Read Solomon's Oak Online

Authors: Jo-Ann Mapson

Tags: #Fiction, #General, #Self-actualization (Psychology), #Literary, #Loss (Psychology), #Psychological

Solomon's Oak (10 page)

“Factor in homemade biscuits and it’s easy to prioritize.”

Juniper swung that tire swing until watching made Glory dizzy. Juniper called out to make sure they’d look at her and waved.

Caroline waved back. “Forty going on fifteen,” she said. “For a little while, anyway. Brace yourself for the wonderful world of hormones.”

Glory walked through the automatic doors of Target and came face-to-face with red carts. The scent of elderly popcorn assaulted her nose and her gag reflex kicked in. Past the carpeted cart corral, the scuffed linoleum began. The rattle of the automatic doors opening and closing every two seconds slammed against her eardrums. Her hands itched to straighten up the shelves with the dollar-bargain junk, to fold scarves over matching mittens. “I get an employee’s discount here,” she told Juniper, “so you can spend a little more than the voucher says.”

“You work in this place?”

“It’s just seasonal help,” Glory said, trying to make it sound less embarrassing that someone her age would willingly dress in red polo shirts and khakis.

“Cool,” Juniper said. “Maybe we can save up and get a television.”

Glory laughed. “How about we watch a video now and then on the computer? Now go find some school clothes while I get a cart.” She watched Juniper hustle through the racks, touching the buttoned capes that were supposed to be popular this year, but looked good on nobody and were now marked down 75 percent. Juniper rooted through a pile of black sweaters until she found an extra-extra-large. The sleeves hung down past her hands and it swam on her. Glory knew she wouldn’t be able to talk her out of it so she didn’t try. An hour later they had jeans, T-shirts, a jacket, socks, underwear, and the giant sweater. “Juniper, everything you’ve chosen is black. Do you have something against color?” Glory said as they headed to the school-supplies section for a notebook and backpack, also black.

“Black’s my favorite color.”

“Okay. You’ll need gym clothes. Be sure you find out on Monday what kind and where to get them.”

“You could look it up on the computer.”

“I never thought of that.”

“I despise gym.”

“I didn’t like it either, but you have to take it.”

“Can we go to the shoe department next? I could use some shoes if there’s enough money left.”

Glory frowned. “How about we shop at the mall for shoes? The ones here don’t last.”

“Better not say that too loud or you’ll get fired. Can I get a cell phone?”

Glory tried not to smile. “Let’s revisit that when you have someone to call.”

“I’ll need to call you.”

“You can probably do it the old-fashioned way. Let’s go to cosmetics. You’re welcome to use my stuff, but I imagine you’d like your own things.”

Juniper looked at her as if no one had ever said this to her before. “Thank you, Mrs. Solomon.”

“It’s really all right if you call me Glory.”

“I don’t think I can yet.”

“That’s fine, too.” Glory reached out and gave Juniper a brief sideways hug. Juniper didn’t flinch, and Glory took that as a positive sign.

She had never expected to be standing here watching a “daughter” pick out tampons and shampoo and barrettes. Juniper picked up a name-brand conditioner, then found its generic equivalent. Glory wished she could tell her to get whatever brand she wanted, to pamper herself, to forget about prices. “After we pay for these, let’s have a treat at that coffee place. I could live on latte. What’s your favorite hot drink? Do you like cocoa or herbal tea?”

“I like mochaccino with a triple shot and extra cream.”

“Fine with me, so long as you order decaf.”

Juniper walked ahead to the candy section. From the back Glory saw a tall twelve-year-old, studying flavors of Tic Tacs as if they shopped together every day. In her civilian clothes, Glory disappeared, but what a stroke of luck! Larry O. was on the register. She steered the cart in. The employees did this to each other, chose higher-ups to check them out when they were on the other side of the conveyor belt. Partly it was to make them recite the spiel, partly because one of the job’s few perks was making someone like Larry O. ring up your economy-size box of tampons.

He grinned at her like a rictus. “Good afternoon, ma’am. Did you find everything you were looking for?”

Glory smiled. “As a matter of fact, Larry, I did.”

“Excellent.” He had to enter the price code by hand when one of the T-shirts wouldn’t register on the scanner. “Is there anything else I can do to make your transaction easier?”

“Not that I can think of.”

“Would you care to open a Target account and save ten percent today?”

“No, thank you.”

“You’ll save ten percent.”

“The answer is still no.”

“Thank you for shopping at Target and have a pleasant day. Happy holidays, and come back soon.”

“You, too, young man.”

He handed her the receipt. “Who’s your friend?”

Glory tucked the receipt into her wallet. “This is my daughter, Juniper.”

He smiled for real this time. “Whoa. Didn’t know you had one.”

“That’s because I keep her locked up. We have to go now. Bye, Larry.”

“See you on your next shift, Gloria,” he said, watching Juniper all the way to the exit.

“Why do I have to take the bus to school?” Juniper said as they sat down at the café table with their drinks.

“It’s too long for me to drive you back and forth every day, and on the days I work, one of us would have to be late.”

Juniper poked her fork into her chocolate croissant and frowned.

“Do you get motion sickness on buses?”

“It’s not that.”

“Then what is it?”

“They’ll put me in remedial classes. In eighth grade I tested at the high school level for reading and still they made me take sentence-building.”

“Sounds dreadful.”

“Yeah. It made me want to stab myself in the eyes.”

Learning Juniper’s code was going to take some time. “Well, we can’t have that. I’ll make sure you’re placed in the right classes. I get off work at four most days. I’ll be home as soon as I can. Can I trust you on your own until I get home?”

