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by Jeanne Rosen Sofen

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Helene Simkin Jara

More Time

I want all my money in quarters.
The teller was startled,
not knowing the old woman
had ridden
two buses
her time
on this earthly plane
was just about

down Main Street,
Chestnut Street,
Cedar Street
Pacific Avenue,

her bony hands
grasped her purse,
no longer light
one banana
no identification
of next of kin.
With a faint smile,
she placed
one quarter
at a time
into each
parking meter.

She was giving others
more time.

Buying Time

Cecilia went to the back of the last row of books in the library in the furthest corner near the bathroom.  She grabbed a book, any book, and sat down on the threadbare carpet, crossing her legs, legs that had bruises, scrapes, hair that hadn’t been shaved in years under her.  She pushed back her salt and pepper scraggly hair that was the texture of straw, having been out in the blaring sun day after endless day.  She needed it to partially cover her face.  When people saw her face, that is if they ever bothered to look her way, they looked startled, and then more often than not, looked quickly away.  Was it her sun-baked skin, her vacant grey eyes or her pinched mouth with several teeth missing and others black that disgusted them so?

Cecilia thought back to what she used to look like.  Why some people had even remarked to her grandma that she was a lovely child.  Lovely.

Well, that was then.  And this is now.  She looked down at the dirt caked under her fingernails.  These fingers had caressed her mother’s face. These fingers had held her father’s hand. These fingers had clasped together and prayed.

Pretending to focus on the book, whatever book it was this time, she tried to make it seem as if she were really reading it instead of hoping someone, anyone, would go into the women’s bathroom.  They would have a key.  Cecilia would never go up to the front desk and ask for the key herself.  She couldn’t bear to see the look on the librarian’s face.  She felt like screaming, “No, I’m not going in there to shoot up!  I don’t do drugs.  I don’t! I just want to wash myself so I don’t stink so bad.  What’s so wrong with that?  I’m not hurting no one.  I just want to wash my armpits and my privates without being afraid of being attacked.  I just want to feel safe and clean for the 5 minutes it might take me in your bathroom here.  Just 5 minutes.  Can’t you spare that?”

But Cecilia didn’t scream.  She peeked over the top of her book and saw a woman enter the bathroom.  The woman was in her 40’s maybe.  This was a good sign.  Women of that age took less time in there.  They did their business and left.  It was the teenagers you had to worry about.  They took forever.  They sometimes took up to a half hour in there, coming out smelling of perfume and pursing their newly painted lips.  Cecilia listened for the flush.  She had to time it so she was standing close to the door just as the woman was leaving with the precious key dangling in her hand and with her foot, keep the bathroom door open.  There was always that split second when their eyes would meet.  That second when the woman would see Cecilia and make a quick visual summary of her life, either disgusted or pitying.  Cecilia dreaded this moment almost more than the possible look from the librarian.  I wasn’t always like this. 

Cecilia looked at the clock.  It was almost 9 p.m.  The woman hadn’t come out yet. The library closed at 9 p.m. 

And then the door opened.  Cecilia sprang for it.  She moved so fast that the look never happened.  She just slipped inside.  She had to work fast.  She peed as quickly as she could.  Standing at the sink and turning on the water, she looked in the mirror.  Oh God.  Has it really come to this?  No wonder people turn away.  She pumped the soap into her hands and started washing her armpits.  Then she heard the announcement:  “The Library will be closing in 5 minutes.  Please bring any books you wish to check out to the front desk.”

What if she got locked in there?  Would it be bad or would it be a blessing?  She imagined an entire night sleeping peacefully on the cold tile floor, cleaner than she’d felt in weeks.  And safe.  Yes, safe.  She saw a closet on the back wall of the bathroom.  Could she fit in there?  Cecilia opened it, holding her breath.  There were extra rolls of toilet paper and some cleaning supplies, but yes, if she folded herself small, she could just fit.  She would only have to stay in there like that until they checked the bathroom and left for the night.  Then in the morning she would wait until the library had been open for a while before she reappeared. 

Please God.  I’m only asking for one night.  One night of peace.

Before her next thought, there was a sound of a key in the bathroom door. 

The librarian was standing there staring at her.

“The library is closed.  What are you still doing here?”

Cecilia looked down at the cold tile floor.  She tried to move her lips, but no sound came out.  The librarian didn’t move.

“I just wanted to have one safe night,” she heard herself saying.

The librarian hesitated and then silently closed the bathroom door.

Cecilia stood staring at the door for several minutes and then she heard the front doors lock.  She slid down to the tiles, burying her head in her hands with gratitude.

Helene Simkin Jara is an actor, director, writer and teacher.  She has been published in The Porter Gulch Review, Mindprints, Nerve Cowboy, La Revista.  In 2003 she won best prose in the Porter Gulch Review for her story, Josefina , again in 2009 for her play FUBMC , and again in 2007 for her monologue, Vat Means Rad? She has twice been a finalist for Glimmertrain and was nominated for a Pushcart Prize in 2007 for her poem, The Difference.  She has recently self-published her first book called Because I Had To, a collection of prose, poetry, monologues and plays.

Helene Simkin Jara

Len Anderson
Charles Atkinson
Ellen Bass
Killarney Clary
Helene Simkin Jara
Jake Young
Gary Young

Wallace Baine

Jeanne Rosen Sofen

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