Saturday, September 16, 2017

As Time Goes By #5

MIMI AND ETIENNE liked the movies. He immersed himself in them analyzed them, delivery of lines, lights, plot, how actors, actresses moved. Mimi listened delighted. You have Eva Gardner’s shoulders he murmured. His voice distilled lust.
         The Fox theater on Market Street splendid, elegant with an organ that was renowned around the world was their favorite. They went there most Friday nights with Lorena and Teddy in their brand new Nash Rambler which they lovingly washed and waxed every Saturday morning.
        Most Sunday afternoons Etienne picked her up at Rosita’s and drove her to Mercedes Street. They would let themselves in—the front door was never locked—to find the Porters settled in their living room reading side by side, or watching a variety show on their black and white television console. She idolizes Bing Crosby, Mr. Porter would wink at the young couple.
        Other times one of the Porter’s children or grandchildren would come to visit and stay to enjoy a frugal, well-prepared dinner. The conversation was always animated specially if Mr. Porter told one of his stories. He loved to tell stories. He liked to tell about how Etienne and Mimi met.
        Leaning back on his chair he would wipe his mouth with the linen napkin, wink and laughing send Mimi a loving glance then began: Imagine, they lived a block from each other in Miraflores but never met. Then nodding in her direction smoothed the napkin resting on his lap with a twist of his wrist before continuing: And, who do you think she finds in San Francisco? He had been here for two years already! This dapper, six footer. At that point everyone was smiling in disbelieve. Etienne would be blushing, he was only five nine.
         Any questions? However, without waiting Mr. Porter would wink and answer himself: Well, they never met in their hometown because being five years apart, when Mimi was still in high school barely getting interested in boys Etienne was already working for Panagra, traveling through out the world. But their families knew of each other, they had friends in common. Etienne’s oldest sister is a well known artist, his father, a writer, inventor—self-made man like Mimi’s—besides his family can not be ignored. There were always raised eyebrows the first time anyone heard that remark. Knowing smiles afterwards as Mr. Porter delivered the punch line: It is the only family in town of all red- heads, all of them, parents and children, all seven of them, being his mother is French, his father Italian descent!
        Mr. Porter also liked to tell stories about the churches he had headed in different parts of the United States. He was a retired Pas- tor. Mrs. Porter would then listen to her husband as if she had never heard it all before, occasionally breaking in to add a little garnish, not to detract from them, to compliment them.

ONE EVENING BECAME memorable. It was just the four of them at dinner. Etienne and Mimi announced to the Porters they would marry in the Spring. Several toasts to their happiness later, Mr. Porter—forgetting to wink—began: We were also twenty-four and nineteen once. I was ready to go to work. I had just received my orders from the Bishop so immediately started for Lois’ farmhouse to give her the news. It was a beautiful summer afternoon.
        Mrs. Porter, her body motionless anticipated his words, savoring the scenes they evoked as the dining room: filled with the song of birds, the rustling of their feathers in flight, the smell of the cherry tree where they alighted and of lilacs in bloom. We were alone in the porch of her parents’ farmhouse. Mr. Porter continued: I have to leave next week. I came to say good-bye, I said, and had to look away, overcome by my emotions. By this nineteen-year- Old’s beauty, her lilac blue eyes, honey colored hair, bright rose lips, hourglass silhouette. When I looked at her again it was to blurt out: I came to ask you to wait for me. I’ll be gone two years.... Lois took a step forward, Mr. Porter’s voice broke, our hands touched. She became a woman taking charge of her life. Her warm fin- gers sent a current through my body.
        The Porters locked eyes across the dinner table reliving that long ago moment. Mr. Porter seemed to be talking only to his wife as he continued: and she said to me...I wouldn’t want to miss the thrill of our first assignment.
         Mrs. Porter, her eyes moist held her husband’s.
         Etienne and Mimi looked at each other, his eyes were burning with desire, Mimi smiled encouraging him.

