The Recruiter

Brian at Bonnywood Manor voiced some concern for what a female in one of his posts had done with a clown’s balloon animals. The following is an editing casualty from The Hot Girl, Part 3. Wherein a Valley Girl Prima Ballerina tells her deepest secrets and desires. Brian, your balloon animals are always safe with me.

Chix-Stix, Beach side of the 1, Central Malibu, CA (Less than a mile from Jim Rockford’s Trailer)

“Oh, awesome! Me? I would so like totally love to play softball with the TV ladies and Kenny and you and, um, like the queen of naked in a magazine girl. Which is, um, totally not right, really. I don’t think. I mean I couldn’t, even, ever…Okay.” Logan composed herself, used both hands to move her coconut chicken bites and broccoli basket half an inch.

“Like after you’re not a virgin anymore? But just because like, you know, you’ve shown it to somebody and that’s over, right, like whew, really, and maybe somebody else, too, but to totally show everybody? I mean I don’t wear much when I dance. And you can tell like how much of everything there is, boobs and butts. But you know you can’t like see them and, um, that, in leos and tights. I guess they all look alike, so what’s the big deal with me and mine, right? Unless they’re all different, boobs and butts and, um, those. But it’s like mine, okay? And, um, not everybody’s.” She moved the basket back the half inch, took a bite of broccoli.

“But it’s okay. I totally want to meet her and everything, because I’m not like prejudiced or anything as long as she’s not a for real mega whore. Is she? No, um, because you wouldn’t, I don’t think. Would you? No? Okay.” She dunked more broccoli in Ranch dressing, turned it around in her finger tips before taking a bite. “A softball team is like a corps de ballet thing, right? With all the same costumes and everything?”

“Jesus, Logan. She’s not a whore, she’s a psychologist now, and you’ll love her. You never played softball before?”

“Yes, I think. But if I haven’t? I can run and jump and they have costumes, so I can totally pretend I know how and be besties with it, ‘cause that’s what I do. Is it the one like baseball? With the boring hard bench thing? ‘Cause that’s like…Well, ewww. Fishing! Not as gross, but for real they both have like the same fun IQ as pavement. Have you ever been fishing?” She reached across the table and took his Coke. Her eyes waited politely for his answer while she drained his cup through the straw.

“My grampa was pretty into it, and we went when I —”

“I did. Once. To be nice, you know?” She set the cup back in front of him. “But what a total gross-out waste of time. This old forgot-to-shave man? He smelled really bad. Like old beer cans you pick up and throw away but sniff first? And like the dead-fish-on-ice place in the back of Safeway by the murdered cows? My dad, we went in a boat to fish with the beer can smelly man. It was like a dad and daughter thing that was totally lame. For me. Dad drank beer so I guess, um, he had fun ‘cause I had to stop talking to him after a while. And eww-my-gawd, Jax, the smelly man? He stabbed a baby fish with a big hook! Right in front of me! I was like get out baby fish murderer! Then I thought, and my dad got mad about this, that like we could go home and I didn’t have to fish anymore after that, right, ‘cause the man was putting a baby fish on my hook so dad could take a picture and be done. And because it was hot and the boat and the man were so-o stinker. And like the whole daughter fishing thing was a huge no-go for me. But dad and the man had beers left. So…”

He looked at her over his cup he’d popped the lid off of looking for anything left inside. “So?”

“So did you know that’s how they catch fish? For real! They totally murder a little baby fish and throw the whole hook thing with the murdered baby fish on it in the water! So some bigger fish will eat the murdered baby fish and get caught! ‘Hi, I’m a baby fish, just living in this bucket of water and old smelly beer and fish guy in rubber pants stabbed me and threw me out here to get eaten! That is so-o com-pletely horrible. So, um, I am like totally off fishing. For-ever. I still like shrimp ‘cause that’s like all about nets and stuff. But not lobster. Because I got in big trouble one time when I was little. This fat man my parents hired to cook lobsters for a dance reception? I told him to like go throw himself into big pot of hot water and see how he liked it. And that he was so-o lucky nobody had a humongous pot for fat lobster cooker men and he was safe until I grew up and got to be rich and had one made for him. But um, that was before I knew dancers don’t like get rich unless they marry one of those old tuxedo men with flowers. So anyway, they murder all kinds of stuff before we eat it! That’s why Kenny is like sort of a vegetarian person. She eats that noodle-y stuff and potatoes and soup. And way too many beans. And bacon. She likes that a lot. Bacon isn’t like a vegetable, it’s like pigs, I think, but she says it has a divine flavor she is totally down with, and —”

“Logan? Softball. Focus. No bench. We talk to people, they take pictures with the TV girls, which is why I need you to help when Randi and Lori —”

“That’s why! You know, why I want to be a softball girl. Because of all the TV ladies. They are so-o awesome. Can I like talk to them and everything, you know, and be like ‘Hey, TV ladies, I’m Logan Bevan-Burns and like I see you every morning inside my TV and you totally have the most amazing hair eh-ver!’ Because they like do. And like awesomeness teeth, too. Can I ask them if they like totally bummed on their braces like me?”

“Yeah, fine. But what we really need is you and Kenny to talk to the people in the bleachers, and bring that ballerina thing because little girls like that and —”

“I can dance in my softball costume? That is so off the…What do I say to them?”

