Give Yourself a Present


With the way life barrels on these days it’s a wonder any of us knows exactly where we’re going, not to mention where we’ve been. Frequently I have to remind myself what day it is. Three day weekends or vacation time can warp my sense of time… not the hours necessarily but the days of the week. When I’m working my schedule keeps me on track with little trouble, but a day off mid-week or a shift picked up to help a co-worker can make me question whether it’s Thursday, Friday, or even Monday (when I usually don’t work…my day to do all those pesky things like appointments and cleaning).
I know I’m not alone in this confused state. People I work with or talk to often tell me they need reminding of times and dates. We all write down our schedules for work. I transfer mine to a wall calendar and my smartphone. Business types use their day planners, paper or electronic, to keep track of their multi-tasking lifestyles and plan things from one day to one year ahead. I envy those who can simply look at their future duties once and remember where and when, and a lot of the time why.
But, these appointments and commitments don’t just fall to us alone. My clinic for example will call me several times to remind me not only of my appointment “on Monday, June 2nd at 9AM” but also to “arrive 15 minutes early” and “bring your health insurance information”. While I’m grateful for their support I wish they could also tell me if my doctor is running on time on the actual date of my appointment. I don’t have that far to drive, but sitting in a waiting room without any idea of how long my simple follow up visit will take always seems to raise my otherwise normal blood pressure. Hence the Monday scheduling. It helps to keep me relatively calm. My pharmacy does the same thing for my auto-fill prescriptions…every 24 hours or so until I pick up the meds. Sometimes irritating but always a good thing, right?
So, what can I…any of us really…do to slow things down? Well, I’ve decided that for me living in the “now” one day a week might be a worthy experiment. Since most of my Mondays are planned out appointment wise for one thing or another, I’ve decided to “give myself a present” on Sundays. Get up in the morning and decide then and there what I will do for this one day. Yesterday I decided to do a bit of laundry, clean one room in the house and get some writing done away from the house before tackling anything else, including dinner.
It won’t be perfectly spontaneous of course. I will be making dinner, and Sunday evenings are my talk-time with my daughter. Exceptions are rare (and usually planned ahead of time). Still, the Sunday slots on my calendar are bare. Me time. I’ll let you know how it works. Maybe we can start a whole new (or old-fashioned) trend. The past is a memory. Our future awaits us. So we deserve to give ourselves a present.
And yes, a bit of Mae follows: enjoy! And let me know what you think.

It would be lyin’ to say I slept well, but by the dawning of the delta sun I knew I was going to help Sylvain. If it had been anything but family, I’d more likely have turned him down flat, friend of Alex or no. Family however is how and why I ended up traipsin’ all over creation after Drummond. Family trumps everything, at least for me. Time enough for me own wishes when my current task is done. Sylvain and I had set a signal to protect me in case I agreed. Drummond was to get himself to the Riverwalk around noon and settle down near the man with the saxophone who always played on the steps. Sylvain would be waiting nearby, but Drum would drop a coin in the sax man’s case as a sign that I was ready to lend my assistance to his cause. The sax man would nod at me brother and hand him a flyer, but really be giving him the instructions for where I was to go later in the day.

Now I trust Drummond but only for a whisper of time. He can get distracted like a puppy out for its first walk, so I got myself dressed up a bit, borrowed a broad-brimmed hat from the rack near the shelter door, and left a bit after he did. I only needed to make sure he got the job done, seein’ as he was gonna be on his own for a day or two at the shelter. Once he took got to the sax man I hightailed it back to the shelter steps, ready to greet him on his return.

And he took his sweet time too. It wasn’t until well after the volunteers had finished their lunch shifts before I saw him loping up the street, his usually pale face tinged with pink from the sun and the exertion.
“Sorry I took so long, Mae,” he greeted me. “I had to wait a bit for him to finish his tune before I could place the coin and then I thought it would be rude not to stay to listen to another. You don’t mind, do you?” He reached inside his vest pocket and pulled out a folded piece of paper advertising some club or restaurant and handed it to me. “Here’s the message. I didn’t even read it.” He sank down beside me with a half-gasp and stretched out his long frame against the steps.
“Wouldn’t have mattered to me if you did,” I assured him as I unfolded the flyer and noted an address and a time. That was all. “You’re involved because I am, so you need to know what I do. All I’ve got is instructions to go to the Old Mint near Frenchman’s Street about 5PM and settle myself on one of the stoops. That’s where Sylvain will find me and get me the details.”
“Should I follow and keep watch?”
“No need, dear one. It’s a meeting, nothing more. I’ll be back here for the supper hour and lights out unless our friend has found a place for us to be settled in right away. See if you can line up some gardening work from the custodian to keep you occupied.” I didn’t want to scare him, but life being what it is I thought to add, “and if I’m not back right away do not come looking for me. No worries, brother. Promise?”
“Aye Mae. I’ll bide my time here and try and earn a bit for us while you’re gone.”

