Woman in the Canary Dress

5 Jun

It happens to every writer: That magical moment when the words of another  changes your life forever.

For me, it occurred seven years ago. I was a junior in high school about to enter an Advanced Placement course taught a notoriously tough English teacher.

“Don’t take her. You’ll regret it,” classmates cautioned.

Their words echoed in my head as I shuffled into class and sank into the nearest desk. After a hasty hello, packets of pages lined with the following words from Toni Morrison’s Tar Baby were passed around:

“And when the vision materialized in a yellow dress Jadine was not sure it was not all a part of her list—an addition to the coconut and tamarind, a kind of plus to go with the limes and pimiento. Another piece of her luck. The vision itself was a woman much too tall. Under her long canary yellow dress Jadine knew there was too much hip, too much bust. The agency would laugh her out of the lobby, so why was she and everybody else in the store transfixed? The height? The skin like tar against the canary yellow dress?

The woman walked down the aisle as though her many-colored sandals were pressing gold tracks on the floor. Two upside-down V’s were scored into each of her cheeks, her hair was wrapped in a gelee as yellow as her dress. The people in the aisles watched her without embarrassment, with full glances instead of sly ones. She had no arm basket or cart. Just her many-colored sandals and her yellow robe. Jadine turned her cart around and went back down the aisle telling herself she wanted to reexamine the vegetables. The woman leaned into the dairy section and opened a carton from which she selected three eggs. Then she put her right elbow into the pain of her left hand and held the eggs aloft between earlobe and shoulder. She looked up then and they saw something in her eyes so powerful it had burnt away the eyelashes.

She strolled along the aisle, eggs on high, to the cashier, who tried to tell her that eggs were sold by the dozen or half-dozen—not one or two or three or four—but she had to look up into those eyes too beautiful for lashes to say it. She swallowed and was about to try again when the woman reached into the pocket of her yellow dress and put a ten-louis piece on the counter and walked away, away, gold tracking the floor and leaving them all behind. Left arm folded over her waist, right hand holding three chalk-white eggs in the air, and what will she do with her hands when she reaches the door? they wondered. Take her elbow out of the palm of her hand and push it open? Turn around and ask for a paper bag? Drop the eggs in a pocket? Each one of them begged in his heart that it would not happen. That she would float through the glass the way a vision should. She did of course and they needn’t have worried—the door always opened when you step on the mat before it, but they had forgotten that or had taken it for granted so long they had not really seen it until that woman approached it with the confidence of transcendent beauty and it flew open in silent obedience.”

 Morrison’s words leapt off the page  as I read them that day. I am so excited that she received the Medal of Freedom Award, the highest civilian award from the U.S. government. It was well-deserved. Moving someone, even if it were a single person, so profoundly through your pen and encouraging thought to the depths of one’s soul is the greatest gift a writer can bestow.

Today, that passage is tacked up on my bedroom wall, inside a sea of quotes, short stories and poem that remind me laugh, love and stay inspired. And to this day the mean evil English teacher that I initially feared remains of my best mentors.


6 Responses to “Woman in the Canary Dress”

  1. bajanpoet June 5, 2012 at 3:39 am #

    I was just as enthralled as you were while reading that. I could SEE her “goldpressing the floor” This is why I love writing. 🙂


    • lcooksmarketer1 June 5, 2012 at 9:46 am #

      The pen is so powerful!


      • bajanpoet June 5, 2012 at 10:37 am #

        That’s sooo true 🙂 Love your words 🙂 Thank God she inspired you to write!


      • lcooksmarketer1 June 5, 2012 at 11:19 am #

        Thanks you so much for your kind words and support. I truly appreciate it!


  2. Stuart June 5, 2012 at 4:20 am #

    Lashonda you’ve done it again. That expose’ of your writing talent was just as beautiful as you are!!!


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