Nonfiction by Kelli Grinich
Pop music bangs from black speakers mounted at the seam of ceiling and wall, all four of them pounding toward the center where I sit with my salad bowl and plastic fork. The guy sitting on the stool stares out the window. He wears khaki shorts and an orange Hawaiian shirt with pineapples and surf boards printed on it, taps his right foot, even though he’s plugging his ears with his fingers.
A woman sits four seats down the counter from him. She has the biggest rose tattoo I’ve ever seen looming out from her tank top on her left shoulder. Petals and leaves curl around her deltoid. The afternoon sunshine gets caught in the water of her purple Nalgene and lights the lime green purse next to it. Silver pyramids stud the purse. The metallic trim shines, the mouth of the purse yawns open. The song changes and she rocks her ankle to the beat.
Boomba boomba boomba is giving me a headache. The Hawaiian-shirt guy plays drums with his feet, black Converse right foot slaps down twice, left foot once.
Rose tattoo woman leaves, and a woman wearing black leggings, a camouflage jacket, and matching camo high-tops sits in her place. She rests her head on her right hand, motionless save the three-inch black hoop earrings that sway as she chews her chicken-rice burrito. Long dreadlocks fall from a hair tie at the nape of her neck. Oh my god, her handbag—antique-red pebbled leather with soft brown handles, two fringed tassel pulls and a gold clasp. It sits like a cat, nearly purring.
The music is so insistent, the strum and beat so loud, an invisible curtain separates each of us. A couple of businessmen wearing ties, dress shoes, move into the booth across from me. The older one tucks his tie between buttonholes in his shirt placket as he bends toward his corn tacos.
My shoulder bag looks tired. The corners are worn and the long strap stretches thin. It hangs limp over the back of the metal chair next to me, lumpy from my sunglasses, my brush, iPad, and eye drops. White pharmacy bags of amber pill bottles float inside at the top. Ambien for me, and beta blockers, water pills, and opiates for my dying mother.
What will I do with my mom’s purse when she’s gone? In the middle of boomba boomba thumping, I see this vision: the stiff edges of her black leather satchel awkwardly pressing against my chest under the bed covers as I fall asleep, secrets deep in zippered pockets, strands of brown hair caught in a wide-tooth comb, honey-lemon cough drops and twisted tissues falling out.
Outside, leaves shake and traffic clips by at a steady pace. Next to the tree, the landscape is all asphalt and concrete and more glass.
This street goes straight to the river. My great-grandparents raised their kids around this neighborhood long ago, when natural landmarks were easier to find. Could they see the river from here? Would this street have been dirt? When he was a young man, my grandfather used to jump off the Steel Bridge for fun. Countdown by heartbeat, he’d say. I’m a swimmer like him, I’d never jump, but what if there were willows or grass on shore to climb out on and I did?
Kelli Grinich is a fifth-generation Oregonian who lives in McMinnville, OR, and writes creative nonfiction and poetry. Her current project is a memoir about motherhood, love, food poisoning, and the American West.