Una Rosa Blanca
"I'll take the pannetone. Can you put a little radicchio on the side?" Veronica looked at the server. "What's your name?" she asked him.
Veronica had a way with people. The server, taken aback, muttered something in Spanish and turned to go, but not before he flashed a pearly white grin.
This café had crisp, peach colored cotton tablecloths and napkins and a white rose stuck in a small crystal cube in the middle of each table. Veronica and Doug had white roses and seashells at their beach wedding a few months ago.
"I'll have the spinach wrap with chicken paprika," I said when it was my turn. Somehow I was always the last one to be asked to order. Sometimes they forgot me altogether. Okay, I wasn't one of the beautiful people here. This seaside resort was, after all, a magnet for the jet set, the Euro glitz, and the Venezuelan oil barons. If you weren't beautiful, at least you were rich. I was neither.
"Drink?" he said offhandedly. I almost said 'water,' but quickly realized he would probably zap me with a pricey bottled number from Italy. These chichi café's looked smart and fun, but it was dog it dog as far as money was concerned. With scary regularity, one would go under, either from heavy competition or the owner blowing his mind on designer drugs, forgetting he ran a business.
It was a little past twelve. The sidewalk cafes were brimming with the lunch crowd. Veronica and I had decided to squeeze in an hour for a chat. From the looks of things, it would probably take that long just to get our order. She had a flexible job and could make things up later. I was unemployed.
"So what are you going to do?" Veronica said as she sipped a frozen latte topped with whipped cream and chocolate flakes.
Before I could answer, she reached over, "Here, have some."
"No, I'm okay," I said. My food order had set me back a bit, but I wasn't ready for a handout yet. Not that Veronica felt sorry for me. She was my only friend down here. Oh, I knew people, lots of people. She was the only one who told me I had talent and I shouldn't work for that creep, anyway.
The 'creep' was Orlando. He ran a boutique called "Gladz." He brought in South American native crafts and furniture, selling them at exorbitant prices. Yes, ye was charming, talking poor farmers out of their handiwork. He had charmed me into quitting my steady job to help get the store off the ground, paying me very little. Some weeks he didn't meet payroll. Then he fired me.
"I'll figure something out," I lied. I had no idea what to do, other than crawl into my studio, just down the block, and lie in a fetal position. Then I took the single white rose from the little vase on the table. Veronica looked at it and then at me. I remembered their wedding and all the roses. She had given me one that I kept in my studio. It was stuck over a poem by Marti that I had pasted on the wall. The poem began with 'Cultiva una blanca.' Veronica said nothing about the wedding or the rose.
"You have so much talent," Veronica said. "I hope you get to do something with it."
How did she know I had talent? Okay, I had painted a so-so mural on the wall of a flophouse way down south, in the rough area. I had written a terrible poem when she and Doug married on the beach, under a beautiful canopy of roses and seashells. I wondered what talent she was talking about. Maybe she was just saying it to soothe me.
Our sandwiches finally arrived. We started picking on the colorfully garnished food, shaded by a dark green canvas umbrella. Maybe things would be okay after all.
"What about you and Doug?" I said. They were planning to move to the west coast within two weeks. "Are you excited about the move?"
"Well, sort of," Veronica said. "It's all about Doug, you know. He got a good assignment, but I don't know anyone out there. I'll really miss this place."
She looked at me. "I may have made a mistake."
I didn't dare ask what she was talking about.
"I have an idea," I said, changing the subject. "Remember when I worked for Sigurd & Sigurd?" That was the downtown real estate firm where I had worked before Gladz.
Veronica looked at me.
"Well, I'm not getting any younger and I have no permanent address. Tom, the manager, told me I would be good at selling real estate. I could get a license and try my luck. Maybe I could end up with a condo or something. They were sorry to let me go when Orlando convinced me to work in his store."
I knew Sigurd & Sigurd would hire me back and help me get in the business. In this area, everyone had a real estate license; the market was through the roof. At the blink of an eye, thousands were added to the price of a house, a condo, a building, a lot. It was a boom and there was no bust in sight. Why could I not join the crowd of gold chained, Rolex toting agents? Why not?
Veronica kept looking at me. We both sat in silence for a while, eating our sandwiches. The server must have had pity on me, or perhaps he was buttering us up for a tip, because he finally brought me a glass of tap water, without ice. That is how I liked my water, anyway.
"What do you really want to do?" Veronica finally said.
I smiled. What could I say?
That night the ocean was restless. The curtains in my studio were blowing wildly, almost blowing out the candles I had placed on a high shelf. Lights from the courtyard restaurant below threw shadows on my walls. Palm fronds whipped outside, sending violent light plays on those same walls.
I stared at the white rose, now brown and shriveled, stuck sadly on the wall above the poem about a white rose. Marti had talked about growing a white rose for a friend who reaches out a sincere hand. He also talked of doing the same for an enemy. He would not hand him thorns.
"Cultiva una Rosa blanca," I said out loud. I spoke no Spanish, but somehow I had memorized this poem, understood it at some level. I thought of Veronica, who certainly had reached out a sincere hand to me. Then I thought of Orlando. Yes, he had fired me. Yes, he had treated me badly. Would I give thorns to him? The poet wouldn't. Then I remembered it was Orlando who gave me a little book with Marti's poems.
A strong gust blew out all but one candle on the shelf. The curtains, heavy with rain, flopped about the windows aimlessly. I stood up from the couch and stuck my head out the window, rain whipping against my face.
"I'm going to be a poet!" I cried. "I'm going to be a poet!"
The wind and rain hit my face hard. I began to laugh. The now bizarre thought of Rolexes and gold chains made me laugh even harder.