It was A.J.’s own voice that taunted her while watching Kato swim effortless laps in the pool. How could she plan to live on a sailboat, so terrified of the water? Sure it would be fine to swim fearless the way Kato does with his head dipped low in the water, barely coming up for air, or so it seemed. His arms moved in perfect cadence, with each stroke timed like a metronome. Even the way he kicked those small splashes propelling him great distances across the surface didn’t seem to tire him one bit, and the water barely rippled from behind. The other swimmers in their individual lanes, kicking and splashing, some with too much effort creating miniature tsunamis, at least they looked that way to her, and not one swimmer seeming to care that the pool water raged like rapids.
The nearest concrete wall was three miles away which wasn’t far by my standards. It was 1969 and mom didn’t like the idea that I would ride my bicycle to the wall at the local university to hit tennis balls probably because I was ten years old and a girl, and too independent for my own good as she would say, so she insisted that I take the back roads and avoid the busy parkway.
The milkman arrived at 6:45 am every tuesday and friday for a new delivery. He brought the usual milk and cream and there were other items to choose that included chocolate milk, eggs and orange juice. Mom would greet mister milkman as we called him, wearing her pink robe, and slippers, and her grey matted hair was just as it were when she woke. Primming and pruning could be done after the family was on their way – dad off to work, and my brother and I off to school. Her pink robe, worn and tattered, should have been tossed, but there was nothing wrong with it as far as she was concerned. Mom would discover by accident a hole she hadn’t noticed and then find fabric for a patch with a color that was close but never exact sew it back together and was good enough to continue to wear for another 30 years, just as she did. Mister milkman didn’t seem to notice the holes or the tattered patched robe, and in the rare case where mom had overslept, he would leave the ‘usual’ order and she could pay him the next week for six bottles of milk, if you please with a half gallon of orange juice along with those dozen eggs. On special occasions there would be an order for chocolate milk in a bottle half the size, and so rare we couldn’t wait to have a taste on sunday afternoons, after church and good behavior. Good behavior didn’t happen very often.
Lydia’s first look at the pie kitchen inside the Piled High Diner shocked the air out of her lungs so fast she felt her lips backfire. A kitchen with a blur of unsuitable utensils begged her to make sense of irregularly sized pie pans, aluminum foil tins – unworthy stock in any kitchen – broken spatulas, and plastic bowls – none of which fit the outdated mixers. Sure, there were pie tins to choose from if she didn’t mind erratic diameters and heights. Staring through a stash of bake-ware, not one brand name stepped forward.
Turning toward the pantry she swung open the doors to an afterlife of generic foods, the 2 for $5 peanut butters not even smooth but crunchy, slabs of lard definitely not dairy, chocolate nibs missing their cacao, and key lime from a bottle. Struggling for air, she felt her chest fill with concrete. How could she bake 100 pies with substandard tools and ingredients? How could she keep her promise to Maggie?
By the time Lydia arrived at the Piled High Diner in Arlington Texas, she had driven 1800 miles, consumed her road stash of pretzels and chips and was ready for a meal. She stepped out of her car, her home for the last 48 hours, rumpled her matted locks into big hair and walked inside. The jukebox played ‘Crazy’ and the half dozen patrons – all cowboys – gave 27 year old Lydia an approving nod as she sat down at an empty booth.
“Todel – you know – T-O-E D-E-L-L” I insisted, irritated from spell-pronouncing my name each time I met some millennial song artist wannabe who reeked of pinstriped suits. We had only exchanged emails three days ago. She wanted to meet. See if I still had my chops I guess. I hoped she wasn’t wasting my time.
“Toe-dell – got it” Jules smiled, pronouncing the name slowly, accentuating the second syllable ‘dell’. “Mr. Todel, I’m Jules Taylor. A big fan of your work.”