The International Writers Magazine:Find a Match is hard
...the time had come to look for her soul mate, blind as she had been to all the previous intimations
Doesn't thou 'ear my 'erse's legs, as they canters awaäy?
Proputty, proputty, proputty--that's what I 'ears 'em saäy.
Proputty, proputty, proputty--Sam, thou's an ass for thy paains;
Theer's moor sense i' one o' 'is legs, nor in all thy braïns.
"Me an' thy mother, Sammy, 'as bean a-talkin' o'thee;
Thou's beän talkin' to muther, an' she beän a-tellin' it me.
Thou'll not marry for munny--thou's sweet upo' Parson's lass--
Noä--thou'll marry for luvv--an' we boäth on us thinks tha an ass.
from Tennyson's Northern Farmer (New Style)
Each day at noon Andrea walked to the soup kitchen organized by the church where she was the office manager of the rectory. The beige house with the soup kitchen was down the street from the church and rectory. This former was a white clapboard building with stained glass windows and painted cherubs above the altar that laughed eternally with gay smiles, holding up lyres and candles. The latter was a brick building with the church office and the apartments for the priests and vicars.
Andrea stood back from the curb as waited for the traffic light to avoid the muck. She wore homely gingham dresses, but her milky skin and gem-like hazel eyes had left an endless series of besotted and heartbroken suitors. Yet, Andrea seemed unaware of her superlative motherhood potential, preoccupied as she was with the responsibilities of her position. A Mennonite horse-drawn carriage passed along beside the cars. She thought about the logistics of the kitchen: tallies of food donations, the upcoming menu, volunteer schedules.
Bob stopped her outside the soup kitchen facility. The old coot came every day, and she found him as she always did, holding a tall styrofoam cup in one wizened, grimy hand and held a half-finished cigarette in the other. Whenever he saw Andrea, he tried to think of something clever to say. "Dressed for the Follies, as usual, Andrea," he remarked, then continued, "You know if they're having ham today like they said yesterday?"
"Why don't you go in and find out for yourself?" Andrea replied.
"I gotta finish up out here. My mom always told me to complete what I started," Bob whined. "And I'll have to talk to my brother if he's in there."
"Did you go to rehab this morning?" she asked.
Bob puffed, "No."
"I got to get some bus money."
Andrea shook her head, "Bob, you can walk there. It's not far."
He tapped the cigarette against the edge of an ashtray made from the bottom part of a large tin can and glared at the passing cars. Andrea left him that way, and she opened the door with a creak, wondering when Bob would ever go back to work. He seemed to enjoy pushing the shopping cart filled with all his worldly possessions around the sidewalks, and it did not seem to bother him that his face was full of liver-spots, his teeth brown, and his skin rough from weeks without being washed. Andrea mused that it was his habit, and as much as she was happy to provide for his well-being she worried that coming to the church soup kitchen had become a way of life for him.
Inside an aged couple called Mr. and Mrs. Morton was directing a group of college students, and they waved at Andrea as she entered. The college students were arranging the ingredients of the lunch on trays set on the stainless steel serving counter. The special of the day was "Wildman's Soup" a concoction made from all the donated cans put together in a single cauldron. At 1pm everyone prayed. Then the homeless filed into a line to pick up their food.
One day Andrea decided the time had come to look for her soul mate, blind as she had been to all the previous intimations. She asked the Mortons to help her find someone, and they in turn asked around the kitchen. And so Andrea's first blind date came about with Jason. He was a stout, black man ten years her senior, the relation of a volunteer. The two walked along the river together on a Saturday afternoon. Crocuses bloomed. Larks sang. Across the river, the smokestacks of the carpet factory and hops refinery released vapor into the dulcet climes around the river's banks.
"When I came to retail hardware sales it was like my life was a vending machine," Jason began. "I was just out of the hospital, and then I was trying to sell insurance from home. I had all these meds and physical therapy sessions."
"Is that why you walk with a limp?" Andrea asked, "If it's not too personal, I mean."
"No, it's okay. I used to throw shot put. One day I decided to jump in a pick-up football game just for fun. That's when I tore all these ligaments in my leg," Jason explained.
"I'm so sorry," Andrea said.
"That's all right. I'm over it," Jason replied.
Andrea mused, "You miss shot put, don't you?"
"Well, I was at the end of my career, anyway. Being injured helped me deepen my faith, though," he explained. "Every day I prayed to God to help me throw shot put again. Finally, I realized that God wanted me to work in hardware retail instead."
"Don't you miss working out?" Andrea asked.
"Yes, but I like managing the store," Jason said, "We've got all these merchandise supply lists of toys to itemize and over a hundred employees, who I've got to keep happy."
They met many times that spring, and they discussed religion or current events. At the end of the first month, however, Andrea began to notice an ache in her leg, and she found herself walking with a limp. She wondered the cause, and she felt embarrassed whenever she met Jason. Walking slowly she found she could hide it from him. Yet, in the end the condition left her feeling so disconcerted she decided to end the afternoons together.
The same "cha cha theme" from Andreas own childhood was blaring from the sound system in the roller-skating rink when she met Henry there. He was the nephew of a soup kitchen volunteer who had come from Asia decades before. Round and round the rink they skated along with his three children. The younger boy held his father's hand, while the older boy and girl skated ahead.
