Read My Not-So-Still Life Online

Authors: Liz Gallagher

My Not-So-Still Life (4 page)

BOOK: My Not-So-Still Life
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She’s still got her gaze on me as I pour Cheerios and milk. “Where are you going, anyway?”

“I have my interview at Palette today. For the job?”

She sips tea. I can practically see her decide to not make me change my clothes. She’s weighed the scales. Job is a bigger deal than skirt. She knows I’ll feel more like myself if I dress the way I want. “I want your homework finished by the time I get back from the docks tonight.”

Her working on Saturdays is a huge part of why I want this job. If I can at least pay my own phone bill and buy my own art supplies, she might be able to give up her extra workday. Then she could get an actual life.

“No problem.”

*   *   *

I jump on my bicycle. This skirt is plenty loose enough to bike.

My ride is an old three-speed beach cruiser, very sixties. It’s perfect for getting around Ballard, and to and from school.

I pass my bus stop. On Market Street, I turn left. Just a few more blocks.

Palette is in the main strip of the neighborhood, near a movie theater, a bakery, and a crowded skate park. Cobblestones and brick buildings.

I open the door, a cheery look plastered on my face. Palette is empty.

I walk through the aisles, over the cement floor splattered with a rainbow of dry paint drips. The ceiling is high, like a warehouse, and the messy floor makes me feel as if I’m in a painter’s studio. The shelves are metal.

I’ve been coming here since I was a kid. In here, time doesn’t exist. I’d happily stay forever. It’s got everything I need to survive. Even caffeine.

Oscar is the owner. He looks too young to own anything but an attitude—except that he’s prematurely balding, so he shaves his head. He comes out from the back room, up to the long counter with the register.

“Hey,” he says. “Vanessa, right?”

“That’s me.” I reach across the counter to shake his hand. It feels odd because I already know who he is.

“I’ve seen you around here,” he says. “Glad you applied for the job.” He’s kind of Zen, which is a phase I went through a few months ago. He has this aura of sweetness, though he wears real tough-guy stuff, plain black tees tight to his muscled body. I’m in love with his pretty tattoos, two full sleeves of trees and vines. Green leaves. A few purple berries.

Mom should study him as an example of someone who dresses kind of edgy but is clearly a good and responsible person.

“Yep,” I say. “It’s my favorite store, actually.”

He grins. “That’s what I like to hear.” He gestures at the couch beside the espresso bar. “Let’s sit.”

I take a seat, as ladylike as I can, on the orange couch with hot pink flowers. I’ve always wondered whose aunt Madge must’ve kicked the bucket for the store to inherit this thing.

Oscar flops down at the other end, resting his back on the armrest, his steel-toe boots on the couch, knees in the air.

“I’m looking to hire someone to help out at our busiest shifts. Open-to-close on Saturdays, for sure. Maybe we can add some short evening shifts, too. A good chance for someone your age to make some pocket money. Plus, thirty percent off everything we sell. And free coffee.”

“Awesome.” Money earned, and money saved.

“So, what makes Palette your favorite store?”

“Well, it’s a useful place.” I’ve never quite put these ideas into words before. “Palette is a place where you come to buy something you need, because you have a project you want to do. Something worth it. And even more than that. Palette’s a place where you can come to be inspired, even.”

He widens his eyes. “Wow. Right. So, you’re an artist, then?”

“Yeah,” I say. I feel so young, sitting here, begging for a job. “I mean, really. Art is pretty much the most important thing to me.”

He looks like he’s expecting more, so I say, “And I’m good at it.” I hope he doesn’t ask for more, because I doubt that straight As in Mr. Smith’s workshop would hold much weight here. “I mean, people seem to like my stuff. My work.” That sounds more official, right?

Should I mention first place in the school art show last fall? Nah.

“Interesting,” he says. “But really, what’s most important in this job is that you show up on time, you’re one hundred percent reliable, professional and honest, you do a neat and careful job when you’re stocking, you master the workings of our ancient register system, and you listen to whatever Maye says about the espresso bar. Sound like you’re up to all that?”

“Definitely. Sounds good to me.” The vintage-style mint green espresso machine looks so inviting.

“What happened to the coffee guy with the Mohawk?” He skimps on the whipped cream. I’d love to get my hands on that nozzle.

