Alicia Combs

Issue 31

The Notebook She Wrote for Adaline

“Vanilla Frappuccino for Madison.” The newest barista at Golden Cuppuccino didn’t phrase it like a question.

Madison Morris admired that along with the five piercings all in a row on his left ear. If Morris had been younger, she would have been tempted to get at least four of those for herself. As it was, Morris only jotted down ‘get many earrings when still young’ in Adaline’s notebook before standing to retrieve her drink.

Upon further reflection on the way back to her seat (and after a better look at the barista), she crossed out earrings and wrote ‘piercings’ above it. Although Morris herself was not fond of the nose piercing-it reminded her too much of a bull-she recognized that she was old and therefore had a different view than Adaline would. At any rate, it was always better to get piercings of any kind when you were young and able to recover sufficiently fast.

Why just this morning she had seen a girl sitting to get her piercings done at a shop not even a block down. And it certainly wasn’t an old lady. The girl had appeared young, as she should.

Morris considered staying at the coffee shop. She had brought a large stack of envelopes that needed addressing. She didn’t want to ruin the ambience of the little place with her general ‘old woman-ness’ though. Morris almost wrote something to the effect of ‘read the room’ in Adaline’s notebook. She decided that was a skill that would have to be learned on Adaline’s own. And anyway, she didn’t want Adaline to be overly worried about what others thought or whether she was ‘reading the room’ right. In fact, Morris wanted Adaline to have the same confidence as the new barista with the many piercings.

So instead, she wrote ‘speak with confidence’ under ‘eat what you want, life’s too short to diet.’ Morris had conveniently sorted the notebook into sections for Adaline. After all, who wants to read through advice on the most comfortable types of shoes when one needs to know what is the perfect amount of time to cook popcorn in the microwave?

Morris had been a secretary for fifteen years before she had children, or the one child who survived. There had been four girls and one boy, and the boy, Andrew, had been the only one to make it past infancy. Several years ago this fact had bothered Morris very much but now the family was getting much bigger and she didn’t feel the absence as keenly.

Andrew was Adaline’s soon-to-be father, or is that the way to say that Andrew was expecting Adaline? Although it was really his wife Emma, a sweet, if a bit flighty woman, who was carrying Adaline and frankly doing all the hard work. It was all very confusing and all rather off topic. The topic at hand was in fact, only that Morris had been a secretary and therefore understood and appreciated the importance of keeping things organized. It was a lost art, Morris believed.

She wasn’t blind, despite her embarrassingly large reading glasses. She had seen the laptops that were carried around. They appeared on the outside completely clean but she knew that inside there were twenty scattered ‘shortcuts’ pinned all over the screen. Morris scoffed to herself as she passed a laptop exactly like this as she exited the coffee shop. ‘Shortcuts’ did no good to anyone if you couldn’t find the correct document.

Morris wasn’t like some old people (you know the type) who believe only pen and paper will do, or perhaps a typewriter if you’re feeling fancy. When Morris was a secretary, she had typed on a typewriter so she knew that computers were superior. In the least, you didn’t have to start all over when you made a mistake. It was just that Morris knew things had to be organized whether they be computers or typewriters.

Morris walked slowly through the downtown. It was a Saturday morning so there were quite a few people around. Most of them walked fast, even one couple who had all the look of a leisurely stroll, were striding faster than Morris could have even when she was much younger.

Morris considered stopping to write in the notebook ‘walk slowly’ but she had written yesterday ‘don’t be distracted when walking, it’s dangerous’ so she filed it away in her

brain-space to be written down later. Or perhaps not. The old mind was not a fun experience on the whole. Morris often felt like it was a bit too much like one of the game-shows they used to air on television when she was younger. Except this one was called ‘Did I Forget Something? I Hope Not Because I’ll Never Remember” and nobody wins.

About half-way down the street Morris resigned herself to the fact that although she had tried to pace herself, she was also embarrassingly fatigued from the stroll. Another side effect of being old. She sank onto a park bench, careful to avoid the bird droppings on the left corner.

From this vantage Morris could watch the crowd pass, sip her drink, and write down something in the notebook, but after opening the notebook, Morris realized she couldn’t quite remember what it was that she was supposed to be writing down. Instead she began to read through the current entries. The notebook was far from full and Morris had doubts that she’d be able to finish it in time. That didn’t matter to Morris. After all she had a long list of things that couldn’t possibly be finished and as much as she valued organization she had never been as keen on completion.

