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.”

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.”

Knock Knock

Late Summer 1967, Paris, France

She stood in the window, interlaced her fingers, stretched her arms over her head and yawned, felt her long, silk nightgown almost too much to be wearing against the sun. Three months ago she had been Amanda Vincent. Twenty-two, Masters with Honors from Cambridge, madly in love enough with a beautiful French-Italian playboy to walk out in the middle of her Ph.D. in International Finance. This late Monday morning she was young bride of three months Amanda Morisè, daydreaming out the window of a third-floor Montmartre apartment at the noise and dust of Paris, the memory of day long lovemaking fresh in her mind. It was late summer, warm, close. A light knock on the door brought her back to Earth.

She answered the knock to find a young woman much like herself, wearing a soft cotton summer dress, hair pulled up loosely against the heat, her arms crossed at her wrists, waiting. She had the bluest eyes Amanda had ever seen.

“Amanda? Amanda Morisè?” From the sound of her voice her visitor was very French. And on the verge of impatience overcoming her mannered demeanor. “Je peut entrer? To speak a moment? The matter I think most important?”

Amanda was still somewhere between her daydreams and the young woman standing in the open door. “Yes. Yes…of course. My manners escape me…”  As her visitor passed she thought that if whatever was holding her guest’s hair together let go, it might just explode off her head.

“You possess the mind of his charm, Madame,” her guest said as she passed. “I am Alixandrie. It is too formal, I agree. I am called Alix. As in your America, now we shake the hands, oui?” The blue-eyed girl’s English was much better than Amanda’s French. Alix declared a halt to further polite formalities and launched into a story, told in a series of broken sentences wrenched from the center of her being. Some tears were shed in the telling and it ended with “I believe you also are married to my husband, Yannick Morisè.”

“No, that’s quite impossible,” Amanda’s tone completely dismissive of Alix’s story of a whirlwind romance followed closely by betrayal. “I know you’re upset, but you’ve made a mistake. I’m sorry for whatever your husband may have done, but my husband left just this morning for Marseille. His name is Yannick, but it’s not an unusual name, neither is Morisè.” Her daydreams returned, she saw them eating breakfast together, barely clothed, he spanked her lightly on her behind as she walked past him with her coffee. How, as he was leaving, he had bent over, dropped an end of his tie down her robe, raised his eyebrows, smiled when it followed him as he stood after a quick, deep kiss goodbye.

“No! No, I tell you he is in a house in Saint-Germain-en-Laye, half of one hour’s train ride from Paris. He believes I have come to Paris to discover an answer of my pregnancy. You are assured, Madame Morisè, I am not. I have come to meet you, the wife he married two weeks after me. Of treachery as such, be most assured!”

Alix removed a note card from her black leather clutch with an address in Saint-Germain printed at the top. “I am not believed? By you, his beautiful American woman? Tomorrow he will be away the day. If not for you, perhaps another wife? The Mademoiselle of flowers waits in the road from the station of trains. Show her this.” She took Amanda’s hand and smashed the card in her palm. “She will show the way to you. Tomorrow.” Her face softened. “Offer her kindness, please, the flowers girl. If what is discovered in Saint-Germane you cannot believe? No more will I speak of it to you.”

The blue of Alix’s eyes burned through the redness of recent tears straight into Amanda’s own before she gently moved a strap of Amanda’s nightgown back onto her shoulder, turned and walked quietly away. The soft fragrance of fresh flowers followed her. She put Amanda in mind of a small, beautifully sad garden as she pulled the door closed softly behind her, not quite closing it all the way.

Amanda looked at the card. Quite a girl, and even more of a story. Yes, Yannick had married her in a quiet civil ceremony, that was true. Often accused by the press of squandering his inheritance on a laundry list of immoral pursuits, he’d told her he needed no more publicity. That it was best his enemies, even his friends, not know that he now had such a beautiful wife. She had agreed. He could get her to do whatever he wanted. The things he said, the things he did to her, with her…It was all a lie. It must be. A jealous girlfriend with a story, attempting to start some girl nonsense. She would go to Saint-Germaine in the morning and get the truth from the lovely little French girl with her wild hair, blue eyes, and pathetic little lie.

***

When shown the card, the flower girl said “Oh, Oui,” and spoke rapidly and only  in French that she knew the way, offered to walk with Amanda.