THE PORTERS WERE a great example to Etienne and Mimi since housekeeping, gardening held great joys for them. Look, look, Mr. Porter would shout excitedly celebrating a new rosebud. Or spring’s dry weather that, he pointed out with a wink, made painting touch- ups possible. Or winter winds that carry the fragance of the earth. Or a new batch of Mrs. Porter’s baked cookies. But also listened with a warm smile, and a special light in their eyes to the young couple’s stories as they finished each others sentences.
          We went to the Cliff House, a birthday dinner. Mimi told them. From its windows you can see the ocean change colors and watch the lights flickering at The Playland.
         But, Etienne added, is impossible to enjoy a walk along the beach. Not like Miraflores....
...where summer evenings are for promenading along the Malecón, Mimi finished. And for a split second her mind wandered: to other, not long ago summer evenings, when the evening breeze was saturated with the perfume of flowers blooming everywhere. And flirting was a favorite activity of the outmost importance. When Mimi and her girl- friends all dressed up in sleeveless cotton, silk, sharkskin, maybe a sweater around the shoulders went for walks along the Malecón. Their eyes—baring their souIs—sparkled full of mischief, full of hope as they flirted with the boys. So she understood perfectly when once, reminisc- ing, Etienne had said the girls, like flowers, a new crop bloomed every summer.
         Returning to the moment, she laughed, in San Francisco we have to wear coats and sweaters most of the time.....because of the Bay’s fog and wind, Etienne added.
          No matter where you go, Golden Gate Park, Chinatown or window shopping the stores on Market Street, the Emporium, Roos Atkins, Pen- neys...Mimi smiled.
         They didn’t talk of how Mimi’s eyes flirted without any effort on her part. How when a clerk from a jewelry store went after her saying, here is my card. Etienne tore it up and tossed it over his shoulder.
        And encouraged by the Porter’s undivided attention they went on talking about the virtues of one establishment or another.
         Lerner always has the latest women’s fashions. And Leeds, SHOES FOR THE ENTIRE FAMILY. Mimi told them.
        ...Restaurants and coffee shops line surrounding blocks. 5 & 10 Woolworth at Fifth and Market has a great inexpensive lunch counter. The all-night-open Foster’s at Seventh and Market that Mimi works at, Etienne interjected, is a haven for Greyhound passengers arriving at all hours. Mimi continued, next block on Seventh Street is the Atlanta Hotel the broken vending machine in the lobby gives us twenty apples for a penny instead of one...
        ...then almost in unison, exchanging glances for support, But soon there will be new stores opening away from Market Street, they concluded.
        Mr. Porter, nodded and said, I was just reading about it, and pick- ing up from his side his beloved, The San Francisco Examiner, read:
               ...the shopping-center and strip malls are coming into promi- nence, along 
              with their partner, the chain store, by products of the expansion of population 
              from cities to suburbs, shaping new metropolitan areas with retail dynamics 
              catering to an automobile-dominated society. Erosion of neighborhoods stores 
              and traditional downtown promenadesinevitably would soon follow.

        The Porters looked intrigued. Things are changing too quickly, Mrs. Porter murmured shaking her head. And what are they called...?
       Shopping centers, Mimi volunteered.
         Winter arrived with its holidays sooner than the shopping centers and Mimi and Etienne had fun spending all their money gift shop- ping on Market Street while the Porters stayed away from crowded stores, busy streets and instead searched in closets for treasures they could give to friends and relatives as Christmas presents. Mrs. Porter baked goodies, Mr. Porter kept the fireplace going.

