Even Doris. Especially Doris who works half days at the same salon as I do, and half days at a massage place. She likes my manicures so much, she was paying me for two manicures by giving me one massage. Her only request was that I bring my own lotion.
“It avoids you getting allergic reactions,” she explained.
“I can do that,” I said. I don’t know what an allergic reaction is but I do know Claire always has lotion at home.
That afternoon Doris phoned me at the nail shop to tell me she had a cancellation at the massage place in one hour, if I wanted it.
“There are three of us here with nothing to do but our own nails, and Nance who has a real customer,” I said. “They won’t miss me.”
I did a dash home, ran into the house and almost bumped into Claire, my housemate, who was on her way out.
“I need to get some lotion for Doris to use when she gives me a massage,” I told her. “She’s trading me a massage for two manicures.”
“Hey, that’s great! Listen, Alakar, there’s a grocery sack on the kitchen counter. I put away the perishable stuff and left the rest. There’s a large bottle of lotion in it. You know where I keep those little plastic bottles in the kitchen? Instead of carrying that big bottle, fill one of those little bottles to take with you. And now I’ve gotta run. Oh, do you need a ride to the massage place? I can get the car out and drive you.”
Claire’s like that, always rushing between jobs and errands. She has a morning job downtown and in the afternoon she works at the neighborhood center where she teaches math. When I left my terrible husband, I had no family except my cousin Tarvik, and so he took me to his home in Seattle, which is a long way away from where we grew up, and gave me a home with himself and his girlfriend Claire, and his other cousin, Nance. I must admit, they all have been very good to me.
I assured Claire it was no distance for me to walk. She waved goodbye and I went into the kitchen and found a large full bottle in the grocery bag. The little soft plastic bottles were in the drawer under the counter. I filled one, put it in my purse, and walked to my appointment.
This was another new adventure for me. Although I knew from Doris’s direction where the massage place is, I had no idea it would be so large inside. There were a few nice chairs in the entry and a desk with a woman behind it. The woman glanced at my hands. “Ah ha! You must be Doris’s friend. She should be done with her last client in a few minutes. Have a seat. Lucky Doris.” She came around the desk and stared at my hands. “You really are good.”
Even Nance says so, and then says things like, “You learned so fast how to do great manicures, Alakar. Howcome you can’t learn to read?”
“I can read labels on the nail polish bottles and I can read numbers on price tags.”
“And you can read your own name.”
I don’t know why she had laughed when she said that. Of course I can read my name. And write it, too. How else could I use my credit card? But then, I often do not understand everything Nance says.
We both grew up in another place where there were no schools. Now we go to the neighborhood center every morning where kind volunteers teach us reading for an hour or so, and then we go to our jobs at the nail shop. It has been a real lesson for me to meet so many kind and friendly people. My parents were very strict and my husband’s family never spoke to me. Until I moved to Seattle, I thought everyone was like that.
Now I have friends like Doris. She came out to the lobby and took me into a massage room. I gave her the lotion and when I was settled on the massage table under a sheet, she poured lotion into her hands and began rubbing my shoulders. And talking. She does that at the manicure shop, too, talks steadily to her customers while she works on their nails.
“You live with Tarvik and Claire and Nance, right? Are you all related?”
“Nance is Tarvik’s cousin from his mother’s side and I am his cousin from his father’s side.”
“Oh! I thought Nance was your kid sister.”
“Nance and I are not related but we might as well be. Everyone thinks we are sisters.”
“Did the three of you grow up in the same town? Do you still have relatives there? Do you go home for holidays?”
I don’t talk about my family. The more I say, the more people ask, and I ran away to forget them. “They are all dead except Tarvik and Nance,” I said.
“Oh dear. I shouldn’t have asked.”
That’s what everyone says. But I knew how to change the conversation. All I had to do was ask Doris, “Where do you go for holidays?” and she told me the complete story of her life, which included long descriptions of all her relatives and where they live and how many children they have and on and on.
I drifted into a light sleep face down on the massage table, soothed by her hands rubbing my back, until she said, “This lotion seems a bit sticky. Is it what you always buy?”
“Claire buys the lotion when she’s at the grocery store. I don’t use lotion much. Is there something wrong with it?”