“You tell the Perfectly You is Perfect story better than anyone. I can get you some cards with a good picture of you dancing and Perfectly You is Perfect on the other side. You could autograph them or write ‘keep up the hard work’ or something.”

“Borrrrrrrr-ing. More no fun IQ. What is wrong with you? When we’re little we want it like totally big, not some sweaty girl with a ‘go get’em, princess’ routine. That’s like what dads do. It’s all smelly beer cans and murdered fish and that is like duller than my rubber pirate princess knife. When my ankle was hurt and I was rehabbing and didn’t know what I wanted to do if I couldn’t dance? I worked at Disneyland. In a candy shop for, um…well, like not very long. I wanted to wear a princess costume so-o much, because, like especially Sleeping Beauty when I was there? She was such a snot! Like a ‘Now children, bee-have’ hair-sprayed TV mom and in the bathroom she called them a bunch of handsy little shits. And, well, I think they were, you know, doing that sneaky boy thing. Anyway, this really old man, they called him the princess wrangler? I made him so mad until he like cussed and everything. So I cussed back and said ‘I’m a ballerina, don’t tell me I can’t wear a princess costume because I talk too much! Like we can never, ever talk when we dance and it’s all about the costume, dancing and not talking, you know? So give me the fucking costume and I’ll shut up and show you how princess goes.’” She took a break, squirted some more ranch dressing out for the broccoli. “So. I don’t think I’ll ever be an official princess. Except in a ballet. Are they different? You know, official Disneyland and ballet princesses?”

“Princesses are princesses, I think. Ballet makes them a little more special.”

She frowned. “Only a little?”

“A lot. Softball?” All he could do was wait. “Yes” or “no” from Logan never came without a story. Several stories.

“I have a secret.”

“I’m good.” He gurgled the last of his Coke from the ice.

“So after Disneyland? I have a secret that is way more secret than even it was me who did the big SBD at Blanco’s last time we went and not the dishwasher man who came out of the bathroom that you said dropped a green bomb. I…Oh no! I told you!”

“Jesus, Logan. What secret can be more secret than you cut a weapon grade hungry ballerina fart at Blanco’s and let me blame it on an innocent dishwasher?”

“Sorr-eeee. Okay. I know Kenny paints faces ‘cause she is so like a totally talented painter and dancer person. My secret is I want to be a balloon man sculptor. In my almost official but can’t be because it would be illegal Snow White costume. I want to be an amazing, awesome, totally the best balloon man ever. Only a balloon man girl. Who tells little girls mega super big princess stories and makes them weener dogs and crowns. And flying saucers. And dragons. With balloons.”

“You want to wear a costume and make balloon things instead of play softball? I can live with —”

“No!” She reached over and knocked on his head. “Are you in there, duncemundo? I can like totally run and do that bat thing and everything in my softball costume and then change when you’re tired of me. I can’t be like boring splinter butt bench girl just talking. Mega bor-ing duh. But the balloons would make it so…” She drifted, held up a chicken strip like she was thinking about tying a knot in it. “I, um. I can’t, really. Yet. But, um…” Her secret balloon tying anxiety caused her to almost swallow the chicken bite whole. She separated the rest of her chicken bites and broccoli into neat piles on either side of the fresh squirt of Ranch, picked up one of each, dunked them and stuffed them in her mouth. He could see her thinking.

“But, um?”

“Okay. I found a man. Not like he was lost or anything, he was in the yellow pages. I went to meet him out in the Valley and everything? But he’s like a little weird and, well, mega weird squared, really. He does birthday parties for little kids and he’s like the ultra-est balloon man in the galaxy. His hands are all way ewww wrinkly and his mustache is like white but orange in the middle. And he totally smokes so much he like smokes when he’s not smoking! He said we could work something out for lessons? And I said that was like for real not happening in any universe and so then he said it’s two-hundred dollars for three nights. And I had to bring murdered cows hamburgers for his dinner. Every night! ‘Cause he said first I have to learn how to blow them, right, and then how to make them go bent when I do, and then how to make them look like something. That’s three nights? Yes! So, um, I thought you could go with me. We can take my car with the ‘thank you Jackson and Peach’ way stellar sounding tailpipe things you helped me put in.”

“You’ve thanked me like a hundred times for that when you did all the work. There were probably forty guys standing around Peach’s Garage waiting to see what a prima ballerina from Brentwood with jacked airshocks on a Firebird would do with a blow torch and pair of Cherry Bomb glasspaks. Peach couldn’t buy advertising like that. Let me get this straight, Logan.” He put everything of his on the tray and pushed it to the side. “I need to go with you to learn how to tie balloons into things like weener dogs and dragons because the balloon man is a creepy letch. And that’s two hundred bucks. After that you’re maybe going to bring an almost official Snow White costume to the games? Halfway through you’re going to stuff your pockets with balloons and make weird balloon things for everybody and tell princess stories? Probably based on ballets? Is that my picture of Logan and softball?”

“Yes! You way have it, amigo! Only like duh, Jackson. Ballets are totally based on princess stories, not the other way. And I have an apron from a wood store. You know, like the wood they build houses with? They have doors, too. At the wood store. You know, if you ever need one.” She caught his look. “A door, silly, not an apron. Anyway, the apron has biggo pockets for the balloons if Snow White is out ‘cause of the corps de ballet softball costumes. And that’s like totally okay, if it is. ‘Cause I can’t be like the only soloist, mega look-at-me ego bitch in a princess costume. That would be so-o totally wrong and I’m not, you know, like that. Unless, like when I am the soloist in the princess costume and then it’s okay if I’m a bitch ‘cause that’s for real like, um, you know, my job.” She reached over, set her pasteboard chicken and brocolli basket on his tray, took his last napkin and his wet wipe. “So now you have to kiss me out of my dress again quick before Saturday because I heard it’s like way big time against all your rules to cruise Big-O City with the softball team girls.”