Juniper gave her a “duh” look. “I promise I won’t set your couch on fire if that’s what you’re worried about.”

“I’m not,” Glory said, though a part of her was scared silly at the idea of Juniper in her house without supervision. She sipped her latte and studied the trees in the center of the grassy, outdoor plaza filled with enormous oaks. It was a typical California winter day, eighty degrees, despite the predicted rain that rarely fell. Young mothers walked by toting kids who didn’t understand why they had to wait a month for Santa to show up. Glory wondered how she and Juniper would celebrate Christmas. She used to accompany Dan to midnight mass at the mission, a festival of candles and carols in Spanish. The service was always packed. They’d sleep in Christmas morning, drink Irish coffee for breakfast, and take a long ride with the horses and the dogs. How had Juniper’s family celebrated anything after Casey went missing? Right now Juniper flipped through the free
Central Coast Weekly
that listed entertainment from here to Sacramento. Did she long for tickets to Beyoncé, or Roller Derby? Did she like those rap artists who looked to Glory like car mechanics or criminals? What was her idea of fun? A woman walked past with two Italian greyhounds in harnesses, one seal and the other blue. Glory almost spoke up to compare notes about Edsel, but then for no reason at all, she was blindsided by a memory of the back of Dan’s neck. Whenever he was driving the truck and she was sitting beside him, she noticed the sun-darkened skin on the back of his neck, middle-aged and craggy. She had loved to place her fingers there, where time had taken its toll. For a moment she could almost feel a slight tickle against her fingers, but as soon as she tried to will the sensation closer, it departed, taking another nip of her heart. Shoppers and diners came and went, kids on skateboards wove in and out of pedestrians, and middle-aged men sped by on racing bicycles with tires so thin they looked as if they could cut grooves in the asphalt.

“We should get going,” Glory said, and stood to bus their trash.

“I need to use the restroom.”

“Go ahead. I’ll wait here.” While Glory waited, she noticed a T-shirt in the bookstore window, a deep purple shade with a Celtic graphic of two rearing horses. She thought of Juniper feeding Piper and Cricket. On sale for $10, two for $15. She bought one, as well as the other books in the
Sh
gun
series. When Juniper returned from the restroom, she handed her the bag. “Early Christmas present.”

When Juniper looked inside the bag, she said, “Why are you being so nice to me?”

Glory looked at Juniper’s face piercings and saw a fearful girl trying to look grown-up. “Just say thanks and let’s go. We need to walk the dogs.”

“Thanks.”

Later, when they were cruising along in the weekend traffic, Juniper turned down the radio and said, “Mrs. Solomon?”


Glory
, kid. As in ‘glory, glory, hallelujah.’ ”

“Is that your real name?”

Glory grinned. “It is. My father went a little nuts when his daughters were born. My sister got the worst of it. Imagine twelve years of roll call for Hallelujah Smith.”

They laughed. Juniper said, “I know the voucher Ms. Proctor gave you was only good for Target. Thank you for buying me the shirts and the books. I know they cost extra.”

“Books are always worth the splurge. Of course, that means we’ll be eating beans and rice all week.”

“I don’t mind.”

“Juniper, I’m kidding! I can’t tell a joke to save my life. When I hear a good one, I have to write it down and read it in order to get the lunch pine. I mean,
punch
line.”

When Juniper laughed, it was as if someone had pumped helium into the truck’s cab. So many things were funny on the drive home. The black cows chewing their cuds, a jacked-up pickup with a nerdy driver at the wheel. The oldies station playing the Norman Greenbaum song “Canned Ham.”

Eight thirty
A.M.
on the Monday after Thanksgiving, Glory dropped Juniper at King City High and spoke to the woman at the attendance desk about testing and placement and bus schedules. Over the years the Solomons had gone through this ritual many times, registering their foster sons. King City was a good school, and though Glory didn’t know the new people working at the front desk, they were all smiles and warmly welcoming to Juniper.

“That went well,” Glory said as she said good-bye for the day.

Juniper scowled. “Appearances can be deceiving.”

Glory patted her shoulder. “Don’t be so gloomy. The day will be over before you know it. See you tonight.”

Juniper stood and watched her go, waving as if Glory had left her at the pound.

Glory drove to the Butterfly Creek General Store to buy a freshly made doughnut, and to say a quick hi to her friend Lorna.

“Glory Bea!” Lorna said when Glory walked in through the squeaky screen door. Lorna shooed aside her husband, who was restocking the countertop display of topography maps popular with hikers. “Juan, sweetie. Go cover the register while I visit with our
hijastra
.” She looped a mug through her finger. “I hosed off the chairs this morning, so check before you sit down in a puddle. I can’t wait to hear all about the wedding. I hope you brought pictures.”

“Soon. I’ll post them on the Web site.”

Lorna sighed. “Oh, well, that’s something to look forward to then, isn’t it? I gotta get me one of those laptop computers. My great-nephew Elliot carries his everywhere he goes. My niece is worried he’ll end up working for the Geek Squad, but I say more power to him. So, what was it like? Do pirates party like bikers or Girl Scouts? Did they make anyone walk the plank?”

“Actually, it was fairly sedate.”

“That doesn’t tell me a thing. Come on, girl! I need specifics. Surely there was a smidgen of debauchery. Did a bridesmaid dance on a tabletop in her slip? Did anyone stand up at the ‘give a reason these two should not be married’? Just once in my lifetime I would dearly love to see that happen. I guess that’s only on soap operas, right?”

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