Slow Down Heart
fiction by Michael A. Gonzales, copyright © 2007
In the fall of 1965, when Dawn Rodgers was fifteen years old, the sleek boogie of Motown music had been as vital to her existence as blood and water. Living in a regal
Across the room, on top of an antique dresser, was the blue record player that had been a Christmas gift from Dawn’s father before his sudden death from a heart attack two years ago.
When she first unwrapped the present, it reminded her of a magical, aqua hued jewel box. With its mono-speaker and hard cover, the record player was her most prized possession.
On the weekend, Dawn and her lanky girlfriend Barbara Jean played the records repeatedly, dancing like American Bandstand regulars as their wavy press combed hair flipped.
As Barbara Jean belted “ooohhs and aaahhs” in the background, Dawn grabbed a broomstick from closet and strained her vocal chords singing lead on “Baby Love,” “Tracks of My Tears,” “Where Did Our Love Go” and other soon to be classic tracks.
Yet, since buying the sweet swoon of “My Girl” from Shadow’s Record Store-the first record Dawn had bought-the sweet song held a special place in her heart. As Barbara’s charm bracelets jiggled, Dawn perfectly pantomimed those silky moves.
On those school days when Dawn was finished with her homework, she scoped the smooth skinned older boy singers who sloughed on the stoop and sang beneath the dim street lamp outside the living-room window.
With their conked hair and starched slacks, those slick boys slurped sodas and sang about roaming Romeos until dusk.
“Girl, you better get your face out of that window and into those books,” Dawn’s mother Amy scolded one autumn afternoon. Styling a sky-high beehive and lush lashes, Amy puffed on a Marlboro.
With wide-hips and thin waist, she stood in front of the curtained French doors; when the doors were closed, it was damn near impossible to hear another sound. Dawn wasn’t aware of her mother had been observing her for a few minutes
Dawn and her mom had once shared a special bond that faded with each birthday. Many years had passed since they had played in the playground sandbox or dressed identically on Easter morning. Though the death of her father should have brought them closer, it seemed to make her mother that much more neurotic.
“Girl, don’t make come in there and snatch you up,” Amy yelled. Her mom made a pretty penny as the proprietor of the Smart Set Beauty Shop.
However, since it was a Monday, the shop was closed.
“Damn,” Dawn mumbled. She had hoped to see the singing man of her fantasies, a conked head boy named Miles Fontaine. Everyday, she anticipated the moment that slick heart breaker would slink around the corner and connect with his rhythmic street-corner crew.
A sharp dressed dude whose shoes were never snuffed, Miles had a smoky voice that was smoother than her panties. Even though he and Dawn didn’t know one another, Miles often glanced-up at Dawn’s third floor window and grinned.
At nineteen, his gleaming smile was perfect, as was the square jaw that was the foundation of a clean-shaven, light-skinned face. Whenever Miles wore his stylish black-framed glasses, Dawn thought he looked exactly like “a lighter version of David Ruffin from The Temptations.”
In Dawn’s mind, she believed Miles possessed a princely charm that only she could see.
With her curvy figure and shoulder length ponytail, Dawn was too old for children’s games and too young for grown folks business. In her teenage mind, it didn’t matter that Miles was much too old for a girl who wouldn’t be able to date for another year. Feeling Amy’s penetrating eyes on her back, Dawn slinked out of the window and flopped on the plastic slip covered couch.
While the weekdays were devoted to schoolwork and household chores, come Saturday morning Dawn was down at the Smart Set helping her mother.
“That girl just keep getting so big,” observed Millard Jones, one of Amy’s oldest customers. “Seems like yesterday I was giving the child lollipops from my purse.”
“As long as she keeps her head up, her eyes in a book and her legs closed, I’ll be happy,” Amy replied. Pretending not to listen, Dawn swept-up hair, set the dryers and ordered lunch for the gossiping flock.
As was Amy’s habit, at four o’clock she handed Dawn three crisp dollar bills for her allowance. Tossing the stained smock on top of a shelf, Dawn said, “I’ll be back. I’m going down to Shadow’s.” Not that it was news, because Dawn went to Shadow’s Record Emporium every Saturday afternoon.
“Can’t keep them young folks away from their music,” Millard said.
“Just don’t be down there all day,” Amy said. “I have other things for you to do around her.”
“Alright, ma,” Dawn answered, carefully watching her tone of voice; a slip of the lip was all Dawn needed for her mother to snatch back the money or pop her in the mouth.
Dressed in a her blue Fall sweater, white button down shirt, jeans and matching Pro-Keds sneakers, Dawn ran the five blocks past rooming houses and number holes, liquor shops and soul food shacks. As visions of shiny discs spun in her head, Dawn barely paid attention to the roar of the world around her.
Nearing Shadow’s, she sped around the corner at
St. Nicholas Avenue and slammed into a hard body exiting a men’s shoe store.
Crashing to the ground, Dawn’s head banged on the sidewalk. Lying still, she groaned and tried to regain her bearings. Rubbing her skull, blood trickled from the wound.
“Are you alright?” a soothing voice asked. With her eyes still closed, Dawn struggled to stand until she felt a reassuring touch on her shoulder. “You really shouldn’t move until the ambulance gets here.”
Squinting through barbecue smoke simmering from a nearby restaurant, it took awhile for Dawn to see clearly. The moment her blurry vision finally focused, she saw Miles’ face hovering in front of her.