“Logan, I can’t afford balloon lessons and another new coffee table. So —”

“Puh-leeze. You don’t have a coffee table, Jackson. That was at the French lady’s. You only have those like totally the best big pillows eh-ver.”

The Art of Drowning – Episode 7

Solemn Dancer – by Jac Forsyth

Faded and feathered know the solemn dancer. They fold with it and scold with it, and heaven knows they grow old with it. The land crawlers ticker-tape their warnings in a million parades, the biters growl and howl out uncertainty of tribe, and better than most the shallow breathers know how it plays out in drum and scum all the way down to the sea.

Truth is that ten thousand starless nights have taught me the flash of its soliloquies in scale and tail as well as I know my own. The mending of me was stank from the minds of fin and they play out that leap beyond soul more than any I have ever met. They live it like they live the ocean. The source it is, but not the knowing. And in all its abundance I too had forgotten that those who know it best no longer have a need for names.

So what of it here? Here with the takers and the breakers? So many pretty portraits painted that it’s hard to remember they all have the same stink ink behind their smiles. But it seems to me, child, that in all their certainty they still hunt and flee in the same direction.

I know you still see it too, crayoned in the scratchings, mapped out in the meaningless ribbons of their tempered tapestry. Because in all the wreckage of this unheeded I can taste the scars again, rust right through to mercury.

They play hummingbird with unasked questions while the plungers stay solid in their lifeboats and curse the sting of silver air. And so their denial soothes away the salt from my bones. The tower of minuets rings, the table shatters and I cocoon another piece of flesh from its toll. Strange that I had forgotten the hope of never feeling this again.

And what of your home, rag and bone? Will you watch the windows again? Will you waste the night with your thought taking? I have spoken with too many ghosts to imagine that life is the real priority here.

Fear I am but do not call me fear. For in all this broken water you still think of me in nouns. And I am fugitif.

The Art of Drowning – An Ethereal Mystery

3 writers, no destination – What could go wrong?

Ash N. Finn  The Perilous Reading Society  & Not Very Deep Thoughts

The Art of Drowning – Episode 6

My Candle is Dead – by Ash N. Finn

All in my head. All in my head. All in my head. All in my hay-ay-head.

She rocks back and forth on her haunches, knuckles bone white from gripping her ankles. The storm rages and batters the inside of her skull with a thousand burning drumsticks.

Don’t cry, my child. Your mother is dancing around the rag tree by the old black well to the wail of the banshee.

The angry ocean tosses the ship high and low until it breaks in two. Your father feeds his rattling breath to the eye of the storm. Like every lost sailor before and after him. This here rag is for you, my child. Sing a wish for your father to the torn shroud. It’s going on the rag tree by the old black well. Your mother won’t let the banshee steal it. Take solace from your mother’s ancient practice. Sing your song in your father’s tongue.

A hand, icy to her burning skin, grasps her by the shoulder and stops her rocking.

“Evelyn, please, open your eyes, look at me. Here, take this with some water and you’ll feel better in no time.”

“Tell them we have to find the children and grandchildren of the lost ones before it’s too late!”

“You just had another one of your episodes, dear. Take your Xanax, please.”

The nurse places a pill on Evelyn’s tongue and lifts the glass to her lips. Evelyn swallows obediently, the whites of her eyes ablaze with the remnant of her vision. She grabs the nurse’s arm and pulls her closer.

“Who is your father, child? Do you know the singing child? Promise you’ll tell them. They need to find the singing child, find the children, the children’s children. So many lost fathers. So much anger and desperation. The children,” Evelyn’s voice trails off and she allows the nurse to guide her onto her bed, “Promise you’ll tell them.”

“I will, Evelyn, but it’s all in your head. Rest your poor head now. Here, I’ll hold your hand until you fall asleep. Everything will be fine, you’ll see. Sleep now.”

Evelyn drifts off into an uneasy sleep. The singing child smiles and places a rag over her head, prête-moi ta plume … pour écrire un mot … ma chandelle est morte … je n’ai plus de feu … ouvre-moi ta porte.

The Art of Drowning – An Ethereal Mystery

3 writers, no destination – What could go wrong?

Ash N. Finn  The Perilous Reading Society  & Not Very Deep Thoughts

The Roommate

From ‘The Hot Girl’ Part Three

England was cold. A deep, set in cold. Not a big snowfall cold, just a background damp gets-in-your-bones cold. It was thirty-seven degrees, it had rained almost every day for the first two weeks she’d been there and tonight was no different.

“Come on. Goddammit, open.” The cold drip from the useless, narrow awning over the door was going straight between her collar and her neck. “If you don’t –” She bumped the stubborn door with her hip when she twisted the key and the solid wood door with a thousand coats of pain banged open, dropped her into the flat on her hands and knees. She crawled inside, shook off the rain like a wet Golden Retriever. A quick glance told her Merriam had a fire going, that was rare, and really nice. And music. A soft, folky kind of — “NOOOOOOO! NO NO NO! MERRIAM STOP!! I MEAN IT, DON’T. OH MY GOD. OH – MY – GOD!!” Deanna was about to bite a hole in her right index finger.

