Sheila Horne graduated from George Brown’s Creative Writing Program and is the author of three novels: Sunshine Girls, Paper Sun, and Place in the Sun. She is also the co-author of Temple of Light, a book of poems inspired by the Sharon Temple. Her poems and short stories have been published in various magazines and anthologies. To read more, visit Facebook.com/sheilahorne, author or www.sheilahorne.com.

All posts by Sheila Horne

COFFEE SHOP TALK—Blame it on the Biorhythms.

My morning coffee meeting, and my lunch plan with a friend change and I end up at two thirty in the afternoon in Coffee Shop. Not that I mind. I spend a lot of time alone but when two people cancel with me within hours of each other I can’t help but think: Is it me? Or is it my biorhythms? And what are biorhythms? What ever they are maybe mine are off today. Since I know nothing about them, I take out my phone and do research. This is what one website says—when the cycle switches from plus to minus or minus to plus it’s a critical day because you are neither up nor down, but in a state of limbo. So here I am in limbo listening to a young man educate a couple in their seventies about life. They grin at him pretending they believe what he’s saying. Finally, he taps the table and says, “Okay let’s go.” 

Except for the music, it’s quiet at the back until the two women behind me begin a conversation. “He liked me, was always nice then he stopped being nice,” one says. 

“That’s what he does,” her friend answers.  

My mind wanders back to my biorhythms and I try to find out how to fix them. Every once in a while I am interrupted by the women’s loud voices.
“I told her to elope, it’s her second wedding for heaven sakes, but no she wants a big wedding, now we have to plan a wedding.”

“That’s how they are,” says the other. Her voice rises and bounces off the glass windows when she says, “At least you see her. I rarely see my children. I know they’re busy but they could come once a week or even once a month.” Now she’s getting louder. “Is that too much to ask? Am I asking too much?” 

Shut up, I say, too quiet for them to hear over the music and their yelling about who’s paying for coffee next time. They put on their coats and walk to the front. Just as I think it can’t get any worse a man and woman come to the back and sit down. It’s just the three of us now and it’s obvious the woman has set up the date to tell the man he’s a cheapskate. He has lots of money but too cheap to spend it. Apparently, the other night when they were out with a group of friends he kept phoning for cabs. He should have hired a car and driver for the day. He can afford it. I feel sorry him. He can’t get a word in edge wise. Then she starts about his apartment, his furniture, his clothes—a man with his income should have better clothes and furniture. 

And I think: What is with today? Is this March coming in like a lion? 

 “But I have a ten thousand dollar stereo system,” he says.

“No one gives a shit about a stereo system,” she says. 

“I do,” he says. “It’s important to me.”

And I think: I’d like to hear my tunes on that stereo. 

The conversation continues with her telling him she’s done, finished, can’t do it anymore and he’ll never meet a nice woman. He shrugs. And I think: His biorhythms must be off and I’m not in limbo, I’m in hell. Time to go home, sit on the couch and listen to the sounds of silence. 

COFFEE SHOP TALK

Cheating on my mind

I cheated. I’m blaming my hubby. He encouraged me. Told me if I wasn’t satisfied, I should go elsewhere. Glad to know he thinks that way. So, with cheating on my mind I parked my car way, way over on the other side of the parking lot. You know, just in case someone recognized me. I thought the experience would be exciting like Christmas, Santa Claus, and peppermint candy canes. Images of sugarplums would dance in my head. It wasn’t. It left me cold, uninspired and bored—a big let down. It’s for the ambitious who, are into solving math problems. And as I made the trek through the pouring icy rain back to my car, I couldn’t help but think: Was the guilt of having an eggnog latte in Other Place worth it? I love Coffee Shop, been in a relationship with it for over seven years. Then there’re the women behind the counter who know my name. Who welcome me every morning, worry about me when I miss a day or two. How can I face them, look them in the eyes? Would they smell eggnog and nutmeg on me? Notice the drop of foam on my sleeve? I don’t want to cheat on Coffee Shop but this is the time of year when my thoughts turn to eggnog lattes. So, here’s my big question:  am I cheating if I get it to go?