IN APRIL MIMI and Etienne were married. Mystified by the sud- den turn of events, their families talked: They are too young. How long have they known each other? That was aunt Elsa. But noticing her brother Alvaro’s dark look, she didn’t say anymore. In the silence that followed his wife Marina’s knitting needles furious clickety, clickety filled the room. Alvaro was facing the fact that his daughter wasn’t returning home any time soon and didn’t like it one bit. He wrote her a harsh letter. Cousin Alberto murmured to himself, they lived almost next door to each other but met in theUnited States!
He is in the threshold of his career...marriage? a family? Of course, I see it already. He’ll be saddled with kids soon. That was Etienne’s father. His tone was somber.
         Relatives sent their reluctant blessings airmail from Perú. Pack- ages arrived at the Consulate via diplomatic courier, courtesy of Mr. Lizardi, it is safer that way.
         He was right, given the quality of the gifts. A gold watch for Eti- enne. Another in exquisitely crafted silver, a table centerpiece with Inca motif, was from Etienne’s family. For Mimi, from her father, a gorgeous 24k gold necklace also with Inca motif, and already sorry for the letter he had sent, he included a loving note: Para la hija que tanto quiero y tanto extraño.
        Mimi thought of his parting words as he embraced her:  You have been the great love of my life. God has not wanted us to be together.     
        Etienne had also received a letter from his father—caustic words—expressing his disapproval, his disappointment.
          And they don’t even know...Etienne murmured, the blood drain- ing from his face.
         Mimi sighed. Her eyes filled with tears.
         Have faith, he murmured. He felt confident specially since their search for a Catholic Church where they could be married on short notice had ended. It had been very difficult. One priest told them the Church demanded a waiting period. Another explained that weeks of orientation sessions were required. Another said Mimi hadn’t established residence, had not lived in that neighborhood long enough.
         Mimi tried to forget the embarrassment of those moments. The sickening feeling when a couple of those priests had forgotten themselves. And hadn’t even try to disguise it. When Mimi blushed under the weight of one specially lustful stare, his eyes had turned hostile, his face crimson and as she watched him, amazed, he had avoided her eyes.
          Seeing the pain reflected in Mimi’s face Etienne pulled her to him holding her tight, resting his head on hers. Perfectly fitted they made a colorful picture, his red hair, her dark mane. Their energies replen- ished they buried their pain.

THEY HAD AN intimate ceremony at Our Lady of Guadalupe Church. Their friends surrounded them, Mr. and Mrs. Porter. Billy and Willy who ever helpful brought a buddy, a photographer, who got to work and gave them the beautiful black and white photos they would always cherish. Rosita and husband arrived with John in Lorena and Teddy’s shiny Nash Rambler. John sat alone in the last pew and left without a word—as usual—leaving a present for them on the place he had occupied. Max, Frank, Bobby, Olga and Glenda were the Foster’s delegation. They kept their eyes on the wedding couple looking like a collecti mother
          Juan Ledesma walked Mimi down the aisle. Elsa was her maid of honor. They had offered their house for the reception. After the champagne and cake, Elsa and her maid-nanny took Mimi into a bedroom, change before your friends leave so all can join in wishing you a good trip, Elsa said.
          Mimi and Elsa walked in, the maid closed the bedroom door. Mimi turned around and found herself facing a stranger. Elsa’s eyes were cold, inquisitive. An air of expectation prevailed in the room. Neither Elsa nor the maid, standing by her mistress, made any attempt to help her. Instead they stood there and watched Mimi’s every move. Mimi pre- tending not to notice went to the closet to get her clothes to change. The maid helped her to take off her veil, unzipped her bridal gown and
quickly stepped back. Mimi in one movement let it fall to the floor. Their mouths dropped. Their eyes opened wide reflecting admiration in spite of’ themselves and disappointment and envy. Had Etienne con- fided in Juan? What did they know? What had they expected to see? Certainly, not this perfect figure, this virginal vision of’ lace and satin. The lovely elegant white lace merrywidow over the white spidery pant- ies from which the garters connected to the white stockings ending inside the white satin pumps. Mimi was never to be so thankful as in that moment to the owner of the tiny specialty-store on Powell Street who had outfitted her with the necessary undergarments after realizing Mimi’s expanding waistline needed help.
         The ladies of The Circle of the Virgin of Guadalupe in preparation for one of their events, the following day, had filled the church with flowers. It was a perfect setting as Mimi had chosen to carry no bou- quet walking down the aisle and carry instead a white tortoise-shell- bound prayer book and a rosary of white pearls and sterling silver. Mrs. Porter had been all aquiver at the sight of the satin and lace bridal gown with its tight bodice, long train and a veil that covered her face when Mimi walked to the altar, topped with a crown of orange blossoms made of custom pearls and silver threads.
          She hadn’t suspected, that what realIy held it alI together, was the merrywidow Mimi was wearing. It gave her a delicate hourglass figure that showed off the gown, accentuated her waistline and firmly held her breasts, filling up with what was necessary to sustain the new life forming within her.

