I’m here with the eleventh chapter of Leona.
If you’d like to catch up on some of the preceding chapters, click here.
I hope you like it!
I stared as the automobile drove by. Chairs and bags were strapped to the roof. Blankets and clothes could be seen stuffed up against the windows. A girl who looked to be only nineteen sat in the front, with a despondent looking man at the wheel. I could see little ones in the back, but what haunted me the most was the girl. Her empty, desolate face showed no sign of hope. Her listless eyes stared straight ahead.
For a single moment, our eyes met, and I smiled sympathetically. She looked away. It was as if she was a ghost, with no life in her and no glimmer of hope. She was only a little older than me, a young wife and mother. And she was hopeless. Leaving for California.
I felt so desperate for her. I watched the automobile move on, their blank faces unmoving. I wanted to run after them, and call out that it was OK. To tell them that they would be fine. That there was hope somewhere, hidden in the bleak, ashen dirt.
But there wasn’t. I didn’t have anything reassuring to call. I didn’t have anything hopeful to say. Maybe in California they’d find work. Maybe in California they’d find hope. Hundreds of people leaving for California thought the same thing. I knew it was highly improbable. Hundreds of people where already there. Already, many of them couldn’t find work. Inwardly, I cried for that girl. “God help her,” I prayed.
Then, looking back at the dirt covered roofs and streets I prayed, “God help us.”
Many people were leaving for California. There were rumors of jobs there. Many people believed them, and packed up their belongings to leave. They didn’t really know if they were true. They just needed something to hold on to. To hope for.
Dad had been very firm. “We’re not leaving. This drought ain’t gonna make us leave our land.” And I knew we weren’t.
Mama called me from the window. “Sis, I need your help,” she called. I ran in and put my books on the table. “Yes?” I asked her. “Stir this pasta salad and put it in the icebox. I have to get ready for the party.” I nodded. The party was for all Avon employees. “Yes ma’am,” I said, and she hurried off.
I stirred the salad, covered the bowl with a towel, and opened the icebox door. Frosty air wafted out. I set the bowl in a shady corner. An icebox was something we did not have on the ranch. The iceman came about twice a week, and slid the ice blocks into our icebox through a little door on the side of our house. This was exciting, because foods kept much longer at these cooler temperatures.
It was spring, and still chilly in the air. I wished desperately for April showers, but the drought continued. I sighed and wished I had something to do other than school work. Mama came in to say goodbye. I complemented her dress. The spring green dress lit up her auburn hair. “Goodbye!” I smiled grandly. “Have a wonderful party,” I said, flinging out my arm. Mama waved goodbye, and I heard the door close. I forced myself to sit and do my work.
I chewed the end of my pencil listlessly. I was tired of school. Tired of Beaver. Tired of the ranch. I wanted to do something new and exciting. I expressed this to Mama one day, and she smiled and said it was the restlessness of youth. I didn’t quite know what I was supposed to do with this new restlessness, but I resented it, because I knew I couldn’t do anything to satisfy it.
I finished my paper, and tucked it away thoughtfully. It wasn’t that I didn’t appreciate school. I was proud of the work I was doing. I was proud of the grades I was getting. I was just ready for something new and exciting. I realized with a start that this was my last year in school. After that, I would graduate. I resolved to throw myself into my studies and finish the school year. I even had the whole summer off. Just a few months left of school, and I would be done with it. Forever. Well, unless I went to college, but that was seemingly impossible. College was extremely expensive, and getting there would pose as yet another difficulty.
I smiled as I realized how old I had gotten. “School’s almost done,” I thought again. I thought of Bud, who was quite tall by now. “He’s practically a man,” I thought. “He is a man,” I corrected myself. I thought of the job he had gotten at the general store. He even rang up groceries at the counter sometimes. By working all of Saturday, and every day after school, he managed to get a somewhat steady paycheck. I was grateful that he had a job. Sometimes he took Mama and me out to dinner, and I could see the boyish pride in his eyes as he payed for it. He bought all of the cigarettes he smoked, for which Mama was thankful. I calculated their price. Even though he only smoked a couple boxes a week, he always spent a dollar or more every month on them. I figured it was fine so long as he was paying for it. All the boys at school smoked. It was the popular thing to do. I thought it smelled bad, and steered clear as much as I could.
School let out in June, and I searched for a job. I figured Bud wouldn’t want me to work at Griggs’s General Store, so I searched elsewhere. Finally, I went to the beauty parlor. They needed someone to sweep up and clean the stations. I couldn’t believe my luck. I was surprised none of the other girls had applied yet. I figured the parlor was where all the girls would apply. I began work the next Monday.
