When Interstate 5 replaced Highway 99, business life faded along a two-mile stretch running into and out of Snidely, California. Andre’s House of Beauty, Snidely Hardware and Feed, Kiki’s Stop ‘n Go, Adam’s First Rib Steak House—to name a few. A handful of these, Andre’s, for instance, reopened in the MegaMartSuper strip mall. The extra miles, less than six, were hardly a minor inconvenience to most; after all, these weren’t horse and buggy days; people did have cars.
“Beauty is moveable,” Andre would say during comb-outs, then cluck his tongue, tsk-tsk, for those less fortunate trades people “Unable,” as Andre would put it, “to bridge the gap, so to speak.”
Of a nature sensitive to the emotions of others, no tongue-clucking was heard when Kiki’s head leaned into his shampoo bowl. There were no casual sighs as to how decrepitly ramshackle and forlorn the Stop ‘n Go had become, nor mention of any boarded up buildings left behind.
Instead, Andre might ask after her dogs, “Paul and Mary? How are they these days? They must miss Peter. A shame, that.”
He might ask after other things, too, but stayed clear of the “old” days.
Serendipitous happenings occur—of this, Andre was certain, and would be for eons after his death. Take, for example, the accident. Any Wednesday at 9 a.m. would find Kiki in Andre’s chair, her head relaxed back into the retro robin’s egg blue shampoo bowl, his long-fingered hands massaging, coaxing conditioners in for body and bounce.
But Mary had been poorly on Wednesday morning; Kiki had taken her to the vet and postponed until Thursday at four.
Precisely the hour when a FedEx semi came through the back wall, moving Andre’s interior House of Beauty on through to the parking lot. MegaMartSuper shoppers glanced across acres of parking toward the mishap, then moved on with their business, as if wind at a window had rustled blind slats to draw momentary attention.
It’s not so bad back out on Old 99. No danger from big rigs, and that’s a plus. Rick, the dead waiter at Adam’s First Rib, had a crush on Andre from before, and the crush had not died when his auto immune system failed. Kiki, Rick’s older sister, always promised she’d bring Andre around to visit, albeit they all had pulses then, but . . . you take what you can get; that’s what Rick’s always says.
They wag their heads and cluck about how things might’ve gone, but never complain—not truly.
I watch them from the loading dock at Snidely Hardware and Feed, a fifty-pound sack of oats loaded now for a horse and the child who once fed her, a filly named Star who cantered in a pasture not too far up the road. It’s quite something . . . I shake my head everyday, half disbelieving . . . how the old neighborhood keeps gradually filling back in.