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Day By Day
By Delia Parr
Steeple HillCopyright © 2007 Delia Parr
All right reserved.
For the first time in over twenty years, Judy Roberts once again welcomed the start of another school year with open arms and a huge sigh of relief. After a long, frustrating summer juggling her job, getting to know her grandson and almost depleting her meager savings to keep him in day care while she was at work, he was now in school in first grade.
Less than a week later when she hurried to work, she was not sure if her life had gotten more or less complicated now that Brian was in school. She had to get out of bed an hour earlier than usual to get him up, dressed and fed, and walk him to school before she could go to work.
"My life's just complicated. Sometimes more, sometimes less," she muttered as she unlocked the front door to the beauty salon and slipped inside. She let up the shade on the door and hit a series of wall switches. As the neon sign, Pretty Ladies, flickered to life, bright lights illuminated both sides of the salon. Behind the reception desk, on either side of the room, two stations sat opposite one another, with a row of six hair dryers and seats stretched across the rear wall. Behind that wall, there was a customer lounge and a ladies' room. Throughout the salon, a fresh coat of dove–gray paint–covered walls cracked with age that matched the well–worn tile floor. Mauve accents, including baskets of driedflowers hanging in between the stations, offered a soothing atmosphere that helped ease her flustered state.
Her mind raced through a list of things she needed to do as manager, to get the salon ready for business. She stood behind the main reception desk that anchored the converted storefront on Welles Avenue, the main street that the town locals simply called "the avenue," and opened the appointment book. No computers here. Pretty Ladies was just an old–fashioned beauty salon that had survived through the lean years, during the sixties and seventies, when one business after another had closed along the avenue only to reopen a short while later in nearby malls. In addition to the standard appointment book, the desk held an old, battered recipe box that held index cards for individual customers, recording the specifics of their hair dye colors, preferred brands of permanents, and personal preferences.
Unlike the new and very trendy unisex hair and nail salon just a few blocks away that drew newcomers to town, Pretty Ladies catered mainly to the elderly residents who lived in the senior citizens' complex, Welles Towers, or longtime, loyal customers who preferred to remain with the owner, Ann Porter, or Judy, the only other hairdresser at the shop.
She quickly counted the appointments for the day and smiled. Ann was only working in the morning today, with her first appointment at ten o'clock, but Judy had eight appointments, starting with one of her favorite clients here at nine o'clock and ending with an afternoon at the Towers. Not a great day in terms of what she might earn, but decent, although she was still worried she might have to get a second job now that she had another mouth to feed.
Still smiling, she answered the phone when it rang, even though the salon did not open for another half an hour. After making an appointment for one of Ann's customers for tomorrow, she stored her handbag at her hair station and went directly to the customer lounge in the rear of the salon. Within ten minutes, she set up the coffeemaker and a kettle of water for tea, put a fresh tablecloth on the snack table, and set out the packets of sugar, both natural and artificial, powdered creamer, napkins and paper plates.
At eight forty–five, she answered the usual knock at the front door and signed for a box of goodies from McAllister's Bakery that held the standard order of three dozen assorted baked goods. By design, these were far too many doughnuts or Danish or sticky buns for the customers to consume, but she would take whatever was left to the Towers for the seniors, a daily ritual that almost always ended her day on an upbeat note.
Before she had a chance to carry the box back to the lounge area, Ann arrived a full hour ahead of time. At sixty–two, she was only five years older than Judy, but she was no longer the vibrant, tireless woman who had spent the past thirty years working side by side with Judy as both employer and friend. Beyond the common bond of their vocation, they had shared the challenges of raising a child and the sorrows of widowhood. While Judy had maintained her health, Ann had packed a good extra forty pounds on her once–slender frame and had battled recurring bouts of gout over the past year that had zapped her energy, although her sense of humor was still intact.
"You're early," Judy remarked, holding tight to the box.