Yet, before Dawn was able to utter a word, a thundercloud exploded in her head. Seconds later, the slight concession caused her to faint completely.
Between the hardness of the concrete and the softness of the hospital bed, Dawn’s mind be-bopped through a dreamscape where she and Miles sailed on a chocolate-flavored sea. With a tender voice, Miles serenaded her with a sweet love song.
Moments later, the dream lover gently touched her bare shoulder and kissed her quivering lips.
Days after recovering from the accident, Dawn noticed a slight change in her mother’s behavior. It began the morning when the usually stern faced Amy strolled past the stove smiling and melodically humming ‘My Girl.’ Startled by Amy’s blissful demeanor, Dawn stared longingly as her moms fluttered through the kitchen like a nightingale.
Sitting down at the Formica table, Amy smiled at her bemused daughter. Pouring orange juice into a blue glass, Amy asked, “Are you sure you’re well enough to go to school? Maybe you should stay home another day or so.”
Dawn noticed a musical lilt to Amy’s voice. Not since Dawn’s daddy had died, had her mom sound so happy.
“It’s just strange,” Dawn explained to her girlfriend Barbara Jean as the two trooped towards their small Catholic school building. Both girls were dressed in white blouses, gray plaid skirts and black shoes. If they were even a minute late, sadistic Sister Regis would make them do detention.
Bending down to buckle her shoe in front of Jesse’s Candy Shop, a cool breeze caressed Dawn’s face.
“Maybe she thought when you got the concussion you were going to die or something. You know how mothers are when something bad happens to their babies.”
Dawn pushed open the steel and glass door. Swathed in the store’s Hershey chocolate warmth and fumes of fresh brewed coffee, they greeted the overweight owner. Overcome by a yearning for chocolate, Dawn stood in front of the glass counter and stared at the gleaming silver wrapped Kisses.
“Yeah,” Dawn agreed, sliding ten-cents across the counter. “You’re right. I’m just being goofy. It’s just weird to hear Miss Mean Jeans suddenly being so nice. And, to top it off, honey is humming Motown songs.”
Barbara Jean giggled, and glanced at her Timex wristwatch. “Just wait for a couple more days, I bet she’ll be right back to her regular self,” she said. “Now hurry-up before Sister Regis has us standing on our tiptoes for an hour or something crazy.”
Although Dawn didn’t bring up the subject again, Amy’s slight change had developed into a full-blown transformation. With a wiggle in her walk, Amy bought a few tight skirts that enhanced her shapely behind.
In the past, while Amy had always come straight home after closing the beauty shop, she was now “stopping for cocktails at the O’Neal’s” or “going to the movies at Loews's
Paramount Theater.” Coming home slightly intoxicated, Amy sang sweet soul songs under her peppermint-scented breath.
Later that afternoon, Dawn sat in the classroom staring at the dusty blackboard when she a developed an aching headache. “Is your mother home today?” Sister Regis asked. Knowing the details of her slight concussion, the nun thought it would be best to send Dawn home.
“Yes, Sister,” Dawn answered, rubbing her forehead. After a year at St. Catherine’s you would think these nuns would remember that her mother owned a beauty shop, Dawn thought. Everybody in
Harlem knows that beauty shops are closed on Monday.
“I’ll call and tell her you don’t feel well. Barbara Jean can bring your homework.”
“Thank you, Sister,” Dawn replied, gathering her books.
Nearing her block at one o’clock, Dawn wondered what had happened to Miles and the rest of his singing buddies. “I suppose it’s been a little chilly,” she reasoned, but I still haven’t seen him since the accident. Of course, that hadn’t stopped her from scribbling Miles’ name in her three-ring binder or in the margins of her textbooks.
Slowly, Dawn climbed the tarnished marble steps to her apartment. From behind the closed doors of her neighbor’s flats, she heard crying babies and the theatrical voices of soap opera stars. Yet, standing in front of her doorway, Dawn didn’t hear a sound.
Maybe ma went to laundry or something, she thought. Pushing open the metal door, Dawn dropped her coat and school bag on the foyer floor. Walking quietly across the carpet, Dawn headed towards the living room.
Standing in front of the French doors, she was surprised to hear the dreamy voices of The Temptation’s “My Girl” streaming from the blue portable hi-fi her dead father had given her.
Hesitating, Dawn slowly pulled back the multicolored curtains and peered through the door’s small window.
Blinking, she stared, stunned and paralyzed by the wicked image of her mother and Miles lustfully entwined on the sticky couch. Oblivious to the world, their naked bodies rhythmically moved to the music.
A few feet away, Dawn’s record player rested on top of the wooden coffee table.
Dawn’s eyes jumped frantically from the blue record player to the couch. Dawn’s fragile emotions cracked, and wanted to shatter the French door’s windows with her bare fist.
Sniffling, she wiped tears from her eyes as a thousand blue record players blared in her head. Crying, Dawn watched with disgusted fascination as the sweaty bodies of Miles and her mother slithered to the hardwood floor. Eyes closed, they swam in the sea of love while The Temptations continued to sing.
Before Dawn was even aware of her own movements, she had run down the stairs. Standing in front of the silver street pole where she had first seen Miles, a cold wind caused her to shiver.
Staring upwards at her living-room, either her mother or Miles had snapped on end-table lamp. Still crying, Dawn silently vowed neverto touch that blue box ever again.