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••• The International Writers Magazine: Dreamscapes - Exploring the minutae of life

• Julie McSmith
After supper Bessie always set a few utensils and pieces of dinnerware in precarious positions in the orange plastic dish rack next to the sink.


Today, the coffee pot leaned against a mug at an odd angle, and a fork lay on top of the bottom of a glass, just a millimeter short of falling into the sink. On top of the coffee pot, she placed a near-empty jar of Vaseline, and on top of that she stood a frog-shaped USB memory stick. Then she stacked no less than ten pieces of square cereal on each of the rack's corners. When Bessie was still married to her ex-husband she began this habit of dish stacking in an attempt to exorcise the contagion of his endless snacking.

Sipping a cup of evening coffee, Bessie sank into the wicker chair before her computer at the unstable folding TV-table in the kitchen. She scrolled through some pages on tarot reading, aromatherapy, hemp fabric, and she saw her zodiac sign was currently aligned for good fortune and romance.
The phone rang and Bessie answered, thinking it was her daughter, but it was her ex-husband, Alfie, the nanochemist and extremist born-again Christian.
"Hello, dear," he said. "Have you finished your stacking for the evening?"
"Alfie, I told you not to call me anymore, unless it was something really important," Bessie replied. "And yes, I have finished the dishes, if that's what you mean. So why are you calling me?"

She heard his dry chuckle. "I'm taking a trip back out to San Francisco and I wondered if you remembered the name of that coffee shop where you used to work, way back when. The one where we met."
"Who cares?" she demanded.
"I don't know. I just thought it would be fun for old time's sake," he replied. "You know I miss you."
"I'm sure you do," she said. "Why don't you check the Internet? That was so long ago I'm sure it's gone out of business." Bessie went back to the astrology blog she had been reading, after she hung up with a curt good-bye.

The TV-table rocked back and forth on its thin legs under the weight of the machine. In fact, a dining room table of carved wood occupied the opposite end of the kitchen. It was an heirloom from Alfie. Bessie wanted to dispose of it, but she kept it to use when guests came. The rest of the time a feast of paperwork covered the top.
Recollections of the coffee shop where she met Alfredo surfaced in her mind. The place had had a panoramic view, and there were Christmas lights hung along the railing year-round. It was her first job after she left home. Back then she had flowing hair, wore sensuous African-print tunics and turquoise jewelry. Alfie was then a young chemistry student, from abroad. She had meant to complete a degree in Sociology, but soon she found herself with children. After they grew older she finished a program in physical therapy.

Bessie stood up and shuffled through the paperwork on the table and drank her coffee. Each document had its own location in the chaos. She turned to a card from the previous Christmas from her daughter, Sarah, who worked as an elementary school librarian. Sarah would be coming with her husband, Tom, the next Saturday.
At last, satisfied with her latest arrangement of the chaotic paperwork, Bessie sat on the couch in the living room and began to read a book about Buddhism she had checked out from the library. Later she tried to access her mail, but could not recall the password. Usually she had the mail set up without one, and she wondered why today she was being prompted for one. Even the location of the paper with the password escaped her memory. Why did this happen every time she read a book about Buddhism? If she returned the book she suspected she would recall the password, and so Bessie got in her car, drove to the library, put the book in the drive-through return slot. At home she remembered the password to her account: trigby158291.

Should she go to the meditation class at the community center that she had registered for the next day? This dilemma preoccupied her for the next 24 hours until thirty minutes until she needed to leave. Still feeling indecisive, Bessie pulled on a pink striped tee shirt and leggings, telling herself that there were always all kinds of people at these evening classes. Why should she be afraid to go? Bessie wondered as she shouldered her woven straw pocketbook.

The meditation session was in the dance studio on the third floor of a brick building that had once been a mill. The wooden stairs squeaked as she climbed them. She found the room packed with chatting college students, professionals, a few elderly. At seven, everyone sat. It was hot, and for two hours Bessie sweated with effort, though she sat without moving. The instructor was a thin Caucasian man of about her own age with luminous blue eyes and a shock of hair that made her think of a blond sheep. Bessie reminded herself that she should focus on her breathing and meditation, and yet her mind kept wandering.

Later, returning home, Bessie lit incense candles, reorganized the miscellaneous paperwork on top of the kitchen table, extracted the components of her latest stacking effort from their configuration on the dish rack, put them in the cupboard. She rubbed the bags under her eyes and went upstairs to her bedroom. In the mirror over the bureau Bessie saw, nestled between her eyes, an enormous, red pimple. She wrinkled her lips and made a face at her reflection, recollecting that the same thing had happened after the meditation class the previous month. The scar next to the fresh pimple reminded her of that previous experience.

The next day Bessie decided to try meditation at home. After work she folded up a knitted blanket from her bed and seated herself on the living room floor, facing the television and bookshelf. She contemplated the old family photographs and ceramic figurines there as she concentrated on inhaling and exhaling. She closed her eyes and for an hour remained seated on the blanket.

At the end she went into the kitchen and re-aligned a wineglass atop the coffee pot in the dish-rack. The dish-stacking game always had to look accidental. Often, it was just a fork, knife, or spoon, a millimeter short of falling. If someone neglected to recognize this, the dishes would slide into the sink or crash to the floor. Bessie reflected that the dish-stacking game had become more of an elaborate ritual since she came to live alone.

