by Mary Louise Van Dyke, 1685 words
Bilan shivered as she watched the morning sun lifting in a sea of pinks and purples into the morning sky. Or was the word “rising?”
Two days now since the fire destroyed the Excelsior Café. Two long days of wondering if her suggestion about a dance party to help fund rebuilding the diner so Ted could eat his pies once again and Jerome could once again lord over the kitchen once again in his apron as he prepared the meals ordered by citizens of their small community.
No one had contacted her since the meeting a day earlier. Not Meghan or Amy. The twins slept peacefully in their beds probably dreaming of school and cute American boys and the classes that demanded their bookbags be filled with papers and –
She shook her head, feeling a migraine starting to come on.
What was she to do? If she didn’t have a job, how was she to take care of her girls and afford even the half rent that Ted asked for this cabin?
She pulled her cell phone out and stared at it once again. No messages where, or was that were?, displayed there. Not from her brother Tawfiiq or from his, his mentor.
And she still didn’t understand why Ted had dropped by the other day saying he wanted to talk with her. All he’d said was something about a gold coin dated from long ago – lost in the fire? Or had she overheard Jerome say something about a coin before their meeting with Phyllis? She’d just arrived for it and overheared, no, overheard, Jerome talking about loggers.
Or was she imaged things? She rubbed her head. Her mind felt stuffed as if it was filled with sand that shifted with the winds this way and that.
What truth lay under that sand?
Badly needing tea, she stumbled to her small kitchen and prepared the fragrant brew, adding a teaspoon of sugar and hoping it would sweeten this morning and allow the sun to shine through her mind.
Gold? A gold coin and lost. That much she was certain of.
Somehow Bilan managed to smile and to behave as if life was usual as Astur and Aamlina went through their usual routine, only pausing to correct their mother’s words a half dozen times before running out to the bus that rode them to the middle school and the life they knew as American children in a small town.
The door closed behind them and she sank down on the old couch, wishing she had someplace to go, that she was sliding into her tunic and yes, even into the American jeans and framing her face with the head scarf for another day of serving food and smiles of customers and for those shiny coins mixed with the dollar bills as thanks for her service.
No. She always received silver coins that she brought home and deposited into a clear glass jar, coins that sometimes seemed to empty magically when the twins needed funds her for school and field trips – although that was another strange word. The girls were never taken to the raspberry or blueberry fields, but to plays at the old theatre in the downtown area and to the museum.
Gold coins. The words throbbed with the force of the sudden headache that shifted the sands in her head.
A gold coin. Lost? In the diner?
Wasn’t gold valued? Valuable, she corrected. Could that coin be worth enough to help Phyllis with paying for restoring the diner?
If it were found?
Bilan buried her face in her hands. Quiet and rest. That was all she wanted.
No. No. It wasn’t. The sand seemed to tilt to one side leaving the other side of her brain suddenly as clear as the blue sky showing itself outside.
No. She wanted to stay here in this little cabin. She wanted her girls to grow up here. She didn’t want to only depend on her brother for answers – even closest as they were after growing up in refugee camps.
No American women like Meghan. Like Amy. Were strong.
Her hands automatically rubbed the back of her neck, easing the twisted muscles there, the ones that sent the pain messages to her brain. She could be strong too. At least enough to look for a shiny gold coin that meant life.
She tilted her head, feeling her uncombed hair tumbling over her face. She must dress and she must go to the diner and look for that coin.
A short time later, with headscarf neatly framing her face, she walked downtown to the place where the fire had tried to take everything of value from not only her, but from her boss and from Jerome and even Dwayne, much as he was so full of strange energy and purpose. Taken away Ted’s pie – especially the strangely named bumbleberry pie even though there was no such berry as a bumble berry, and from Jerome the cooking away from people doing what he loved.
And what she loved. She loved knowing the food she bore to people made them happy. Filled their stomachs. Made their day better to have company with others who often visited the diner.
Her feet stumbled to a stop when she reached the diner; the burnt smell slammed her nose and the yellow tape shouted keep out.
Was she breaking a law to go there and search for the shiny coin?
She glanced around uneasily but it was so quiet here. Surely no one would think this was wrong? To search for something to help Phyllis, to help so many people. No police were here acting like the greedy guards who’d monitored the refugee camps, demanding money and goods.
No, she closed her mind and resolutely stepped through the open doorway, burnt wood crunching underfeet. No underfoot, she corrected. The coin if it was here should be over here, where people had eaten their meals at the tables sat at tables to eat their meals.
Crunch. So much damage. The tables broken like the crayons her daughters used to snap in half while they drew pictures, insisting on using the same colors.
How could she ever find a coin in this black mess? The burnt wood was also wet, she discovered quickly as water soaked her sneakers
Was she strong enough to do this – or should she go home and rest?
“What are you doing here,” demanded a rough voice behind her and Bilan froze. Police? Would they take away her green card that showed she was here legal.
“I said what are you doing here?”
Bilan thrust her hands into her jean pockets, suddenly glad for the American garment and turned to face a blond-haired man who stood scowling at her.
He wasn’t wearing a uniform. No, he was wearing a plaid shirt made from sheep hair, no, sheep wool, and he– like what had Jerome said, the men who left the gold coin. His forehead was strangely purple, like the morning sunrise, and black too as if he’d bumped something.
“I’m looking for a coin,” she said. “The one you left.”
Was she crazy? Willoughby, also known as Jeff Smith, stared at the veiled young waitress. Why would anyone want to sift through this pile of crap for a coin?
“What do you mean a coin,” he snarled. After the morning he’d experienced with crashing his truck into a tree and having to walk here to town, he didn’t have much patience left. Besides she shouldn’t be here anyway, not when he needed to check through the damage to see if there was anything of value left that he could steal as part of his campaign to screw Phyllis over for the lies she’d told about the twins. His daughters!
“A gold coin,” she repeated as if she was a robot.
Willoughby stilled. A gold coin? Belonging to Ted? Maybe really valuable? “Yeah? You think its here?”
“I think so. I have to find it to help rebuild the diner,” she gestured at the wreckage, “And to keep my twin daughters safe.”
Twins. Willoughby almost lit up fire at those incendiary words. Twins. Not his ones of course but still …. He grabbed onto his last gram of patience, realizing that if she knew where the coin was – or even could find it. He wouldn’t have any trouble taking it from her none at all, for as slight as she was. This was an opportunity he couldn’t pass up.
“I can help,” he offered in what he thought passed for a helpful offer.
“It’s under here somewhere. I think.”
Zeus almighty. A gold coin. It better be here, that was all he could think of. Make his day, that was for sure, and it would be something more to score over his old buddy, Ted. “Well, let’s get at it,” he said and reached for what had been a silver coffee pot and bent over to move ash and charcoalized debris to the side.
On the other side of the room, he saw her doing the same, kneeling, scraping away using what his ma referred to as a butter knife.
He swore as he dug and tossed junk to the side. He wouldn’t have started the fire had he known something of value was here. No, he would have rescued it first and then poured the gas on and lit the flame.
An hour passed. Two. Three before he sat back on his heels and started swearing under his breath, startling the young woman who gazed at him with huge eyes and smudges of dirt covering her sleeves and that wimple thing.
“This is useless,” he barked. “Absolutely barking useless. Is this one of Ted’s games he set you on?”
“Set me on? I do not understand you.”
“Look lady, I don’t like it when people play games with me. And I think you’re playing one with me now.”
A shadow swooped over him, a dark shadow with wide stretched wings and an unearthly voice shrilled “Who Cooks for You!”