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TITLE: Harmony's Song
By Mary Lou Cook
04/28/09
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My blond-haired hippy and I go back a long ways. I keep adding and changing to my story.
Harmony was a child of the sixties, when hippies believed in free love and women libbers burned their bras. She sees herself as plain and ordinary, others saw her as a tall, blond-haired woman with a compelling beauty. Against her mother’s disapproval she changed her name from Margaret to Harmony. Margaret was her grandmother’s name, not a name she would have chosen for herself. A grainy family photo of her Grandmother is all she knew of her name sake.

After high school graduation Harmony planned to move to California to pursue her dream of a musical career. The move meant to leave behind the only life she knew. She never knew her father. Her mother never spoke of him. She doubted her parents were ever married. She knew her mother as a bitter woman who never loved anyone; she felt more like a burden than a daughter. Her mother let Harmony know if she left there would be no coming back to her house. It would always be her house, never their home.

Through high school Harmony worked evenings and weekends waiting tables at the Tumble Weed Café. With pay checks and tips she saved enough to buy a used VW bus, the rest of her money she saved for her move to California. What little possessions Harmony owned were packed into the VW. On the front passenger seat she carefully placed a box of her written music, and her guitar lay on the front floor board. No mother full of love and tears to tell her good bye she drives away. Harmony takes one last look in the rear view mirror to see her past disappear.

Traveling across country she saved money by living on little food and sleeping in the VW at roadside parks along the way. The only thing that she could not cut corners on was the cost of gas. Harmony counted her money over and over, hoping in some way it would last forever. The endless miles give Harmony plenty of time to think of what laid ahead.

Arriving in Los Angeles Harmony experienced culture shock. The largest city she knew of was Wichita, Kansas. She drove around confused about what to do next; she knew there wasn’t enough money to waste gas. She pulled into an empty parking lot next to a Safeway to spend the night. Things were not going the way she planned and the city seemed larger then she thought it would.

Harmony found the long night cold and dark. The city sounds and her mind full of questions kept her from sleep. In the early morning she crawled out of the VW feeling dirty, and exhausted. She needed to find a job and a place to stay besides the back end of the VW.

When Harmony walked into the Safeway she was met by the smells of food. She couldn’t remember her last meal. Since she had left Kansas she had eaten nothing but peanut butter and crackers. She snuck into the back storage room and ducked into the employee’s bathroom. Looking into the bathroom mirror, she studied her reflection and wondered how things could go so wrong. There was no going back to a life she despised and no room for doubt.

In the small bathroom sink she washed up the best she could. As she started to leave she bumped into a young woman with curly hair. She seemed the same age as Harmony and wore a Safeway smock.

“If you are here for the job interview you better get movin’,” said the young woman. It’s nine o’clock and Jack doesn’t like to wait for anyone,” said the young woman.

“Yeah, sure, where do I go?” Harmony asked.

As the woman headed into the employee’s bathroom, she pointed down a hallway of card board boxes. Harmony hadn’t planned on this happening, but she did need a job. She walked between the card board boxes looking for someone named Jack. She hoped her stomach didn’t growl through the interview.

At the end of the boxes, Harmony turned a corner and saw an older woman setting on top of a desk placed along a cement wall. A bulletin board covered in safety tip posters for proper ways to lift heavy objects hung on the back wall. Next to it hung the time clock and employee’s time cards stuck in metal grey slots.

The older woman, with short pepper gray hair, looked up from the clip board. “Honey, you look lost? Can I help you?”

“I’m looking for someone named Jack,” Harmony said.

Before the woman could answer a man came through a nearby swinging door. In a furious voice he said, “Della, I don’t want to get one more dead beat employee who is not into reality whatsoever. No time to sack groceries because they are going to make it big in Hollywood. What a joke!” He turned Harmony. “Who are you? The new girl I hope. Please don’t tell me how you are going to be the next super star. Della, help her get set up.”

He grabbed a clip board off the desk and hurried down the card board box hallway.

“Honey, that’s Jack and I’m Della. Okay, let me figure out where to put you.”