“He moved.”

“So I’ll have to fill the position of Palette Employee with Funky Hair,” I say. “Don’t worry about me moving on or being too busy on the weekends or anything.”

He smiles. “This would be your first job?”

I nod. “Technically, but I’m used to working really hard. School, and art, and all. I hope that I could add more hours in the summer. I really want to start earning money.”

“If all goes well, that should be doable,” he says. “I’ve got a few other people to talk to today. I’ll call you soon with a decision?”

He says it like a question, so as he stands up, I stand and say, “That’d be great.”

I’m about to shake Oscar’s hand again when a tall blond guy glides up to the front door on a long skateboard, wearing sandals, perfect-fitting jeans, and a T-shirt, as if it’s the middle of summer. He steps off the board, grabs it, and comes into the shop. His hair is almost white. It flops in front of his eyes. He’s tan. It’s like he just stepped out of Hawaii.

“Hey, James,” Oscar calls out.

“Yo.” James has a camera around his neck, just like Jewel usually does. He’s nineteen or twenty.

James sits on the couch. “Maye in? I’ve got official business with her.”

I really want to hear what he has to say, but I know that’s my cue to exit. I paste on my most responsible smile. “Thanks, Oscar. Love the new easels,” I say. “The bamboo ones. I, like, covet them.”

Then I pretty much run away.
I covet your easels?
That was the best last line I could think of? And in front of Blond, James Blond?

How childish. Who would hire a child?

I can only hope that Oscar would.

As I pedal up to the house, Mom is just getting out of her old Jeep with groceries. I help her unload in the kitchen. She bought stuff for lasagna, Grampie’s favorite. She heads to her room for a nap before her Saturday late shift.

I look at my desk. No. No homework on a Saturday. That’s what Sunday night is for.

I would call Holly, but I know she locked herself in for the day to practice for her big concert.

I text Nick. He’s having “family day,” which is hilarious. You can practically see the quotes around those two words when he texts back … family day is his parents’ way of making up for the fact that they only spend that one
night a month together. His parents ignore him until this one day when they all go to the movies—they pick action flicks or comedies, anything without real emotion that they might be tempted to discuss later—and out to dinner, where his parents talk about their jobs and Nick counts down the minutes until he can get home to catch up on reality TV on the DVR.

So. Homework on a Saturday might not be that bad after all. It’ll free up my Sunday. And I’ll be doing what Mom asked this morning.

I throw on my splattered T-shirt dress, set up my books on the kitchen table, and dig into Spanish. Grampie sits across from me with his crossword puzzle, sipping lemonade. It’s kind of peaceful.

Mom comes in, ready for work.

“Heading out?” Grampie asks her.

“In a minute,” she says. She grabs a banana from the bowl on the counter and sits with us to eat it.

“Nice dinner,” I say. Oops. It’s not her fault that she doesn’t have time for a real meal. “I mean, want some peanut butter? For protein?”

Grampie shoots me a look that means something like
Give it up
. Then he takes his puzzle. “See you in the morning, darlin’.” He kisses Mom and heads down to his room. I love it when he calls her that.

“Bye, Dad.” She turns her attention back to me. “I can take care of myself, Nessie.”

“I know. Sorry. I just don’t like to see you so rushy-rushy all the time.”

“That’s life, is all. Gotta work.” She folds up the banana peels into a little package.

“Well, I hope I get my job so I can help out a little. Maybe you can stop working Saturday nights.”

I see something shift in Mom’s face. She swallows. “You don’t have to worry about bills. That’s what I’m here for. And Paul’s been sending some money.”

“I don’t remember the last time I actually heard from Paul.” I doubt he even thinks of me as a real person. I’m more like this abstract thing that happened to him when he was barely older than I am now. “I can’t imagine a guy my age with a baby.”

“Funny,” Mom says, “neither can I. But I remember what it was like to be a young mom. Pushing you in your stroller. People at the grocery store assumed I was your babysitter.”

“Did you feel like my babysitter?”

“Nessie, I stopped feeling like a kid the moment you were born.” She looks at the microwave clock. “Gotta go.”

And she’s off.

I don’t like to think about Paul, so I force myself to read a fake menu in my book, decoding

Soon enough, I’m finished.

