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"Tessie's New Cart" by Steve Carr

Tessie's New Cart by Steve Carr

Tessie’s New Cart

In the cool of early morning, Tessie stood in front Brickmeyer’s Department Store and stared at the display in the window. Two female mannequins wearing ankle-length blended cotton and cashmere bathrobes and color-matched fuzzy slippers were each holding a glass of juice and an alarm clock. The clocks were set for eight o’clock. Their shoulder-length hair was perfectly coiffed and their snow white teeth gleamed between smiling fire-engine-red lips.

“Pft, no one looks that good first thing in the morning,” she said aloud.

She stepped to a spot where she could see her reflection in the glass and frowned. Removing her brown knitted cap, she placed it in a pocket of her army field jacket and shook her head. Her white hair had become mashed against her head and now poofed out into a tangled mass resembling a football helmet made of cotton. She took her brush from the other pocket and tried to comb it out. Unable to get through the tangles she gave up and put the brush back.

She was about to walk away when the front door of the store opened.

“Good morning, Tessie,” Rhonda said from behind the locked gate in front of the doors.

“It’s not that good,” Tessie said. “The wheel on my cart is broken.” She pointed to the wheel that had split in two, with one half now missing.

“I’m sorry to hear that,” Rhonda said. “Are you able to get around okay?”

“As long as I balance it on one wheel,” Tessie said. “I might need to unload some of my belongings, though.”

“Wait right here,” Rhonda said, then dashed back into the store.

When Rhonda returned, she was pulling a new grocery cart – with a large red ribbon on its handle. “Consider this a gift from Brickmeyer’s,” she said as she unlocked the gate.

“Won’t you get in trouble giving this away?” Tessie ran her chapped hands over the cart’s smooth, polished metal.

“Not at all,” Rhonda said. “I’m sure Mr. Brickmeyer will understand.”

Tessie transferred her sleeping bag, a garbage bag filled with clothes, a small bag with toiletries, three dog-eared and yellowed paperback novels, two small pots and a torn brown paper bag with three cans of soup, a can opener and half a package of crackers into the new cart.

“I’ll be traveling first class with this,” Tessie said. “Thank you.”

“You’re welcome, Tessie. I’ll take your old cart and throw it in the dumpster for you,” Rhonda said. She picked it up and locked the gate and went back in the store.

A few blocks down, Tessie stopped in front of Romance Hair Salon and tapped on the window. When a man with a thick black mustache and a shiny bald head appeared,

Tessie pointed at her cart. He smiled broadly then pointed to the door. A moment later he opened the door and stepped out.

“Is it your birthday, Tessie?” he asked.

“No, Damion. Rhonda down at Brickmeyer’s gave it to me. The tire on my old one broke.” Running his hand across the red bow, he said, “It’s fabulous, Tessie. Come in and let me shampoo your hair and clip off those split ends. You can’t go about town with a new cart and your hair not done.”

“What about your customers?” Tessie said.

“We have a whole hour before my first appointment shows up,” he said. “I can do your hair while you tell me all the gossip from the streets.”

Tessie placed the cart against the wall and followed Damion into the salon. “Old Milt said Jawbone was arrested,” Tessie said as she settled into the chair. “He was panhandling too near that private school over on 43rd.”

“You’d think he’d know better,” Damion said as he turned the chair around and tilted Tessie back, placing her neck in the smooth groove in the lip of the sink. He turned on the water and raised the nozzle and began to wet her hair with warm water.

“Molly’s moving in with her niece upstate,” Tessie said. “She said she can’t take being outside all the time anymore.”

“Well good for her,” Damion said as he squeezed shampoo in Tessie’s hair and began massaging her scalp until a thick layer of lather formed. He rinsed it out, then put in conditioner and massaged it into her hair, and ran the water over her head for a few minutes. He raised Tessie to a sitting position and wrapped a towel around her head, turning her to face the large mirror on the wall. “Look at that, your cheeks are glowing like a teenage girl,” he said.

Tessie smiled at her reflection as Damion combed out the last of the tangles with a brush and comb, then began clipping off the ends of her hair with a small pair of scissors.

“I used to get this sort of thing done all the time,” Tessie said. Damion smiled gently, then picked up the hand-held hair dryer and aimed it at Tessie’s hair. “You won’t need to wear your cap for a week after this.”

With her hair dry, Tessie looked at her reflection in the mirror for several minutes and turned her head from side to side admiring her new look. She patted her hair and smiled then got up from the chair and put on her jacket. “Thanks, Damion,” she said.

“Take care of yourself, hon,” Damion said.

Tessie left with a bounce in her step.

Her new cart was gone.


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