The way beauty burns. Lobster red, fired hands connected to slender wrists and a pencil-thin clerk at the trendy boutique downtown. She offers to wrap the present I’ve purchased, but I think I’m in a hurry. I hesitate and she double takes the last name on my debit card: Oh! Are you related to my sixth-grade teacher?
Which is something that happens frequently, me with my ex-husband’s German surname still on my credit cards. No, I am not related to any with this name. Only to my children who bear his last name. And therefore so do I.
I spare her my own story and offer his instead: “Well, this family escaped out of the Ukraine in 1941. If other family members made it over here, they haven’t found them yet.”
She pauses behind the cash register, looks skyward and closes her eyes. “She was the teacher no one wanted,” she offers in reply. She’s a study, I decide. With her five decades of white locks, hippie-cowboy jeans and little-girl eyelet blouse, she is not of any generation. Not of any cutter, cookie or otherwise.
“Oh, I remember she loved puppies,” the clerk recalls, hoping her former and my former might be lost cousins. She takes me in with her wide eyes and fake lashes, searching for a connection.
“Let me think a bit while I wrap this gift. I do beautiful work if I’m not rushed.” And behind a curtain she slips.
Watches dangling from a wire display mock me with their time. Two o’clock. Two past two. Three past two. Five before two. Six. I forget now—what does time mean, and why was I in a hurry?
There’s time to roll up the cuffs of my jeans and try on heels. And examine the insides of three purses. She pokes her head out of the curtained closet to tell me: This teacher, I remember now— she loved geraniums.
The shea butter lotion on the shelf comes in four different sizes, ten different scents. I’m sampling Sun on my left wrist when she pops out again: This teacher loved the scent of cinnamon.
This teacher was actually the best teacher she had ever had.
“Forgive me,” she says as she exits the curtained wrap room, “for what I said about no one wanting this teacher. She was the one who made learning feel safe. Hers is the only name I remember from Chicago.”
Tender, this sales clerk. Entrancing, with the brutal hands of a boxer, a butcher, a rough-sea fisherman. She offeres me the tiny, delicately wrapped gift and spreads her hands beseechingly. And it is just like that—how beauty brands and sears: it’s the opposite of burn. On the receiving end of beseechment. . . I’ve become beseeched.