“Deanna? Lass? A ghost is it?”

“Just don’t, okay? Put it down, okay? Just…Don’t. Okay?”

“Don’t what okay?”

All Deanna could see was the straight razor in Merriam’s right hand and a guy’s rapidly failing erection in her left. He was stretched out on the nap mat in front of the fire, shirt and sweater still on, nothing below the waist. He’d rolled his head to the side to stare at her. Merriam was on the far side fully dressed, leaning on her hip, legs stretched out, working the now half-staff erection with her fingernails. There was a bottle of scotch sitting on the floor beside the guy on Deanna’s side, two short water glasses beside it. The big soap cup with JOHNSON on it that was usually on the sink in the bathroom that Deanna thought was weird but okay, if that’s how Merriam shaved her legs, was sitting on the left side of the guy’s abdomen. Kind of in the way of Deanna being able to see exactly what Merriam was doing.

The guy turned his head back to Merriam. “I’ll be seeing a knock down then, her having a look?”

“No, love, your money’s well spent. This is our American lass I told you as might be about. She’s not much for a drink or a shag or even a naughty bit of chat. Early days, though. He’s coming back, your lad. Never mind her. Sure as the sun rises she’s seen a todge or two and yours is naught to set in the record books.” She scratched his chest like a dog and giggled.

“True told but it pleasures me well enough. And thinking of her helps him along. A stunner of a drowned cat.” They both snort laughed. He raised his head more, sipped from one of the glasses.

“Lay back, love, I’ve Johnny’s full attention again.” Merriam dunked the beaver bristle brush in a bowl of water, spun it around in the JOHNSON soap cup and lathered up the floor guy’s fully recovered manhood while she held it from the tip, her fingers like a claw. She picked up the razor again, moved in with it.

Deanna screamed, banged into the end of the couch, spun off it into her room and slammed the door.

***

Twenty minutes later Merriam knocked lightly. “Deanna? All’s done.”

“I don’t want to see. I don’t want to know. I don’t.”

“Nothing to see, lass. He’s off down the pub.”

“Really? Gone? Did you clean up the blood? Oh, God. Am I in trouble just for being here?”

Merriam pushed the door open and sat on the bed next to her completely freaked out flat mate. “There was no blood. I’m a professional, lass. I’ll have an Italian peach shaved into a nectarine if I choose. Come out. The fire’s back up and your hands are ice.”

Deanna wrapped herself in a hunting scene throw from the back of Cat’s couch, sat cross legged off to the side of the fire and sipped warm, slightly scotch infused tea while she watched Merriam wipe the nap mat down with alcohol and a paper towel.

“So you just shave them? You don’t, you know, I thought you were going to, well…” she blushed. “You know, whack it off. Not like that, but…”

“A shave is all, and as some feel it they may ‘let go.’ I’ve no trouble with that unless it’s been too long and too much or they have the power of a fire hose. She held out her hands, mimicked holding a high pressure hose pulling them around. “That’s a mess as I’ve seen and cleaned and I’ll not wish for another.”

“God, Merriam, that’s disgusting.”

“The mess? It can be, but twenty quid, some double that for a shoulder or leg massage, all for a half hour spent. Nothing depraved in a shave, Cat’s ill thinking tossed. That’s my advert and that’s what I do. If they choose to bring their spunk to the mat that’s their doing, not mine.”

“No, all of it is disgusting. You played with it! Those nails of yours, I saw that. You can’t say you have nothing to do with it when he was, well, you know, all big and everything from you doing that stuff.”

“So I have a bit of play. And truth told that’s my fun in it. I rate myself a first in todger gardening without shame as I like to see a Johnny rise and bloom. There’s something for me in knowing that, and all stays free of romance or another sweaty hump and gone, mess in the bed shag. A bit of a chat and a stroke. I’m in control and I have my fun. They leave as a polished billiard’s cue and pair with a load off, and I’ve had mine.”

“But the police. What about the police, and you just sort of, well, you know doing that and everything?”

“I’ve never! I shave, I do.” She winked. “And that’s all. I’ve had a copper or two as well. One on his own and another to see as I was up to. The mug stays out and the lather goes on and it’s a shave. As told, they bring what they will, I bring a razor and cup. You truly believed me to be relieving him of his bits of man bother altogether?”

“Yes. Sorry. I just saw the razor, and him and, and…Yes.”

“Your worry was for the mess and the after, or for him?”

“No, not him. I was worried about your new rug and the blood and everything. You can cut them all off if you want, I don’t care.”

“The lad in the frame on your chest as well?”

“Especially him. Only maybe you could save it in a jar in the freezer or something and I can get it put back on him when I go home.”

Chesterfield’s Woman

“You sure about this place, Lamar?” Upjohn’s squint through the windshield wipers only deepened the furrow between his bushy gray eyebrows.

“Sure as it’s rainin’. Problem?”

“Little ol’ Texas town like this? Like women’s nylons, Lamar. They either black, brown, or suntan. Ain’t up to no mix your own toffee color goin’ on.”

“You’ve been black since it was illegal, Upjohn. The county courthouse is across the street, and we’re close enough to civilization you can sit where you want. I’ve been plenty of places with you I shouldn’t have been. Come on. The peach pie with glazed walnuts will give you diabetes.”