It never mattered if something was finished as long as it was organized. If the thing was organized it would be easy for another person to finish. Morris was certain her life was organized so there was no need to rush. At least, she was almost certain. It couldn’t hurt to be sure, so Morris continued to work her way down the page. In fact, she did find one mistake. Although not too disastrous, it could be rather annoying for Adaline when she received the notebook eventually.

Her addled old brain had put some of her more practical tips on how to prepare for a hurricane under “natural disasters” when frankly it needed to be in “knowledge every person should have.” After all, it would be better to know right off the bat how to prepare for a hurricane and not to have to worry about reading over the tips when you’re in the middle of it. Morris copied down the information into its new correct spot but didn’t erase it from its old one. It couldn’t hurt to be too prepared. At this thought Morris scanned the tips she had written and was pleased to find she had included that exact phrase. It saved a bit of time to have already written it. Although it should be included in other sections as well. She put an asterisk beside it and made that note.

Morris was quite absorbed in the notebook. Even so, she was alert. After all it was one of the notes she had included in Adaline’s notebook and you had to preach what you practice. Or was it practice what you preach?

At any rate, that was how her old ears picked up on the sound of a child crying from inside the shop behind her bench. Morris finished her note before she turned, old memory wasn’t reliable enough to allow for distractions. The shop in question was a pastel girl’s store. Morris had been in there once when she had gone shopping for a niece’s Christmas present.

It was a horrid store in Morris’s opinion. All the items were drastically overpriced and not at all flattering. Not to mention, most girls who went in were dragging their doting mother’s hand and demanding all sorts of goods. Morris knew this was one of those things as an old woman that was doomed to annoy her, although it consistently surprised her how much. She had to repress an urge each time to take the mother aside and explain to them the value of teaching the girls how to get their own job so they would never have to rely on anyone, mother or man, to buy them the things they wanted. Morris knew that was not what mothers’ wanted to hear, so she kept her mouth shut. Most of the time.

Since Morris knew with reasonable accuracy the type of people who went into the store, she wrote off the crying as a tactic employed by some such child to get what they wanted. When it persisted through the next few lines in Adaline’s notebook, Morris turned again. This time she saw through the store window a girl older than usually frequents the store sitting in a chair by the shop’s window.

Morris knew that chair. It was where the children sat when they were waiting to get their ears pierced. She had seen a child get their ears pierced when she had been in the store all the while them howling like a toddler. This girl now was way older than a toddler. Through the window Morris would guess she was at least eighteen.

Morris closed Adaline’s notebook softly and stood. She wasn’t sure what good it would do to go into the store but in the least she was curious. So she went inside. The store was just as she remembered. Morris was less than pleased about it. Perhaps there were a few new bows on the wall to be sold, but if there were, they were just another variation of the same three rainbow ones. A trained eye would tell Morris that the new summer variation of accessories were in and they were completely unique from last year’s. Morris’s eyes were not trained, nor did they care to be.

What Morris did care about was the girl in the chair, which now that Morris was inside, she could see her guess was accurate for the age of the girl. She might have been a bit older or younger, but it was difficult to tell at that age. Morris couldn’t quite remember what she looked like then, except for blond hair and wasn’t that when Morris had chosen to get those awful tortoise shell glasses?

The girl in the chair did not have tortoise shell glasses. Thank goodness. She had no glasses at all. Her brown eyes were red and she kept pushing her curly black hair back from her face to prevent it from getting in the snot dripping, which she was furiously trying to wipe away with her other hand.

“Look,” the employee, a preppy white girl, looked uncomfortable, “If you don’t want to get your ears pierced, no one is forcing you.”

“No, I want to!” the girl in the chair wiped again at her face, “I just,” she gave a little moan and swore, “this is embarrassing.”

“My dear, are you alright?” Morris stepped forward. She was aware how old womanish that sounded, but there are very few ways you can proceed when you come across a crying girl in a tween store and an uncomfortable employee.

“I’m okay,” the girl in the chair looked even more embarrassed if that was possible.

“Can I help you?” The employee directed the question towards me. She looked relieved to have a normal customer.

Morris ignored the employee for now; things must be done in order. Surely even she understood that.

“You’re crying.” She was speaking to the girl in the chair of course. The girl gave a short awkward laugh.

Morris didn’t know much about young girls besides the obvious fact that she herself had once been one what felt like a very long time ago. Even so, it wasn’t difficult to surmise that she was nervous about the piercing.

“What if I got mine first? Would that make you feel better about it?” “You’re getting a piercing?” The employee asked, a bit startled.

Morris snorted, she didn’t feel like it was such an odd thing. Certainly, she had decided it suddenly but it shouldn’t be that odd. “Yes, of course.”

“Um, where?”

