Despite the good intentions of matchmaking friends, family and neighbors, Rachel Springer, a tough Washington, D.C. lawyer, has spent a lifetime protecting her heart from the dangerous possibilities of love. When she finds a ragged stray dog on the streets of Georgetown and brings him home with her, she starts a sequence of startling events that lead her down a path she’s never explored. Along the way, she rents her downstairs apartment to a bachelor whose 5-year-old grandson has the same effect on her as the homeless dog. Rachel’s expanded life in Washington takes several unexpected turns as she juggles the dramas of divorces and molestation charges; a midnight drunk on her front porch; a health crisis that threatens to disrupt her law firm; and a weekend tragedy that turns her world upside down. All it takes to fully open the door to Rachel’s heart is the disappearance of the dog that started it all.
When Rachel answered the door eight minutes later, her friend stood on the stoop grinning. She carried two forest-green folding chairs, wore a huge straw sun hat, hot pink and white polka dotted Capri pants, a royal blue tank top, and very large, very dark sunglasses. At her feet sat a picnic basket and cooler.
“You can carry those,” Susan nodded in the direction of her feet, turned and marched down the sidewalk.
As Rachel locked the door, she marveled at the blessing — or bane, depending on her mood at the time — of having two such bossy women in her life — Georgia at work and Susan at home. For someone who grew up with no mother, she certainly had made up for that lack of maternal nurturing in her later life.
“Are you sure you want to do this?” Rachel asked as she trudged behind her friend the couple of blocks to the Dupont Circle metro station.
Susan nodded emphatically.
Finding a place to sit on the subway car with room for all their paraphernalia was a challenge. Susan convinced a couple of teen-aged boys to give up their seats at the rear of the car, and the two women spread out for the short ride.
The car was full of Saturday shoppers, who got off at Metro Central, and tourists who left at the Mall. By the time the train stopped near Capitol Hill, it was almost empty.
Susan and Rachel gave up their seats to an elderly couple, grateful to have so much room. They thanked them profusely.
“Now, isn’t that nice to see older folks out so early in the morning, heading out for an adventure,” Susan chirped when they got off the train.
“Susan, those people weren’t much older than we are.”
“There you go again, Rachel — being pessimistic. Thank god, you’ve got me, that’s all I can say.”
“Thank god,” Rachel echoed as she followed her friend up the escalator into the carnival atmosphere of the Market.
“Where is your booth?” Rachel asked as they stood looking at the rows of vegetable stands, tables piled high with handcrafted Mexican rugs and beaded jewelry, racks of Indian saris and embroidered peasant dresses. The wind blew the colorful fabrics like kites against the brilliant blue sky.
Susan’s hot pink fit in much better than Rachel’s uniform of black linen top and beige cotton pants. She was glad she had remembered the turquoise bracelet and necklace her brother had brought back from a recent trip out west.
Susan consulted a map for a few minutes and then took off toward the far end of a row of baked goods. An empty card table stood next to a woman frying funnel cakes.
Susan looked at Rachel and smiled. “Well, at least we won’t get hungry,” she said.
Efficiently, she began to set herself up to work. She yanked her chair out of its cover, snapping it into place and propping up a tiny umbrella to protect her against the rising sun. Out of an old canvas bag on which UVA could barely be read, she took several well-sharpened pencils and a brand-new spiral-bound notebook. Last, she pulled out a paperback version of Webster’s dictionary and plopped herself down to wait for business.
Rachel watched all this in awe. Almost afraid to ask, she timidly broached the question. “Susan, how are people supposed to know what you’re doing – that you’re here to write poems?”
“Oh my goodness, I almost forgot,” Susan said and dug around in her bag again to retrieve a small sign that she propped up against the cooler. “Original Poems Written for You for $5” was printed in bold black letters.
She sat back down with a sigh of satisfaction.
“Now, honey, you don’t need to feel like you have to sit here with me all the time. Go on off and see what’s happening and come back and tell me all about it. I’ll be fine.”
“Are you sure? I thought you said you needed me.”
“I did need you. I needed you to get me going. I’m fine now.”
“Well, I would like to get a cup of coffee. Can I bring you one?”
“No, I think I’m coffee’ed out right now,” Susan said as she tapped the end of her No. 2 yellow pencil on the pad in her lap.
As Rachel walked away, she noticed the funnel cake vendor, a very large black woman with dreadlocks and African robes, staring at Susan like she was an alien from outer space.
* * *
When Rachel finally made her way back to Susan, following the sweet smell of funnel cakes to relocate her tiny table, she was surprised to see a little girl sitting in the chair next to her friend, waiting patiently for a poem. Her mother stood nearby smiling.
When the woman noticed Rachel, she walked over and spoke.
“Isn’t this great? That lady is making a poem for Christy. I had the hardest time convincing her to come with me this morning — terrible time. That child threw a fit getting out of bed, threw a fit eating her cereal, threw a fit all the way here on the train — and now look at her. It’s like that lady has put a magic spell on my child. She just heard that word “poem,” and her eyes lit up, and she said she had to have one.”
“Sounds like magic to me,” Rachel agreed as she watched while Susan tore a page out of her notebook and handed it to the little girl, who looked like she had just been crowned Queen for the Day.
The child danced over to her mother and asked that she read her the poem.
They walked off before Rachel heard the words, but the message was clear enough — art heals.
“Wow, that was powerful,” Rachel said.
Sharpening another pencil to replace the one she had already worn to a nub, Susan smiled up at her.
“I told you so,” she said. “You’ve got to learn to listen to me, Rachel. I’ve written 10 poems since you’ve been gone. People love it, and I’m having a blast.”
“I’m amazed. I’ll admit I had my doubts you could pull this off. How do you do it?”
“It’s not about how. It’s about doing.”
“Remember that when John Turner arrives Monday,” Susan said as another customer sat down beside her to buy a poem.
Leigh Somerville has had a long career as a full time writer doing business as Studio McMillan in Winston-Salem. Currently, she is the Director of Marketing & PR for Twin City Stage. Formerly, she was Editor of Winston-Salem Living and wrote as the Scene & Heard columnist for the Winston-Salem Journal for 10 years. She has contributed to regional and national magazines. Her work includes ghost-writing memoirs and legacy letters, facilitating writing workshops and retreats, coaching and public speaking.