2 Replies to “4.29.2013 Journal Prompt”

  1. Every day she shops, the old woman in her padded lavender coat and red hat, a smear of color in the gray San Francisco fog. She shuffles down Powell Street in the early morning, cloth bag securely over her arm, hunting for today’s meals: a little fish, some cabbage, rice. It’s a slow walk because her feet are painful even in the new orthopedic shoes the nice social services lady got for her, and she must climb the big hill and the three flights of stairs at the end of her journey.

    It’s the best she can do for her family, and she’s pleased that she’s still able to complete this important work, make her contribution. Her son, Liu, a carpenter, often travels for his company: he’s gone a lot and Mia, his shy wife, keeps the shelves in order in the Rite Aid. Their son, Jimmy, a good boy, is in high school. All four of them live together in a single room over an electronics store, a residency hotel with twenty families on the third floor alone and one communal kitchen. There’s no place to store food or leftovers, and she tries to cook when the kitchen will be empty, before the adults are home from work the children back from school.

    The hotel has shared bathrooms, too, and no running water in the apartment, so several times each day she takes a bucket to the bathroom and fills it with water so the family can make tea in the electric pot on the window sill.

    If she can find the energy, she also keeps the apartment clean and neat. It’s difficult with Jimmy: the old woman marvels at how many possessions a growing boy needs—clothes, a computer, books and school supplies. Jimmy tries to keep his things confined to his very small shelf space, but it’s difficult, and almost every evening he goes down Powell Street to the Chinatown branch of the public library to study. The library is a busy place, the busiest branch in the whole San Francisco system: neighborhood people go there to read newspapers in their own language, and school children play electronic games on the community computers. If you go through the first floor children’s section to the adult floor upstairs, it’s a little more quiet and one other thing: it’s always warm.

    That’s important in Chinatown. Damp fog often invades the neighborhood, and the hotel temperature gets down to about 50 degrees on those days. The old woman is always cold, it seems, and she wears her lavender jacket inside their apartment as well as in the chill of the early morning when she shops. .

    Jimmy takes his laptop with him when he leaves the apartment, and that means when he’s gone there will be no movies that evening for the rest of them. The old woman loves the times when the family clusters around his computer, watching a movie on the 11-inch screen, a real family event. But such evenings happen less and less as Jimmy prepares for the university and his parents work to save the money that will help him get a degree, find a good job, and support his aging parents.

    Evenings alone are long and quiet, with Jimmy gone and Liu, and sometimes Mia when she has a night shift. Then the old woman has nothing to do but sit, quietly rocking in the only chair in the room, her puffy lavender coat wrapped around her.

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