"Alice Conners called me at home last night. She's not feeling up to coming in for her ten o'clock, so I promised I'd stop by her house instead. I just need to get my bag." She paused, stared at the box in Judy's hands and pointed to the back of the shop. "Take that into the lounge. Quick. Before I gain another three pounds just thinking about what's inside or my big toe turns bright red and starts throbbing again."
Judy chuckled. "Just thinking about treats from McAllister's isn't the problem. It's eating two or three a day that gets you into trouble, in more ways than one. Baked goods are off–limits. Doctor's orders, remember?" she insisted before she turned and started toward the lounge.
Ann followed her for a few steps, but turned to get to her station. "No baked goods. No coffee. No tea. No chocolate. And that's just a tip of the forbidden list. Boy, isn't living with gout swell?" She sighed. "Still, it has been a couple of months since I've had any problems, and I've been dreaming about Spinners for weeks. All that sweet, buttery dough laced with cinnamon and topped with a mound of chocolate icing." She sighed loudly again. "Set aside a chocolate–iced one for me, will you? Just one couldn't hurt."
Ann was off her diet more than she was on it, and Judy was loath to encourage her to do something that would adversely affect her health. When she got to the lounge, she set the box down, lifted out the tray, set it on the table and grinned. "Sorry. No Spinners today," she replied, relieved at the day's offerings.
"Any cheese Danish?"
"No. Just miniature sticky buns that you don't really like. There's still some fresh fruit in the refrigerator," she suggested, hoping to convince Ann to follow her diet and try to prevent another debilitating episode that would either keep her off her feet for a few weeks or trigger another eating binge that would add even more pounds.
Judy stored the box away and opened the refrigerator. "I have a yellow Delicious apple, a pear and a navel orange. And there's a quart of cider you can warm up if you want something hot to drink."
"One orange. Three sticky buns. And don't argue. I'm still the boss around here, and just in case I need to remind you, it's dangerous to argue with a postmenopausal woman."
"That's funny. I distinctly remember my boss telling me just last week that I should ignore her when she asked for something she shouldn't eat," she teased, even as she arranged a plate with the orange and three sticky buns and put it back into the refrigerator.
"That must have been your other boss. The one with willpower."
Judy laughed, went back into the shop and grabbed her smock that she put on while she made her way to the reception desk where Ann stood waiting with her bag of tools and supplies. When Judy nearly tripped, she stopped to hike up her slacks.
"New slacks?" Ann asked.
"I got them off the clearance rack. I meant to hem them, but as usual these days, time has a way of running out before all my chores are done." She took a deep breath and smiled. "Things should calm down a bit now that Brian's in school."
"I'm sure they will. Just be careful, will you? I don't want you to trip and fall and hurt yourself."
"I'll be fine."
Ann nodded. "I should be back in plenty of time for my ten o'clock," she said before she headed toward the door.
"I'll be here. I've got plenty to do. It's supply day, remember? In between appointments, I'll be inventorying the stock."
Ann looked back over shoulder and lifted one brow. "What about my goodies?"
"One orange. Three sticky buns. I have them on a plate in the refrigerator, although it's against my better judgment."
Grinning, Ann waved goodbye. Before the door closed behind her, Judy was already reviewing her appointments for today. The first one, for Madge Stevens, a longtime client, brought a lift to her heart that the second appointment with Mrs. Hart quickly erased, and she prayed for an extra dose of patience to get through it.
When Madge arrived a few minutes later, promptly at nine o'clock, Judy greeted her with a smile and a bear hug. "I've missed you."
Madge returned the hug, stepped back and grimaced. "I've missed you, too, but I'm afraid my hair has missed you even more. I was going to borrow that special conditioner you gave me for Andrea when she was getting chemo, but she'd used it all up and neither one of us could remember the name of it."
"No problem. Andrea's still doing well?"
Madge smiled. "It's been two years now, and she's still cancer–free, thankfully."
Judy inspected Madge's blond, shoulder–length hair and grinned. "Sun and salt air might be your nightmare, but they're a hairdresser's best friend. Don't worry. I've got some of the conditioner. I'll use it today and send you home with some, but we'll have to snip off those split ends first."