COFFEE SHOP TALK-Resolution Time

The holidays are over and I’m back in Coffee Shop. I’ve missed it. The coffee. The newspaper. The morning quiet. Being with people but, at the same time not being with people. The woman at the counter is happy to see me but not enough to give me a free coffee. I take my regular seat and open the newspaper. At first I don’t recognize the man who stops at my table. Not until he removes his toque. it’s Hat Guy. “No one puts Baby in the corner,” he says. And I think: Am I Baby? And am I sitting in a corner? I give him an itsy bitsy teeny-weeny smile. He picks up on my confusion and says, “you know Baby, Dirty Dancing.” I get it. He doesn’t want to sit at the table behind the wall. And I think: You’re not sitting here. You talk took much before nine. He walks around the room looking for someone to chat with. He’s in luck. Muffin Man sits down with his muffin and coffee. Hat Guy heads over to his table. They begin a: resolutions conversation. All about getting out more, doing more, slowing down. And I think: Are they talking about resolutions or goals? Two words that can be easily mixed up. The difference being: A goal has an end point. One either meets it or doesn’t. A Resolution is a long-term promise and usually broken. And how does one do more and slow down at the same time? I don’t know. But I have a whole year to find out.

Sheila Horne at:  https://www.facebook.com/sheilahorneauthor/

COFFEE SHOP TALK-This Diamond Ring

 

Frank and his wife, the non-speaking couple, are in the coffee shop. Not much else is going on. Everyone is quiet and whispering. Maybe they realize I write about them. I open my book and stop. “This Diamond Ring,” by Gary Lewis and The Playboys comes over the sound system. And I think: Grade nine, Lamar Junior High School.

I sat next to Rhonda in art class. She was engaged to a boy who played football for Baylor University. Whenever the Texas A&M Aggies played Baylor, we all cheered for the Aggies, like everyone else in Bryan. Except for Rhonda, who sang Baylor’s pep rally song: Baylor University is going to beat the Aggies…hey, hey let’s go Baylor, over and over. She stuck her arm out in front of her and sang: This Diamond Ring. Then removed her engagement ring and ask if anyone wanted to buy it. Apparently, it no longer shone for her. I was in awe of her. She was the only fifteen-year-old girl I knew who was engaged, and not to a high school boy. I wished I had a ring to sing to, but all I had was one the nuns gave me in the convent school. It had the Virgin Mary on it. Somehow I lost that ring in the lake at Wasaga Beach in the ‘70s. But that’s another story.

I’m not sure what happened to Rhonda, if she ever married her Baylor University football player or if he broke her heart. But today, as I watch Frank trudge past my table to re-fill his coffee mug, there’s no skip in his step, not like the other day. Instead, his boots scrape on the carpet. As if he doesn’t have the energy to lift his legs. Or joy has been ripped from soul. And I think: This Diamond Ring is the perfect song for him.

COFFEE SHOP TALK-Something Different

The couple eat and drink their coffee without speaking to each other. They’re regulars. Not talking is normal for them. But today something different happens. Something unusual. Something interesting. The woman finishes her bagel and leaves. A few minutes later another woman walks to the table and says, “Frank?” He nods, and she sits down opposite him. He perks up. It’s the first time I’ve heard him laugh, or talk, or see him enjoy himself. They gab on and on. When he walks to the front to re-fill their coffee mugs, he has a skip in his step—an actual skip. And I think: energetic dynamo, who knew?

Two women, who I call, worker bees, are having an intense conversation. They whisper…whisper…whisper. One wearing black high heel pumps says, “she spills coffee and tea on the carpet near my desk every day.” She leans in close to the other woman and shouts, “Pisses me off.” Whisper…whisper…whisper. Their raised eyebrows and facial expressions fill in the missing details. “Exactly,” says her friend. “Know who I don’t like?” she asks. Now, they are almost nose-to-nose. Whisper…whisper…whisper. High heel pumps, says, “She’s a bitch.” And I think: bitches get things done.

The good old boys are back. No tractor talks today. It’s all about Buicks, Fords and Cadillacs, until one of them gets a call. He puts the phone to his ear. “Speak,” he says. And I think: must be his dog phoning.