“No, thank you.” Amanda tried to politely extricate her hand from the flower girl’s. “I prefer the quiet. It’s so unlike Paris.” She tried in English, and her best French, the flower girl not understanding. Amanda finally said, “Mercì” for the all the girl’s pointing and handed her a silver 10 Franc coin, which made the flower girl squeal, take Amanda’s hand back and kiss it until she had to pull it away.

The tiny house was no more than a half a mile from the station, off a narrow street. She passed through the hedge wall in front and knocked with purpose. Alix answered and the door opened into a cool, dark room. Amanda wanted to say “Show me your evidence, tell me your tale, cry and let me leave. My husband will be home tomorrow.” Alix’s blue eyes were burning, lighting up the dark entryway. Amanda decided she might be better served with tact. It wouldn’t kill her to be polite. The girl was obviously hurt, give her a chance. Hear her out. It was a lovely village, so quiet after Paris, and Alix’s cottage was remarkably cool.

“I have said you are most beautiful,” Alix pulled the runaway strands of Amanda’s hair from her cheek, pushed them gently behind her ear. “Sad, no? Two beautiful women should meet such as this, our lives entwined in deceit.”

“I’m still certain there’s been a mistake of some kind, I —” Alix’s touch had been light as a feather, warm and cool at the same time…

“I talk too much to you, his beautiful American woman. See your ‘husband,’ Yannick Morisè. Come.”

Amanda had heard at Cambridge, mostly by way of racial innuendo, that French girls were temperamental, hot headed. Meaner than Spanish girls, smarter than English girls, sexier than Italian girls. This was always said by someone in a pub, in a fake French accent. It might just be true.

She followed Alix down a short hallway to a small bedroom dominated by a double bed, the window at the foot of it open where a light breeze drifted in, bringing with it a garden awash in flowers. It felt like home should feel. No, this wasn’t Paris. A view of trees some ten yards distant replaced the dusty haze that surrounded the Eiffel tower. The soft rustling of the hedge, the flowers. It was serene, like she was inside of poetry, so –

Alix practically ripped the doors off a double armoire, banging them violently on the cabinet’s side. Inside, Yannick’s signature blousy, white collarless shirts he had handmade in Florence hung there in testament to his presence. His white collared dress shirt from the High Street in Oxford. No…Surely, they weren’t her Yannick’s. They couldn’t be.

Alix picked up a man’s lacquered jewelry box, dumped the contents on the armoire’s shelf and tossed the box to the floor. Amanda recognized a familiar pair of cufflinks, the Tissot watch she had bought him as a wedding gift. No, no, no…She lifted the watch as if it were unreal, turned it over to see the “Love Always, C.A.M.” she’d had engraved on the back. She was shaking. She tugged on a shirt, softly at first, then violently, ripping it from its hanger to stare blankly at the tailor’s mark on the bottom. YFM, a number. It was true. It was all true. The compact bundle of electric French girl had told her the truth.

Alix saw her start to fold and set her on the edge of the bed, keeping her hands on Amanda’s shoulders. “No more tears. No more for this bastard, our ‘husband,’ will there be tears. Your Father has wealth I am certain?”

“Yes.” She felt dizzy, sick…

“As also mine. This Yannick desires more than beauty or sex, our money to waste. Do not faint on me, Amanda. The steps we take most severe to destroy him, he will not destroy us.” She looked Amanda in the eye, shook her shoulders. “We have the means. In France also the women may judge these things. Divorce him together, destroy him together. Together. For all women we shame this misery from the face of France!”

Alix left the room and returned with brandy in a water glass, gave it to Amanda and waited a few minutes for it to hit. When Amanda had calmed, Alix walked with her slowly, held her hand all the way to the station where they sat together on a worn, wooden bench and waited for the train. “Be strong for us,” Alix whispered when she kissed Amanda on the cheek before releasing her to board the train. “Be. Strong.”

***

Alix had said “We must be taken ill when he returns to us. He cannot touch us. No sex, no control, unable to attend the bank for him? He will go mad.” Amanda stuck to her orders from Alix, feigned “ill”, kept her mouth shut while her anger and her heart simmered into a slow boil for the two days Yannick was home before he was off to Florence on “business.”

Amanda had not only inherited her father’s money, but her one character flaw as well. Impatience. She didn’t wait well, didn’t like, as her father had said, to “let shit ride.” Now she’d let some sweet talking, hot love making pretty boy French bastard take over her body, her mind, her very soul. Let him blind her, blindside her, and marry her just two weeks after he’d married a wild, rich, blue-eyed French girl. Who the hell did he think he was?

