PART ONE: THAT
Chipped pieces of wood fell from the cracked edging around the shelves in the new library. At least I thought it was new. The graying lady behind the front desk didn’t bother to correct me when I referred to it as new. She just smiled, the wrinkles around her mouth curving at a sickening angle-very disturbing. I walked away without bothering to return the smile. I’m not generally rude, just not one for crinkling wrinkles that curve during a smile. Or any wrinkles for that matter.
Not that I didn’t enjoy the library in my neighborhood, but the book I was looking for was checked out. It’d been out for about two months (exactly two months of debating on whether to read it or not on my part until settling on ’yes’ when the promotions started to overwhelm my patience). Just my luck, the three libraries I’d stopped by were all checked out. This one; final resort, or I’d just have to buy it.
PART TWO: INTO
"Anyway, I think, as I community, if we come together in a unity and attack the issue head on, there is no way we can lose. Thank you."
Bowing the head, applause, applause. Shake hands, shake hands, sign this and sign that; and then, I can step into the relaxation time, go home and chill, aka drink. Mildred’s expression was anything but pleased. Her strumming eyes intensified when I stepped off the stage, employing a smile to see if it’d work on my behalf. It didn’t.
" Mil, Mil…come on, Mil. That’s a solid speech."
"Monty, you didn’t say anything with body. Nothing with substance. Nothing worth listening to."
Edson walked by with a cheese-worthy grin shredding his cheeks to bits, his glasses hiding those beanie eyes under the glare of the sun.
"Get out of here, Edson."
I tipped to him through a tightened jaw. That, for unidentifiable reasons only made his grin widen. I was convinced his cheeks were going to start bleeding any second.
"Yes, Mil?" Directing my attention back to her.
She rose to her feet; strutted over to me in the same seductive manner in which she strutted to everyone, and enclosed my tie in her thin palms.
"The speech has no substance," forming every word, as if each one needed arduous hours of analyzing to be fully comprehended. "No power. We, as the community, the people you’re talking to, well, we need to feel that you care. Not just know it, but feel it. Make us feel it; all right?"
A gentle smile eased over her full lips and those baby-like palms slid to my chest; those prancing eyes fell to my lips as if she was going to do something that was definitely worth some substance, but instead, she threw back her head in anything but discreet laughter, her caramel complexion being washed in the radiant sunlight spilling over us.
"What’s funny, Mildred? My awful speech; that’s what’s funny? The end to my career? You are so supportive, the best assistant ever."
That just made her laughter turn into giddy giggles before she ambled her runway model walk away from me, twitching those hips from side to side with so much experience, the ringing cell phone in my pocket was the only thing that stopped me from following.
PART THREE: INCLINE
"Ice, you have to be more diligent. Okay?" is what she said to me, tempering the edge with a smile.
I, being the poster child for tolerance, was tempted to respond with my middle finger. But I didn’t. Instead, I nodded and smiled a smile so fake I had to throw it up upon my face.
"Yes, ma’am. I understand. I shouldn’t of been…"
"Shouldn’t have been."
"Right. Shouldn’t have been slacking on the job, and if I wasn’t the aisle three spill would not have caused an old woman to fall and nearly break something."
"Now, Ice, I’m not blaming you. I’m just saying, we must be…"
"If we want…"
"Faithful consumers that love us."
"Exactly. What’s the motto?"
Don’t vomit, Ice. Don’t vomit. Just say it. Just say it. Say it. Say it.
"We replenish with deeds…for those in need."
"Exactly. And why?"
"Because we’re," she leaned in, with arching eyebrows, waiting for the punch line, "Pezley’s Palace. The best darn market in the land."
"Yes. Very good. Now, whenever you feel like slacking off, remember that. What is it?"
"We replenish with deeds for those in need."
"We replenish with deeds for those in need. Now can we do that if we’re asleep in the deli section, Ms. Dassi?"
I shook my head, mouthing the word, "no" along with her.
"Great, as long as we understand each other. Now, put your hat on and get back to work."
And with a burst of courage I never knew I had I put my Pezley’s hat back on-a propeller hat decorated in blinding bright colors just to torture those who wear it-and strolled out her office to fulfill my duty to replenish with deeds for those in need."
PART FOUR: INSIDE
"Angel Oz, super lawyer!" Deyan McMabs called, smiling and pointing at me as he made his way down the hall.
I shrugged, playfully replying, "It’s true. It is."
He laughed, taken aback by my good mood. "Man, when was the last time you joked around?"
"June of ’97. The party was a hoot." Deyan shook my hand with meant-to-be-intimidating strength that I returned easily. "When did you get with the firm?" I asked, gesturing for him to join me in my steady walk and sizing him up against his knowledge.
Tan suit is a nice touch, fits him nicely, though I remember him as a trimmer and neater guy. He flattened his short black hair with a dark palm that carried fingernails that gave away to the fact he’d become a nervous nail-biter. Nervous being the key word. It’s easy to tell if a person is a nervous nail-biter; they tend to file after a session of biting unlike regular nibblers, which, oddly, gives the nails an unbalanced look. Either way, it’s a weakness-nervous or not nervous. Noticing other people’s weaknesses is precisely what got me through law school.
"Um, a little over a year ago. So, what are you doing here?"
"I came to see an old friend, Douglas F. Palmer."
"Yeah? Well, it was nice to talk to you again, Oz. Stay in touch."
"Hey, of course."
He extended that rough hand again, and I took it eagerly. I could tell by his darkened skin that he’d spent a lot of time in the sun since we last bumped into each other. He’d also started smoking; it was in the yellowing of his eyes and faint aroma of his clothes. And he probably hadn’t gone home to Harlem to visit his family in a while; too focused on the big New Yorker lawyer get-up. Reading people is precisely what got me through college.