By: Theresa Ward
Agatha hated the word “homeless.” She had a home. It had a 4-speed automatic transmission, did 19 miles per gallon in the city (if one were to think of Capitola as a city; Agatha preferred the more romantic designation of village), a V-6 engine and 4 tires with some considerable tread left on them. She had named it ‘Amazon’ – not for the monster online retailer of which she adamantly believed had its sights set on world domination but for the 5,500,000 square kilometer stretch of rainforest that blanketed South America. Her bronze 2002 Toyota Sienna minivan was as simpatico as any home she’d ever known, namely for the fact that it was all hers, every last cubic inch. When she’d decided to overhaul its interior with plastic jungle plants, green shag carpeting, stuffed toy macaws and a set of plush velvet blankets adorned in yellow-eyed jaguars that she’d bought off a roadside stand just outside Lake Tahoe, there was no one around to stop her. She had a home, all right – and it was all, gloriously, hers.
She also had a home-away-from-home, in the chlorine-scented halls of Capitola’s only fitness club, Surf City Fit. The club was small and its equipment outdated, but for a low yearly fee Agatha had access to a shower, a lap pool and the generous ears of many a yuppie retiree who would sit on the recumbent bike next to her listening to her tales of Amazonian myths and misadventures. The staff knew she lived in her minivan, and the security guard, Joaquin, who worked the Monday through Friday shift, let her park there at night as long as she drew the curtains shut and didn’t rattle around too much inside for fear of police attention.
When she wasn’t at the gym or in her van, she worked at the McDonald’s in Santa Cruz, serving ravenous surfers and college students meat and fries as “real” and nutrient rich as the chain of plastic tropical flowers dangling from her rearview mirror. The manager let her take home leftover salads – a diet she rounded out with hamburger meat she bought by the pound at New Leaf Community Market. It was organic and pricey, but a little went a long way, and the quality of the iron-rich ground chuck meant she could eat it raw, which was essential granted she lacked a reliable stove other than a Coleman camping unit she’d purchased in the late 80s that made a terrible propane stink that stuck to the fibers of the Amazon’s shag carpet.
Agatha had wanted to take a swim today at the club’s pool (on Sundays there was no water aerobics to contend with) but had woken up with a terrible headache – no doubt caused by the buzzing power lines crisscrossing like latticework over Surf City Fit’s parking lot. After a bit of light housekeeping and a tally of the food supplies neatly arranged like Lincoln Logs in the Amazon’s mini-fridge, she set down her bubblegum-pink cat eye glasses, gave the bridge of her nose a good long rub and laid down on the tiny bed at the back of the van without bothering to change out of her leopard-print one-piece bathing suit.
The glasses, she enjoyed fondly remembering, had been the first big purchase she’d made with her profit from the cupcake shop. The shop had been a dream of hers since her days as a student at Cabrillo Community College in the adjoining beach town of Aptos, watching students suck down candy bars made of faux chocolate (not derived from the Cacao Trees of the Amazon) from sticky glassed vending machines. Certainly an easily portable cupcake made of all-natural ingredients was a better option? So with a Skills Certificate in Entrepreneurships/Small Business under her belt and her well-to-do older sister as an investor, she opened Takes The Cake in a mini mall not far from the University of California, Santa Cruz’s redwood concealed campus.
It had taken some years to turn a profit, but when that day finally came, Agatha had gone to a little vintage store she loved in Capitola and had bought herself the most beautiful, pink, glass frames tipped in crackled silver and translucent enough to let the Santa Cruz sunshine set them glowing and had her prescription lenses installed. The customers of her cupcake shop would often remark that her glasses matched the frosting on the Righteous Raspberry Cupcake – a fact that was not a coincidence but an inspired and deliberate act on Agatha’s part. The shop’s glory days, however, were not destined to last long. Agatha could remember with stabbing clarity the day she’d stood in front of the shop window, watching her employee Robin (the first person she’d ever hired in her role as owner; and what a dear thing she was, smart and helpful and a whiz with the pastry bag) flip their Open sign to Closed knowing the terrible secret that bankruptcy was imminent. Everyone was making cupcakes now. Takes The Cake was no longer “delightful” or “addictive” or “first rate”, as the Santa Cruz Sentinel had once described it… it was passé.
Agatha had gone to her sister, again, as a last resort. Cynthia had invested in her dream once, after all. But things where different now. Her sister had the future of her children to think about, and surely, Agatha would be back on her feet once the “flour dust settled” (yes, that’s the pun her sister had used with a gentle laugh and squeeze of the arm.) Agatha, with her business education, knew better. She was sunk, deeper than she’d even wanted to admit to herself, her employees, her sister or the clamoring creditors whose incessant hounding had driven her to a level of paranoia she hadn’t felt since her days as a hippie youth strapping herself to condemned 1000-year-old trees and passing out government expose leaflets outside neighborhood churches. She hadn’t, however, wanted to beg. She was not a “beggar” just as she was not “homeless”. She was a lap swimmer, a valued fast food team member, a Sienna driver, a former cupcake shop entrepreneur and an expert on a swath of rainforest that had existed for 55 million years. Today, she was also a woman with a headache, who needed just a short nap atop a plush velvet jaguar to set herself right again.