After three professional careers, two advanced degrees,one ex-husband, four carefully chosen lovers, participation in eleven national and international astrological anarchological workshops, a random audit by the IRS which gifted Iris the freedom from burdensome possession of furniture and property, and three lengthy stays at a dude ranch, a cloistered convent, and remote yoga ashram, Iris Bean was now, finally, calling herself a writer.
Iris always knew in her bones that she was a writer, an artist, a true misfit; but it wasn’t an easy identity to embrace coming from Iowa; from a tenacious family of railroaders, stenographers, cooks, bankers, seamstresses, boozers, and stock car drivers. Encouraged to be a mail carrier or a dental hygienist or a cook or nothing at all, Iris took refuge from the family legacy when she turned 18 and went to live at a convent with Benedictine nuns in Mission, Kansas.
Iris could cook; frying chicken and making pork schnitzel was her specialty. When her high school friend Clarissa Novaki told her great-aunt, a nun at the Sister’s of Perpetual Mercy convent that Iris could make potato dumplings and pork schnitzel and knew how to kill and fry chickens, well, Sister Katerina most definitely wanted to meet Iris. Clarissa and Iris drove to Kansas the second weekend after graduation and stayed for a week at the convent. Iris cooked all her best dishes, learned to milk cows, and made friends with two of the younger nuns who taught her to smoke cigars and drive a back hoe.
Iris wrote a long letter to the head nun, Sister Teresa Maria, and explained her situation: She didn’t want to be a nun, but she didn’t know what she wanted to do yet so soon after graduating, and her family was pressuring her to be a mail carrier or, worse yet, an insurance agent. Iris really wanted to be a writer and knew she had to follow this “calling” as she truly felt it was a calling, a pressure inside of her that wouldn’t let her be anything else. Could she live there for a short while to get her bearings? Sister Teresa Maria called Iris soon after receiving her letter and invited her to live at the convent, to be an assistant cook and work on the farm in exchange for room and board, and a small wage.
Iris lived with the Sisters of Perpetual Mercy for three years, writing in the mornings and evenings. Her room was small, simple with beige walls and a twin bed with a rooster bed spread. She mostly loved it at the convent, but knew she had to be in the world, to have more life experiences if she was to deepen her writing. It would be so many years, and so much life,and so many passages later that Iris would finally meet that part of herself that she left at the convent when she was 21.
The morning rain turned to a slow, sad mid-day drizzle and Iris felt like shopping. From the third floor of the old taxidermy building turned artist lofts, Iris had a clear sight of the Village Outlet below; by far the best second hand store she had come across in all her travels. Today, blue and orange tags were 50% off. Iris’ $4,000, money she earned from working at a metaphysical bookstore in Kentucky and selling her old dodge dart was stashed in a peanut butter jar behind the computer. Twenty five dollars bought three pairs of cold weather pants, two sweaters, a book about pickling cucumbers, and a coat with purple removable sleeves which she didn’t particularly like. Under ordinary circumstances Iris would not have bought a silver patent leather coat with bowling-ball buttons and a gold lightening bolt stitched to the back with removable sleeves, but these were no ordinary times. It was the end of the 20th century and the Sisters of Lunacy were being called into action.
Iris didn’t know it that day, but she was soon to be on the front lines of a global protest against genetically engineered lima beans and she thought the coat the perfect stand alone apparel for a modest protest. Maybe that’s why she bought the jacket; she wanted an all weather coat for her street walkabouts and all the uncanny events she often found herself in; one that was warm, yet properly eccentric, even oddly distasteful. Iris liked to be noticed but not stared at.
She wore the coat three times; once at the lima bean protest, once to visit the police precinct that was next door to her loft to inquire about the man who roamed about the neighborhood wearing diapers and a football helmet (and would often sleep in the freight elevator of her building) and to a pancake benefit and raffle for a cat sanctuary. It was while petting a 3 legged cat named Felicia that she began to feel odd in the coat, itchy and stiff, not the least bit warm even; and then she caught a glimpse of herself in a store window on the way home. Iris was mortified to see that the look was not at all eccentric, but rather, she had to admit, she resembled a midget wrestler. Iris returned the coat, along with other failed purchases back to the Village Outlet. As often happened with Iris, her timing was impeccable. Stella Jo who worked in books and media saw Iris coming down the long cranky stairs.
Stella Jo had just unpacked a big box of books and other odds and ends delivered by Maurice Staplemeyer. Maurice was quirky as a cat in pajamas, and often showed up at the Village Outlet wearing an odd mismatch of clothes and accessories; stripes with plaids,floral woman’s smock worn over a camouflage pants, things of this nature. He really did have his wits about him, a science mind coupled with an artistic flair, thought most people thought he was crazy as a critter in heat. He just liked to shock people. When Maurice graduated from high school two years ago, he stepped into the family business as an estate manager, setting up estate sales and finding the proper placement for the lavish, bizarre, high-end, collectibles and just plain weird things that rich people have managed to fill up their homes with.
Maurice was learning more about fine art and fine porcelain, but what really lit his fire was the largesse book collections that were often left in his charge. And in this unusual instance he had come across diaries which had never been looked at. He and Stella Jo were best friends in high school and she just knew he and Iris had to meet.