She slouched into her clothes like the cloth was air.
The open neck of her oversized t-shirt slipped from bare shoulder to bare shoulder like water spilling over shore rocks, each wave gentle and cleansing.
She was leaning over the open top of the ancient Coke cooler – my father had thought the old red metal box with “Coca-Cola” in white script on the side, was more authentic for a small old town like Mount Jensen than a modern soda vending machine, and thought it was even more authentic once he removed the sliding glass top after kids had jammed it closed so many times the glass cracked. He filled the machine with blocks of clear ice and dumped in bottles and cans of soda that settled and swirled into frigid water that was so cold your arm froze searching for a root beer. It was worth it. The soda washed down your throat in a pure, cold rush, more sensation than flavor, a chilled freezing thing that surged through your body and pushed the heat from your fingers and arms and legs and toes until you stood shivering, transformed from a hot, sweaty kid fresh from the playing fields to an ice-sucking statue, ice frozen to your mouth, tongue thick and immobile and you’d give your right arm for another hit.
I watched her from the edge of the grocery roof while I was surveying the gray, dying town. I always wondered how all the buildings had seemed at the same time to evolve and shed their colored skins that once painted the landscape to reveal the pale bones of age. Wondered why everything seemed so sad.
She was not colorless, and as I learned, refused to be sad.
“Bad things,” she would say later, “Sorrowful things, stuff that hurts — throw them away, strip away all the things that weigh you down until you stand in the naked joy of your sweet soul.”
Yellow pants, a purple shirt and a flowing red scarf; her hair was an unnatural orange.
I couldn’t help it.
I yelled to her, “Hey, whatcha doing?”
She looked up to my voice.
“Stealing a soda. What are you doing?”
“You gonna turn me in?”
“Doubt it. Snag me a root beer and I’ll be right down.”
She just smiled back.
I clambered down the fire escape on the right side of the building jumping over steps, landing with a loose, echoey bang on the metal platforms, spinning, jumping lower, till I hit the ground with a dusty thump and stumbled to the edge of the building. She stood still in the golden sun, as exotic and strange as an angel, the likes of which Mount Jensen had never seen, her face round and serene, the breeze shifting her flowing clothes and her eyes as green as ice.
I came around the corner and just stopped.
“What?” she asked grinning when she saw me.
“Who are you?” My voice had an amazed edge that even surprised me. Who was she?
“I’m Emma Jensen. My mother is the notorious Nola Jensen. Here’s your root beer,” and she tossed the can to me. “You might have heard of her.”