Whatever Yannick’s business in Italy, it had been unpleasant. On his return he was irritable, needed a shave, needed a shower, wanted a woman. He drank champagne from the bottle, directed loud, profane insults at Amanda in three languages, asked her why did he have a sick wife he couldn’t fuck? She lost it. Told him she knew. About Alix, about all of it. Because some “arrogant, idiot, dickless bastard had left a watch in a cottage in Saint-Germain.” She called him “the most useless piece of shit excuse for a man ever born.” An outburst that left her on the floor of their bathroom semi-conscious with a broken jaw, a cracked cheekbone and two fewer teeth than she’d had that Sunday morning. Lying on the floor, consciousness fading, all she could think of was Alix. Unaware, alone, and directly in Yannick’s path. He had stormed out in such a rage. He was dangerous. Alix needed to get away…To be safe…Amanda passed out thinking of her, of Alix, the French girl with those blue, blue eyes.

Yannick arrived in Saint-Germaine, at least as drunk and more self-righteously enraged than when he’d left Paris. Alix refused to let him in, but she did let him make enough noise pounding on the door and screaming profanity at her to wake her neighbors. He found an axe leaning against the woodpile, used it to break down the front door. When he was at last standing inside, dripping sweat, axe raised and with a dozen or so neighbors looking on, Alix shot him four times with the Walther PPK her father had taken from a dead German officer in 1944. She dropped the pistol on Yannick’s body when she stepped over it and through the splintered door into the late summer night. She would take the next train to Paris, find the beautiful American woman and tell her the good news. Tell her how a passionate, blue eyed French girl with impossible hair had begun to feel about her, see what she thought about that.

Revised and Updated

Mighta Shoulda Woulda

“Me? You askin’ me about true love?” Old Upjohn squinted across the table. “Lamar, you too old to be high this time of the mornin’.”

“Not high. Lookin’ for insight. Figured you might have some. You had a Mrs. Upjohn.”

“I had four Mrs. Upjohns. Not one of ‘em sends me a damn Christmas card. ‘Course now two of ‘em are dead, so they’re off the politeness hook. But the other two? You’d think they’d have softened up some.” He shook out his napkin, dropped it on his thigh. “Well hell. I say that an’ last time I saw Janelle she’d softened up like a vat of unset chocolate pudding.”

“Cold shot, Upjohn.”

“Gots to call like you see ‘em or you’ll end up lyin’ ’bout everything.”

Upjohn flashed his dental work when he saw her coming. The waitress smiled her best clip art smile in return when she eased up on their table. She glanced at the unexpected white man across from Upjohn. “You doin’ alright this mornin’, Mr. Upjohn?”

“Just fine, Miss Deevers. Two of your best customer size slices of warm peach pie. And you can lean a little harder on the butter pecan than you did last week.” He winked, took her temperature by telepathy. “Lamar’s okay. I brought him along to lighten the room up a little is all.” She said nothing, Upjohn turned to watch her walk away. “My, my, my.”

“That right there how you come by four ex-wives?”

“Lookin’ never killed a man. The changeable nature of True Love, what you asked me ’bout. That’s how I come by four.”

“You loved all of them the same, just changed names?”

“Love ain’t never the same, Lamar. Just as good, but different. But now two of those exes, only one of ’em dead, are down to true love. Down to that one you ain’t heard from forever, calls you in the middle of the night, you’re right next door to dreamin’? The one turns your mind into a possum that rolls over and plays dead and the rest of you is aftershave and a hard on and you’re out the door barefoot in the snow. You married your N’awlin’s girl, that right?”

“That I did. I’m a lot of things, with fool right on up there, but not about her.”

“Well, see? You were smart. N’awlin’s girls…” Upjohn got his time machine in gear for a couple of beats.

“You lost two wives to a New Orleans girl?”

The waitress set two plates of pie, and two coffee cups down with more noise than necessary. “Pie’s too hot to eat, gentlemen. Too much ice cream to be healthy for a man your age, Mr. Upjohn. Pie is all? Mmm.” She tore off the green check, slipped it under Lamar’s plate. “Two wives to a New Orleans girl? Something I need to stand around and hear?” She was gone before she got an answer, and took Upjohn’s attention with her.

“New Orleans girl?”