“You told me they had themselves a chicken-fried steak sandwich worth the drive.”

“That they do. Worth bein’ thrown in shackles for. You bein’ Old Black Blues Upjohn and me bein’ seen with you. We make a fine pair of old jailbirds.” Upjohn could see Lamar’s smile reflected in the GPS screen.

“You understand I put enough gas in my car to run the air conditioner and carry me some cash money when Sonic brings steak sandwiches back every so often. They’re getting’ rare as hen’s teeth, everybody livin’ so damn healthy.”

“This place’ll put some serious hurt on Sonic.”

“That I can believe. This place bein’ all smiles, not so much. And I’m about to get wet, and I hate to get wet, so you’d best not be lyin’ about that pie.”

***

“Two, gentlemen? Little early for lunch, little late for breakfast.” She was petite, fifty something, still going on twenty. Tight t-shirt, tight jeans and all. “Table or a booth?” Lamar deferred, Upjohn took a table close to the noisy lunch counter that stretched across the back.

“Feelin’ any better?”

“There’s a black fella looks a lot like me back there cookin’ with those skinny tattooed kids, don’t know if I trust him or not. But these folks out here mix it up like we were in a real town.” He nodded toward a booth by the window. “Sixty years gone those two overalls boys mighta come to see me play and tried to lynch me after. They way too old to be dangerous now, so other’n that we’re okay. You like that waitress?”

“Could have been a cheerleader who never got over it that I went to school with.  Her jeans get any tighter we can text 911 for a fire truck on that iPhone in her back pocket, next time she walks by. Cool you off a little.”

“I knew I taught you somethin’. I tell you I had Chesterfield stayin’ with me for a while?” They held up the menus, waited while the coffee slid in with the dinner rolls and butter.

“Nope. Chesterfield’s one from yesterday. He have a real name?”

“I never heard it if he did. Chesterfield was all there was. Chain smokin’ sax man. Orange fingers and orange reeds. Can’t believe he’s not dead and gone and buried in an ashtray.”

“He still keepin’ his clothes in the case with his sax?”

“Damn straight.” Upjohn chuckled, pulled a dinner roll apart. “Two pairs of underwear, two pairs of socks, a shirt and a cheap backup suit. Man lived his entire life like he was on the road.” He smoothed a knife full of butter on half the roll, tried it, talked through it. “Which he was. Road goin’ to nowhere when he called me.”

“I thought his kids left him a house somewhere. St. Louis, maybe.”

“No, that’s Clifton, the harelipped trumpet player with the crooked mustache, that’s who you’re thinkin’ about. But St. Louis, now, it was one of the places I recall had a real chicken-fried steak sandwich. Back then we had to wait for the white folks to go home to get one, but it was worth the wait. Other one worth eatin’ I remember was a little place on the barely legal side outside Altus, Oklahoma. Looked like a counterfeit Dairy Queen with a metal barn behind it. Gravel and grass and rust. The flyboys from that airbase would come in and drink, throw some dice, listen to us blow and talk up the hookers they rotated in out of Biloxi and N’Awlins. Kept those girls in the woods out back in an old Airstream set up on cinder blocks.” Upjohn spaced and Lamar could see a young Upjohn sitting in that Airstream, drinking cheap bourbon, smoking a cigar, playing cards and talking shit with the ladies till the sun came up. Upjohn drifted back, stuffed the remains of the half a dinner roll in his mouth. “Anyway, Chesterfield pulled up at my place for a couple of weeks. He moped a while, tightened up his money situation and got gone to Florida.”

“He have a story on how he got to where he was?”

“Nothin’ much to it. Told me someone stole – God damn, Lamar.” Upjohn flashed his snap-in smile at the waitress. “Could you be as sweet as you are pretty and bring this old man a knife? A sharp knife?”

“Upjohn, you’re gonna throw your neck out following that business.”

“Just seein’ if your goggles were on straight about the iPhone.” He waited for the waitress to smile back when she set his knife down, on a fresh napkin. “You’re an angel.” He watched her second retreat as closely as the first. “Jesus, Lamar. Only way to eat this damn thing is cut it in half.”

“I told you.”

“Didn’t tell me it was a damn cow on a loaf of bread.” Lamar took the knife from Upjohn, split his own sandwich while they listened to the bus boy bang a couple of gray trash buckets of ice into the drink machine, watched a couple of furtive young waitresses hold their phones low behind the counter and try to text on the sly like the noise distracted everybody.

“You were sayin’ somebody stole somethin’ from Chesterfield. That why he was stayin’ with you?”

“Shit, Lamar. Nobody stole nothin’. Man’s too old to be shook up about how somebody stole his woman.”

“You told me once that any age is too old to be shook up about that.”

“True. Nobody never stole anybody’s woman that the woman didn’t want herself to be stole in the first place. They park themselves downtown on the front seat of an unlocked car with the windows down, dressed up and lookin’ for all the world like a handbag full of money or the only surviving bootleg tape of the Beatles reunion. I told Chesterfield it wouldn’t have mattered if he’d gone on and rolled up the windows, locked the doors and bought himself an alarm. Woman wants to be stolen, she’ll get stolen.” He used his thumb to stuff a thick tomato slice that was trying to escape back where it belonged between a lettuce leaf and the bun, stuck the gravy covered thumb in his mouth. “Now a man loses his guitar or his saxophone to leavin’ it out of his control, that’s stupid and larceny. Ain’t no man ever got a woman under control, no matter what he thinks. Time comes she gets herself stolen, ain’t no need to call the po-lice, either, ‘cause she was gone ‘fore she come off the front seat. Man needs to understand that as natural fact.”