Madge shrugged. "Getting my hair cut is a small price to pay for being able to rent a place for a month at the shore with my sisters. Jenny and the girls were able to stay for the whole time, and Andrea even managed to get down for a few days each week. What a great month!"
An only child, Judy shook her head and wished she had had a sister or two like Madge. Judy had not had a single day off the entire summer, either. Not since Brian had arrived. "Go on back. I'll give you a good wash, then we'll see about taking care of those split ends."
Within moments, she had Madge freshly shampooed and settled into the chair at her station, and she had a tube of conditioner on the counter for Madge to take home. Judy rearranged the plastic drape to protect Madge's lavender outfit and started to comb her hair free of snags. "We'll have you looking perky again in no time," she assured her.
Madge chuckled. "Now that Sarah is in school, maybe I'll have a little more time to get perky and help Russell at the store, too."
"Business is still good?" Judy asked and wondered how or why anyone would buy the gourmet food or expensive trinkets for cats, all available at Russell's store.
"At the Purrple Palace? It's going perfectly," Madge teased. "I'm so pleased for Russell. He's worked hard to make the store a success."
"And Sarah. Is she is still attending the preschool program?"
"She turned five in the spring, so she's in full–day kindergarten. Remember when my boys and your Candy started school? They had half–day kindergarten sessions back then. That's all changed now, I suppose to accommodate so many working mothers."
Judy's hands stilled as memories of her daughter surfaced. When Candy started school, Judy was young and hopeful, with her husband, Frank, at her side. Now he was gone, and Candy was somewhere in California battling her addiction again.
Madge pointed to the photograph Judy had taped to her mirror. "Is that your grandson?"
Judy looked into the mirror and locked her gaze with Madge's. Although they were very close in age, the two women looked very different. Madge wore her years well. She had a deft hand with her makeup and both the time and the money to make sure her hair was colored well and styled fashionably. Like the proverbial shoemaker's son who had no shoes, Judy had little time for her own hair. She wore it short and shaggy now, and her gray roots reminded her she was long overdue for a color touchup. Struck by the difference between them, as well as Madge's question, she took a deep breath and turned her attention back to Madge's hair. "Yes. He's in first grade. You've been away, so I guess you haven't heard. Brian's staying with me…for a while longer."
Madge frowned. "I thought I'd heard he was only going to be with you for the summer and that he'd be going back to school in California."
Judy took another deep breath. "Candy's not well," she whispered, relying once again on the euphemism she had used for so many years now, although Madge knew all too well that Candy had been battling drug addiction for most of her life. Madge had been there through Candy's rebellious high school years, her unfortunate marriage, and the scene at Frank's funeral four years ago that had changed the rift between mother and daughter from temporary to permanent, at least as far as Candy was concerned. Judy glanced up and looked into the mirror again, half expecting to see her broken heart staring back at her, along with Madge's sympathy.
"I'm so sorry," Madge murmured.
Judy blinked back tears. "Me, too. For the past few years, I thought not knowing how she was doing was bad, but not knowing where she is now is even worse. Brian's only six, but he asks questions about his mother and his father that I can't answer."
Madge nodded. "Sarah's had questions, too. She was three when we adopted her, but she still asks me to find her mommy for her. Death isn't a concept she understands yet, I'm afraid."
Judy swallowed hard and started trimming off the split ends. "I think I could handle explaining Candy's death to Brian a lot easier than trying to explain why his mommy doesn't come for him when she's still alive. I've told him how sick she is. Unfortunately, he knows that, too, but he's so young. He doesn't understand drug addiction any more than I do, and I'm afraid he's seen a lot of things he shouldn't have."
"At our age, raising a child isn't easy," Madge murmured.
"What about Brian's father? Isn't he able to take care of him?"
Excerpted from Day By Day by Delia Parr Copyright © 2007 by Delia Parr. Excerpted by permission.
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