In the Garden of Persephone (Part 12)

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Dana declares her love for Mr Graham and Xan takes tea with Mrs Graham.

Dana was in love with Mr Graham. She stood with Xan next the dumpster of chicken guts smoking and laughing far too easily. Her eyes were bright and mischievous and she had a way of smoking that Xan thought was positively sophisticated. Her perfume broke through the smoke and even the stench of the decaying chicken carcasses. Xan admired the way Dana made her dumpy uniform look glamourous.

“The first time we—“ Dana broke off as if deciding whether or not Xan was mature enough to handle hearing about her sex life.

“Porked?” Xan asked helpfully.

Dana made a face. “The first time we made love,”

Xan rolled her eyes. “Got on with it,” she demanded.

“I wasn’t sure if he really liked me or if he just wanted to—“ she broke off again.

“Pork you,” Xan finished for her.

“Do you have a romantic bone in your body?” she asked.

Xan stubbed out her cigarette under her foot. “There’s only one bone I concern myself with.”

Dana raised an eyebrow.

“I know about sex, Dana,” Xan muttered as she lit another cigarette. But she was thinking of Mrs Graham and the kids. She sensed Mrs Graham had a soft spot for her but was not quite positive. This made her feel protective of Dana but even so, she was not sure at all what she should do with this information: thinking too much about gave her a headache.

“Oh so you’ve done it then,”

“Of course,” said Xan.

“Are you in love?”

Xan did not have to think too long about it. “I am,” she said. “Zach is the love of my life, love of my world.”

“Gosh,” said Dana with admiration. She took a delicate puff of her cigarette and looked at Xan as if seeing her for the first time. “That’s wonderful.”

“Zach is the man for me,” she declared although Zach was only sixteen years old and had never even looked at another girl.

“Have you ever slept with anyone else?”

Xan stubbed her second cigarette out and told Dana to mind her own business.

 

There was a huge box on Gary’s desk that had Xan curious all during the long shift. She kept approaching it so she could poke it to see if it were heavy or light but Gary kept telling her to get back to work. Mr Graham had come in twice to see Dana and she was very nearly caught both times. Xan did not want any teachers to see she worked in a chicken shop and she knew Gary didn’t want that either.

“Stay your ass on this side of the kitchen,” Gary barked at her when Xan tried to refill her drink glass.

“But I just wanted—“ Xan rattled the ice in her empty cup. Scowling, Gary snatched it from her and refilled it.

“Can I just remind you that you are paid in cash?”

Xan took a sip of her drink and made a face. “I was hoped for a bit of orange and cola.”

“Good God, Xan,” Gary’s face was tense and he rubbed his eyes with annoyance

“Okay, okay,” she said, taking a sip. “Thank you,”

Gary threw his arms up in the air and mumbled something unintelligible before taking his seat and getting back to the deskwork.

“So Gary, what’s in the box?”

 

Xan was just putting the finishing touches on the floor when Dana came to the back of the kitchen.

“Mind if I take a shower?” she asked Xan.

“Of course not. It’s all nice and clean now.”

Although she knew some people might think it odd, Xan couldn’t resist watching Dana undress. She really had a pretty body and underwear that looked good on her. Xan felt ashamed showering with her. She was like a boy with funny underwear.

“Maybe you should think about getting a bra,” Dana said as Xan showered.

“What for?” Xan asked looking down at her flat chest.

“Well the right underwear could do marvels,”

Xan looked at Dana doubtfully. “I think you’re working in the wrong place.”

“Oh yes,” Dana said with certainty. “David is going to find me a job somewhere more my style.”

It took Xan a few minutes before she realised she was talking about Mr Graham.

Xan’s hair was still dripping when Gary called her. Dana had slipped out to meet her lover and it was just Xan and Gary. He took a cigarette for himself and offered one to Xan.

“I can’t wait for the day when you buy your own,” he said.

“Well if I got paid a proper wage. . .”

The big box was still on his desk and Xan couldn’t help but look at it every now and again.

Gary suddenly pushed it towards her. “It’s for you,” he said.

“Is it?” she asked as if she were really surprised.

Gary rolled his eyes. “You’ve only been licking your lips every time you look at it.”

Xan put her hands on either side of the box as if hugging it. Gary had said he would bring her some of his wife’s clothes but to her it looked like it was an entire wardrobe.

“Well?” Gary said impatiently.

Gingerly, as if opening a longed for Christmas present, Xan pulled on the flaps on the box and peered inside. Xan was overwhelmed. There were so many styles and colours and clothes she had no idea what to call them. Blouses, blazers, slacks (although she was sure Mrs Graham would have called them “trousers”). They were all business clothes. Zach would never make another comment about her clothes once he saw her in these.

“I can give you a ride home,” Gary offered.

Xan quickly shook her head. “Can I just take a bit at a time?” There were tears in her eyes.

Gary shrugged. He would never understand Xan.

 

Xan really had no idea of style although she had a pretty good sense of colour coordination. The problem with Gary’s wife’s clothes was that there were too old for Xan. Not that it stopped Xan from trying to make things work.

“Goodness me, Xan,” said Mrs Graham when she saw Xan trying to wear a pencil skirt with a blazer with puffy sleeves. “That will never catch on!” She motioned for Xan to sit at the table. There were tea and scones and Xan’s eyes lit up. She licked her lips.

“Can I play ‘mother’?” she asked. It had been the standard for Mrs Graham to pretend she was Xan’s mother by pouring the tea and modelling good table manners. From their many morning conversations, Xan knew Mrs Graham did not have daughters and she could tell the older woman had taking a liking to looking after Xan. And Xan, who did not have a mother to speak of, did not mind the attention. She had watched Mrs Graham pour tea with astounding skill and mimicked her etiquette. She once tried to mimic Mrs Graham’s accent but that hadn’t gone down too well.

“Use your own accent, dear,” Mrs Graham had said. “And use your napkin for the crumbs.”

Xan waited patiently for Mrs Graham’s permission to take the teapot. She could almost hear the gears in her brain turning as she decided whether or not Xan could manage without breaking the expensive china. She could feel her cheeks flushing with embarrassment. Perhaps it was a stupid question and she had overstepped the mark. Again.

Mrs Graham peered over the rim of her glasses and smiled. “Of course you can,” she smiled warmly—but with an obvious hesitation.

Xan stood up and very deftly plucked a lump of sugar from the bowl with the little tongs then dropped it gently into each of their cups. Then she carefully picked up the delicate little jug and added a bit of milk just the way she had seen Mrs Graham do. Xan paused before touching the teapot. It really was from China and it had been left to Mrs Graham in her mother’s will. Xan looked at her grubby hands. In her mind, she saw the teapot slip from her hands and crash to the floor. She looked at Mr Graham and sat back down. There was a light sheen of sweat on her forehead and she was trembling slightly.

“Go on,” Mrs Graham urged.

“Maybe you had better do the honours,” she answered glumly. She was certain the earth beneath them had just shifted.

“Xan dear, are you OK?”

It was taking all of Xan’s strength to not throw herself on the floor. She was just about dive for cover when Mrs Graham reached for the teapot and picked it up.

Xan had her eyes closed and was gripping the edges of the little table tightly. There was no mistaking the explosion of shattering china. And when she opened her eyes, Mrs Graham was holding the handle of the teapot, the only part of it that remained intact.

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