Thursday, March 26, 2009

Lady in Fur

When I opened the back hatch, I immediately heard the smack and tinkle of glass on the pavement. A new glass jar of olives dislodged from the grocery sack and rolled out of the back of the station wagon when I opened the hatch to get a snack for Hunter.

Determined not to throw away some perfectly good olives, I drained the rest of the brine from the broken bottom of the jar until I could hold the jar upside down to keep all but three green olives, which perished on the parking lot asphalt. Holding this narrow jar just so, I gingerly picked up the remaining shards of glass from the ground (gingerly, because of my painful tail bone), and carried them off to a garbage can at the entrance to the shopping mall.

You can be sure I felt cross. Hunter trailed behind me asking a lot of questions about what I would do with the olives and the broken jar. Embarrassing as it was not to have a place to put the olives where they might rest without staining the car so that I had to hold my broken jar all the way into the mall, more embarrassing still was it to have a loudly running commentary beside me the whole way.

The wind blew hard, as usual, so that my hair blew into my eyes and the bag to the garbage can tried to blow up and out of the can while I tried to lift the metal lid with the hand holding the shards, not the hand holding the upside down jar of green olives. This crossed me all the more.

Standing between the garbage can and the electric doors to the mall was a woman in a fine, thick fur coat--fox, I would guess. On her head was a tight black cap much like from the 1920's, including a black sequin flower pinned above her ear, below which her peppered hair barely revealed itself.

"Er hår!" she exclaimed, looking closely at me through the hair plastered to my face.

Feeling like a cross, armless woman trying to open the garbage can (Hunter was unable to help as he was enamored by the woman), I tried to use an olive filled hand to push my hair away.

With the shards safely deposited, I directed a more patient face toward the woman. "I speak English," I said to the woman who proceded in Swedish.

She stood up straight, an unlit cigarette between her fingers and turned her face away from the wind. When she turned her face back to me, as if she had become someone new, she returned in English, "Your hair!"

I responded, almost interrupting the rest of her speech, "It's curly--natural."

"Och. I used to have hair like that. What a pity."

"Aw, you're still beautiful," I say, touching her furry sleeve, thinking it is what she wants to hear.

"Nej, you don't understand," she continues, lighting her cigarette into the wind and into my face. "I am dying."

"Dying?" I ask, alarmed that a casual comment has led to more serious conversation.

"Yes, I have taken those hormones," (I wish you could have heard how she said hormones), "and now I am dying." She takes a long drag on her cigarette and blows it into the wind and my hair.

Hardly knowing how to respond, standing there with my impatient son (who wanted to go to his favorite play area), with my upturned jar of olives, I say, "I'm sorry," with as much empathy as my startled mind can muster.

"It is because of that estrogin," (again, I wish you could hear 'estrogin' pronounced), "that I will now die: The reason I no longer have that kind of hair."

I begin to move toward the door at a complete loss for words and needing to run after my son who has gone into the mall.

The woman leans toward me again, the wind ruffling the long fur on her coat, "In my next life," she says, conspiratorally, "I will remember not to take the hormones. That way I can still have hair like yours."

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