There is a small park near my apartment that I visit every day with my pugs, Blossom and Jade. In preparation for our daily outing, I conceal myself under a pair of big dark sunglasses and a wide brimmed hat to protect my eyes from the sun. I feel clandestine, hidden from the gaze of a prying city that seeks to size me up and put me down. I often find myself stumbling over the eccentricities of urban life.
On Mondays, a farmer’s market takes over the park’s miniscule parking lot. The vendors come from all over the state and sell everything from tomatoes to fresh naan bread. One Monday, I met a woman who travels the country in an RV with her trusty companion Snow Lion, selling organic chocolate to trendy farmer’s market shoppers. She lures them in with her flowing nature and the promise of dark velvety delight. Or so she told me.
When I stumbled upon the chocolatier, she was walking her dog, Snow Lion. He looked like a Pekingese, but she claimed he was a rare and different breed of a name that slips through the memory like water. He was warm and regal, with a buttery coat and sweet wide eyes; but he had the gait of suffering.
They approached us with the ease of old friends, eager to share stories and exchange hot morsels of gossip. They seemed friendly enough, so I stopped for a chat; something that still makes me anxious. I have always been a bit of a recluse, avoiding strangers whenever possible, but Blossom and Jade have forced me out of my cocoon. I emerge under cover, more of a pill bug than a butterfly.
The chocolatier was tall and round, with a softness that made me believe it was safe to stay a while. Her black hair melted across the expanse of her long back; soft tendrils escaping and grazing her chin. She wore a loose-fitting top of crushed velvet grapes with sleeves that brushed her fingertips, and a long black skirt that fell quietly to the parched grass. It was her boots that gave her away. Black leather worn to gray from the combat of a meandering life; she wore them like armor.
She was lonely and made it difficult to escape. She told me about her daring rescue of Snow Lion, across 2 states in the bitter days of winter, how she had found him online and begged the shelter to keep him safe until she could get her RV running. She talked of organic chocolate and addictions to sweet things. She told me she felt free in her life on the road, but the shackles of constant struggle were evident on her weary face.
We talked for 20 minutes before she finally asked for my name, but I think she just wanted to tell me hers; it fell out of her mouth as if she were saying it for the first time.
Her eyes were uncertain as she waited for my reaction.
“A beautiful name”, I said, and took the offering of chocolate from her outstretched hand.
Susan Richardson is living, writing and going blind in the belly of Hollywood. Much of her work focuses on her experiences as a partially sighted woman in a sprawling urban environment. In addition to poetry and creative nonfiction, she also writes a blog called “Stories from the Edge of Blindness”.