Women in Autumn
by Tala Bar
Table of Contents
Chapter 1, part 2
appear in this issue.
Chapter 1: Wednesday
part 1 of 2
“Women in Autumn” portrays the intertwining lives of three generations of women as they search for love and happiness, or at least understanding. It is the story of one woman’s discovery that she has been betrayed, and where that revelation takes her.
The ‘Silver Curls’ hairdresser shop was not a very grand place, not like the shop Ariela used to go to before her special man, Benny, had left to open his own. Benny kept the prices purposefully low, to attract that middle class clientele who cared more about good results than about showing off, the kind of people Ariela herself belonged to.
The shop was not too large but was well looked after, full of the dignity and respect the women who came there expected to be treated with. Ariela, feeling herself as in her own place, found pleasure not only in Benny’s devotion to the care of her body and soul, but also in the kind of society she had encountered at the salon.
When she came in that morning, the place was not full, exactly the way she had expected it to be. Two women of her acquaintance sat in the treatment chairs and she nodded to them in the mirror; then she told the assistant that she would wait for Benny, who had been preparing one of the women for the drier.
Ariela watched Benny with the affection that is a result of long, close association. He was not a young man, easily approaching middle age. His appearance was quiet, his behavior simple, neither coquettish nor dancing attendance. He never flirted with the customers, and Ariela actually knew that he was gay, leading a home life with a fixed boyfriend for the last few years.
A new woman came in and Ariela looked at her with interest. The woman was obviously much younger than most of the people in the shop, and dressed almost carelessly in faded jeans and loose top. Her hair seemed as if it had never been “done,” growing wild and glowing natural blond. Ariela, who had long forgotten the natural color of her own hair (which would be graying, anyway), looked at the young woman’s with a tinge of envy.
“Mrs. Lifshitz, at your service,” Benny had approached and invited Ariela to sit on the chair of honor.
Ariela sat comfortably, then started explaining her idea of renewing her hair dye with two shades, and a more fashionable arrangement. Benny knew her preferences, and the two of them discussed what was best suitable for her character and appearance. Then she relaxed in her chair, gave herself in to being wrapped up, and looked into the mirror. A young female hairdresser, specializing in cutting and rolling, approached the stranger and led her to the chair by Ariela’s side; but the young woman did not want any special arrangement for her hair, only a cut.
Ariela glanced at the young woman’s image in the mirror. She seemed not more than twenty-five but looked even younger. Her face was pretty, with large, deep blue eyes and a short, straight nose; her skin was pale and unmade-up, and her shapely, rosy lips without rouge.
A sweeping wave of deep sorrow suddenly came over Ariela from the stranger, and the older woman closed her eyes. Something nameless but very important was missing in this young woman’s life. Ariela opened her eyes and turned to the woman out of sudden impulse. “Wouldn’t you want to change your hair cut for once?” she asked.
The young woman looked at her with some astonishment, as if she was not used to strangers addressing her. Something in the older women’s soft voice touched her and she answered directly, “No,” her cute mouth twisting slightly in a warped smile. Ariela thought she probably did not smile often.
“I am Ariela,” she said, trying to stretch her hand from under the wrap and gave it up.
“Tirza,” the young woman replied, answering to Ariela’s reflection in the mirror.
“What would you say to a cup of coffee when we finish here?” Ariela asked. It was not exactly her habit to invite strangers for coffee, but she did do it once in a while.
“All right,” Tirza answered.
‘She’s afraid of regretting it,’ Ariela thought. ‘I suppose she’s never had coffee with a stranger.
“If you don’t mind waiting for a bit,” Tirza added.
* * *
Tirza Yarom, wondering at that invitation, to which she had agreed, returned to her own reflection in the mirror. The hairdresser’s quick hands had soon returned the short, blond hair to its eternal cut, which she had no intention of changing.
