May 13, 2024

“Who is Izzy Jean?” by Arvilla Fee

“Who is Izzy Jean?” by Arvilla Fee

*Featured image courtesy of Kris Atomic on Unsplash*

I’ll be straight with you, FC readers. This was one of my favorite stories, and I think you’ll enjoy it as well. Let’s give Arvilla Fee a warm welcome as she joins our community with her wholesome story, “Who is Izzy Jean?”

The line at Make it Strong Café is long and snail-inches forward; I stare, without focus, at my phone while adhering to my personal rule #8—never engage with anyone before coffee. You may wonder why that’s rule #8, but I assure you, my first seven are equally, if not more, important.

“Excuse me, dear,” comes a voice in front of me.

I look up wearily and am staring down at the tiniest woman I’ve ever seen. Four-foot nothing, probably 80 pounds. Her hair is white and puffy, like fresh-fallen snow—but she’s dressed in jeans, a Rolling Stones sweatshirt and tennis shoes. How odd—and cool.

“Yes?” I say, hoping to keep chatter to a minimum.

“Could you hold my place?

I look behind me and see at least six more people. “Sure,” I say.

She scurries off at a pace I never attempt in the mornings and returns moments later. “Thanks! I forgot my cell phone,” she says, not even out of breath.

I raise an eyebrow.

She giggles like a little girl. “You think I’m too old for a phone?”

Startled into a half smile, I say, “Err, no—”

She grins to reveal a perfect row of white teeth.

“I’m actually quite young,” she says, snickering. “Today’s my 88th birthday.”

My eyes widen, but I’m still clutching rule #8 like a blanket.

She smiles again. “You know, we could celebrate together—have a cup of coffee? My treat. One of my granddaughters was supposed to meet me here, but she had to work late last night, so she’s sleeping in. My name’s Izzy Jean.”

Wow. My brain can barely keep pace. She’s asking me, a total stranger, to have coffee with her? Does she have no fear of axe murderers? Not that I am one, of course, but I could be.

“It’s OK if you can’t,” she says, still chattering like a magpie. “I know you young folks are always rushing around like cats with their tails on fire.” She laughs and slaps her knee.

Jolted out of my coffee-deprived stupor, I motion to her that the line has crept forward at least two body spaces, and I wonder why I didn’t just make instant coffee this morning and drink it in bed.

“So, what do you say?” Izzy Jean asks, peering up at me with wide blue eyes.

“Sure. I’m Anne, by the way,” I say then sigh inwardly. How had I allowed an 88-year-old lady to browbeat me into celebrating her birthday at a coffee shop? I’m an attorney, for gosh sakes, skilled in the art of objections and rebuttals!

She claps her hands and jumps in the air. I kid you not—there’s air between her tiny feet and the floor. I pray to God she doesn’t do the splits.

“That’s the spirit, Anne! What are you drinking?” she asks.

“A long macchiato with a shot of vanilla, extra foam. But I’ll pay. It’s your birthday,” I say, which pretty much maxes out my current word limit.

Now she raises an eyebrow. “My regular is black coffee with two creamers.”

After receiving our marked drinks from the barista, we take a seat near a window.

“So,” Izzy Jean says, “Tell me about yourself.”

I tap my cup. “You first,” I mutter before taking a sip.

She claps her hands together like she’s going to make a speech, and, in a sense, she does. I’m half way through my coffee, and I know more about Izzy than I know about myself: Born in 1935, graduated college in 1957, became a history teacher, married a man she met in the grocery produce aisle (not the same day, of course, she added), had two children (daughter and son), and later—four grandchildren (all girls), got her pilot’s license at age 50, and owns a Goldendoodle named Stewart, after her favorite actor, Jimmy Stewart.

“Wow,” I say when she pauses to sip her own drink.

“Now you,” Izzy Jean says, leaning forward as though I’m a magician about to pull a rabbit out of a hat.

“I’m not that interesting,” I begin.

“Nonsense,” she replies. “Everyone’s interesting.”

So, I tell her about growing up with a single mom, my dad skipping out when I was five, being an only child, working hard to get a scholarship to college, passing the bar, being engaged then dumped for someone else four months before the wedding, joining a law firm as a criminal prosecutor two years ago, and how I work 60 hours a week—minimum.

I pause and touch my face. Good grief! Am I crying?

Izzy presses a tissue into my hand. “You beautiful brave thing,” she says. “You’ve been through hell yet accomplished so much.”

I dab under my eyes and blow my nose. “Sorry,” I say. “I have no idea why I’m crying.”

She smiles. “Sometimes we need a good cry.”

When she stands to leave with a promise to see me again, she squeezes my arm, and I feel like I’ve just had a professional therapy session, although this one only cost $3.85.

I’m stunned that I spilled my guts and tears to a stranger! But I feel lighter than I have in a long time.

One of the baristas, nametag Krista, walks over. “I see you met Izzy Jean,” she says.

“Umm, yeah,” I say, surprised she’d noticed.

“Let me guess. Today was her 88th birthday.”

“Ummm, yeah?” I say again, confused.

“She turns 88 every day,” explains Krista. “We don’t know her real age—or where she comes from. She’s always alone, but she has a knack for picking people.”

I stare open-mouthed at Krista. “Picking?”

“Yeah, like sad people to cheer up. You feel better?” Krista says.

I nod slowly. Izzy Jean picked me.

Arvilla Fee teaches English Composition for Clark State College and is the poetry editor for the San Antonio Review. She has published poetry, photography, and short stories in numerous presses, and her poetry book, The Human Side, is available on Amazon. For Arvilla, writing produces the greatest joy when it connects us to each other.

#Arvilla Fee#Cafe#Izzy Jean#short story#Wholesome

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