Willow and Wo, beginning to part way done.
Willoh and Wo
A romance in a future not so very far away
The owner of the salon, Rozilin, wore a pink dress with a nurse’s jacket and curled her own hair in a dark flip based on pictures she had seen in old magazines. The salon walls were painted pink inside, too, even while outside everything was brown, big brown downtown, with buildings, streets, even the air, the color of rusty ends of things. But Rozilin’s shop was a rare happy place with three other stylists, and besides the salon, in one corner were some booths for men to have coffee while waiting. The trouble was women rarely came to have their hair done. Only single men, in their long raincoats, stopped by and hunched their shoulders over the mugs of steaming liquid the stylists served them.
Early one morning, Rozilin huddled with her three employees, Zif, Tigi, and Unicorn near the stairs, waiting for the stranger to come down from the little room above the salon. This young woman had wandered in the day before, and Rozilin had lent her the room for the night. The newcomer was a runaway, so she had said herself. “I can’t remember what I’m leaving behind,” she told the ladies. In fact, the girl was hallucinating. The pink of the room had swirled in ripples before her eyes as she entered the building, and the four other women that had gathered around her grew large and small, their heads like balloons, as each spoke to her. What was her name?
“Willoh,” she finally remembered, distinctly pronouncing it, “Will - oh.”
That was yesterday. Today, as another morning of spring gloom began, the salon ladies watched the young stranger come down the staircase. She wore a black sweater and black high wader jeans with ankle boots; her hair was long and loose, dishwater brown. She was neither very pretty nor plain, but an attractive surge of energy caused her to skip a little when she reached the salon floor, as if beneath the lost present she kept a pleasant past. Once I am sure of where I am again, she was able to think, then I will go on.
“Family?” asked Unicorn with the bleached buzz cut.
“My mother,” Willoh answered tentatively, trying out her voice.
“Your mother will be worried,” Rozilin said.
“Call her,” Zif put in. Zif was tall and had a wild style of two upright round ponies above her head. She, too, had seen this ‘do in the brittle pages of the magazines found in the salon’s top room.
“The phones aren’t working,” Tigi reminded them. Tigi wore owl glasses and a turquoise wig.
All of the women gathered close to Willoh. Over at the window sat a couple of men, each in a different booth alone, drinking coffee. Each man looked up to glance at the new girl, and then down again went their heads, half hidden by the upturned collars of their coats.
“I can’t remember the number, anyway,” Willoh said finally, after more swirling had stopped. Numbers 775 2345, 0987 and 4739 marched across her mind. “I remember my car!” she cried out. “I’ve got to go find my car.” She imagined she saw the car parked at the curb just across the street from the shop, but when she dashed to the glass door and looked through the swirls of her mind, it wasn’t there.
“I’m going to find my car now,” she announced to the room. “Good-bye and thanks.”
All the faces loomed in front of her, even the two men’s, as they looked up again. What else to say? Willoh wondered. She shrugged her shoulders and went to the door, while those inside turned their faces to each other.
“I wish you would stay, Willoh,“ Rozilin called out, while a youth in the ubiquitous raincoat of men bumped shoulders with Willoh at the door. While the young man paused and watched, Willoh walked on, striding along the sidewalk with the brown steel skyscrapers crowding above her in the low cloud of smoggy air that rarely cleared to blue sky. The streets were wet, as usual, with water running a few inches deep, while at the intersections flowing neatly together like a plaid, the reflecting wavelets making the only bright sparkle of the scene. Willoh’s stride was long and thin, like an elegant model in some old movie like Funny Face, and the youth, still at the salon door, decided to follow her. Willoh noticed. She kept an eye on him, too, tossing her head back once in awhile to see where he was.
Then, as she passed an apartment building, she saw a tiny black kitten on the stoop. “Mew,” the little thing said, looking up at her. Bright eyes in a rectangular face gazed meaningfully, she thought, into her own eyes, and seemed to ask her to stop awhile. She sat down and petted the little creature, while it circled and popped up and down under her hand in the irresistible way of kittens, making Willoh, for the first time, feel sharpened and real. She took another quick glance to see where the young man was - he loitered at the near corner.
But from the other direction there came trotting a snuffling dog with a huge head and strong jaws on a short sturdy quartet of legs. Oh, the dog may kill the kitten! Willoh thought. She’d seen such a horror before in her childhood, a dog shaking a tiny kitten by the neck, and she would not let such a thing happen again. Oh, no! She shoved the kitten behind a fern and then said hello to the dog, hoping it was friendly. A small boy ran right up after it; he grabbed the loose leash with a breathless shout.
