(This is an installment in a serial story.
To read “Magic” from the beginning, click here.)
On Tuesday, Sarah awoke to a knock on her door. She lifted the cat out of her way and climbed out of bed. Her landlord, Michael, stood holding the morning newspaper and a paper cup and bag.
“Oh, heck. I woke you,” he said. “Well, Happy birthday. I brought you a scone and a vanilla latte, and since it’s your birthday, the latte has whipped cream.”
Sarah blinked at him sleepily. “How did you know it’s my birthday?”
“It’s on your rental agreement, silly.”
Sarah laughed and took the cup and the paper. “Michael, you’re almost the woman of my dreams. You think of everything, don’t you?”
“I’m known for my attention to detail,” he said. “Now go have your breakfast in bed.”
The day’s mail brought a package from her mom and dad. She opened the box to find one of her mother’s spice bundt cakes. Dripping with sticky caramel glaze, it smelled like cardamom and honey. She ran her finger through the glaze and licked it. This cake recipe had made her mother’s coffee klatches famous all over Minnesota. There was also a birthday card with a picture of a fluffy white cat. The note inside read “This probably seems silly since I know you’re allergic to cats, but I thought you might like this card anyway.” It was signed “Mom (and Dad, too).” There was also a check for $50 and the post-it stuck to it said “Get yourself a nice pedicure – xxoo.”
Out of the corner of her eye, Sarah looked at Alba, sitting on the window sill in the bay window. The cat on the card looked just like her.
As unused as she was to cats, Sarah had come to appreciate Alba’s company. She had become fond of the spectral cat, and of her shimmering form in her peripheral vision. Her allergies abated after Lupa gave her the cup of tea, and Sarah enjoyed picking the cat up and snuggling her. She liked her weight on her bed at night. Even though she couldn’t always see her, she knew when Alba was in the apartment and when she was gone. The place felt much emptier without her. “I can’t really complain, can I?” Sarah thought. The cat never needed to be fed and never made a mess. Sarah never even had to open a door to let her out.
“You’re a good cat, Alba,” she said aloud. The cat trilled in answer and Sarah heard the thump as she jumped off the window sill to rub against her shins.
In the afternoon, Sarah set out to find a place where she could get a pedicure. She remembered seeing a salon about three blocks west of her apartment. The day was cold and sunny, the air crisp and carrying the tinge of salt that permeates San Francisco. She found the little shop and opened the door. A brass bell signaled her arrival. A tall man approached her. He had bleached white hair and was wearing a silk scarf. “May I help you?”
“Do you take drop-in appointments?” Sarah asked. “I would love to get a pedicure today.”
He surveyed the empty shop and said, in one breath, “I don’t know. Let me check the book. Okay.”
“I’m Marco,” he said.
She held out her hand, “Sarah”.
“Come.” He took her coat and gestured to the back of the shop where there was a raised leather pedicure chair.
Sarah moaned as she slid her feet into the warm water. The scent of lavender rose with the steam.
“Day off?” Marco asked, switching on the jets.
“Sort of,” Sarah explained. “It’s my birthday.” She closed her eyes and leaned back in the chair, relaxing in the swirling water and the hum of the motor.
It was 10 minutes before Marco reappeared.
“So this was meant to be,” he said, lifting her left foot out of the warm water. “You have a birthday and I had no appointments.” He rubbed her foot briskly with a rough towel and, pouring peppermint lotion into his hands began to firmly massage her arch.
“Wow, that’s good,” Sarah said.
“Feet love attention,” Marco said. “And they’re very erogenous, too.”
Sarah must have looked startled because he quickly followed with “But you don’t have to worry about me, Girlfriend.” She smiled.
“Your feet are tense,” he said.
“I’ve been on them a lot lately.”
“You know I can read feet like some people read palms.”
“Oh,” Sarah said. She wasn’t sure what else to say.
“Let me show you,” he said. “A birthday present.”
She nodded her assent and he began to examine her foot closely as he massaged. He inspected each toe and the lines on her sole.
“You’ve moved recently?” he asked.
“I can feel boxes and stairs,” he said. “A new job brought you here.”
She nodded again.
“It’s an academic job.”
“It is,” Sarah said.
“And a new love.”
Sarah shook her head. “Nope. No love.”
“Ah, not yet,” Marco said. “She’s right around the corner.”
Suddenly, Marco laughed a delighted laugh. “Oh. My. God. You’re Sarah! Lupa’s friend.”
“I am,” Sarah said. “You can tell that by reading my foot?”
“Well, sort of,” Marco said. “And I put the details together. I’m stopping by your party for drinks tonight.”
“That’ll be lovely.” She meant it.
“Lupa has fabulous parties,” Marco said. “And tonight’s a full moon, you lucky girl.”
Sarah wanted to ask him what he meant by that, but didn’t feel she should, so she sat quietly while he worked.
When both feel were dry, Marco gestured to a large rack of polishes on the wall by the chair. “What color?” he asked.
“Oh,” Sarah said. “I never know. A soft beige maybe, or light pink.”
Marco looked aghast.
“Girlfriend. It’s your birthday. Live a little.”
He pulled a few bottles of polish off the rack. One was bright red, another was a sparkly metallic blue, and the third was a rich burgundy.
“See anything you like?” he asked.
Sarah hesitated. “This one,” she said, pointing to the burgundy. “That’s a beautiful color.”
He held it against her leg. “It will look beautiful against your skin, too.”
“It’s the color of my bedspread,” Sarah said, immediately blushing as she remembered how her skin looked against it in the candlelight.
“People should always dress their bed in colors that flatter them naked,” he said, winking.
After she spent a few minutes waiting for her polish to set, Marco gave her a pair of disposable sandals. “These will be chilly, but you’re only a few blocks from home,” he said. “I’ll see you tonight.”
And Sarah set out for her apartment, padding carefully up the street in pink foam flip-flops.