Chatty woman from two weeks ago says she looks for me every day. Now she knows I hide at the back. I ask about her dating life. “Oh, you’ll never guess,” she says. She recently went on a date with a man who had a tiny head. She can’t believe Match.Com matched her with someone who looks like a squirrel. “Do I look like a squirrel?” she asks. And I think…

 

Coffee Shop Talk

It’s as if everyone who spent yesterday outside in the sunshine is inside today. While raindrops spatter on the glass then slide to the sidewalk, the man by the window tries to sell insurance to a couple. They stare at him perplexed when he says I don’t want to hear…I don’t want to have that conversation. And I think: let’s have that conversation. He suddenly packs up his briefcase and says I have to go, leaving the couple stunned. Across the room, two men, one wearing a Fidel Castro kind of hat, are chatting and laughing, the way it should be in a coffee shop. For the man, four tables over it’s a gloomy day. He’s bored, has nothing to do but scroll up and down his phone, hoping something will change. Two young women at the table next to his are taking pictures of their food. And I think: make him happy email the photos to him. A woman smiles at me. She can’t decide where to sit. She walks there…here…there again…back to here. She asks if she can have the seat next to me. I say yes. She sits and dials a number on her phone and has a conversation on speaker. And I think: should have said no. A girl walks in and glances at me. And I think: noisy eater, no, hmmm…could be…might be…maybe. She chooses the leather sofa chair, takes a bite of her bagel and chews. I hear her—noisy eater from a week ago. Then there it is: In the middle of the chatter, chewing and racquet of the coffee grinder. In the middle of unknown songs and lyrics on the sound system, comes Spencer Davis Group’s, “I’m A Man.”

 

Coffee Shop Talk-800 Calories

 I walk to the counter and say, “coffee in a mug and one of the kitchen sink cookie.” The woman behind the counter frowns at me. “You’re having the 800 calorie cookie?” she asks.
I nod. She turns to her co-worker and points at me, “She’s having the 800 calorie cookie.”
Her co-worker shouts to two people in the kitchen, “She’s having the 800 calorie cookie.” One of them comes out and asks, “You’re having the 800 calorie cookie?”
And I think, this is turning into something from a Seinfeld or Curb Your Enthusiasm episode. After weeks of looking at the cookie, craving it, talking about it to everyone who works in the coffee shop, I’m finally going to have it. I explain to them that I didn’t eat breakfast and now it’s lunch. Therefore I can eat the cookie and call it two meals.
“Get her the 800 calorie cookie,” the manager says. They present it to me on a plate with a napkin. I fill my mug with coffee and head to my favourite seat at the back of the room. Today, it’s packed. Two girls are drinking coffee and chatting. One says: and I like went…and he like went…and I like went. It continues right through their conversation. A boy tries the door at the back. It’s locked. I ignore him. The girls ignore him. Everyone ignores him. It’s a security thing. He walks away, and a few minutes later another boy tries the locked door. One of the girls gets up and opens the door. Whoosh…icy air floods the room. He thanks her and walks to the front to order or maybe he’s doing a walk through. And I think, hmmm….The woman across the room smiles at me then stares at the ceiling as if she has forgotten something. Something important. Something she’s supposed to remember. I open my book, sip my coffee and take a bite of the 800 calorie cookie. I am disappointed.

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Sugar, Sugar

 

“Sugar, Sugar” by the Archies brings back memories of being in my early 20s and summers in the ‘70s: My first serious boyfriend, drive-ins, shorts, and bare feet on the dashboard, popcorn, Billy Jack, and Chato’s Land movies. Two years later, the meaning changed to freedom, dating, the sun high in the sky, cut off jean shorts, halter tops, car window rolled down. The car stereo turned up loud, and my friend Diane and I singing as we drove to Wasaga Beach. Bikinis, sand, boy watching. Then out of the quiet, in the distance from someone’s car radio: Sugar…ah honey, honey. No matter what life handed us in the future, we would always have those summers and Sugar, Sugar.

The Secret

I’ve often wondered: What’s the secret? I found out the other day. In need of a bra for a low cut dress, I took it to one of their stores—you know the one with the sexy lingerie. The sales clerk checked the front of my dress and said I needed a plunging bra. She handed me a few: A fully padded push-up, demi, semi-padded, an unpadded one that hooked in the front, and a bustier; she thought I should try on just for fun.

Since I wore push-ups in the 1970s, I started with that one. I slipped my dress over it and looked in the mirror. I laughed. My breasts spilt out of the top like two globes, which hadn’t seen the sun in forty years. The lyrics, blinded by the light, silicone sisters and boulder on my shoulder by Manfred Mann came to mind. Believe me, they were practically on my shoulders. The demi was perfect, not as much spillage as the push-up. “But not enough plunge,” the salesclerk said, examining how it looked with my dress. Next came the semi-padded. It worked, and I put it in my buy pile. No problem with the bralette. It was also a go. I took the unpadded one with the front hook from its hanger. I wore them in the ‘70s, so I knew I would buy it if I could get the clasp open. I had to put on my reading glasses to see what I was doing wrong. While I struggled with it, two young women were having a fashion show in the changing area. They came out of their cubicles, strutted around in various kinds and colour bras, critiquing each other. “I don’t like that colour on you.” “The pink is much better.” “Leopard is not for you.” “I like the coral.”

