I recognized Yolanda immediately, leaning against a table with one booted ankle hooked over the other. The lines in her face were deeper than they ought to be, and her make up seemed hard, sharp, garish. Chestnut tangles of her wild hair piled on the top of her head, held up by a tortoise shell five-and-dime comb clip. Stray strands fluttered around, cobwebs on the air.
Seeing her brought a flood of memories back to me, of slasher flicks and gallon-sized pops, the sounds of our shoes on sticky theater floors. Being shushed when we spoke in stage whispers about what’s on the screen, what’s on our minds, what’s on that person’s shirt. Memories in a tide of that rushing, giddy feeling in the chest, just above the gut, deep and jiggly. Memories of soft, warm lips, hard teeth behind, sweet taste of passionate kisses, learning, probing.
Those hot summer nights spent fumbling in the spacious back seat of my old Road Master, the carpet sodden over the rusted out floorboards. Those autumn nights swooshing balding tires through spans of shallow water on the roads, and the fogging windows when the heat, the gushing emotions, overtook us and we pulled over in the cold dark rain.
She moved like a cat when she dropped her hand back against her thigh, tipped her head and blew out the long plume of smoke. Her polyester blouse hung loose and billowed over her, but couldn’t hide the swells of her breasts. The creamy skin above the first button seemed looser. She pushed off the table and headed for the concrete ashtray, smashed out her cigarette held by the pads of her fingers, and checked the long, glaring red nails for chips in the lacquer.
Watching her walk away I saw she was wider at the hips, rounder in the behind. Kids, maybe, I thought, but the billowing blouse had a tie string at the waist and showed it wasn’t barreled out, she hadn’t let herself go too far. Black leggings clung to curvaceous legs and full calves before diving into the rumpled suede of the low-heel boots.
And then the Taco Bell swallowed her, and she was gone.
For a few minutes I stood staring at the door, like she might emerge again, before a needle sting of slushy rain pelted my shining pate. I blinked and stared through my bifocals at the car keys in my hand, and fumbled the door open to load the groceries, provisions for four. I sat in the seat, staring out my window at the restaurant across the wide, busy street, and felt. I’m not sure what, but I felt.
I sighed and smiled, smiled at the thought of the shouted greetings and excited hugs I’d get when I got home. Home. The place where seventeen years of investment and labor and effort waited, to remind me. Remind me that she wasn’t the path not taken. Just a shared stop, on a journey, to here, to now.