“Good thing about bein’ a piano player. Nobody’s stupid enough to try and steal one.”

“No one with a lick of sense would steal a woman, either. She’s sittin’ there all lipsticked up, man should know it ain’t the first or last time. What looks like treasure just gonna find a new home it comes time to be stolen again.”

“Pie, gentleman?” She smiled, leaned into the back of an empty chair on the heels of hands, wrists out. “Oh my. You have a ways to go with that sandwich.” She put a hand on Upjohn’s arm. “Now, if you promise you won’t short my tip for not eatin’ all of it here, I’ll bring a to-go box. But you have to think about me when you have it for supper.”

Upjohn flashed his own store-bought smile again. “I have to tip you extra and ahead of time for that?”

“Don’t be silly. You only have to tip when you come see me. Which I know will be regular from now on, right? Pie?”

“Two. You got a scoop of butter pecan with my name on it in this place?”

“See what I can do.” She winked, squeezed his shoulder when she walked off.

“Upjohn? Damn man. You can’t ever eat pie without ice cream? And turn around. You’re gonna need a chiropractor when we get out of here.”

“Ice cream’s a requirement for restaurant pie. And that girl could sell ice to Eskimos, Lamar. Bet she’s been stolen more than a time or three. Back when? She could have played me like the radio while she was sittin’ there with the windows down, waitin’ to be snatched away.”

“Well, she’d have to. She couldn’t play you like the only Beatles Reunion bootleg tape.”

“How you figure?”

“There was never a Beatles reunion.”

“Maybe not.” He moved his napkin for the warm pie with a huge scoop of ice cream to land, turned around again. He turned back, wagged his fork at Lamar. “And maybe?” He nodded in the direction of their waitress who was off working the old overalls guys. “Maybe there was and it’s like that little waitress of ours and Chesterfield’s woman. It’s only a fact that tape ain’t available ‘till it turns up sittin’ on the front seat waitin’ to be stolen. Again.”

Strays

If you’ve read any of this blog, you’ve met Deanna Collings. Meet Jackson, the other star of The Hot Girl.

Long Beach, CA. Summer 1981

“Sky? Whoa. S’up, kid? You’re a ways from San Diego County. Your mom know you’re here?” Jackson backed away from the door of his apartment to let his ex-neighbor by. He recognized the electric guitar case almost as big as the girl, took in the dirty converses along with the red eyes, pink nose and windblown hair. “Hey, hey. Whoa for real to you.” He put out his hand and tried to stop the giant, filthy gray dog right on her heels who ignored him, followed her inside, sniffed up his small living room and flopped on the old hardwood under the open living room window.

“S’up yourself, Jackson. No. Mom doesn’t…I took the bus. I hate San Diego. Fucking hate it. And I, well not me, some total jerkface broke my guitar and it’s all mom’s fault because this jerkface she was dating has this kid, he’s the first jerkface I said, and he twisted the tuning keys too much and some other stuff and the whammy bar is all loose and now my guitar is all messed up and will never be okay.”

“Broken axe is no reason to bail on home. You know you can call me, we’ll deal. What else you got makes a bus ride from SD worth it?”

“Mom said I was stupid for wanting to play softball. With you. But everybody says I’m good. And I really need help with my summer school English teacher, Jackson, ‘cause she hates me. Everybody messes with me all the time down there and everybody hates me…” She leaned her electric guitar case on the couch, sat down next to it and started to snuffle. Jackson didn’t like to deal with women in their twenties to nineties crying. Almost thirteen broke his heart.

“Coke? I have the brownies you hipped me to from Stenson’s, some stale cinnamon rolls Logan brought from the good Lucky’s in Brentwood, and Oreos.”

“Coke. Please. And an Oreo?” She huge snuffled. He set a box of Kleenex next to her on the way to the fridge, dropped the storyboard for the commercial he’d been working on in the kitchen. Like him, it wasn’t going anywhere in a hurry.

“I like your new couches, Jackson. And clean pillows and stuff. Dash’s stuff was gross. I’m sorry I’m here, but I couldn’t do it anymore, and you’re like the only real runaway I ever met. So…” The tears came again, big and round, without noise.

“I’m not a real runaway, Sky. I guess I was, in a way. I waited so long to leave I had to run and I did do a pretty bunk job of it.” He squeezed her shoulder, handed her a Coke with ice and a straw in a tall, real glass, set the Oreos on the end table. He’d helped her through enough homework afternoons when she’d lived next door to know Sky and one Oreo wasn’t going to happen.

She snuffled again. “Cool! Real glass? For me?” She looked at him, big red eyes and a little bit of snotty nose. She started to wipe it all on her sleeve, he caught it, gave her a dish towel with a damp corner he’d brought with the Cokes, nudged the Kleenex box toward her.

“Not much longer on the glass, kid. Twelve is done and you’re done. I save the plastic ones for grownups.”

“Then I won’t have another birthday.”

“Yeah you will. You can lie and tell me you’re twelve when you’re not. I forget about birthdays and how many of them. Stupid, huh?”