Okay, I’m open-minded and I’m not old. I don’t consider 60s old. But as they were commenting about each other’s bras, I couldn’t help but think: What does it matter if pink is not your colour or you like coral. No one will see them. If they were thinking men—well I’m not sure about that. If I recalled, we had beige, black, white and pink. They never stayed on long enough for men to admire or mention. Maybe they did, and I can’t remember. But it seems the world is different in 2016. Women are no longer hiding or burning their bras. They’re proud of them and showing them off along with their cleavage. Maybe if I were in my 20s, I too would be particular about what colour bra looked good on me. And want to show off the ones I was about to buy.

Anyway, while they discussed colours and styles I was sweating and swearing and fighting with the front clasp on the bra. I’d gotten it on. Loved it, but I couldn’t get it off. I tried to pull it over my head; that didn’t work. In the ’70s they were so much easier. And what about a man removing a woman’s bra with the flick of a finger, does it still happen? If so, was there one nearby? Or Houdini. I could have used his help. Since I was alone, on went my reading glasses again. When I finally got it off, I realized that as much as I loved it, there was no way I wanted a bra I had to put on glasses to hook and unhook. It went in the no pile. Then came the for fun red and lacy bustier. I decided it was a definite possibility. But it turned out to be more work than I planned on doing to be sexy. By the time I got it on I would need a nap. And I think I hurt my back. So here’s what I found out about the secret. You either have to be an escape artist or have perfect eyesight

Remember

I remember reading Joe Brainard’s book, I remember. It brought back so many memories that I use those universal words, ‘I remember’ as a writing prompt in my workshops. It’s an easy way to start the writing process and connects people with themselves. The trick is, to write not only the good memories but also the bad ones. I went through my notebooks and looked at my ‘remembers.’ I hope it will inspire you to write your memories.

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A concrete barrier brings memories: Waves from the Atlantic Ocean splashing over the sea wall, splattering our car as we drove to the sugar estate. I remember getting wet because it was hot and we always had the car windows open.

I remember the salty taste of the air, the sweetness of sugar cane, molasses and raw brown sugar. Wide open spaces, the bluest sky, puffy white clouds and the green of trees and bushes rustling in the breeze.

I remember the house, dim when the wooden shades were closed to keep out the noon heat.

I remember the sunshine, roaming the estate with no shoes, the gravel road that poked the bottom of my bare feet. The woman, who worked in the yard, her gypsy skirts, silver and gold bracelets on her ankles and wrists. She didn’t speak English, Hindi I think.

I remember being afraid of her and hiding behind my mother.

I still remember the feeling of drowning at three years old in a flood. The sensation of spinning in a tunnel even though I was lying unmoving, face down in the water. I remember the blue dress and red rubber boots I wore that day.

I remember being scared of water for the longest time until I learnt to swim.

I remember the station wagon that picked up the estate kids. I once knew the name of the driver. I don’t know it anymore. But I remember his smell: aftershave mixed with curry. He drove us down the coast to various schools. At the end of the day, he picked us up and took us back to the country.

I remember Texas. Blue Bonnets. The mile walk to Lamar Junior High and the mile home, rain or shine. The only public swimming pool, chlorine in the air, sun beating down hard, hot concrete under our feet, and The Beatles coming from a transistor radio.

I remember school football games on Friday nights, the musty smell of the bowling alley on a Saturday afternoon. The roller rink, Debbie in her skating skirt, her face red and sweaty as she twirled.

I remember wishing someone would dedicate a song to me.

I remember Texas A&M University pool. Kate and Gloria didn’t want their teased, almost lacquered hair to get wet. While they posed at the side of the pool, I jumped from the Olympic diving board. It felt like a roller coaster ride. I remember sunlight twinkling on the water like fairy lights guiding me to the top.

I remember working at The Buccaneer after school and during summer vacations for fifty cents an hour. The way chopped onions burnt my eyes. The way grease from the grill and fryer saturated the kitchen floor, my hair and face. And I made the perfect soft ice-cream cone.

I remember nearly everyone in junior high and high school drove.

