It was still dark. Where the hell was Kelly, she thought.
“So, are you visiting?” The woman asked, coming to sit at the table.
Mimi shifted. She hated small talk.
“No, we just moved here. My mom and me.”
“Oh!” The woman exclaimed “Where’s your mom?”
“I don’t know.”
“Are you lost, honey?”
“No, she was uh, supposed to be at the liquor store. I don’t know where she is now.”
Mimi winced, that sounded really bad. She added, “She went to see a friend.”
The woman nodded, her fluffy hair bobbing at the ends.
“Mike is working over there today. Works every Saturday. Fine boy. I’m friends with his dad from way back when. You know Mike?”
“Um. No. How old is he?” Mimi cringed in expectation
“Oh” The woman trailed off, thinking hard “Guess he’s twenty-two or so.”
Mimi stared hard into her coffee.
“So how does your mom know him?”
“They work together at the warehouse, I think.”
“Oh yes.” The woman was looking out the window now too.
They sat in silence for about ten minutes before the woman excused herself to unpack the new shipment. She hummed an old rock song that Mimi recognized but couldn’t place. She thought of asking, but decided against it. After nearly forty-five minutes Mimi stood up. Her coffee was long gone by now. She scooped up her library books and pulled the five dollars Kelly had given her from her pocket.
”I need to pay.” She said.
“Oh.” The woman said, staring at the bag of espresso beans in her hand, “Oh, don’t worry about it.”
“Are you sure?!”
“Oh. Yes, you’re new in town, and it’s my treat! I hope you come back. My name is Cheryl.”
“Thanks, Cheryl. I’m Mimi.” She stuck out her hand and Cheryl absently offered hers. They had a limp shake and Mimi nodded before squeezing past the boxes and tables. She said thank you again, hurriedly, and left. She figured Cheryl was more of a hugger than a hand-shaker. She had that squishy look to her.
It had been nearly two hours since she last saw Kelly. No trace of her up or down the street. She was probably inside that liquor store, Mimi thought. For lack of anything else to do, she walked to the art gallery. It was closed, but a man was inside. She turned away and leaned against the building. A few families and young couples strolled past. They all glanced at her, curious, but looked away when she met their eye.
It was growing hotter and Mimi’s palms left greasy sweat stains on the covers of her library books. She slowly wiped them on her shirt. She looked down at her skinny Mickey Mouse watch with the busted glass face. It was after three and she had not seen Kelly in several hours. The liquor store was still closed and occasionally people stood waiting for a few minutes before banging on the door and cursing. A few ancient husks of men were leaning or sitting against the store, smoking cigarettes. Mimi decided to go to the used bookstore a few blocks away, out of sight of the liquor store. She hesitated, looking up and down the street, half-expecting Kelly to appear right then, as she usually did as soon as Mimi had given up on her. Not this time though. Mimi walked off, slowly, her head on a pivot turning round and round.
The bookstore looked small from the outside but inside it was almost labyrinthine. There store was narrow, but it stretched five rooms back, with two rooms in the front, forming an L shape. Shelves were jammed high to the ceiling, with narrow spaces between them that anyone much bigger than Mimi, a slight girl herself, would have to squeeze through. She hardly knew where to start so she began in the art books and wandered row to row, sneezing from the dust. Books were stacked on the floor and Mimi knocked over a pile as her ankle brushed against it, books cascading around her feet. She only had fourteen dollars, and she promised herself she would only spend half of that today. After over an hour she settled on a beautifully illustrated hardcover collection of Hans Christian Anderson tales for eight dollars, but she reasoned, it was worth the extra cost. The retiree who rang her up mentioned having that same book as a child, and he reverently flipped through the large, glossy pages before relinquishing it to Mimi. Tucking it, with the library books, under her arm, careful not to have them touch her moist underarm, Mimi left the store smiling. She would check the liquor store one last time, and if she did not see Kelly, she would just figure out a shortcut to the new house. She wanted to find a quiet spot in the woods to read.
She passed the liquor store, where two more old smoking men had joined the crowd but there was no trace of Kelly. Mimi shrugged and turned up the street. The station wagon was still there. She rested her hand on the hood; the engine had long been cold. After one last, long look Mimi headed back the way they had driven. It was nearly five in the afternoon.
Kelly didn’t come home that night. Mimi, hungry after the long walk home (she was lost for awhile, before she found a path through the woods) opened the last can of tuna fish and grilled it on a skillet, giving half to Sirocco. She found some cheese slices and crackers, which she ate while reading at the kitchen table. She let Sirocco nibble the edges of the cheese that stuck out from the crackers. Around eleven she went to bed, still hoping Kelly would be home any moment. Sirocco curled up on her chest, purring and she fell asleep, half-suffocating from the weight of him..
The next day Mimi made some black coffee and toast. She fed Sirocco the last handful of his food and waited for Kelly. After a few hours, she counted out the six dollars she had left, smoothing them and sighing. She could buy several cans of tuna and maybe some milk, she figured. That would hold them for a few days, though Kelly would probably show up while she was at the store.
Kelly did not appear while she was at the store, but finally came home around eight Sunday evening. Mimi was on the porch with Sirocco, doing crossword puzzles she had cut out of the old newspapers and pasted in a notebook. Kelly was carrying several bags of what Mimi hoped were groceries, but turned out to be wine, liquor, cheese and baguette loafs. Mimi immediately snatched a baguette and a hunk of Gouda, refusing to help Kelly put anything away. She gobbled the whole baguette and nearly all of the cheese, aside from the bits she fed Sirocco from her palm, giggling at the rough tickle of his pink, fine-grit tongue. Kelly dumped the bags on the counter and went upstairs to sleep. The dark settled in so Mimi turned on the porch light and continued her puzzles.