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CL Fiction Contest/Ybor Stories: Who won?

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FINDERS AND SEEKERS | Derry Smith

They looked stupid, struggling to pronounce a French ‘r’. The whole class, working to master it. The man beside Wren wiped sweat off his forehead.

“Use the back of your tongue,” Monsieur told them. “It’s almost like gargling.”

Hobie would think it too, that they looked stupid. He would say, “Tongues aren’t for ‘r’s. Tongues are for tasting and for… Well, you know.” And then he would do it. Put his mouth on her until she couldn’t breathe.

Breathless. He always made her breathless.

Sometimes she and Hobie would fool around in the back row of the community college chorus. Just a feel or a kiss, and only if the front row sang standing, hiding them.

She sang alto and he sang tenor, and he sang it like a virtuoso. His curly brown hair would shake with intensity and if he wasn’t holding music, his hands requisitioned the audience, even if it consisted of only the director.

After practices and a quick screw in his car, she and Hobie would walk down the street and stuff themselves with guava turnovers at the Cuban bakery. They would sit, watching the place fill and empty.

“This is the drop-off point for that man and his ex,” Hobie said, pointing to a thirtyish-looking couple with two kids eating honey buns. “Every Wednesday afternoon they make the big switch.”

“Yeah,” Wren said. “But what about those two? I’ve seen them here before.” She gestured to a female couple, both of them with long bleached-white hair, wearing full-length furs and pointy black-heeled boots. They held hands as one looked at the other’s ring.

“Hookers,” Hobie said. “Some kind of special service I bet.” Wren studied their pale faces and dark eyes.

“They’re beautiful,” she whispered. “How much you think they cost?”

Hobie shrugged. “Too much.”

He was a good-looking guy with that soft curly hair. Except for his teeth. When he grinned big he showed off a top row that leaned like loose fence slats. It must’ve made him self-conscious; his smiles were usually sealed tight. Either way, Wren liked them.

It didn’t matter though. Two months after they’d started going to the bakery Wren discovered that Hobie was seeing the girl behind the register.

It was no surprise. She knew how she looked — too heavy, too pasty. Not a typical Sunshine State resident. But it surprised her a little. Their bodies had fit well together. Better than any. He had agreed.

Wren didn’t know the cashier’s name. Everyone just called her Doll. She stood all day on skinny legs and took money without a look or a smile. She ended up pregnant and Wren never found out if the baby was Hobie’s because he stopped coming to chorus and the girl died before she had it. Nights, Wren waited for a grieving Hobie to show up at her door. Sometimes she still thinks she hears his step.

Wren saw the obituary in the Trib. She found it while searching for coupons. Cutting into the obit caused Wren some guilt but the “Buy two yards get one free” discount for Calico Corner’s fabrics was too good to pass on.

Turned out Doll was hit by a taxi while waiting for a bus on Fifteenth Street. Wren read the chopped up story on the coupon’s back over and over during her bus ride down Kennedy. Its unfinished sentences bothered her.

Nancy Ann “Doll” Garner and her unborn child went

October 4th, 2002. She was a victim of a traffic incide

struck by a taxi while standing on 15th Street in Ybor

at La Segunda Central Bakery since the age of twelve

survived by a loving family, mother, Geraldine Garne

sisters, Teresa, Lucy, brother, Michael, grandparents,

will be held on Sunday, October 18th at 11:00 at Our S

She should have cut out the entire article. Calico’s would not have cared about extra edging around the coupon.

The fabric she decided on was a deep burgundy. It looked nice on the cushion of the old church pew she’d placed in her apartment the week before. She bought the pew at a bargain price because the First Baptist Church downtown was reopening as a hipster retail shop.

“You sure about this?” her friend Holly had asked, bouncing her rear on the tattered seat. “Kinda grim looking don’t you think?”

“Not if I throw some pillows on it.” Wren rubbed the smooth top, the rich dark oak still glossy. “I think it’s great.”

Holly stood up and looked at the back.

“Except for this,” she said. She pointed to where somebody had written “Suck Cock” in thick black magic marker.

“Maybe they’ll discount it,” Wren said.

They did, so she took it home and shoved it against a wall. Many times she sat on that seat and wondered about Hobie. A few times she pictured a kid scribbling fast with the magic marker, while everyone around him bowed in prayer.

