Yes, it is mayonnaise. I remember it from my first day, the construction worker and his lunch, impossible to forget. His wife put the mayonnaise, the cheese, and the salami into a blender. My orientation had covered the institution of marriage and the institution of the American sandwich, but on that morning I knew I knew nothing.
That was Philadelphia. That was some time ago. Now I am in a city called Calgary and the weather is getting cold again. Which is one of the reasons I am concerned about this woman. Her pink dress hangs from strings on her shoulders and though it floats above the asphalt, brushing her ankles, it does not seem to be keeping her warm. Also, she smells strongly of mayonnaise. I move closer. Her hair is slick with it.
This is both worrisome and exhilarating. Everything I know about this world denies the possibility that appearing on foot at the drive-through automated teller, looking and, yes, smelling like this is generally acceptable. But even as I churn in empathetic embarrassment, I am delighted again by the unexpected gift it has been to experience odour on this assignment. What is more emblematically human than the fine, fine line between stink and perfume? And yes, this woman poking her finger at the screen in the thin dress and flip-flop shoes and with the mayonnaise in her hair—which, though she must have purchased blonde hair colouring, is more of a sunset peach colour—is wearing a strong perfume!
Truth be told (and I am obligated to tell the truth), I’m surprised she has so much money in her account. One thousand fourteen dollars Canadian dollars and six Canadian cents. As I watch her, she is withdrawing eighty dollars. My experience would suggest that she is about to proceed to a bar, but it is a Tuesday. And there is the mayonnaise. Striking in all of this is the element of her preparedness.
Not only does she anticipate needing the cash. She has, sometime during the past hour or two, carried a large jar of mayonnaise into the bathroom. Did she buy it today, or is it something she keeps on hand? She set it on the toilet and used a butter knife—no, probably a large spoon, even a spatula—to scoop mayonnaise out of the jar and apply it to her head. Her hair, twisted into a knot at her neck, forms a neat and greasy cap. Surely the string-supported dress is a forethought attempt to keep a more substantial piece of clothing from being contaminated. And her footwear suggests that she can’t afford to waste any time.
She is already stuffing the bills into the top of her dress and walking off, the slap of her feet echoing against the buildings. Her receipt is there, fluttering in the slot of the teller machine. I fold it in half and push it—experimentally—down the front of my robe.
Lizzie Derksen lives and works on Treaty 6 land in Edmonton, Alberta. Her writing has appeared in Room, PRISM International, The Antigonish Review, Poetry Is Dead, Queen Mob’s Teahouse, and on CBC Television.
Image via Pixabay