Last winter, I submitted a story (find it a little further down) to a contest sponsored by the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, the wonderful CBC. The contest was titled "Canada Writes". Nonfiction stories up to 1500 words, not previously published, were accepted until March. My story was titled: "Woman at the Mall, Summer 2014".
On Aug. 31st a "long list" of potential winner was posted, and my story is not on it, freeing the story for my own use. The contest was great fun, but I question my writing now, not having made the long list. -- Was it too politically incorrect? Was it not tasteful? Was it too hurtful? -- Part of me was glad it did not get published by CBC.
Second guessing, but I like it, actually.
Woman at the Mall, Summer 2014
“As the world burns, America Shrugs,” writes Robert Fulford in the National Post. Bodies of famous AIDS researchers lie in a wheat field in Ukraine. Christians are forced to leave Mosul, as ISIS forcibly demands conversion to Islam. Palestinians from the Gaza strip and Israel pummel each other with missiles. Obama jumps from issue to issue and holds no steady course, unwilling to commit U.S. power, while Russia tries to resurrect its influence. Is this 1938, where we simply turn a blind eye?
In contrast to the world situation, my own summer has been going well...very well, in fact. The weather has been favorable, the garden is lush, and--most importantly--I have lost a chunk of body weight from dieting and exercise.
While on errands in Edmonton, I decide to stop at a large shopping mall. It used to be the best mall in town, before West Edmonton Mall became the place to go and before many people stopped visiting malls altogether.
My arrival at the concrete and brick block of a building set in a parking lot that has not yet been updated with islands of trees and river rock brings on a wave of nostalgia. Entering through the big glass doors, I recall how I used to squeeze in managing stroller and children. A public washroom with a change table was located on the second floor of the department store for our convenience.
Now inside and moist from a gentle summer drizzle, I am greeted by the entire collection of summer sandals already on sale. (We are only days away from bringing out the snow boots, we know.) For the moment, the store is a paradise of sales and floral prints, as I had hoped in my determination to buy something feminine for myself, in my new size. Finishing an appropriately virtuous lunch of just an apple, I soak in the bright light and atmosphere of the tasteful displays.
With my free hand browsing through a rack of dresses, holding one up, viewing it at a distance, a small mishap occurs. The dress slips off the hanger and falls to the ground. Seeing my predicament, while still holding the half-eaten apple, a professional- looking young man pops right out of nowhere, smilingly picks up the dress, and hangs it up for me surprisingly gallantly.
His hair is black and his skin is deeply tanned. Perhaps he is Mexican or Filipino. He addresses me in broken English with deliberately mischievous demeanor: “What do you put on your eyes before you go to sleep?”
“What do I put on my eyes before I go to sleep?” I repeat. “Umm...my eye-lids?”
“Good answer!” he laughs.
“Let me show you something!” he insists.
Ok, ok, new, slimmer sex goddess with dark, young man. I let him whisk me away to his sales counter. He sells facial creams. I deposit my apple core in the garbage can located by the chair I am motioned to sit down on.
“Why not,” I think. “Go for it.” The summer has been good but bland.
“What is your name?” he begins.
“Brigitte,” I tell him and say it the English way.
“Ah, Bree-shitte”, he says reverentially, the French way.
“Like Bree-shitte Bardot,” he offers.
“Ah. Yes. Yes,” I say. “Like Bree-shitte Bardot.” What young man has heard of Brigitte Bardot, these days?
I am beginning to think that he is from France. (I always let the French say “Bree-shitte.”)
But NO! He is from Israel! --You must be kidding.
Well, alright, what is my facial cream salesman’s name? “Shalom,” he states.
“Really? ‘Shalom’ as in ‘Peace’?”
I request Shalom tell me something in Hebrew and he indulges me.
I explain to him that I know it is Hebrew because it sounds like Hebrew on a CD of Messianic music I own of liturgical songs and prayers. He ignores that bit of information and proceeds to inquire about my children.
My daughter is married and my son died in a car accident, when he was 18 years old. He was the passenger in a vehicle travelling on icy roads in forty below weather on a January second, when the intersections had not yet been sanded. (-- I don’t tell that to everyone all the time, any more. I used to. It was the first thing I told them. The thing about my dead son. But this young Israeli might need to learn some things about winter driving still.) I tell him the whole story.
He grows serious in the middle of the applying of lotions on forehead, hands and around the eyes (of course), and his working on the sales pitch.
He explains that he lost a friend just last month. His friend had taken a bullet, been paralyzed, lain in a coma for some time and finally succumbed to his injuries.
“I know what this is about,” he says blankly.
I look him straight in the eyes. I am only inches away from him.
His eyes are big and round and dark. He is neither ugly nor attractive. He seems neither honest nor deceitful. I accept that he knows what this is about. He probably does know it all too well.
There would be reasons why one would not want to be in the Israeli army.
He knows I am reading him carefully. He might even guess that I care.
“If you have a million dollars, you can take me home with you,” he offers. “I will do everything. I will cook and wash. Do you have a million dollars?”
I am stunned. “Do I have a million dollars?”
Do they talk like this in the Middle East? Or maybe around the Mediterranean?
Or maybe, dear old Brigitte Bardot gets herself young men for a million dollars?
Honestly. You don’t talk like that in a Canadian shopping mall.
We don’t pursue this subject.
It turns out he is from a particular small town by Tel Aviv.
“Ah, Tel Aviv,” I say.
He is surprised that I have heard of Tel Aviv. He says Canadians have blinders on and don’t know anything about the world. He holds his hands by the sides of his head to indicate blinders.
I tell him that he might be surprised that I even know about the little town by Tel Aviv because it is an ancient place mentioned in the Bible.
He does not say anything about that. I wonder if he knew that. I wonder if he knows about anything in the Bible.
Strangely, his little town is in the news today, as it was under shelling from Gaza; but, in something of a scandal, the women and children were turned away from the men’s shelter by the Orthodox.
There are all sorts of blinders.
It is obvious to me, that I have to buy something from Shalom, now that I have accepted his efforts and friendliness, his rubbing of exfoliants on the back of my hand and the deep, serious look in the eyes.
I buy the absolute minimum: a small, ivory, quite gorgeous, surprisingly heavy container holding a minuscule amount of expensive lotion. It is for putting around my eyes before I go to sleep--of course--to protect my old eyes. He wanted me to buy more, and there were deals, so that I could help out a young man who has already seen a lot of difficulty in life.
I stick to my guns, and now it seems to be his lunchtime, too.
As we complete the purchase, I wish him good-bye and a heartfelt “shalom.”
He seems touched and presents his open arms to hug me. Sure. Shalom and I hug “shalom”, this fine summer day.
God bless him and help him. God bless and help us all.
I buy a couple of pretty blouses and some new nightclothes, not too racy and not too old-fashioned.
Women in headdress and modest garb are found in the lingerie section, as one often finds. Even those who cover during the day need something more suggestive for at home.
As I apply the lotion around my eyes, I hold the precious container in my hand ceremoniously. My skin is really quite wrinkled. This is Alberta for you. My son is dead. The Middle East burns.
When the lotion is gone, I will refill it with some other lotion and keep the shiny vessel by my side, the memory of a good day and hope for the future.
My daughter tells me that I should complain to the shopping mall regarding the salesman and having been told that I could buy him for a million dollars. I can’t do that, I tell her. I have hugged him “shalom.” And I have a treasure in an ivory jar.