The August summer heat would not relent as she defiantly arched her elderly frame to rise from the cracking concrete stoop in this ignored part of the city.
I walked up the block with a crumpled dollar bill for the ice – without the syrup. Sweat scattered from my hairline. My face and neck burned scarlet.
The makeshift plastic table was wobbly-arranged for quick sales anticipated from the two buses of people who visited for a mere afternoon, scheduled in to clean up the neighborhood through a service agency. All in the name of peace and solidarity.
A battered aluminum urn, dented from years of use, held ice that would shave pieces into a forbidden Styrofoam cup – a cheap fix. A neat row of glass bottles with plastic pumps each waited with their blaring color of sugar syrup attentively for its snow-cone debut – chartreuse mint, tangerine orange, bright violet grape – nothing known to Nature. My only wish was the frosty shavings to melt my dusty, gritty throat.
She rose from the stoop as I smiled deeply breathing in front of a torn plastic umbrella, offering some shade. Her cocoa-colored skin clenched hard onto muscles whose strength was all but gone from years of sacrifice. Her knotted, ebony hands buckled from years of toil…fields, factories, mills? I couldn’t imagine. This heat would not stop her today. Nope. No way.
“Just ice please.” I handed her the dollar bill.
She pulled the black plastic lever to shave the ice into slivers of cool relief. Gently she extended her arm giving me a cup filled with ice shavings and started to count out change – one worn quarter, one dime and three nickels. Her hand trembled as she counted and then my eyes rested on her wedding ring encircling the on her left hand.
The simple band was of thin gold, but the worn beveled edges reflected the mysteries of a previous life filled with more joy than today brought. The pattern of the bevel was exactly the same as the wedding ring belonging to my grandfather which I wore in the middle of my right hand. I had asked for it and wore it every day without fail since his death. Nonu’s hands were the worker’s hands of a turn-of-the-century Italian immigrant – massive, skilled and unfaltering. They could crush rock, melt brass or graft five different apples on to one tree for autumn pies Noni would make each year.
I reached for her left hand with my right so she would see my ring as I touched hers. She slowly lifted her eyes to meet mine. Her heavy blink under sagging eyelids gave way to a weakened smile as time and space held us united in some unexpected enigma made for this day.
“No change”, I said, “and God bless.”