Create Your Own World


a  short story by Margaret C. Murray

From my booth in Mary’s Grill and Coffee Shop here in downtown Sebastopol I watch Dawn coming the doorway. She isn’t wearing a mask. Seeing her look around, I take off mine and smile automatically. 
“Hi! Dawn! Over here,” I call out, waving my hand. She gives me a half-smile as she approaches.“We haven’t had a coffee date since I moved into my condo,” I greet her, stuffing my mask in my purse.
“Is it that long?” Dawn pulls off her gloves, unzips her windbreaker.
“Two years,” I laugh, unbuttoning my coat.
“No way!” She laughs too.
I stand, lean over and give her a hug imagining we’re sisters, no, cousins, who haven’t seen each other for too long a time. Dawn and I have known each other since we first hung out with our commune mates in that rented house down on the Peninsula so many years ago.
Dawn drops her purse on the table.
I can still see us sitting in a circle on the floor at those psychodrama sessions, flirting with potential and erstwhile boyfriends, sharing secrets and shocking each other with sexy gossip.
“Sit down! Sit down!” I tell Dawn.
It is nice to see her again after all this time, isn’t it?

Listening to the rain outside, I watch Dawn hang her wet coat on end of the booth. It’s been raining steadily since early morning when I walked Sunny and Boy up the hill behind my barn, as I call the cottage I’m renting. My mind was far away, reliving yesterday’s visit to my old doctor in Berkeley for a yearly checkup. Buried in his computer, the doctor seemed to barely notice me. Didn’t even remember my name I complained to my dogs on our walk. They look up at me inquiringly, wagging their tails, hoping for treats.
“I had such a morning,” Dawn moans, sliding into the seat across from me. “The cats got out.”
“Oh, didn’t I tell you? I adopted two stray cats,” she shakes her head in exasperation.
Even inside the coffee shop I can hear the rain.

Dawn folds her hands on the tabletop.
“How are you, girl?” she asks.
I laugh, seeing we’re both in our ‘70s.
“It gets lonely some nights but, hey, I’d rather be lonely in Sebastopol than anywhere else.” I laugh.
“Yeah. I think that’s why I got my horse,” she says.
“A horse!”
“I did tell you, didn’t I? Amigo.” She opens her purse and pulls out her cell phone. Dawn taps the phone, holding it toward me as she leans across the table. “Here’s my boy.”
“Nice,” I say, glancing at the photo. I remember now that Dawn grew up with horses in Kentucky.
“But so much work!” she sighs, looking around. “Have you ordered already?”
“Yes.” I pick up the large plastic menus, hand one to her.
Dawn glances at it.

“Do you know what you want?” I ask.
“Don’t I always?” she grimaces. I watch as she twists her long thin dyed blond hair into a knot and fasten it with a large barrette. “So what’s going on with you, Sue?”
It’s been a long time since anyone called me ‘Sue’.
“Oh, nothing much. How about you?”
“Same old, same old?” Dawn nods. “I get it.”
Not really I’m thinking as I button my coat up. You don’t have a clue.
Dawn waves her hand at the waitress hurrying by carrying two full plates. I’m shivering. A large family is coming into the coffee shop, keeping the door wide open.

Dawn bites her lip as she tells me she’s seeing someone. I roll my eyes.
“Yes!” she grins, noting my surprise. “We’re actually dating. Remember dating? Jim’s from Santa Rosa. We’ve been going out on weekends when he comes to pick up his boys. They live in Sebastopol with their mother. The older one is sixteen and I forget how old the younger one is.”
“How did you meet?” I sigh. This conversation is familiar, feeling like a stone in my belly, I think, shivering.
“I decided to rent my master bedroom after that loser Larry left me high and dry. You knew Larry moved out, didn’t you, Sue? He was driving me crazy.”
She motions to the waitress again approaching our booth.
“There was no reason to leave it vacant,” she continues after giving her order. “Jim checked out my ad and Voila! What’s more, he grew up with horses too.”

I note Dawn’s enthusiasm, her pleasure. I’m half-listening, distracted, feeling my pulse, moving from finger to finger, hand to hand, shenpa in Tibetan––a hook to shut down the mind I learned in last week’s meditation group.
Thought-pulse, pulse-thought, mind-pulse, pulse-mind, from one to the other.
“Hey!” Dawn interrupts. “Did you hear there’s a Freida Kahlo art exhibition at the San Francisco Legion of Honor?”
I hesitate. “Maybe.”
“It’s sold-out for every weekend!”
I’m surprised Dawn remembers, How fascinated I was by Freida Kahlo, the iconic woman artist from Mexico, after I first saw her work.
“It’s ironic how more popular she has become in death,” I say.
"Let’s go see the show together.” Dawn says. “I’m a member there so we’ll be able to get tickets. You aren’t busy, are you?”
“I guess not,” I mumble.
“Frieda’s calling you,” she laughs.
“Remember how she created her own autobiography through her self-portraits?” I say. “So painful, yet beautiful, compelling, and fascinating.”
“We could invite Melanie,” Dawn suggests enthusiastically.
Another old friend I haven’t thought of for ages. We three used to go to art shows and music events together.
“I heard she moved to Saratoga,” I say.
“Melanie will come to San Francisco for Frieda Kahlo, believe me,” Dawn laughs.
“You say it’s sold out?”
“Come on, Susanna. Remember how much you liked the Rembrandt show we went to that time?”
This is serious if she’s calling me Susanna.
“You really liked Frieda Kahlo,” I muse.
“If you say so,” she laughs again.
“Well, I did too. I still do,” I say.