Morris pointed at a spot on her own wrinkled ear she had seen the boy from this morning had a piercing in.

“A cartilage, I guess I’ll get the paperwork, then.” The employee hurried away from what she must have considered to be an odd pair.

Now Morris turned toward the girl in the chair, “My name is Madison Morris, what is yours?” It was naturally the next step.

“Cass,” she nodded at me. It wasn’t an unfriendly interaction but certainly not overly open. Morris liked that.

Morris filled out the paperwork quickly; it was something you got good at when you were old. It wasn’t so hard at that point to remember your name or such a novelty as it was when she was young to sign with her signature. Ah her signature: thing she had practiced time and time again when she was in grade school. Granted, the last name wasn’t the same but she had adequate practice with that as well. Especially as a secretary. Even her late husband had called her Morris, endearment and respect rolled in one delightful bundle.

“Mrs. Morris,” He would coo, rubbing her shoulders after a long day even though they both knew he had just as long a day. Then he would kiss her neck and whisper in her ear, “my beautiful Mrs. Morris.”

“Would it make you feel better, my dear, if I got mine done first?” Morris asked again as the employee readied what looked like a stapler. Morris had gotten her earlobes pierced when

she was young, but she had done it with her friends at the time sitting on the linoleum floor of her mother’s bathroom with a needle, pushing it through the ear by force.

“Sure.” Cass hopped down from the chair and stood behind the employee as she positioned it in the correct spot. Cass had her arms crossed protectively over her chest and I gave her a little smile as the employee clicked the earring in.

One benefit of having four children is that you learn to have a good poker face in painful situations. After all, everyone expects you to smile and pose for a picture after the child emerges so there’s no use getting worked up in the labor part. Then you’re all red and gross during the picture.

Frankly the piercing hurt more than Morris remembered but she sufficiently held back a grimace.

“Ouch,” she said. Not over the top but not unfeeling. Morris felt it suited the situation. “Now it’s your turn.”

The employee gave a very quick speech as she readied the staplers for Cass’s piercing. Cass was just getting a piercing on the lobe. Another employee had come as Morris was getting hers done. This one was a tired looking middle aged man. Now they each had a stapler up to Cass’s ears. They were using them at the same time so Cass would only have to endure it once. Cass let out a little moan and then without warning the employees clicked them in.

Cass gave a little gasp and her hands flew up to her ears, but the employees were still detaching the staplers.

“How was it?” Morris asked hopefully.

“Painful for sure.” Cass touched her ears gingerly as they removed the staplers. “But not that bad.”

“Good.” Morris smiled. Her watch beeped. She looked down and shook her head. “I’ll be late getting home. I told my son I’d call him this afternoon. I have to be going. It was wonderful meeting you, Cass. Perhaps I’ll see you around.”

Morris took the packet offered by the employee about proper care for her piercing. She gave a little wave at Cass, who waved back, and she left.

It was an uneventful walk home. Morris’s key fit into her lock as it always did, with a click and an extra push. Her home was just as she left it that morning. A helpful chair waiting for Morris as she undid her shoes and placed them on the rack and her coat on the hook.

On her counter was the doctor’s note Morris had received a month ago. Its big letters glared up at her kitchen ceiling “Pancreatic Cancer.” If nothing else Morris had to admire how efficiently her doctor’s office delivered news.

Morris placed her notebook next to it on the stack of envelopes she was supposed to address. It could wait. At least they all were labeled with names so there would be no confusion if she didn’t make it until tomorrow. It was important to be organized. No use leaving a mess.

Morris was halfway to the living room and the phone before she thought of something and turned around. She took the notebook from the stack and flipped it open to the entry she had written earlier that day. She put an asterisk next to it and wrote ‘upon further research, getting a piercing when you are older is not excessively painful but perhaps bring a friend along with you because it may make you nervous. They have a rather large stapler.’

Morris read it over to make sure there were no mistakes. Finding it satisfactory, she placed it back on top of the pile and turned toward the living room again. Andrew would be expecting her call at five pm sharp so call at five pm sharp she would. There was no need to make anyone worry.

Alicia Combs is a junior at Stephen F. Austin State University where she is majoring in Orientation and Mobility and minoring in Creative Writing. She was born in Germany, but home will always be in Texas. Alicia is an officer for Subplots, the creative writing club at Stephen F. Austin University.

We want to SEE your work

Applause publishes poetry, fiction, creative nonfiction, visual art, and photography that exhibits practiced craft and polished style. We are interested in authentic and personal work that displays an understanding of craft and creativity. We want work that honors tradition and respects risks.