She fell asleep on the sofa with the television tuned to the home-shopping channel. The next day after breakfast, Bessie pulled on a pair of linen slacks and a sweater, and she saw some puffiness and red inflammation on her feet and legs where they had touched the floor. This again, she wondered.

The same thing always seemed to happen if she eschewed a chair for the ground, and yet that evening again she put the blanket on the floor after dinner. Just as she started her breathing exercises, the phone rang. It was her daughter, Sarah.
"Is Saturday still okay, Mom?" Sarah asked, "After lunch we could drive over to the lake and take a walk."
"That would be marvelous," Bessie answered.
"Should I bring anything?"
"Not at all. Don't put yourself to any trouble over this."

Saturday came and Bessie transferred the documents from one side of the table into a box, she un-stacked the dish rack, drove to the bakery. At eleven-thirty just as she returned, Sarah and her son-in-law, Tom, pulled into the driveway. They met on the back patio and admired Bessie's daffodils.

The three all had the same aquiline nose, curly brown hair, and smooth, ivory skin. The only difference was that her daughter had Alfie's dark eyes rather than sky blue eyes like hers or Tom's. Otherwise they appeared to be from the same family, although Tom and Sarah had met on

While Bessie hurried back and forth between the table and refrigerator, Sarah stroked the cat that lay by the window, and Tom picked at the bowl of grapes on the counter. Tom worked in the invoicing section of a health insurance company, and Bessie always felt a sense of relief when she imagined him being a father to her grandchildren. Whenever he visited, he thanked Bessie for her generosity and complimented her culinary virtuosity.

At last, the three sat at the empty half of the dining table. They chatted. Tom described his promotion, and Sarah explained that the library was having a used book sale the next month. The talk continued in dribbles and drabs until at last Sarah announced, "You know, Mom, I'm pregnant."
"Oh, how wonderful," Bessie said. "You know I haven't been waiting for this at all!"
"Sure, Mom," Sarah laughed and Tom smiled.
There was the shattering of glass from the sink.
"Well, Mom, it looks like your stacking fell over this time," Sarah remarked.
"Nothing was in the dish-rack!" Bessie exclaimed. "That glass baking dish must have slipped off the shelf up there." The shards covered the kitchen floor and counters.

Checking her mail that night, Bessie discovered a letter from Alfie along with a photo of him drinking through a straw from a coconut. The text read: "I found our coffee shop!" Bessie sent a reply, "Hey there, Alfie. Life's a party, as usual. I don't know if Sarah told you yet, but you're going to be a grandpa." She paused and added, "Alfie, there are some other things we need to talk about. Can you give me a call?"

Soon she would be a grandmother, and Bessie began to think about all of what the baby would need. She paced the kitchen, rearranged some mugs and silverware in the dish rack, taking them from the cupboard. Then she transferred her computer to the dining table and began to type a note to the instructor of the meditation class she went to the previous week:
"Dear Jake, I love your meditation class at the community center. You know, I'm the woman who always wears the baggy, pink striped shirt. Would you like to meet sometime for coffee?"

Surely he would be able to empathize with her dilemma of these episodes that arose whenever she pursued her interest in Buddhism.
She was surprised when his reply came only a few minutes later: " I was just thinking about you today. What about next Saturday?"
No sooner had she finished reading his note when her ex-husband, Alfie, called, saying, "Congratulations on being a grandma."
"Congratulations to you, too, Grandpa," Bessie replied, "And thanks for sending the photo. I can't believe that coffee shop was still there."
"Yes, it was still the same place it used to be, but not the same without you," Alfie remarked.
Bessie paused, and the silence became noticeable. "Anyway, how are things going at your church?"
As she listened to Alfie's glowing stories, she was intrigued by how passionate, even irrational, her ex-husband was about his Christian fundamentalism, given that he was a scientist. At last Bessie remarked, "You sound fulfilled, Alfie, and I'm happy for you."
"Sarah and Tom said they are going to come and try a service at the church," Alfie said with a kind of finality.
"That's good if it's what they want," Bessie replied. "That's your business, not mine." She paused, "Listen, I think I need to talk you about some things..."
"I thought I'd never hear you say that again, Bessie," he said.

And Bessie explained about the books on Buddhism and the forgotten password, the acne on her forehead between her eyes after the meditation class, and the rash and inflammation on her legs after sitting on the floor in her house.
"I wish I could help you," her ex-husband said, "Have you ever considered that maybe you encountered some drugs in one of your hippie stores without being aware of it?"
That was all.
Bessie bit her tongue and then said, "It's good Sarah and Tom can come and try your church services."
"You should, too," Alfie said.
"Maybe someday, Alfie," she replied.
They hung up too abruptly, she mused.

Yet, in the coming weeks the episodes ended. Bessie was surprised by how quickly she forgot they had ever happened. She read books about Buddhism, went to classes at the community center, and sat on the floor in meditation without the same consequences as before. Every month she called Alfie to ask about his church and listened to his endless litany of stories about holiday parties, barbeques, prayer retreats and revivals. And soon enough she found herself shopping for baby clothes for her granddaughter.
cups © J McSmith April 2016
t_visco at

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