“Did you see the total eclipse yesterday?” She smiles at the waitress arriving with our meals.
“Was there one?” I look off, bemused, picking up my fork.
“Stunning as usual. Ahhh, remember those days when we put four pinpricks in a purple sheet of paper and sat outside against my picket fence waiting for the moon to cover the sun?” she sighs.
I nod, my mouth full.
"It was 5:32 am when the moon passed over the sun,” Dawn adds.
“And you stayed up to watch!”
“Yeah. So what’s going on with you, Sue?”
“Oh, nothing much,” I shiver, pull my coat tight and share about Lily, my daughter and family coming from Sacramento last weekend. I smile describing the little girls drinking pretend tea from a doll-size pink-flowered china set I put out, a legacy from Great Aunt Mary back in Pittsburgh, Pa where I grew up I explained to my granddaughters.

“So what do you say about the Frieda show?” Dawn persists.
Would Dawn wear a mask to this sold-out event? I feel myself backing off from asking.
“Come on, Sue, it would be fun.”
“Okay, Sure, why not?” This is too rare an opportunity to pass up.
We make plans to go the last day. Dawn says she will call Melanie. Then she jumps up, exclaiming she has to leave. Jim’s waiting for her.

Same old same old. After she goes, I realize it’s not that easy being with her again. That’s been the pattern all along I suppose. I remember when we went to that vintage coffee shop near the beach after the Rembrandt exhibit. Walking along the sand dunes toward the streetcar stop with Dawn hurrying ahead, to far off to talk. I didn’t wonder why. Instead I ignored her, commending myself for keeping silent as I drifted along far behind. How understanding, tolerant even, I felt I was a good friend the further and further she went.

It’s different now in this Covid epidemic. I’m different. I wear a mask that shows my fear. And Dawn?
Thought-pulse, pulse-thought, mind-pulse, pulse-mind, from one to the other.
But then everything is different with the Covid virus. Masks are everywhere. What if Dawn has Covid? She seems healthy enough.
I hope she wears a mask this Sunday. Old friends can be exhausting. Still this is a rare opportunity to see Frieda Kahlo’s art.
What made me call Dawn the Friday before the Frieda show I still don’t understand.

“Have you got your vaccine yet?” I inquired into her telephone answering machine. I didn’t hear back from her so I called again, then again, repeating my message. I even emailed her.
“Did you get your Covid shot, Dawn?”

I knew Dawn had unusual habits about what to put into her body. She was vegan, didn’t drink milk products, what else? Likely she didn’t believe in vaccines either. Why then do I persist? It’s the mask, the Pandemic. I feel shaky, fearful.

When it seemed obvious she wasn’t going to answer, I reach out to Melanie. We discussed the pandemic, wearing a mask to the event and our recent shots. She didn’t bring up Dawn so I didn’t either.

I tell myself to concentrate on the pleasure of our upcoming event. What fun to reunite old friends and experience Frieda Kahlo’s magical art together.

A few days later we’re at the museum walking the halls in our raincoats, holding our umbrellas. It’s hard to ignore the crowd eager to devour Frieda’s legacy, her small somber visions and deceptively simple renderings of herself that speaks to all women.

I’m wearing my mask. Melanie has hers on too. Hidden behind it, I pass by each piece, reflecting on how ironic that Frieda herself was haunted by poor health after a life-threatening accident as a young teenager. How she was severely injured in a trolley crash, suffering lifelong complications that refused to heal.

We eat in the museum cafeteria. Maxine mentions something about calling Dawn last week about some other event. I ask Dawn if she listened to my phone calls or read my email. She shakes her head no, she never received any messages.
“I don’t believe you,” I say.
Dawn grabs her coat and walks off. I feel disappointed in myself. It’s not just the mask. It’s the other unknowns.
On my way back home I listen to the rain that still has not stopped.

It’s the middle of the night now. I wake reeking of fear, feeling that old hard stone fill my stomach. Don’t worry about Dawn I scold myself. We’re all looking for something hidden we can feel just waiting to be exposed, an unknown treasure. Still I lost a friend yesterday I wanted to be rid of.

Published by Margaret C. Murray

Margaret C Murray is a bold Bay Area author whose works burst from an imagination brimming with magical realism. Her novels take place within poignant and vibrant historical contexts, telling stories that draw parallels between disparate worlds and times. She speaks to the enchantment of human existence. Margaret is the founder and director of Writewords Press.

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