“First thing in the morning, you sweep the steps. You’ll sweep the floor when it needs it, and in the evening, wipe down all the stations. You’ll come at eight, get a lunch break from twelve to one, and leave at four. The broom closet is back here, and the cleaners are on the top shelf. The rags are up there. You’ll empty the garbage out back, and refill the candy bowl when necessary. Clean anything that needs it. Any questions?” Mrs. Locks turned briskly, but there was a kind look in her eyes that I immediately liked. “No, ma’am,” I said, standing up straight. “You may commence,” she said cheerfully, and she bustled away.
I took out the broom and stepped briskly outside. The bell rang as I opened the door. I attacked the steps with resolve and hurried back inside. The bell on the door rang again, and a prim looking lady tripped in. “Mrs. Breacher, how are you?” I heard Mrs. Locks exclaim warmly. I swapped brooms and began to sweep the already clean floor. I looked up to see the lady, Mrs. Breacher, staring at me critically. “A new girl?” she asked Mrs. Locks. She nodded. “I just hired her. I’m sure she’ll prove herself a hard worker.” She smiled at me. I blushed and bent to sweep again. “Hmph. Girls these days rarely know how to work,” she said, grumpily. Mrs. Locks smiled. “What may we do for you today?”
When I came back from putting the broom away, Mrs. Breacher was seated in a chair, and Mrs. Locks was combing her sparse hair. I went around, quietly collecting the trash in a brown paper bag. I walked out back, and found the tin trash can, much like our own. I hurried back inside. “This brown would suit your eye color,” Mrs. Locks was explaining. “But this auburn color would as well. It is just your preference, Mrs. Breacher.” I smiled as Mrs. Breacher chose auburn. I hoped it would suit her better than the purplish brown she had now.
I eyed the candy on the counter, relieved to see it needed refilled. Locating the supply on the shelf in the broom closet, I dumped more of the caramels into the glass bowl. I was glad to find a chair that needed scrubbed. A wet a rag was deployed, and got most of what I figured to be hair dye, or maybe coffee, out. I threw the rag into a basket filled with wet cleaning rags, and got a broom.
I swept behind the counter, and under every chair. Mrs. Breacher watched me the whole time. I did my best not to mind, but her sharp eyes seemed to follow my every move. I finished, and looked around, at a loss for what to do. “The windows and door could be washed,” Mrs. Locks mentioned when she saw my uncertainty. I nodded gratefully. “Yes ma’am,” I said. I found the desired cleaner in the closet, and got another rag. The inside windows were easy, but the windows outside were smeared with dirt. My rag turned mottled and black. I wiped the smudges off the door and handle, and tripped back inside. A pretty young lady came inside, her bag in hand. “Hello,” she said brightly. She hurried to her station and straightened up. I put the cleaner away and heard someone behind me. I turned around. “Hello,” I said hastily. “Hi. Are you new here?” she asked me. I nodded. “My first day.” She smiled and stuck out her hand. “I’m Nancy Coral. What’s your name?” I ducked my head. “Everyone calls me Sis, except my teachers. But can call me Leona if you want.” She tucked her short auburn hair behind her ear. “If you don’t mind, I like Sis,” she said easily. I nodded, relieved. So it wasn’t a silly name. Nancy nodded to me and said, “I’ve got an appointment, gotta go!” She strode down the hall.
I heard the bell ring, and someone stepped in. It was Arlene. “Hello, Sis,” she said, surprised. I waved, and began wiping down the counter. “I didn’t know you worked here,” she said, staring at me. “Startin’ today,” I said with a grin. Nancy walked up and Arlene followed her to a chair. As I worked, I peeked every so often. Arlene had her hair cut, nails done, and cosmetics. It was my turn to be surprised. That kind of treatment was expensive.
I finished wiping the counter, and swept up the brown strands of hair on the floor. Mrs. Breacher was gathering her things, flustered. I watched her pay, and hasten out the door. Arlene was soon done, and looked like a new person with mascara, rouge, eye shadow and powder, and bright red fingernails. She waved goodbye and tripped outside.
“You can take your lunch break,” Mrs. Locks told me from the counter. I thanked her and quickly shoved the broom in the closet. I had a lot to tell Mama. But when I arrived home, breathless, Mama wasn’t there. I ate lunch silently, realizing how everyone in the family had their own schedule, even Mama.