"You're good at this," Andrea remarked. She herself moved stiffly and tried to cover up her limp.
"What was that?" Henry answered.
Andrea repeated what she said a notch louder.
"The kids always want to come skating so I get a lot of practice," he said.
"What?" she answered.
"Why don't we sit down?" he asked, gesturing to the room with windows beside the rink.
They reclined on one of the benches in the back of the room near a row of rentable lockers. Henry's younger boy clutched his father's hand. Andrea and Henry's eyes met, and Henry smiled. It was a broad grin, a conscious display of the gleaming gold tooth on one side of his mouth.
"The kids always want to come skating so I get a lot of practice," Henry explained.
"You're a good skater," Andrea said.
Andrea laughed. "Not exactly."
Henry's little boy tugged at his father's arm and pointed. "Daddy, look at the spider."
Henry and Andrea turned around and their gazes followed the boy's extended finger to where a furry, gray spider the size of a dime was spinning a web between space in the lockers and the wall. The little boy looked with rapture at the busy creature.
"Yikes!" Andrea exclaimed.
Henry leaned over to look and said, "He's going to catch his dinner."
Andrea liked Henry's kids, and she could picture herself influencing them in a positive way since they rarely saw their mother. Andrea and Henry went to the roller rink often with his children. She found out that he and his ex-wife, a career businesswoman, had had an amicable divorce. Henry arranged his work schedule to finish by the time his kids came home from school, and he paid an elderly neighbor to help them in the morning.
Their time together left Andrea feeling satisfied. Yet, after several weeks a tooth on the side of her mouth began to ache. She saw more and more brown plaque appear on it, even though she brushed it regularly. At last, one week Andrea told Henry she had another commitment.
Manuel was a farmer and rancher who drove a red SUV and arrived five minutes early. Like his aunt who was a volunteer in the kitchen, he was a willowy fellow with brown hair. He wore a dusty plaid shirt the day they met on the town green to hear a concert by local schoolchildren. Andrea closed her eyes and enjoyed the flowing melodies. She wondered what Manuel thought of the music and where his family was from. He said his family was from Eastern Europe, but to her he seemed to be part Hispanic as well.
They walked around the block after the concert, and then Andrea and Manuel went fishing together in a pond on his ranch. The day was still and warm without being mild. Manuel untied the rowboat tethered to a small pier, and they rowed around the pond and fished together. A lot of fish swam in the pond, Andrea noticed, though the water was dirty.
Manuel talked about his crops and livestock and rabbits. "There's a market in rabbit coats," he said. "Synthetics still can't match the softness and texture of natural fur. Do you want one?"
"A rabbit or a coat?" Andrea asked.
He laughed. "Well, I don't have any fur coats, actually. I just send them out."
"Well," she began. "I don't know."
"These are quite good rabbits."
"I just don't have enough room in my apartment," Andrea said.
She found it easy to like Manuel, because he was so straightforward and they shared the same practical style. She admired his patience. They went fishing often and to community events. Then Andrea began to feel an ache in her chest. The twinge came and went each day. Sometime after that she found out Manuel had a weak heart from a childhood illness that sometimes pained him. Andrea wondered about the ache in her bosom, for she herself had not been ill. At last she told Manuel that she no longer wanted to see him.
With her blind dates Andrea felt her view of the world grow more expansive, even though her leg still hurt, and she had an aching tooth, the pain in her chest came and went. She wondered when, if ever, these conditions might heal. With trepidation she agreed to go on another blind date, this time one arranged by her great aunt.
Rick and Andrea went to the last mom-and-pop ice cream parlor left in town, and Andrea got a root beer float. Rick ate a banana split, and he began to talk about his job. "I work in the invoicing department. It's a lot of paperwork, but I don't mind. The pay is better than you might imagine."
"It's one of these chain retailers. Someday, though, I want to work in manufacturing where I can climb the corporate ladder.... but tell me about the soup kitchen. It's funny, your great aunt used to be my kindergarten teacher, you know, and then we used to see her when she worked at Vern's Grocery Store for years after she retired."
As Andrea looked into Rick's laughing blue eyes the experience was just as lovely as her great aunt said it would be. She could imagine their children being born in January or February to correspond with the deadline for entering school. Already she could see them getting on the school bus, graduating, getting married, and coming home with grandchildren.
Andrea talked about the rectory and the parishoners. She described the volunteers and then the bums and how sometimes they did not go to their job counseling programs or rehab like they were supposed to. Then there was Bob.
"You know my uncle, Bob?" Rick asked. "And his brother, Jake?"
"You're kidding me. Bob and Jake are your uncles?" Andrea exclaimed.
"Well, I don't know if I should have told you, actually. Nobody knows what to do. Since they were kids nobody could get them to do anything, though they never were bad kids or anything."
Their courtship continued, despite Andrea's initial misgivings about Rick's relation to Bob and Jake. They tried all of the ice creams on the menu, went for walks by the river, and even went to the roller-skating rink one day. Andrea actually saw Henry there with his kids, and they waved to one another amicably. And Andrea and Rick went bicycling together and to the movies. She met his parents and they hers. Time passed, and at last the symptoms of Andrea's previous relationships disappeared.
© Julie McSmith Jan 2016
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