“Not really, Just a bit sticky. Must be a brand I’ve never used. You have a tight muscle here. I’ll try to loosen it up but if I press too hard, you be sure to tell me. Oh, did I tell you what my sister’s boy did last week? He is the funniest kid! Can you believe it? Only nine years old and already…”
I must have fallen asleep again. The next thing I knew she was tapping my shoulder and telling me we were finished with the massage.
It was a warm day, lovely for walking. When I reached home, Nance and Tarvik were rolling out a pizza crust. They are both wonderful cooks. And Claire was fixing a salad.
“How was the massage, Alakar?”
“Lovely. But I seem to itch all over. The heat, maybe.”
Claire said, “Oh, it’s probably the lotion. They use so much for a massage. You might want to take a shower. Supper won’t be ready for at least a half hour.”
That sounded perfect. I went into the bathroom, tossed my clothes in the laundry basket, and stepped into the shower. The combination of massaged muscles and warm water felt marvelous. I closed my eyes and felt so relaxed, I was afraid I might fall asleep again. I opened my eyes to locate the bar of soap in the soap holder and as I reached out to pick it up, I saw my hands were already covered with soap bubbles.
And so were my arms. And my body. And my legs. Soap bubbles slid down me and dripped from all over me, even from the end of my nose and from my fingertips, landing in a soapy pool around my feet.
I tried to brush them off. I stood under the shower and rubbed away and the more I rubbed, the more bubbles there were.
Worse than that, some got in my eyes. I closed my eyes too late.
I must have shrieked. I didn’t know I had until Nance pounded on the door and shouted, “Are you all right in there?”
When I opened my mouth to answer, bubbles slid into it. Between coughing and gasping and spitting out bubbles, I did manage a loud, “No!”
I heard the door open. “Alakar, I’m coming in. Are you crying? What’s wrong?”
Of course I was crying. That’s what happens when I get soap in my eyes. I started to tell her and got more bubbles in my mouth.
I heard the curtain slide open and heard Nance gasp. “What on earth? Alakar, you are covered with bubbles! Oh! I guess you know that. Here, let me get them out of your eyes.”
I heard water running in the sink. Next I felt a cold washcloth pressed across my face and I clapped my hands over Nance’s hand to keep that soothing cold against my eyelids.
Was Nance laughing? I share a room with her and she helps me with so many problems, I cannot ever be angry with her, although I sometimes wish she wouldn’t laugh at me so often.
I heard Claire shout, “It’s okay, Tar, but I need to help Nance. You stay in the kitchen and finish fixing supper,” and then I heard the bathroom door close and Claire mutter, “and put a full wine bottle at my place.”
Somehow Claire and Nance got me out of the shower and wrapped in a towel, used a stack of washcloths to clear my face of bubbles, and then worked their way around me and down me.
When I could open my eyes and rinse out my mouth and stop sobbing, I asked, “Why is the shower water full of bubbles?”
“It isn’t,” Nance said. “You are. You are covered in something. I can feel it. It’s sticky.”
“That’s what Doris said when she was massaging me. She said the lotion felt sticky."
“The lotion she was using. I gave her a little plastic bottle of Claire’s lotion to use.”
“My lotion? No, when I came home and emptied the grocery bag I noticed the lotion bottle was still sealed. Alakar! Oh my gosh,” Claire said, “There was also a large bottle of shampoo in that bag.”
Nance sniffed my shoulder. “Yup, you’re right, Claire, that’s what it is. Your lotion smells like roses. Alakar smells like shampoo.”
“She filled the little plastic bottle for Doris with shampoo?”
“She couldn’t read the bottle label and she handed Doris a container without a label. I bet Doris did a great job of rubbing every last drop into Alakar’s skin.”
And then they both did that rude laughing thing again. And I could not even be angry because while they laughed, they did manage to get all of the bubbles off of me.
Although I do not enjoy reading, perhaps there are good reasons to learn to read.
Copyright © Phoebe Matthews
The cover photo at the top of the page is for the fifth novel in the Mudflat Magic series, Goldilocks Hits Town, and features the beautiful Alakar on a day of much more serious problems than bubbles.
Bubbles is my newest short story, finished in August and here for you now. It is based on a day my nearsighted niece misplaced her glasses.