The dog’s mouth opened into a huge smile like a clown’s. and Willoh was relieved. She turned to the kitten again, but it had slipped into the building by way of a cat flap hidden behind the potted fern.
“No, Goree!” the boy shouted, as if he were in charge of a monster.
Willoh meanwhile wobbled the dog’s big head in her hands and laughed. Behind the boy, the man who had followed her suddenly appeared and knelt to greet the dog. He looked over at Willoh, and she saw an enigmatic wink of interest play across his face. Willoh stood up, feeling shy, and then the little boy with his Goree dog pulled his pet into the doorway with the cat flap, and that was that.
The dog and the kitten live together, Willoh realized, and she smiled privately; of course they are friends, she thought, while I feared the dog would kill the kitten.
“I liked how gentle you were with the kitty,” the young man spoke.
“What’s your name?” she asked.
“Wo,” he told her.
“Yes,” Wo answered, “another W name.”
Willoh didn’t care for his presumption of her name, though she realized he had heard it said back at the salon. She stood and walked to the corner of the block; there she considered crossing the street.
The water on the streets wasn’t deep, only a few inches ran smoothly along between the curbs, and then at the intersections a ruffle of white water pleated gently and then ran smooth again after. Willoh stepped off the curb and jogged across with Wo very close behind her. At the far curb, Wo leaped ahead onto the sidewalk and held out his hand to Willoh. She accepted his chivalry. Hands still clasped they walked on, and it seemed settled between them that they would be a pair.
Wo led Willoh across two more intersections to an area of ancient buildings several stories high of rusty white stone and stucco. A few green and white checked awnings still fluttered over a window here or there. Then, as they entered one of the buildings, Willoh and Wo almost fell into a cold dark lobby. The tile flooring was spotlessly clean, and shabby velvet couches and chairs scattered around held a variety of people sitting quietly, all turning their faces to the newcomers. Willoh felt a swirling again, orange and blue streaks in her mind, during which she remembered her mother, her car, both waiting for her somewhere, but swirling away on the curlicues of color.
Wo’s voice struggled through her ears, clearing the swirls. “Come on, Willoh, I’ll show you my home,” he said.
They went up stairs and more stairs, all lushly carpeted, until suddenly the stairwell narrowed and the carpet disappeared and their boots thumped on wooden steps. Then down a brightly lit hallway to a corner, turn, and another tiny hallway that ended in an oval-shaped iron door, like a door on a ship, which Wo opened slowly, smiling back at Willoh.
Willoh felt a flush of excitement as she gazed into Wo‘s handsome face. His smile was wide and overactive, always stretching or rippling or puckering up in thought; now it was stretched ear to ear, drawing her into the fun. She eagerly looked beyond the open door that led outside onto a lower roof. But, suddenly, before she could see anything else, the sun found a hole in the mass of cloud in the sky above, and it’s warmth and brightness made them both take in their breath, so beautiful and full of joy the sunshine seemed to them.
“Come on,” Wo said, leading her forward. He pointed to his home, a shed built on the roof, probably for some long ago custodian or electrician, but then he took her to a bench against an outside wall, so that the two of them could catch the saturation of the sunshine. Willoh knew many people across town were doing the same, even those in the cold lobby below, stepping out, soaking up the sunlight like a sponge soaks up water, all of them lifting their faces, eyes hooded with lids or shaded with a hand. Then the sunny feeling that bound all humans together would flow, into their hair, down their shoulders to their feet, a beautiful sense of wellbeing -- that all too soon ended with a shiver as the clouds puffed over the opening and the sun was gone again.
“Come on in,” Wo said as he held open the door of his tiny home. Willoh tiptoed in. A bed, a chair, a small table and a sink were all that fit into the place, but there was a orange cat curled up on the pillow so it seemed like home right away to Willoh. She sat on the bed near the cat and introduced herself. The cat smiled sleepily and said a little mew, just as tiny as the black kitten’s had been out on the street.
“Mew, mew,” the cat said again as he stretched into a sitting position. Though his voice was small, his size was big with a blob of tummy sinking around him.
“That is Oran.”
“Oh-ran?” Willoh asked.
“Short for Orange,” Wo said, keeping a straight face.
“You could have called him Range with an r at the end, Ranger.”
“But he doesn’t range very far,” Wo quipped.
Everything is funny with him, Willoh thought. She laughed. She liked laughing. She hadn’t laughed in a long time, it seemed.
Wo took off his beige raincoat; underneath he wore black, like Willoh. Then he hopped onto the bed, and they sat against the wall with the cat between them and began to talk.