The remnants from the new cushions went to reline the rolling Samsonite she inherited from her mother. Before her mother’s death the Samsonite was considered stolen. Wren would hear about it when she called home from the red phone box on the corner.

“When you bringing my Samsonite back?” her mother would ask.

Wren had taken it, in a hurry to leave.

“I know Ma,” Wren would say. “I just don’t see when I can get there.” Sometimes it’d be a sculpture that needed finishing, sometimes an art show to prepare for. One time she told her mother, “I know it doesn’t mean anything to you, but they’ve given me a key.”

“A key?”

“To the art studio where I sculpt,” Wren said. “So now if I wake up at three a.m. and want to work on something, I can.”

“Always busy,” her mother said.

“Why don’t you come here?” Wren asked.

“I don’t know how.”

“What do you mean you don’t know how? Just get on a plane. I’ll send you a ticket.”

“No. I’m not flying. Planes scare me.”

“Then a bus...”

“I can’t sit for that long. My pills make my blood thick. I might have a stroke.”

“Then what the hell do you need the Samsonite for?” Wren didn’t mean to ask. She already knew. She’d had to pull the yards of white satin and netting out of the suitcase when she took it.

“You know, I’m still mad at you for stuffing that dress under the bed,” her mother said. “Grandma made me that dress with her own two hands. Every piece of lace, every pearl, every silk thread, she stitched.”

“I know, Ma.” A hundred times she knew.

“My mother was a saint, God rest her soul. You should love your mother so much.”

How could a grown woman think that loving her mother causes some kind of osmosis effect in her daughter?

“I know Ma,” Wren said. And then she forced herself, although she knew it was never believed. “And I do love you.”

“Then you’d come see me.”

But Wren never did. She didn’t feel any remorse either, when her mother died. Just the same old emptiness. Maybe it caused her to miss Hobie a little more but she couldn’t tell. There was no scale, no way to measure.

The Samsonite needed an overhaul because the old lining had been beaten to death by chunks of tile. Wren had lucked into them, to add to her sculptures.

“Hey, are you interested in tile from the early 1900s?” Holly had asked on an already-hot spring day. “I’m talking beautiful old Spanish tile.”

“Maybe,” Wren said. “Where’d you get something like that?”

“My cousin’s helping refurbish the bathrooms at the Columbia. He’s been picking up pieces of the stuff they’re pulling off the walls and taking it home. He wanted to try to sell it but he’s still on parole and got a little scared of legal consequences.”

“Well yeah, I’ll take it.”

“All you got to do is pick it up.”

“No problem.”

After collecting it all in the old suitcase she started to sculpt. The pieces came out nice, some with soft curves, some with rigid angles and lines but all with bits of vibrant-colored tiles scattered throughout. The art earned critical acclaim in weekend shows but didn’t add much to her meager income.

On a cold-snapped January morning Holly stopped by Wren’s booth at the Saturday Market. Wren was sitting in the back trying to escape the smell of fresh funnel cakes.

“I’m leaving,” Holly said. Her orange beret was pushed back off her forehead.

“Oh?”

“Moving to France. Getting married to that guy Henri.”

“Married?”

“Yeah.”

This seemed a bit rushed. They’d only been dating a few weeks. But who knows. Maybe Holly found what she wanted.

They promised to keep in touch but Wren was certain how that would go; so she was surprised when Holly called a few weeks ago. “Pregnant. Due in a couple of months.” And wanting Wren to come and help with the baby.

“Henri will happily pay you what you make in sales. Even more.”

“Really?”

“Yeah. And there’s a studio in town that holds shows in Paris! Paris—can you imagine?”

Wren pictured French men in tight black jeans stopping at her pieces, their heads tilted, their stares studious.

“We’ll send you a ticket, okay? If you don’t like it, we’ll pay your way back.”

Wren looked out her apartment window. She had lived her entire adult life in Ybor. She hadn’t found success but she hadn’t failed here either.

“They don’t speak English there,” she said.

“True,” Holly said.

“I might get lost.”

“Yeah. But then you get found again.”

Wren chewed her lip. If she left here, Hobie might never be found again.

“I need to mull it over.”

It was silent on the other end.

“We’re talking France here,” Holly said. “A free ticket to France. You don’t want to lose out on that.”

“Yeah,” Wren said. She pulled on a loose strand of hair until it hurt — but not enough to cover the angst. “What am I thinking? Of course. Send me a ticket.”

Losing. Finding. What did she know? Maybe she was lost already.

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