Since her marriage five years before, Tirza had gotten rid of the long, straight strands, which rubbed her back all through her youth. The features of her face, for which she had received so many compliments, looked to her unshaped, as if she had not yet decided what was going to be their mature appearance. Nothing had changed in her since her teens. She could not imagine herself as an old woman like the one next to her who, for some strange reason, invited her for coffee, and to which invitation, for some even stranger reason, she agreed.
“Actually, I should go back to the shop,” she said, as they entered the nearby café ‘Ness’ and sat at a small table for two. She had never been there, did not even know its name, though she worked not far from there. The woman - Ariela? What a name. So unfashionable! - ordered two coffees and some small cakes, and Tirza took the opportunity to look at her closely.
Ariela’s clothes seemed rather posh for every day, not quite fashionable, (not that Tirza knew too much about that) but nicely fitting her full body, hiding its faults and showing its merits. Tirza was unable to dress like that, even if she could have afforded it. Usually, she bought her clothes in the cheap shops at the southern parts of town.
“Don’t you feel sometimes like playing hooky?” Ariela asked.
“Not from work,” Tirza answered at once. The waitress came and brought their order, and Tirza sipped from the hot coffee and bit into one of the tiny cakes. Suddenly, she felt hungry, and finished it on the spot, drinking her coffee thirstily. It was, as a matter of fact, lunch time, and usually she ate a sandwich at the shop; but for some reason she felt like going out today, finding the hairdresser as an excuse. That was why she joined that strange woman for coffee.
“I suppose you don’t work,” Tirza commented, immediately regretting her stupid words. It did not seem that elegant woman had ever worked for her living.
“I haven’t really worked outside my home since I had my first child,” Ariela admitted. “I don’t really miss it, you know. What do you sell in your shop?”
“Animals,” Tirza replied shortly. How could she explain that to such a woman? It did not look as if she would be able to understand.
“Ah, you like animals? And children also, I’m sure, don’t you?”
Tirza blanched, then reddened.
“I’m so sorry,” Ariela apologized immediately, as if knowing exactly what the other woman was going through. She stretched her hand and laid it on the young woman’s. ‘What am I doing?’ she asked herself. ‘I knew she was suffering!’ Tirza’s body, stiffening to the question, relaxed again, as if in answer to the woman’s sympathy.
“You couldn’t have known,” she whispered, got her hand loose and drank her coffee.
Ariela felt perplexed. She had never met a woman who could not have children. She started talking about herself, not fast but in a continuous flow, not stopping for breath,
“My husband died, you know, ten years ago. I was too young, though the children were grown by then. I was very young when we married. Luckily, we had a good living, and times were easy, relatively. I hope you don’t have financial problems. I would be most afraid of that, you know...”
Tirza saw Ariela clearly breathing in relief, as if saved from great trouble. Tirza did the same, as she would not know how to return Ariela’s heart pour. Curiously, Tirza looked at the new woman approaching them in a jaunty walk.
The newcomer waved her hand from some distance, not worrying about the way it appeared. Distracted for a moment, Tirza looked at her curiously. The woman seemed a little younger than Ariela, and very different from her. Tirza could not imagine what could be the connection between the two but then, Airela seemed to pick up acquaintances very easily.
The newcomer was short and round, her long, unkempt hair colored in various tints; her facial lines seemed ever changing, as was her large and expressive mouth. She had small, green eyes that darted here and there, as if not wanting to miss anything around her. Her clothes were strange, something between ancient, rustic fashion and modern hippy. There could not be a greater contrast between hers and Ariela’s neat and smart appearance.
“Meet Elinor, Tirza,” Ariela introduced her. “Don’t worry, she is not as bad as she looks,” she giggled, as if trying to sooth the young woman’s sudden panic.
“Sorry, but I really must go back to the shop,” Tirza uttered, rose and left some change on the table, going toward the exit with as much speed as the crowded place had allowed her.
* * *
She made her first steps almost running, as if escaping that strange world she had entered by accident. Only after some moments she recovered, noticed she had overstepped the pet shop ‘Friends’ and went back to it.