From the desk she grabbed another clip board and started to read, “Looks like it’s the deli. Apparently it’s another employee no-show. Around here that happens a lot.”

Della walked her to the deli section. Harmony saw the young woman she met earlier, busy slicing roast beef into thin slices with a meat slicer.

Della called out, “Stella, here’s the new girl.”

A voice from within the walk-in meat cooler said, “Another new girl. Get her trained and she will leave. Always do.”

A plump woman walked out of the meat cooler to see a tall blonde wearing bell bottoms and a tie dyed tee shirt.

As Della walked away she said, “Give the kid something to eat. Her stomach is growling something fierce. No telling when she last ate.”

“Grab you something to eat,” Stella said, walking back into the meat cooler.

The young woman stopped slicing meat, “What would you like?”

“Anything, I’m starved,” Harmony answered.

She handed Harmony a paper plate holding a roast beef sandwich with a pickle wedge.
“I’m Penny; no smart remarks about my red hair and my name going together.”

“I’m Harmony, this is delicious.” she answered with a smile.

Harmony never knew in a deli there could be so much to learn. Each item needed a certain number rang up on the register. You counted back the customer’s change with a smile and a thank you. At the end of the work day she found herself exhausted and starved.

As Harmony clocked out Penny walked up to her.

“Hungry? What a silly question…of course you are.” Penny giggled

“Thanks but I can’t afford to eat out.”

“I got a fridge full of leftovers,” Penny said. You can help me finish em’ off. My place is a block away, we can walk from here.”

Penny stopped in front of an old house surrounded by a chain link fence. “This is my place. Not much, but its mine.” she opened the gate.

The place, hidden by overgrown bushes, showed years of neglect. A small house lost in a time of long ago. Penny unlocked the door and Harmony followed her inside. The front hallway floor was covered in yellowed linoleum. A small wall held family photos, Harmony noticed a photo of a younger Penny standing with a man, a woman, and two small boys. On the other wall an archway led into the living room. The furniture looked worn and tired, but with a homey feel. White doilies covered the arms of the gray divan and the matching chair. A multi-colored afghan lay across the back of the divan. Next to the chair sat a basket full of different colors of yarn and knitting needles.

Penny kicking off her shoes by the front door walked down the narrow hallway through a small archway. Harmony kicked off her shoes and followed her. She walked into a small kitchen to see Penny standing in front of an open refrigerator. “How about a salad?” Penny dug through the refrigerator.

“Sounds good, can I help?” Harmony asked.

“You can chop up the tomatoes. The knives are in the second drawer.” Penny set the food on the table.

With the fresh salad piled high on their plates the two young women sat at the small kitchen table.

“Harmony, tell me about yourself.” Penny grabbed a napkin.

Not much to tell. After high school graduation I moved to Los Angeles.”

Penny poured dressing over her salad. “How long you been in California?”

“What time is it?” Harmony shoved a bite of salad onto her fork.

Penny stopped eating. “Wait a minute! You just arrived?”

“That’s pretty much it,” Harmony smiled.

“Where are you staying?”

“In the back of my VW bus.” Harmony laughed.

“You’re living in a hippy bus? How about moving in with me?”

“Penny, you know nothing about me. In the middle of the night I could slit your throat.” Harmony blurted out as she reached for the salad.

“I saw how you sliced meat; I have nothing to worry about. After supper we can get you moved in,” Penny laughed.

***

On a hot summer evening Harmony went out to sit on the front porch steps to play her guitar and sing. Penny came out the front door and placed her hands on her hips.

“Harmony, your voice could sing the birds right out of the trees. A few rejects and you give up on your music career. You settled for less by singing in some unknown bar.”

“I haven’t settled for anything! I don’t need your ridicule. I heard enough of that from my mom. I don’t need anymore.” Harmony yelled in anger. “What I do with my music and where I sing is of my choosing. You accuse me of settling for less, you live in this run down house and work at a dead end job. Why do you settle for less? Another thing, why do you build walls around yourself? I can share your home but I can’t share your life?”

“Who I share my life with is of my choosing. I want you out of my life. I want you to leave,” Penny cried.

