The story is that my great grandmother used to love to look at the stars in the night skies of Jerusalem. She met a boy who told her the names of some of those stars…”
by julio peralta-paulino
Goldsboro is known for its tobacco but I never could catch the need for cigarettes or cigars and to me it just felt a million miles away from any possible earthly Elysium.
Of course, there is always something. Something that drives one past all the pushy problems that endeavor to knock down endearment and destroy that magic which makes it possible for any of us to have faith, to believe in a better tomorrow, to dream.
I was working at the morgue and it’s easy to argue that perhaps I had been there too long.
I usually dream about getting elaborate letters in albescent envelopes and reading them with an intense interest bordering on overzealousness. I would awake and not know who had sent or written the words that held me in a trance. What’s worse, I would awake and not remember what the paragraphs conveyed. It was as if I were trying to escape the unreadable cold of the corpses from my job.
I was thinking about this recurring dream one late afternoon, wishing I had some insight into whatever it might signify, while enjoying an English Breakfast tea at the Hail Mary Cafe and searching for another job in the classified section that would lead me away from the night shift at the city morgue.
Of course, I should have introduced myself before… My apologies, as you may have conjectured, I am a bit out of practice. My name is Howard Shaw.
I underlined and circled. I sipped my blazingly refreshing tea. I looked to see if any of the words struck a recognition match that might illuminate the rapid eye movement pictures that had been constantly returning to the heart of my imagination. I looked at my Omega and it told me I only had a few more minutes before going to work and that I was lonely for only having a watch to speak to and then I turned my attention to the waitress.
She was usually nice in that detached city manner that we have all gotten used to for who knows who could be a maniac or much worse. She seemed in a hurry and was handing her apron and pad to another woman. A woman I had not seen before at the Hail Mary.
The new waitress was pretty and wore her egg-sunny hair in eloquent waves that flowed down freely to her back. She fastened her name tag to her chest and I looked away into my underlines and circles when I saw she had let her legs wander straight to my crowded table.
There was the invisible hint of a fine fragrance, as she placed the check face down just beyond the sugar and milk. I glanced at her neck and noticed the name tag on her blouse which read Sogel Marie.
I was nervous to the point of having the bill tremble in my hand after I reached to find out what I already knew. I always had the same two cups of tea, you see. My anxiety came over the fact that I wanted to speak to her. I wanted to find out how to say her name. It could have even been that I wanted to want her. To dream of her instead of some letter I continually disremember.
The doubts and distractions started to take over, but I breathed in and further in and faster until the devil inside me slowed and somehow fathered the fortitude to fake my way into self-confidence.
I fished out a few dollars from my money pocket and sauntered over to her. “I hope you don’t mind me asking,” I said handing her the bill and the clams and thinking that if she had a long story to tell well the morgue would simply have to wait until she was through.
“I don’t mind, what was it you wanted ask?” Her voice was high-toned yet far from brittle and she smiled neatly as she cooled her heels in expectation of my question.
“Well, I couldn’t help noticing your name tag before and I never met anyone with that name and well my name’s Howard.” I was trying to look as serious as possible so as to not appear to be some horny lunatic trying to look down her blouse but I could not hold back a grin in response to her neat smile.
“It’s nice to meet you, Howard.” She said while smoothing her brilliant hair with her left hand. “There actually is a story behind my name.” There was an ember of hesitation that burned between us and she glanced at the rattle of chairs and silverware as new customers settled into place where my eyes had been swimming through the small letters of the gazette. “Listen, take a seat here at the counter and I will just be a minute?”
I was still grinning and explained my position with a simple OK and then took to one of the red swivel cushions at the counter as she had suggested.
Watching as she cleared, cleaned, and jotted some orders swiftly, I was fascinated by her nonchalance and the manner in which her blond strands danced lightly through it all.
“I’m sorry about that. You know how it is,” she was saying even before she got near the counter.
“Don’t give it a second a thought,” I offered and then partly lied, “I am in no hurry at all.” I had to be at work of course, but I was oblivious to the haste which I usually would have been involving myself with when my Omega reported those few remaining free minutes. Perhaps, there was no lie at all. Indeed, many truths are in fact based on perception. The fact that I found her to be a beauty might not make it true within your perception.
She sat next me and I noticed how her eyelids curved with visible enthusiasm. “The story is that my great grandmother used to love to look at the stars in the night skies of Jerusalem. She met a boy who told her the names of some of those stars. One of them, he said, was called Sogela.”
“So, it is pronounced with an h sound,” I interrupted.
“Yes.” She agreed and continued, “Anyway, years later they were married and she decided to name my grandmother Sogel in honor of the star. My grandmother loved the story about how her parents had come to name her and carried it on like a tradition. So, my mother is also named Sogel and named me Sogel Marie.” She beamed with a brighter smile than the neat one I had first encountered.
“The natural question to ask, of course, is are you going to give your daughter the same name?”
“Oh, my,” she put her hand to her chest, “I can’t say that I haven’t thought about it, but who knows if I am going to have children.”
“Well, it is a rare and lovely name, I hope you find yourself a prince charming and have a baby that will be the fifth Sogel.”
“Wow, I hadn’t thought of it that way.” She looked up as if to count the ancestors she had mentioned and I noticed the new customers anticipating service. “I’m the fourth one,” She said in a quiet voice filled with a touch of wonder.
I felt far away from those doubts and distractions and didn’t even care if I ever knew what the dream-letter was trying to tell me. I had slid down from atop a hill of worry-beans, down past myself, down to this feeling that was like some kind of freedom and I wanted to tell her all this somehow but all the words couldn’t be abridged from my thoughts to my tongue into her ear and all I could say was, “Thanks, for sharing that with me.”
“Wait,” she sounded surprised, “Are you leaving?”
“Yes,” I said, “I should be getting to work.”
“Oh, I see.”
“Well, I could stay and talk, but you are working and did you notice them looking over at us?”
“I know. I’ll be right with them.” She looked into her scribble pad. “It’s still not done,” and truly one could hear the twang of a tiny bell whenever an order was ready to be sent to its destination.
Without a second thought, I surrendered, “I’d be happy to meet up with you later, you know, when you get out of here.”
“I’m here till ten.”
“I’ll be here then.”
Calling in sick to the morgue was fun. I walked into the bookstore across from the mall to read and while away the hours.
A help wanted sign that wasn’t in the classified section called out to my attention and I asked about it. The manager gave me one look and asked when I could start. “Tomorrow,” I said and as soon as the word left my mouth I understood the hope that should always go along with it. Tomorrow…
That night, Goldsboro was the greatest place on earth. Sogel Marie smiling at me. The fair-spoken light of the moon chatting it up with the drift and drive of determined clouds. Elysium was alive and breathing into my senses. Sogel Marie lit a cigarette. The smoke caressing her hand before rising and withering away. We talked to each other as if long ago friends and I gave in to the urge to light a cigarette of my own. I didn’t like it, it made me cough, it tasted like a used ashtray, but I kept on puffing like some crazy dragon that finally found a home, a brave enough knight-errant, for his once lonely heart. That evening, there was no letter as I dreamed instead of her.
(illustration: john richen)
Julio Peralta-Paulino is a writer currently at work on several projects. Some of his recent work is featured at City Writers Review and Jack Magazine. He is thrilled to be once again included in the eclectic and hip publication known as Smokebox. More Smokebox stories from Julio Peralta-Paulino can be found here.