IN THE NEXT few months—in a big hurry—they learned to budget their money, their time. Mimi’s body had given itself permis- sion to expand. She got heavier by the day, also got swollen hemor- rhoids, heartburn, swollen feet, coughing fits—usually in the middle of the night. Etienne on his way home after work would run errands.  I used to bring you flowers, a book, candy, he laughed one evening when he arrived with a much needed set of Pyrex dishes. They had rented a romantic, colorful rustic in-law cottage at the back of a well-tended orchard on Schwerin Street, a blue collar neighborhood in the Sunnyvale District. of San Francisco and while waiting for the baby, they furnished it with the 3 ROOM PLAN from Lachman Brothers on Mission Street and were enchanted by their round-top-self-defrosting Westinghouse refrigerator, white, with a light blue panel on the front and light blue interior. The baby’s crib was purchased at the Galli Furniture Co. on Mission St near 18 th St..
        It will last for many more.... The salesman didn’t finish when he saw the consternation on their faces, more babies?
         In the intimacy of their home surveying their latest acquisitions they felt lucky. Etienne admitted, I’m glad our families are so far away. They dreaded the moment when they would have to explain. And our friends? but nature took care of their query, Mimi got a fit of vomiting and had to run out of the room.
        They decided to leave well enough alone, after all, who was asking for an explanation? and enjoy all that was good in their lifes. Little Alvaro—named after Mimi’s father—was born six months later, chubby, willful.
        The Porters celebrated as if the baby was their own, we had a cou- ple of extra glasses of wine at dinner, Mr. Porter winked. And making an exception they left their house to go visit the young family on a sunny afternoon. They marveled at the comfort of their tiny home. Cooed at the baby. Their beautiful, venerable faces shoned. As they left they invited the family to join them for supper the following Sunday.
         It became a regular event. And as the Porters preferred not to go out anymore unless it was absolutely necessary, were thrilled with their frequent visits.

THE HOLIDAY SEASON found the home bound Porters enjoy- ing—through Mimi and Etienne—tales of the streets, the stores and the weather. The baby’s delight in exploring lights, colors recreated for them memories of bygone days.
Then the phone call: Mr. Porter died in his sleep.

THE LITTLE FAMILY visited the widow often. The three story house was now cavernous, frightening in its emptiness. Mrs. Porter lost weight and the last few strands of gold in her hair went to grey and from grey to pure white in the first few weeks that followed her husband’s death. Her blue eyes also turned grey, opaque, lost the special light that had always shone in them.
          Mimi and Etienne made it a point to stay on when they visited, to accompany her at dinner as often as they could.
         One evening they became quite alarmed when they let themselves in assisted by the porch light and found her sitting in the living room in the dark. As their eyes became accustomed to the glow of the street light shining through the windows they saw her, hands folded on her lap, completely still. A fallen, wounded bird.
          As if coming out of a dream she smiled when she recognized them. Dinner is ready, she said. Seemingly ethereal, weightless got up and lead them into the dinette. The little table was set for two. Mrs. Porter had already started on her soup. Mr. Porter’s dish was full. His main course on the side.

THEIR SON LARSEN told them, she had lost her mind. They found him upstairs supervising a day of packing. The rooms as they passed them, showed different stages of disarray and emptiness.
            One evening last week, Larsen went on, I came to see her. The house was dark except for a small fire in the fireplace. Then I saw this flame in mid-air crossing over in the direction of the kitchen. My mother was carrying a piece of lighted paper across the house! I took it from her, stamped out the flame. Then holding her sat down to recover from thefright of what might have happened. From what it all meant. He con- tinued, I asked her, what was she doing? Told me she was going to light the stove. She had to prepare dinner for Dad.
             Larsen held his face in his hands as the horror of it hit him all over again. She’s safe now, he sobbed, I’ll take care of her.
             Mimi, Etienne with their baby huddled close to each other. No words came. No words could express how deeply they felt the widow’s loneliness, her helplessness. All the more because it was alien to their lives full of sights, smells and colors that each day rever- berated, exploded for them full of beginnings without end. 

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