I do think about Paul some more, and how Grampie took over what he should have been doing. I get the
sketchbook from my bag and start to draw a scene that’s been in my head for years … Grampie’s face as he watched me ride a bike on my own for the first time. He’s the one who taught me. He was lit up.

When I’m finished sketching, it’s still pretty early, so I call Holly.


“Yo. Are you practicing?”

“Just finished.”

“Come over?”


A little while later, we’re watching some old monster movie and eating ice cream on the couch, just the way I sat with Mom last night.

I put my feet against hers. “You know, you’re part of my family.”

“Aw. You too. Why so mushy?”

“Just thinking about that stuff lately, I guess.”

“Like what?”

“How weird life is. You know?”

“I think so.”

“My mom said she grew up when I was born. I feel as if I’m waiting for my real life to start. Do you ever feel like that?”

Someone screams on the TV. I turn down the volume. “Yeah. In a way.” She puts her bowl on the coffee table. “I mean, I’m busy with music. It kind of is my life.”

“Yeah. And I have art. But is that what really defines my life?”

“I think you know yourself better than you think you do, Vanessa.”

“You think I’m self-aware?”

“Duh. More than anyone else. You’re so Vanessa. It’s like they said at Ocean Tides. ‘Follow your bliss.’ You do that.”

“How do you mean?”

“I mean, look at you! A walking piece of art.”

I beam. “Thanks, Holly. And you’re a walking piece of music.” She raises her eyebrows. “Or something. You’re really talented, and you work so hard.”

I don’t say what I think next:
But I don’t
. I don’t really try very hard at anything. Art is natural for me. I’ve never pushed my boundaries.

But I want to. I want to work as hard at art as Holly does with her music, and do something big.

I turn the volume back up and she and I watch this whole bunch of picnickers by a lake get chomped by a monster that’s part alligator, part zombie.

After that, we take turns reading to each other from Mom’s mystery.

Eventually, Holly calls home and asks if she can stay. We set up blankets on the floor next to my bed and have a slumber party.

It feels so good to have her here. Holly falls asleep and I listen to her breathing.

I stare at the ceiling, trying to keep myself in the moment.

Mom gets home around two in the morning. When I hear the front door open and close, I’m tempted to go out to the family room to share the calm middle-of-the-night with her.

Instead, I finally drift off to sleep.


Holly’s folding the blankets
when I wake up on Sunday.

“How’d you sleep?”

“I dreamed about Mozart.”

“That’s good, right?”

“That’s very, very good.”

“Great. I don’t remember what I dreamed. I don’t think I did.”

She puts the blankets on the foot of my bed. “People dream every night. We just don’t always remember.”

Mom pokes her head in. “I thought I saw your shoes, Miss Holly.”

“Hi, Ms. Almond. Yeah, I stayed over. Hope you don’t mind.”

“Of course I don’t mind. Our home is your home.”

“Hey, Mom?”


“I want to make pancakes, okay?”

“Oh, Nessie. I don’t know if I have the energy. Would cereal be okay?”

“No, I’m not asking you to make pancakes. I want to make them. For you and Grampie and Holly.”

My mom’s face lights up. Like pancakes are a big gift.

I tell her, “Go read.” Holly helps me in the kitchen.

Most of my strange little family is around one table. Only Nick is missing.

Mom tells us about her friend Mindy’s four-year-old girl, how they drew princesses together. I’d love to draw with my mom again.

“You used to draw your princesses with fangs,” Grampie says to me.

Holly nearly spits out her orange juice. “Seriously?”

“Abso-snootly. She would do the crowns and the big poufy gowns. And then the princess would get her fangs.” Grampie looks as if he can see it now. I’m still four years old, sitting across this table from him.

“Why do I feel like the fangs might’ve been your influence, Grampie?”

“I never was one for the ordinary,” he says. “You’ve got me there. But the fangs were your own creation.”

We all laugh, finish our pancakes, talking.

A perfect breakfast.

When Holly leaves, I head out to the garage.

Grampie’s working on his Chevy. Mom parks her Jeep out on the street so that he can keep his classic beauty safe and dry in here. He barely drives it. It’s kind of like his pet.

BOOK: My Not-So-Still Life
3.34Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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