Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Short Story: "Yardsticks"

"Yardsticks" of Life
by CJ Heck

It was late autumn, but a day still warm enough to make Kathryn sweat and she smiled, remembering her mother's words. "Always remember, Kathryn, ladies never sweat, they perspire."

The salty air wafting over the water felt good as it teased the corners of the tablecloth up and out, like checkered wings. It also mercifully cooled the, (ahem), per-spi-ra-tion that had glued wisps of hair to her forehead.

From somewhere nearby, cicadas in love were calling each other in the trees. Their haunting chirp mixed curiously with the waves, the soft clinking of silverware, and the distant laughter of children playing in the dwindling daylight on the beach below.

Kathryn was celebrating her last full day of vacation with a hot fudge sundae. Both were few and far between and justly savored -- the vacation, day by lazy day, and the sundae, spoonful by decadent spoonful.

The best hot fudge sundae she had ever eaten had been in San Francisco, down near the water at the Chocolate Manufactory in Ghirradelli Square. That had been back in the early seventies, now nearly a lifetime ago, she thought, with a sigh.

Through the ensuing years, whenever she allowed herself this treasure, a comparison took place in her mind. Each hot fudge sundae from a new place was measured against The Ghirradelli Square Yardstick.

Of course, there were very few of these indulgences -- she wanted to maintain her figure, but the time between them built up a delightful anticipation, which made the stretches between easier to handle. Funny, until now, she hadn’t realized just how many of these invisible yardsticks she actually carried around with her.

Katheryn had just turned fifty-nine. Admittedly, she had arrived at that age kicking and screaming -- after all, no one ever consciously decides to be middle aged. Ultimately, thoughts of the alternative to getting older washed over her and, with a feeling of resignation, she bathed in all the positives of actually being allowed to live that long.

Kathryn had a sudden epiphany. She just realized that she even looked at other women around her who were her age, or near it, with yet another invisible "yardstick".

While never model-beautiful, she supposed she could have been considered a striking woman. She still had her figure and she worked hard to keep it, although admittedly, gravity was beginning to coax some things a little lower ...

Her hair had recently begun to silver at the temples with a few others twinkling here and there, as if in afterthought. She smiled, deciding that the total effect could be considered attractive. Besides, she felt she had earned the silver -- after all, she was a grandmother several times over.

Kathryn still noticed, and secretly welcomed, when a masculine head turned in her direction for a second look. She wasn't aware, (and would have denied it had she been told), that their attraction to her came from a puzzling enigma, one that only surrounded her in public -- she seemed mysterious.

Her child-like naiveté contradicted the sensual, at times even haughty, self-assurance she exuded in her walk and manner. However, if you were to ask Kathryn, she would tell you she was merely aloof.

Men thought, now here was a woman who drew your attention. She could walk into a room and own the room. Here was a confident woman who looked comfortable in her clothes -- and a woman they enjoyed imagining even more comfortable out of them, thus, the enigma.

Kathryn wasn’t aware of those things. What she did know was, the heads that turned in her direction were divinely better than looking in a mirror -- and more flattering, too.

Kathryn leaned back in her chair, not wanting this last vacation day to end. The sea breeze still felt wonderful. Maybe she would sit here just a little while longer.

The sun was making its descent into the distant trees and she was suddenly struck by the silence. When had that happened? The laughter of the children, even the drone of the cicadas, had disappeared sometime during the reverie about her various yardsticks.

Comparing hot fudge sundaes, or other women her age, was one thing, but she felt guilty, when her mind eased on over to compare the men she had known in her life. She knew she shouldn’t -- each deserved to be separate and unique -- still, she rationalized, everyone did it and she couldn’t help doing it either.

It wasn’t that she had a huge number of men to compare.  She didn’t, but she felt safe saying that the ones who had been in her life, had been there for a damn good reason.

It took years, but she eventually came to see that each had played a specific part in who she now was. Each unknowingly brought a valuable lesson, or lessons, that she was to learn. After all, aren’t we all products of our environment? Everything that happens to us changes us, making us who we were destined to become.

No, she decided.  She would save her yardsticks to think about at another time. God knows, there were many nights when sleep wouldn't allow her in.  That's when she should think about her silly yardstick comparisons about life.

With that decided, Kathryn stood and adjusted her skirt. Then she lifted her chin for maximum effect and walked proudly and confidently to her car.

“A writer soon learns that easy to read is hard to write.” ~CJ Heck


Unknown said...

A delightful vignette, CJ.. Thank you.

CJ Heck said...

Thank you, Christine.