Calling Me Home

A Novel

Julie Kibler

St. Martin's Press

1
 
Miss Isabelle, Present Day
 
 
I ACTED HATEFUL to Dorrie the first time we met, a decade or so ago. A person gets up in years and she forgets to use her filters. Or she’s beyond caring. Dorrie thought I didn’t care for the color of her skin. No truth to that at all. Yes, I was angry, but only because my beauty operator—hairdresser they call them these days, or stylist, which sounds so uppity—left with no notice. I walked all the way into the shop, which is no small effort when you’re old, and the girl at the counter told me my regular girl had quit. While I stood there blinking my eyes, fit to be tied, she studied the appointment book. With a funny smile, she said, “Dorrie has an opening. She could do you almost right away.”

Presently, Dorrie called me over, and certainly, her looks surprised me—she was the only African-American in the place, as far as I could tell. But here was the real problem: change. I didn’t like it. People who didn’t know how I liked my hair. People who made the cape too tight around my neck. People who went away without any warning. I needed a minute, and I guess it showed. Even at eighty, I liked my routine, and the older I get, the more it matters. Picture me now at almost ninety.
 
Ninety. I’m old enough to be Dorrie’s white-haired grandmother. And then some. That much is obvious. But Dorrie? She probably doesn’t even know she’s become like the daughter I never had. For the longest time, I followed her from salon to salon—when she wouldn’t settle down and stay put. She’s happier now, has her own shop these days, but she comes to me. Like a daughter would.

We always talk when Dorrie comes. At first, when I met her, it was just the regular stuff. The weather. News stories. My soap operas and game shows, her reality TV and sitcoms. Anything to pass the time while she washed and styled my hair. But over time, when you see the same person week after week, year after year, for an hour or more, things can go a bit deeper. Dorrie started talking about her kids, her crazy ex-husband, and how she hoped to open her own shop one day, then all the work that entailed. I’m a good listener.

Sometimes, she’d ask me about things, too. Once she started coming to my house, and we got comfortable in our routine, she asked about the pictures on my walls, the keepsakes I have on display here and there. Those were easy enough to tell about.

It’s funny how sometimes you find a friend—in the likely places—and almost immediately, you can talk about anything. But more often than not, after the initial blush, you find you really have nothing in common. With others, you believe you’ll never be more than acquaintances. You’re so different, after all. But then this thing surprises you, sticking longer than you ever predicted, and you begin to rely on it, and that relationship whittles down your walls, little by little, until you realize you know that one person better than almost anyone. You’re really and truly friends.

It’s like that with Dorrie and me. Who would have thought ten years later we’d still be doing business together, but so much more, as well. That we’d not only be talking about our shows but sometimes watching them together. That she’d be making excuses to stop by several days a week, asking if I need her to run any errands for me—wanting to know if I’m out of milk or eggs, if I need to go to the bank. That I’d be making sure when I ride the cart around the grocery store, after the Handitran drops me off, I put a six-pack of her favorite soft drink in the basket so she’ll have something to wet her whistle before she starts on my hair.

One time, a few years back, she looked embarrassed when she started to ask me a question. She stopped mid-sentence.

“What?” I said. “Cat got your tongue? That’s a first.”
 
“Oh, Miss Isabelle, I know you wouldn’t be interested. Never mind.”
 
“Okay,” I said. I was never one to pick something out of people that they didn’t want to tell.
 
“Well, since you begged me…” She grinned. “Stevie’s got this concert at school Thursday night. He’s got a solo—on the trumpet. You know he plays the trumpet?”

“How could I miss it, Dorrie? You’ve been telling me about it for three years, since he auditioned.”
 
“I know, Miss Isabelle. I’m kind of over-the-top proud when it comes to the kids. Anyway, would you like to come with me? To see him play?”
 
I thought about it for a minute. Not because there was any question whether I wanted to go, but because I was a little overcome. It took too long for me to find my voice.

“It’s okay, Miss Isabelle. Don’t feel like you have to. My feelings won’t be hurt and—”
 
“No! I’d love to. In fact, I can’t think of anything I’d rather do Thursday.”
 
She laughed. It’s not like I ever went anywhere, and Thursday was a boring night for television that year.
Since then, it hasn’t been uncommon for her to take me along when the kids have special events. Heaven knows, their father usually forgets to show up. Dorrie’s mother usually comes, too, and we have nice little chats, but I always wonder what she thinks about my being there. She studies me with a shade of curiosity, as though she can’t fathom any reason for Dorrie and me to be friends.
 
But there’s still so much Dorrie doesn’t know. Things nobody knows. If I were going to tell anyone, it would likely be her. It would definitely be her. And I think it’s time. More than anyone, I trust her not to judge me, not to question the way things happened and the way things turned out.
 
So here I am, asking her to drive me all the way from Texas to Cincinnati, halfway across the country, to help me tend to things. I’m not too proud to admit I can’t do this alone. I’ve done plenty for myself, by myself, as long as I can remember.

But this? No. This I can’t do alone. And I don’t want to anyway. I want my daughter; I want Dorrie.


 
Copyright © 2013 by Julie Kibler