Fat snowflakes floated from the sky, whipping around at the will of the wind. Tree limbs, barren of life, wore blankets of white on their elegantly curved arms. It was the kind of day that sent Robert Frost into fits of poetry, Jack London to dreaming of husky dogs and snowshoes.
Bea navigated her compact car through the streets. Beneath her gloves were knuckles as gleaming as the snow. Large SUV's sped past her, throwing globs of snow onto her tiny windshield.
"Mind the road." Her mother reassured. "Don't worry about those big trucks."
"I know, Mother. Thank you." Bea answered.
It little mattered to her mother that Bea was a woman with a college degree, a job and an apartment all her own. Her mother could not seem to stop, well, mothering her.
"Remember, those big trucks are the first to go in the ditches." Her mother added with a humph. "Serves them right."
"That isn't kind." Bea answered, sheepish.
"Nothing in the Bible ever told me I had to be kind."
"What's that?" Her voice was sharp, daring Bea to challenge her.
Pause. Air thick with tension. Bea sniffed.
"Which do you want to do first; your groceries or your hair?"
"What do you think? If I get the groceries first everything will go bad in the trunk."
"Okay, then. We'll go to the beauty shop first."
Dark paneled walls lined with women, heads under driers and reading tabloids.
Bea dreaded these weekly visits to "Lovely Lady Beauty Shop". The women near harassed her each Saturday.
"Bea, you found yourself a husband yet?"
"I have a nephew in Ann Arbor who's studying to be a doctor."
"At your age I'd had all 8 of my kids."
"You'd better get a move on, Bea. You're eggs are all gonna dry up."
And on and on.
Bea just sat in the waiting area, hands folded in her lap, head nodding.
"Ramona, you need to talk to her about getting married." One woman said, too loud because of the whirring bowl atop her head.
"Don't I know it." Bea's mother said, hair being tugged into rollers. "But do you think the girl listens to me? No. She isn't interested in seeing a man right now."
The women continued to squawk as Bea drifted in her mind. She looked out the window. Across the street was the grocery store, a McDonald's and a gas station. A dark figure stood under a tree between the store and the gas station. She stood, moving toward the window. The person under the tree was a man and he was holding a sign made of cardboard.
"Oh, that Joe." Ceci said. Ceci owned the beauty shop for over thirty years. "That Joe been sittin' there with that sign for a couple days. I seen him there beggin' money off the folks gone in to get a burger."
"Anybody tell him to get a job?" Bea's mother asked, snorting in righteousness. "Lazy reaps nothin' but hardship."
"Maybe he's not lazy." Bea said, louder than she expected. Harsher than she intended. "Maybe he's just out of a job."
"Then why don't he go into that McDonald's and get a job flippin' burgers or something?" Her mother was louder and harsher than Bea. "You keep talkin' like that, girl and people will think I raised a Communist."
Bea ignored her mother. "Ceci, are people giving him money?"
"Oh, yes! Such a fools. They bring him sandwiches and coffee and bags of groceries." Ceci clucked. "I tell ya he's got quite a racket going. I bet he sells all them bags of food to buy drugs."
"I'm going to go ask him." Bea picked her coat up off the chair. "I bet he doesn't."
"Don't you go out there. He's likely to mug you." Her mother's eyes were wide, her lips set fiercely. A look Bea crumbled to so many times before. "He might rape you. You just sit down and do what I say."
"Why, mother?" Bea turned, eyes soft and sad. "Why are you so mean?"
"Because I been burned by people like that before."
"I don't want to talk about it." The woman's eyes narrowed, her mouth pursed. "Be a good girl and sit down."
"No." Bea felt a surge of power at the word. "No, mother. I'm going to see if I can help the man."
The bell on the beauty shop door clanged as Bea let it slam behind her.