“I thought you weren’t coming back today,” said old Isaac Kruger as she entered. “Have you had lunch?”
“I had coffee. That’s enough for today; I have no appetite,” Tirza answered, turning her attention to a parrot that rested on an iron bar, where a few cages were hanging. “I wanted to see how Johnny is. Do you think we could sell him?”
Isaac delayed his answer. Once he used to own the shop, but when he got old he had decided to sell it, to relieve himself from the responsibility for it and its animals. Tirza had persuaded her husband, Lorry, to buy the shop with money he had inherited from his late grandmother, and Isaac, who liked Tirza for her love for animals, stayed as a hired man who knew his job, thus retaining his old way of life. Tirza suspected Isaac’s wife did not want him under her feet all day at home, but she was happy for his company, his help and his knowledge.
With light fingers she stroked the back of the colorful bird, and it bent its head and chirped in a low voice, as a cat purring in reaction to a caress.
“You get too attached to them,” the old man chided for the thousandth time, but the smile hovered on his lips. “How can you sell an animal you had named?”
“That’s why I sell only to people I like, who seem really to want an animal or a bird and not a toy to be got rid of when they are fed up with it.” She let off the bird and checked food and water for the other animals, stroked the one and spoke to the other, treating them as creatures with intelligence and feelings.
“Like that noisy boy who demanded from his parents the prettiest parrot in the shop?” Isaac laughed.
“It does not make me laugh,” Tirza’s face clouded. “I am almost sure he would have pulled the parrot’s prettiest feathers to boast to his friends.”
“Lucky the parents did not want a parrot in the house and enticed him with the newest Japanese robot,” the old man agreed. “But it’s not easy making a living in this way.”
“No, I have no problem, really. I can get a good price from people who really love animals, who know what they want. This at least covers the expenses, with sometimes even a small profit. And what more do I need?”
‘As long as you have someone to take care of,’ old Isaac pondered but did not say the words aloud.
He took a broom and started cleaning the shop. After all, pets may cause less trouble than children, he thought. He recalled his daughter who fell for a criminal, and after he had spent a few months in jail, they both became religious and found a place to live in the nearby religious town. And what had they got out of all this? He would have liked to know! They had no real living, and his daughter was pregnant again having two already. And he hardly ever saw his grandchildren! His wife tried to keep in touch, but it was not easy, not at all...
A ring of the doorbell broke his reflections. A small young woman, with hair the color of glowing honey and the same shade eyes, stepped in carefully and stayed not far from the door. He had never seen such eyes! They seemed to examine the shop with careful curiosity.
Tirza, who had turned to Johnny the parrot again and was feeding him with melon seeds, never stopping her amazement at the speed he was cracking them, turned to the woman, “Yes?”
The woman raised her eyes to Tirza, “What a beautiful parrot. Is it for sale?”
“It depends,” Tirza replied. She turned back to the bird, caressed its feathers, and it rubbed its body on her arm.
“He loves you!” The woman cried with amazement.
Tirza smiled to herself. “All animals will love you if you treat them well,” she softly informed the woman.
She noticed the other was not smiling; the glowing honey eyes had darkened from some hidden sorrow. “You think?” the woman asked, doubtfully.
“Do you want to buy anything? I promise it is not difficult to love an animal, if you just know how to open yourself to it.” Tirza’s voice sounded sad to her own ears, and she added a light smile as compensation.
“No!” the woman replied decisively, her voice sounding strained, just the same, as if she needed some effort to express decisiveness. “Who knows what can happen to a powerless creature in a family!”
“Ah!” Tirza recoiled inside herself. She could not understand what had made the woman come into the shop.
“I just passed by,” the woman answered the unasked question. “I’ve never been in a pet shop and thought it might be interesting. I work not far from here.”
Another ring was heard. ‘Many people today,’ Tirza thought. ‘Perhaps someone will buy something.’
Copyright © 2007 by Tala Bar