Now I may be trusting as I said before, but I left the church shelter early and with one of those touristy maps in me hand. I was still not comfortable about wandering in the Quarter. Too many people out at the late afternoon hour, meeting for drinks, shopping, or just hanging about to soak in the atmosphere. I scanned the map until I found the icon for the Old Mint at the far end of the Quarter, and the street marked Frenchman’s. I read the street signs as I walked and looked at the map like a regular tourist, turning when I needed to but all in all trying to keep away from the Jackson Square where I’d met Sylvain the first time. I am cautious and twice seen in that area was more than enough for recognition, especially with me red hair and all. The one street I avoided was Bourbon Street. Too many people milling in and out of those gaudy bars already.
Dusty red brick and cracked granite steps marked the Old Mint. I walked around it once, noted some places to scurry into if need be, and found the street sign I needed. Enough time still before 5PM if I could believe the watch I kept in my dress pocket, so I strolled a bit, found a little store that had bottled water, and looked at the buildings surrounding me, Old. Houses and storefronts maybe older than Drum and me put together in years, but with a faded beauty—painted wood or stone—that surprised and delighted me. I was used to that in Dundee, not so much here on this side of the ocean.
Water gone, I disposed of the bottle and headed back toward the Mint, making sure I would be there early. I settled myself on a low wall near the shade of an ancient tree and waited for Sylvain. Instead, at just past the hour by my watch, I got the head bushwhacker from before.
“Come to ambush me again, laddie?” I pulled myself up and stared at him. “Braver without your lads this time I see. Or more foolish”
“No need to jump, Miss Mae,” he managed as I put my hand on one thin shoulder. “Mr. Sylvain was sidetracked so I volunteered to come and tell you, I swear.”
“Yes, ma’am. And to say how sorry I am if we roughened you up the other day. No harm meant. And now I gotta be taking myself on home.” Before I could tighten my grip, he twisted around and sped down the nearest path.
“You keep strange company, Sylvain,” I muttered. “Sidetracked for how long?” My belly growled, reminding me I’d had naught to eat since breakfast, having given up the midday meal to follow after Drummond. Maybe one of those protein things from that little store would hold me over now that I might not get dinner either. I retraced my steps to purchase such a product and then took my time getting back to my perch, only to find Sylvain’s long form leaning against that tree, looking like he had nothing to worry about.
“Well it took you long enough,” Sylvain remarked around the toothpick in his mouth. “And here I thought you’d be waitin’ on me, so I sent Artie to let you know I was runnin’behind.”
“Artie? One of your bushwhackers. I know. He gave me the message. Skittish as a newborn calf seemed like.” I settled myself on the wall again and gave him one of my best glares. “Thought this was important, Sylvain. Instead I’m wasting my time here instead of finding Drum and me a place. So say your piece. I’ve got things to do too.”
“Now Miss Mae,” he began. And got no further.
“Look Sylvain, I know this is important to you, but the casual way you handle crisis don’t make sense to me. If my brother went missing, I’d be all over the police to find out what they could tell me. You seem to have some good connections, if I’m to believe your story, but all I have is that. So draw me a picture of what you worked out and let me figure out how I can make it work.”
Now I knew I could make it work. Never been any plan that couldn’t be arranged to, but this man was the one piece I fretted over the most. He never could get past his own charm and hunker down to the details. So I waited. And he pulled himself up and sat himself down beside me, giving me a long hard look.
“I’m late because I had to stop at that place I told you about.” He drew a folded piece of paper from his shirt pocket. “You’re to be at this address tomorrow morning at nine. No need to go earlier,” he added as I looked surprised at the time. “This household rises late and stays up late. There’s a side entrance for the help and their cook should be ready to let you in. Marie-Therese is her name. Loyal to the family for longer than I can remember. She’ll give you a key to the side door and show you where the supplies are kept. Tomorrow should be your trial run. Satisfy her and you’re in. Think you can handle it?”
“You know I can or you’d never have pressed me to get involved. But I do need me some proper clothes.”
“Which are waiting for you back at the shelter.” He grinned at my puzzled expression. “I took the liberty of persuading Drummond to write down your size. He had to check your bag.”
“Those too. And your Louisiana drivers license.” He grinned again. “Morales sent me a head shot.”
“And where’s my car?”
“The license is just for show, Mae. You’ll be taking the streetcar to and from the house.”
“To where exactly? I can’t have them seein’ me at the shelter. Nor Drummond. Not if I’m supposed to be so good at what I do.”
“Took care of that as well. Once you leave the shelter, Drummond and I are moving you to that place you wanted. Not far from here. It flooded during Katrina and the company folded so I bought it a while back. Thought about turning it into apartments but never got past the thought. Drummond will meet you back here tomorrow afternoon, but he can tell you all that.”
Well. I could go so far as to say I was speechless, but that would be stretchin’ it. I did however gasp for a moment or so before I could say thank you and head back to the shelter to converse with my brother. Sylvain simply nodded and stretched himself back out against the tree again.

Next morning, Thursday to be exact, I took myself over to the address that Sylvain had provided along with the papers from the hiring agency. You’d never know it was heading toward winter by the flowers and shrubs I saw at the edge of every property as the streetcar went on its route up St. Charles Street. The Garden District he’d told me. Took my breath away. The agency paper said to get off the streetcar at Sixth Street and walk to Prytania. Then turn right and look for the house flanked by two white columns and a side yard with a brass-trimmed iron gate. That gate led through the side yard to the staff entrance. And there I would find Marie-Therese. After that it was all up to me.


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