“Yeah, kinda. ‘Cause everybody has one. Mom says hers have stopped but that’s BS. Don’t tell, but she has gray hairs now. She has to dye them.”

“Call her for me? You might be responsible for some of those gray hairs.”

“‘Kay. In a minute.” They sat in silence with their Cokes, interrupted by occasional snuffle recovery nose blowing.

“Where’d you get the dog?”

“From around the corner by the bus stop. Like it was waiting for me.”

“He stinks.”

“Yeah, but she’s really nice, and she scared off the Deja Vu parking lot pervs.” Sky tossed a twisted off Oreo top to the dog who caught and inhaled it.

“Jesus.” Jackson leaned onto his knees, put his hand on top of the case. “Show me your guitar?”

“Yeah. I’m sorry he broke it. Jerkface. I haven’t been to my lesson in two whole weeks.”

She popped the case latches, lifted the lid. He was expecting a hanging headstock, splinters, guitar guts. What he got were three broken strings, a bent tuning key and a loose whammy bar from the missing strings.

“Nothing major, but it’s still a pisser, huh? Only a head case would mess with your axe that way. What’d your mom say?”

“She said one day I’d understand that girls need some attention certain kinds of ways and she, well, she was sorry and she’d wait till I was older. For men and stuff to be in the house again and everything, and she was sorry, too, ‘cause anybody who’d break my guitar was stupid and maybe dangerous and I didn’t need to be around people like that.”

“Good for her.” He waited, let her snuffle a couple of times.

“Mom said I was the only thing she ever did right, not letting me be her ‘nother abortion, and nothing better ever happen to me ‘cause I was her gift. Her one little ray of hope that someday being a girl wouldn’t be so screwed up, even if I cuss too much and I get mad at people for acting stupid.” She snuffled, smaller this time. “Can you believe she said that?”

“Yeah. Truth? It took serious mom guts to tell you how much she really does love you all rolled up in that. Don’t worry about the cussing and getting mad. I know a couple of girls a lot like you, didn’t seem to stop them.”

“Did they grow up okay?”

He thought about that one for a few ticks. “I think growin’ up is something we do forever.” He sipped his Coke while he waited for that to hit. “Your mom doesn’t want you to play softball?”

“Only at the park with the little league mixed team. Not with you. She says I’m too young and too much trouble and shouldn’t bother you with all my junk and the only reason is ‘cause I want to hang out with the TV people I saw you with in the paper. And that’s BS, too. ‘Cause I can play okay for a girl and your team’s all girls mostly and I’m not too much trouble. Except for mom. And summer school. Since we moved my English grades suck again and my teachers all hate me ‘cause I’m flippant. That’s what they all say. Flippant.”

“You look it up?”

“It means smart ass when you can’t say smart ass.”

“There you go. It’s like skin, kinda. Get used to it, ‘cause it stays with you, trust me. And look, people make excuses for you not being able to do stuff without really getting to it. Your mom works some Saturdays and it’s a haul in all the traffic up to Long Beach or Santa Monica from SD. Ask her about that, see if there’s something you can work out. Better grades and sitting on flippant might net you a ride.”

“You think?”

“Duh.” He grinned, clinked her glass. “You get square with your mom and summer school. You show, you can play.” He’d never thought of charity softball being used as academic performance leverage, but here it was. “You know why we play softball?”

“For some charity, mom said.”

“That’s right. It’s the ‘somebody always has time to help girls with troubles’ charity. Call your mom, tell her where you are. I’ll talk her down and you go wash your face. We’ll get right with your mom first, then we can go get your guitar fixed, grab an In ‘n Out. We can hit that English workbook in your case if you want. I can even run you back down there later if your mom needs me to.”

“Like right now? My guitar and everything? We can do all that?”

“Yep.” He dropped the lid and latched her case. “From here you look a lot like one of those girls with troubles. And I look like the somebody who needs to have some time.” He took her empty glass, left an Oreo on the table, tossed one to the dog. “Go call your mom.” He checked the stinky mess of gray dog again. “Before all her hair turns gray.”

***

Jackson slid Sky’s guitar case in and down, eased the hatch closed on the new Corolla hatchback that had replaced her mom’s gasping Pinto. Watched in silence while Sky tugged on her mom’s arm, showed her the one hour photos. “No shit, Mom! Look! Honey Muffin from Skanque! She helped fix my guitar! Mine! Can you believe it? She used to live here, ‘member?” He walked around the car, got a big hug from Sky and a one-armed upset but thank you mom-ish hug from Star.

“Thanks. Again.” Star tilted her head toward the passenger side of the car.

“You’re welcome.” He closed the car door, leaned down into the window. “You two cut each other some slack, okay? You’re all you’ve got for family, and lonesome sucks.”

“We got you, too, Mr. Jackson. And now you got us and that big, stinky dog.”

“I come out ahead on that deal, even with the dog. Sky?” He put his finger on his temple. “Hit record, print this. Call me before you ever get on a bus again.” He waited until the Corolla made the left toward the ocean in the Long Beach twilight before he turned around, looked at the tall, matted, gray haired dumpster stank with four feet standing in front of him.

“What the hell am I supposed to do with you?” The Wolfhound put its front paws on his shoulders, licked his nose. He glanced down, did a gender check. Sky had been right about he being a she. “Just what I need in my life. One more female runaway.”

