[COLUMN] Once upon a time series: Charisse’s confection

Stories have the power and influence to touch the heart that a cut and dried essay or a report does not have. Somehow the lessons and insights we learn from stories have a longer shelf life. They stick.

Along the way, I have met many whose stories seem like the stuff of fiction. Other stories are cautionary and some are horrific. A lot of what I write are stories told to me. I view them from my personal lens and filter.

I listen quietly, file them away and sort things out. I fictionalize story elements to protect their privacy and some elements, for purposes of conciseness and flow.  Like the deft fingers of a tapestry maker, I hope to weave the colorful threads together, conjure a composite character from different, engaging people I have met. Hopefully these series warm and lift the heart just a tad. For as long as we live, we all need a boost daily.

(Continued from last week’s issue…)

Charisse’s natural curiosity as a researcher would normally drive her to check out her story on the internet. But she felt Dolly’s story was told to her in confidence like a secret and so it will stay that way. She purposely didn’t ask for her full name because she enjoyed the mystery and the company of the older woman. She thought that too much information overload has killed all the mystery and wonder in this world. And so she just let it be.

Charisse dressed up carefully for Dolly’s birthday party. She had put on light make-up but applied a bit more layer of mascara for effect. She let her hair down and wore her antique chandelier earrings. She wore her emerald green sheath silk dress that outlined her slim figure, put on her single strand pearl necklace and her black Spanish mantilla shawl.  She slipped on her one and only black pair of Manolo Blahnik shoes that revealed her nice gams. It isn’t often she gets to play dress-up but when she does, she can be quite a sight. She placed her Crema de Fruta with the candlewax numerals 8 and 0 in the middle on a pedestal rectangular crystal tray.

A friend dropped her off at the Senior Center. It was festooned in bright lights and was a buzzing hub of activity when she arrived. It seemed pleasantly odd that it was decorated more festively than usual, with vases of fresh orchids, liveried waiters, an ice sculpture of the numerals 8 and zero, a gorgeous food spread of many courses, a roast beef carving item and an open bar that smacks of first class catering. There was even an orchestra.

“What is going on?” she thought.

Charisse wondered if she may have gotten the venue wrong. She looked at her Crema de Fruta and thought it might be out of place if she is indeed in the right place.  And then she heard Dolly call her name from across the room. Dolly looked the epitome of glamor. Her hair was in a French chignon and with a tiara no less and her mauve silk gown looked like haute couture paired with what seemed like Bulgari emerald jewelry one only sees in Vogue magazine ads.

Dolly was standing with a tall man in a tuxedo. He looked like he just stepped out of a GQ magazine photo shoot. Charisse was sure she has never seen him before in the center. “Must be a director of the center or something,” she thought as she made her way to them. He certainly didn’t qualify as a senior. Dolly saw the cake she held and her smile reached her eyes.

“You baked this for me?” she asked. Charisse nodded and told her, “But of course. You are special, Dolly. Happy Birthday!”

One of the waiters came and took the cake from her. Dolly instructed him to place the cake at the center of the fancy food spread. Dolly and Charisse kissed and hugged like old friends do.

“Charisse, this is my grandson, Alex. Alex, this is Charisse, the woman I have been telling you about.”  Alex shook her hand, eying her closely. Charisse thought he held her hand a bit longer than usual. “It must be my imagination,” she quickly checked herself.

“Nana’s been telling me about you. You are her favorite topic on Facetime.” Alex told her with a slight smile. Then looking at Dolly, he said cryptically, “You’re right, Nana.”

Just then, the strains of the Sinatra song of  “The Way You Look Tonight” played and the couples took to the dance floor. Alex held out his hand to ask Charisse to dance. They glided surprisingly seamlessly on the dance floor.

Dolly went around the room to greet and talk to her guests. She relished being the silver-haired belle of the ball. Alex was attentive to his grandmother through the night but he kept an eye on Charisse who went around the room to chat and exchange pleasantries with her senior friends and their families. Many guests came and had a blast with the cuisine and the special program prepared for Dolly. Laughter rang through the night.

It turns out that Dolly is a lady from a prominent family that likes to stay quiet and incognito even if her family is a big donor for many charities. She preferred to be at the Senior Center because she liked company, particularly Charisse’s company. The older woman seems to see herself in Charisse.

Dance had a language all its own that magical night. Alex took her for a spin many times on the dance floor as they tried to hold their own against those tireless senior couples. If poetry can be set in motion, it was Alex and Charisse twirling the verses on the dance floor. It was as though they had cut the rug many times in a previous life.

They talked easily. They would burst out laughing at the instances they could finish each other’s sentences. To their surprise, they found out they were both baptized Catholic by the same priest in the same small Spanish style church about 7 years apart — Alex first, since he was older. It was an ‘Oh My God!’ moment for Charisse — pure cosmic serendipity.

Alex told her he is moving back in town after managing companies overseas to be closer to Dolly. They only have each other after all.

Charisse felt her heart singing. She couldn’t remember a time to equal this one night. She felt so light she could float as though gravity has nothing on her.  She beamed with delight when she noticed her cake was a sellout after Dolly blew the candles while everyone sang “Happy Birthday!” Alex held out his hand to his grandmother to dance the waltz.

Just then, her phone’s alarm buzzed the midnight hour. Her heart sank and just like that, gravity pulled Charisse back to terra firma. She heard herself sigh.

“Time to call for my uber ride home,” she thought feeling a little deflated. She retrieved and wiped clean her crystal tray and walked over to Dolly and Alex to bid them goodbye and thank them for a wonderful time. Dolly kissed her on the cheek and hugged her tight telling her she is looking forward to seeing her at the Senior Center Night next week. Smiling broadly, she assured her she will be there come hell or high water.

Then out of the blue, Alex asked her, “May I take you home?”

It’s funny how four small words can make one’s heart do a somersault and thump away like kettle drums. “Yes, I’d like that,” she said.

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The opinions, beliefs and viewpoints expressed by the author do not necessarily reflect the opinions, beliefs and viewpoints of the Asian Journal, its management, editorial board and staff.

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