Sylvia Dodgen: Encounter
Standing in the underground station at Earl’s Court in London with my tour group, I spot a familiar profile. Pearl Lee? I lean forward to get a better look. She looks in my direction then looks away. “Pew-ee,” we called her through school. She is dressed in a tea length ivory gown, carrying a rose. “Umph,” I wonder what Pew-ee is doing in London. I wave, but she either does not recognize me or chooses to ignore me. Certain that the woman is Pearl Lee even though I have not seen her for at least ten years, I cross the platform. We were never really friends, but we went through twelve years of school in the same class. Pew-ee walked the halls like she was a princess, wearing her aunt’s hand-me-down pencil skirts from the early sixties and white heelworn flats. I remember seeing her mama working the presses at the dry cleaners, when I picked up my daddy’s suits on Saturday mornings and her daddy, sitting on the court square curb drunk as Cooter Brown.
Slipping sideways through the waiting throng, I speak to her from behind. Pearl Lee turns and smiles, “What are you doing here?” she says, as though she had not spotted me. The first thing I notice is her hair, highlighted and burnished, no longer stringy, dishwater blond. Then I notice her teeth; they are rice white and have been straightened.
“Just seeing the sights with a group from home. What about you? I didn’t know you left Sawyerville,” I say.
“Actually, I left before graduation.”
“Really and came here?”
“No. You probably don’t remember but I married and moved to Louisiana. Ed, remember? He took a job on one of those offshore oil rigs in the Gulf.”
“Oh, that’s right I heard you and Ed McLeod got married. So is he here in London too? Just can’t imagine Ed McLeod in London,” I snigger, remembering Ed’s kinky red hair, big ears and gosh awful guffaws.
Pearl Lee’s eyes narrow. “No, he’s still in Louisiana. We divorced years ago but still talk occasionally. You’re still doing it, you know.” Pearl Lee lifts her chin and smiles.
“What? What do you mean?”
“Still poking fun at people.”
“No, I didn’t mean…. I didn’t realize you’d take it that way. He was just so corn pone, you know?”
“No, I don’t,” she turns and looks down the tracks.
“So what are you doing here? All dressed up. Where’re you going?” I ask.
Pearl Lee looks calmly at me. “I’ve just been to a recital, a friend plays the cello.”
“And what do you do?” I ask.
“I am a violinist with the LSO.”
“The London Symphony Orchestra. You know, they made the music for the Star Wars films back in the seventies.”
“So you live in London?”
“Yes, but we tour frequently – Japan, India, France ….”
“You’ve really changed from the old Pearl Lee in high school, huh? I remember your granddaddy could fiddle. I seen him play at the tavern down by the river a few times. They said as long as the drinks kept coming, he’d keep fiddling.”
“You frequent the tavern?” Pearl Lee nods.
“We drop in from time to time, hubby and me. Hey, remember how Sarah and Julie teased you about hiding behind your hair? And when you went out for cheerleading, they had their boyfriends roll basketballs at you from the bleachers. You were all over that gym, dodging balls.
You have to admit that was a hoot, low but a hoot.”
“I guess I’d forgotten; I don’t think much about them.”
“Have a good life, Caroline.” Pearl Lee moves away down the track toward the approaching train.
Stepping back to my group, I feel thwarted. Pearl Lee had not given me a chance to tell her that I married Wild Boar quarterback, Larry Sawyer. She didn’t even give me a chance to show her pictures of my sweeties, the twins. I hope she heard that I pledged the round house at Bama even though I never made it to initiation, seeing as how I got knocked up homecoming weekend. Larry never could control hisself. And I forgot to tell her about our chicken farm and Larry’s favorite line: “Chicken shit smells like money to me.” I blow my cheeks out and think, I can’t wait to tell Sarah and Julie I saw old Pearl Lee; they’ll just spew.
When the doors open, Pearl Lee steps over the gap and sits just inside the door. Pushing silky hair behind an ear, she pulls out her smart phone and searches Facebook. Seconds later she finds a dumpy Caroline Sawyer seated on a sofa between a chubby boy and girl with a man slouched on the sofa arm, holding a football. He has a noticeable beer belly. Looking closely, Pearl Lee spots two slender boards, running the height of the wall on either side of the sofa. I recognize those strips; they connect pre-fabricated wall panels, Pearl Lee thinks and chuckles to herself. They live in a trailer. Caroline lives in a trailer in the sticks with Wild Boar Larry. She lifts her head and inhales the sweet fragrance of the rose.