Harmony went to her room to gather her things. As she left she stopped at Penny’s door.

She knocked, “I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to hurt you.”

From the other side of Penny’s door came silence.

Harmony sat behind the steering wheel realizing it’s been two years since she moved to the city and meet Penny. She let out a long sigh and crawled into the back end of the VW.

At work the tension between Harmony and Penny was felt by Stella and the customers.

“I don’t know what happen between the two of you, that isn’t my concern,” said Stella. My concern is the deli and the customers. Get over it now or I’m telling Della to fire the both of you.”

Just then the meat slicer burst into flames, filling the deli with a terrible smell and grey smoke. Harmony carrying a large metal tray of sliced turkey breast turned into Penny causing her to drop an open gallon container full of baked beans. The beans covered over them spilling onto the floor. Stella rushed around the corner stepping into the mess. She slipped in the spilled beans and came down on her right arm. Harmony, trying to unplug the flaming meat slicer pulled hard on the electric cord. Sparks flew out of the plug-in and the entire grocery store went into total darkness. When the emergency lights came on the meat slicer had stopped burning. Stella lay on the floor in a puddle of baked beans holding her right arm and moaning. Jack and Della arrived at the deli to see everything and everyone covered in baked beans.

The fire chief, finding the grocery store not on fire, left with his crew of firemen. The paramedics took Stella away in an ambulance. Penny and Harmony managed to get most of the baked beans cleaned off the floor, the walls, and themselves.

“I want you both out of here. The both of you are fired. The damage you caused will be taken out of your pay checks.” Jack said angrily.

Della looked down at the clip board she held, never looking up.

As Harmony crossed the parking lot she saw Penny walking home. Harmony lost her best friend, now her job. What else could go wrong? She arrived to see the VW’s back tire flat.

***

Harmony sat in a booth going over her list of songs she would sing. There were a few customers up by the bar. It looked like another slow night.

“I need to talk,” a quiet voice muttered.

Harmony looked up to see Penny sliding into her booth.

“It’s hard to share my life with anyone. Growing up didn’t come easy for me. If my parents stayed drunk they didn’t fight. I ran the streets wild and did things I’m not proud of. On the night I didn’t come home Mom turned on the oven and passed out on the couch. While my family slept the house filled with gas.” Penny started to cry.

Harmony pulled napkins out of the dispenser and laid the pile on the table.

“In the morning I came home to found my family dead, Mom on the couch, Dad and my two brothers in their beds. My grandparents took me in. I caused them a lot of problems,” she sobbed.

“I’m sorry for what happened to your family.” Harmony touched Penny’s hand. “It must be hard to talk about what you went through.”

“Until you showed up my life felt empty. You’re more then my best friend.” Penny said.

Harmony and Penny were both tearing up by now. Penny reached into her fringed bag and pulled out a worn notebook. She handed it to Harmony. “To get through the hard times I wrote poetry.”

Harmony started to read the poems. “These would make great songs. You wrote all of these?”

“Hard to believe, huh?” Penny blew her nose on a paper napkin.

Harmony moved back into Penney’s place, she sang and waited tables at the bar. She continued to pursue her music career, though nothing ever came of it. Penny found a job at a local coffee shop. A few times Della stopped by the bar to get a bite to eat and see how things were going. She would leave a large tip in Harmony’s tip jar.

***

Harmony arrived to find the bar full of customers and confusion. The waitresses were trying to keep ahead of the chaos.

Harmony saw Della with a man having a drink at the bar. As she sang the man listened to a song she wrote from one of Penny’s poems. Della picked at her fingernails and watched the man’s face in the mirror. On her break, through the crowd Della moved towards her. She saw the man leaving the bar.

“Honey, can I buy you a drink?” Della asked.

Harmony sat at the bar drinking a coke wondering what happened to Della’s date.

“I hate watching you waste your talent in a run down bar in a dead end town. You have the voice and you can make it happen. My sister is in the music business. I asked her to pull a few strings for me.” Della handed her a business card.

Harmony read the card, Moon Records, John Clemens, producer.

“Honey, give the guy a call.”
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