Wo was full of curiosity about Willoh; more curiosity, Willoh thought to herself, than his cat had. She told him she lived with her mother and two brothers just outside town. They had some land, which was gardened by the brothers, while she helped teach the little children of the neighborhood in one of the big rooms of their home.
“How does your garden grow?” Wo asked, eagerly. Everybody liked a garden; just the word spelled excitement in town.
“The sun doesn’t come through enough,” Willoh answered. “But the rain helps it grow.” She thought of the fruits and vegetables growing all year, through the sad rain.
Then Willoh learned this about Wo: that he had grown up himself in this building; in fact, his parents still lived in an apartment below and Wo went there every day to shower or do other necessary things.
“Your parents are still together?” Willoh asked. That was unusual. Her own parents had separated long ago, going their own ways as most people did. It was rare and old-fashioned to stay with one person, Willoh knew, but she often daydreamed about it anyway. Maybe love could last, her heart would tell her.
“Yes,” Wo replied to her question about his parents, “but they argue all the time, so it makes me wonder why.”
Wo was a walker, a scrounger, looking for food deals each day for his family, he told Willoh. “Maybe we can visit your garden?” he asked her.
But Willoh’s mind retracted like a frightened fish, with only a swish of sandy color left swirling. “I don’t know where it is,” she said, her voice wavering. “My car might drive me there, but I don’t know where my car is.” Willoh felt tears in her eyes, as she thought about the car. It was small, orange like the cat, and she often lost it. Why, she wondered, am I always losing my car.
“That’s not so weird,” Wo reassured her, and her surprise at his words made her vision sharpen.
“What do you mean?” she asked him.
“Not that many people have cars,” he replied. “Nobody else really cares. So the cars feel lost to their owners, or, I mean, the owners feel lost to their cars. It is very complicated, but comes out right in the end, I think.”
Willoh nodded her head at this logic, but she wondered still what it meant.
A silence fell between them and lengthened; then both Willoh and Wo smoothed a hand along the warm softness of Oran’s back. As another moment passed, Wo lifted his cat and put him at the foot of the bed, scooted himself nearer to Willoh, and reached out his hands to hers. Willoh clasped them, her heart leaping. How long had it been since she’d hooked up with someone? Awhile ago, and not very many times, just because with her, love came along, too, so that it hurt too much at the end. It happened that way in this world -- there was no other way -- just to stumble into togetherness somewhere, somewhen, and then after awhile, stumble away. Sometimes Willoh had heard about a marriage, and the couple professing love forever, but after a year or two, or as many as twelve years if there were children, the marriage ended, usually very quietly.
But why was she thinking of the end, when this was the beginning? Willoh let herself go, and as always with her, inklings of love pressed into her body as Wo pushed his head into her breasts, pulled at her bottom, and then raised his lips to kiss her. She saw his smile and his bright eyes looking right into hers. Sex was very different from love, she found herself thinking, so why love? Why love? She’d think that later.
Sometimes, as she went scrounging with Wo, he would walk a little faster, and she’d look at him from the back and then love would hit her. To see his broad shoulders, well, they weren’t that broad compared to many men, but to her Wo’s shoulders made her feel protected, connected, something, which she called love. A pull at her heart, that’s what it was, and the feeling that life was fun, full, clear of the swirl of colors that had plagued her when she first lost her car and came upon the salon.
The two of them didn’t go back to the salon. They avoided that block, neither knew why. I remember their names, Willoh sometimes told herself, Rozilin, Zif, Tiggy, and Unicorn. The usual sort of names. Since then, Willoh had gotten to know Drift and Honey, Wo’s parents, who both wore long gowns of poorly woven old cotton and argued gently at each other all day long. She had met Prif, a friend of Wo’s, who also scrounged the city for deals on food and other items. It was Prif who took Wo away from Willoh after several weeks of living happily in the shed on the roof. One day Wo just disappeared with Prif and that was that.
Willoh hung around Wo’s home for a long time. Sometimes the swirling began again, and she hurt inside. Where is he? She cried. Even Oran, the cat, had wandered away, into the building and down to Drift and Honey’s place. Willow wondered if she should try again to find her car and go home herself. What were her mother and brothers doing; with them, at least, there was connection and a kind of love. And something to do. She had dropped all responsibility for teaching the children just for this love of a stranger. That wasn’t like her, or was it?
(This is not a long story, maybe another couple of sections to go)
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Compliments of the Author: Debbie Bumstead
Last edited by Luciaphile; 12-05-2017 at 01:41 PM..