Photo Credit- Gresham Guitars

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Romantics

She reached out with her first two fingers, touched the painted plate at 17 Molton St, London, and  left them there as big, silent tears rolled down her cheeks. People stared, she didn’t care. Deanna had ridden the train, by herself, from Cambridge to London for this visit to the last of William Blake’s original residences, only to discover it was another commercial address, not a shrine. She finally dropped her fingers, lowered her head in disheartened resolution.

“‘I wander thro’ each charter’d street, Near where the charter’d Thames does flow. And mark in every face I meet, Marks of weakness, marks of woe.’” A black wool coat covered arm ending in a manicured hand reached out, touched the plaque where Deanna’s fingers had been. She looked up and an elegant man, easily her father’s age or older, had taken up residence on the sidewalk beside her.

“You know about Blake? Really? That was him, the opening to London. I’ve always read it as bleak, but it was beautiful, how you quoted it. Sorry…I never…” She looked down again, the cloud over her returned.

“One needs to stand in a man’s shadow to understand his journey, and his poetry.” He handed Deanna a clean, folded, white handkerchief. “Dry your eyes. That was his story, his London. Commerce and need ruled the day in Old London Town, then as now. Blake knew that, as should you.” He took in all of Deanna, from the savage scissor attack of her hair to her ill fitting jeans and bulky sweater, the ski jacket tied around her waist and well worn running shoes, her pale complexion and sad eyes. “Student, or…” He wondered how a man his age should address a possible street girl or one of the thousands of foreign kids “finding themselves” by riding trains, smoking hash and sleeping in the growing number of hostels.

“Student. Newnham, Cambridge.” She turned, grabbed his coat behind his elbow, and glared at him. “It’s a bar, mister whoever you are. Blake’s house is a fucking bar! How can they do that?”

“It’s not him in Westminster Abbey, nor St. Mary’s. Nor any other place where they’ve hung a plaque with his name. Blake lives here,” he touched his chest over his heart. “Which I daresay is where he’d much prefer to reside with you.”

“Really?”

“Yes. As much as we can know a dead man’s wishes. Step inside. It’s a landmark, not a grave. My treat?”

“NO. It’s a —”

“Fucking bar. Yes, you’ve said. And I said one should trod the path of the man and salute his memory. Sandwiches and expensive drinks with a French flair make it no less Blake’s. I’m on my own today and it has been an age, several ages I might be obliged, since I’ve enjoyed a lively discussion of Blake with an overly serious young woman.”

“Are you a professor or something?”

“Or something. If it will put you at ease, I ask only for conversation. I am not, as is commonly observed when men my age seek to engage with young women, ‘a dirty old man.’”

Deanna could tell by the long wool coat, open scarf, creases, shiny shoes and hair cut he wasn’t dirty, or too old. Too old for that, but not too old to eat lunch with like a professor. And he had quoted Blake.

They followed the hostess to a small table at the back wall where he held her chair with one hand while he draped his coat over his own, sat down across from her.

“Okay.” Deanna felt trapped against the wall. “No funny business. I don’t do that.” She watched as he settled his napkin on his thigh and pushed his menu aside and she allowed herself to absorb some of his relaxed demeanor.

“A tired girl a long way from home, who has so obviously spent her food allowance on a train ticket to London only to arrive and discover desecration of what she thought Holy, then proceed to carry on crying about it, I wouldn’t think a ‘funny business’ type.”

“How do you know? Do you look for ‘funny business’ types?”

“No. I have daughters. One of them a hopeless romantic. I cried here myself when I was seventeen. Not so anyone would know, but there I was, just as you were. Would you prefer to sit on this side, and I on yours?”

“No. No that’s…I’m okay. Now.”

“Good. Blake and a double ham croissant are on order, I believe? Swiss or?”

“Yes. Yes, Swiss. Please. Did you know…”

***

Evan Drucker stood in the entryway of his Dawson Place home, handed his wife his coat and scarf, kissed her longer than the usual peck.

“So is it takeaway or some other mischief you fancy?”

“Takeaway? I might do. I took a walk and ate out once today.”

She dropped his coat over one arm and reached for a hanger in the closet she’d opened. “You’ll have me ask again?”

“No. Have you had a call from either of the girls?”

“Not midweek. I wouldn’t, would I? They have school and lives of their own.” She hung the scarf over the coat and closed the closet door. “Now I’ll have that ask, if you don’t mind.”

“I ate lunch with our Avey today.”

“Avianna? Where?”

“Having a quiet cry at Blake’s on Molton.”

“You took her there often enough. The two of you banging on like a pair of Romantic rabblers.” She picked up the faraway look in his eyes. “Our Avey’s away at school in the States, Evan. So who was it you saw shed tears for your Blake?”

“Her name was Deanna Collings, or so she said. An American girl studying in Cambridge, come to mourn at Blake’s. Seemed quite bright and deeply informed. She was a mess of a pretty young girl, though, and scared to death. Called what’s behind Blake’s plaque ‘a fucking bar.’”

“Ah, with the mess of a look and the language then it was our Avey.” She smiled, tugged on his tie. “I hope you’re both the better, having had Blake on for lunch. The kitchen’s cold and I fancy a curry. You?”

“I fancy a prayer for all our faraway romantic daughters, and a drink.” He reached one arm around her, leaned and kissed her on the forehead, checked her expression when he let her go. “Right. And a curry.”