I remember my aunt let me drive when I was fourteen. I never told my mother.

I remember Judy, Darla and I driving around in Judy’s brother’s convertible Thunder Bird, our hair wild in the wind as we drag-raced boys. I remember the squeal of tires and stink of rubber on asphalt.

I remember how much I missed everyone when I moved to Canada.

I remember my first morning in Toronto, November 1st, 1966. My sister and I took the streetcar and subway. It was a new experience.

I remember the rumble and shudder of the wooden escalator in Eaton’s.

I remember starting East York Collegiate. I didn’t like it. It was too big. Ice-skating at city hall, frozen toes and fingers.

I remember in 1968 CHUM FM changed to rock and roll.

I remember my first full-time job, Double Day Publishing Company, the staleness of the old building on Bond Street and the noxious ink in the books.

I remember my next job, the insurance industry. File cabinets that clanked, adding machines that clunked and typewriters that pinged. I made sixty-five dollars a week. I thought I was on the money.

I remember turning twenty-one and moving into my first apartment—builders’ beige walls, pink kitchen cupboards, parquet floors, and green tiles in the bathroom. The second-hand couch a co-worker gave me, pots and dishes my mother no longer wanted and my large record collection. Heat from the radiators, stifling air, checking and re-checking the alarm on my clock radio to make sure I’d set it, afraid I would be late for work.

I remember waking up to Jungle Jay Nelson on Chum AM.

I remember spending all my money on an expensive stereo. The airy feeling of freedom, being able to smoke, having friends over and watching television until the stations went off the air.

I remember eating strawberry ice cream with sliced bananas, peanut butter and chocolate sauce for dinner, or not eating at all, and reading all night.

I remember running down the hill in the mornings to catch the bus to the subway. The guy who stopped and talked to me every morning. When the bus arrived, he left. We had a strange bus stop relationship.

I remember someone in Becker’s asked me on a date, said he worked for K-Tel Records. He could get me as many albums as I wanted. I remember thinking, K-Tel? Really? I told him I had a boyfriend. It wasn’t a lie.

I remember on muggy nights dragging my mattress to the living room and sleeping with the balcony door wide open.

I remember bars—smoky, body odour mixed with cigarettes, cologne and alcohol.

I remember I loved Canoe men’s cologne.

I remember I used Love’s Baby Soft perfume.

I remember my friend Diane. We covered my pink kitchen cupboards with brown Mactac to give them the appearance of wood. It turned out to be a gluey mess. I remember we laughed because it looked awful.

I remember we painted my white dresser red. We ran out of paint and left it half white and half red. It looked silly. I threw it away three years later.

I remember the macramé hanger and green lampshade with black fringe that she made me. It reminded me of something out of a saloon in the Wild West. I kept that lampshade and hanger for years.

I remember one night she showed up with a bottle of Canadian Club Rye and a marijuana joint. She started to cry. Her boyfriend had broken up with her. I cried too because I was sad for her. Someone knocked on my door. By then we were dancing and jumping around to a song. Paranoia set in. I freaked. The rye and coke squished around in my stomach. I thought I would pee my pants. The stereo was loud. We were drunk and stoned. I swore it was the police. We’d be arrested. I’d be evicted. Diane opened the door to find someone from the Conservative party—could they count on our vote. After the woman left, we turned the music back up, lit wine-dipped cigarillos and played cards-Old Maid and Go Fish.

I remember Wasaga Beach May to September—blazing sun, scorching sand, Tropicana suntan oil, and the dank cabins we stayed in on the weekends. We did that every summer for three years.

Most of all, I remember our many long conversations about everything including the meaning of life and the problem with guys. We came to the conclusion that guys were one level up from boys. Guys still lived at home with their parents and weren’t mature enough to take a relationship seriously. Their only pursuits were sex and fun. Men had their own place and were more likely to make a commitment. We were dating guys. We needed to meet men.

I remember the incredible feeling of falling madly in love and the numbness of a break-up.

I remember my second apartment, the newness of it, the recreation centre, indoor swimming pool, and Dominion grocery store. The toxic fumes of shellac on the polished floors.

I remember I bought a new couch and a lime green shag rug.

I remember when Tom, the person I dated that summer broke up with me, I said, that’s fine. After all, it was just a summer romance. He was still a guy, and the relationship had nowhere to go. He didn’t understand.

I remember hanging up the phone and thinking: yep, you’ve come a long way, baby.

 

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