Suddenly, I didn’t want to be older. I wanted Mama to be home to fix me lunch and I wanted to be at the ranch, and I wanted to be playing with Bud and Rachel. I sighed, cleaned up my dishes, and returned to work.
“You’re early,” Mrs. Locks said, looking up. She was pleased. “Yes m’m,” I answered. “Well, you should sweep again. Another lady came while you were away.” I noted the blonde hair in a hasty pile by the door. “Yes ma’am,” I said again.
I swept again. Nancy left around three-thirty, and I began to wipe off counters and sweep one last time. I watched curiously as a man and woman abruptly stumbled inside. “A duster,” the lady said apologetically. Mrs. Locks exclaimed and peered out the window. A dusty haze pervaded the town. I sighed and scrubbed harder, putting all of my frustration of the drought onto the now sopping wet counter. I wiped it once more, and moved on to the next. Mrs. Locks had begun a conversation with the lady, and the couple sat down. I went to put the cleaners away and tidied up the broom closet. The hallway was dim. I tripped over a bucket, and hoped no one heard. Embarrassed, I righted the bucket and mop and hurried out to join my employer. “It’s not bad out there,” Mrs. Locks told me. The couple was gone. “Do you want to try to go home, or wait it out?” I didn’t hesitate. “I’ll go home,” I said. Mrs. Locks thanked me for my work and I stepped outside. The walk home seemed much longer than I had remembered. I put my dress over my nose and tried not to get the gritty dirt in my eyes. I was extremely relieved to see the house, or some of the house, through the haze, and I sprinted to the door, stubbing my toe on the concrete step. I lurched inside.
Mama still wasn’t home. I sat down and pulled off my shoe. “I sure wish she didn’t work at Avon,” I thought, rubbing my toe. “Then again, I don’t think we could afford to live here without the extra money,” I said out loud. I quit my grumblings and went to make myself some dinner. Bud came in at five, and I shared the macaroni I had made with him. The storm had let up, and I went to bed, exhausted from my first day in the “real world.”
“I think I’d like a pearly color,” the girl said breathlessly. “That’d be beautiful,” Nancy agreed. She began to soak the girls dainty hands in water. “I’m so excited,” the girl went on. “I’ve never done this before,” she said. She laughed as she realized what she had said. Her name was Dolores Sterling, and she was getting married the next day. I hovered close, sweeping, so I could listen. I wondered why she was so excited, but listening to her made me excited, too.
“I’ll come back tomorrow for cosmetics. In my dress, so I won’t ruin it by pulling it on. Besides, then you can see it,” she said, glowing. Nancy finished filing her nails and began applying the paint. “And who’s the lucky gentleman?” she asked. Dolores blushed. She was only nineteen or so. “Brad Springer. Think of it! I’ll be Dolores Springer,” she said dreamily. I had to admit that it sounded good. “He works at the gas station down the street, doesn’t he?” Nancy asked. “Yes,” Dolores answered, surprised. “I’m very happy for you both,” Nancy said. I smiled and began wiping down counters. Nancy finished Dolores’s nails and Dolores stood up happily. “I’ll see you both tomorrow,” she said, paying. I was flattered that she included me in the “you both.” I tidied up, and slung my handbag over my shoulder. “Goodbye, Nancy,” I called. “See you tomorrow,” she replied.
It had been two months, and I was already at home at the beauty parlor. I didn’t want to finish school in the fall – I was nervous this job wouldn’t be open next summer. I knew Nancy and Mrs. Locks would still be friendly with or without me having the job. That relieved me.
Dolores kept her word and tripped inside with her mother on Saturday morning. “Here I am,” she said, beaming. She looked stunning in the silky white dress, which, I noted, she had managed to keep fairly clean, even in the dirty streets. She sat down nervously, playing with her hair. Her mother sat by the door, looking sentimental. I smiled at her sympathetically, though I had no idea what a mother felt like with an about-to-be-married daughter. Nancy began applying the cosmetics, and chatted as if they were old friends. It took discipline, but I continued sweeping, fighting the urge to sit and chat, too.
After an hour, Dolores was a picture-book fairy. Her cheeks were glowing, her eyes sparkled, and Nancy’s cosmetics had done wonders. We wished her luck as she and her mother left, waving. I felt nervous for her, and said a quick prayer as I worked. I figured the nervous feeling I had now amounted to nothing compared to what Dolores was feeling. Would I ever feel like that? A new bride, excited and nervous? I didn’t know. I watched Nancy greet another customer and went to throw out the trash. One thing was for sure, I had a long time still. I dumped the paper bag in the trash, clanged the lid, and went back inside.
How is your fall going so far?