“Miss Aida Marie Charpentier. Should’ve heard her say it. Shar-PEN-tee-ay.” Upjohn kissed the tips of his fingers and opened them like a flower. “The color of expensive milk chocolate. Long, wavy hair. Said her people were from the islands. She never said which ones, exactly, but my money was on the Caribbean somewhere. Or a Frenchman at the back door, maybe. She was all kinds of French. And sass? Damn that woman could talk. She’d talk and men would listen just to hear her voice. She put olive oil on her hair every couple of weeks, slept in it like that before she washed it out. Made it softer than silk. Threw her pillow away after and expected whatever man she was seein’ to buy her a new one. She was the one. In my mind, anyways, but not hers. Long time gone, that one.” They listened to plates and glasses clinking, the hum of conversation and the ice machine for a few minutes while they hit their pie and coffee.

“You think maybe how we feel about somebody isn’t always reciprocal?” Lamar caught half a fork of peach and ice cream trying run down his chin.

“Ain’t enough room in your mouth for some pie and them damn fifty-cent words, Lamar. You mean do I think how they feel about us is the same as we feel about them? Nah. People have their own minds. Even if it’s close, it ain’t ever the same. Most times it’s all kinds of lopsided. Nothing fair about nothin’, usually. Love most particularly.”

“So we’re bangin’ around out here, and we carry a piece of whatever we knock into with us? Maybe they carry as big a piece as we do, maybe not?”

“What I’m sayin’ is people remember how you hit them, not how they hit you. Whatever you hit, don’t matter if it’s a ricochet or a full-on wreck fucks you up like the time down in Alabama Tommy Thorson drove that old Buick with all of us in it smack into a water tower. The Buick and the water tower and all of us? We all carry the marks till sooner or later somebody comes along with a bucket of paint, the casts come off. But the dents and dings and scars just get covered up, they don’t go nowhere. And mind you, the water tower come out quite some better than us and that Buick.” He forked up some pie crust dripping with butter pecan. “You recall a bass player name of Talon?”

“Shit, Upjohn. Talon? Where’d that come from?”

“That’s no on Talon?”

“Yep. This is one I haven’t heard?”

“Just like when you was a boy, Lamar. If you ain’t heard it, you need to listen up.” Upjohn waited for the coffee cups to get reloaded, turned and watched his waitress again. He turned back, dropped a spoonful of the ice cream into his coffee. “Where was I?”

“Bass player named Talon?”

“That’s right. Talon, he played bass with one finger. One finger, a thumb and a sometimes useful nub where his little finger used to be.” Upjohn held up his left hand, folded two fingers and half his pinky away to illustrate.  “Indian boy. Told a story about some accident workin’ for the railroad, hookin’ up boxcars together or somethin’. Lost two and half fingers, both hands. I’d never seen him before and he turns up on a pick-up job one night, backin’ up some half-famous slick from Dee-troit. I say to the man, you know, can you play the blues, your hands fucked all up thataway? He told me if I didn’t have the blues, he’d give me some.”

“Did he?”

“Damn straight he did. Man could play.”

“Seriously, Upjohn. Talon has something to do with what?”

“Out back in the alley, after the slick had hit it? We was drinkin’ together, havin’ cigars we got as parting gifts from Mister Dee-troit. I ask this Talon fella how it would it have been to have all his fingers and not be flyin’ all around up and down the neck like he did. He said ‘If what mighta been shoulda been, it woulda been.’ And see, it had always been his dream to play music, not hook up box cars. Maybe the man’s only way outta the train yard was cuttin’ off some fingers. You got a big word for that?”

“Fortuitous? More likely some of that invisible business.”

“More’n likely invisible than fartawhodumas.” The grin lit up his face. “Look here, Lamar. Aida Marie? I didn’t go runnin’ out in the snow barefoot, but there for a time my mind did still turn all possum whenever I’d go down Aida’s road. Thinkin’ how she smelled after she washed the olive oil out of her hair. How she smiled sittin’ at a N’awlin’s café table. How she laughed. Just that much of her in my mind was enough for two wives to quit me. That’s how it works out. One of you thinks it coulda and shoulda, and some of that invisible gets in there like a brick wall and turns coulda and shoulda into never woulda, so you have to let it go. And after a while you hope what shoulda bangs into you goin’ ’round a blind corner.”

“You still think about mighta been with Aida?”

“Nah. Mighta done run its course a long time ago. Never really was much mighta there, I look straight on it. But I could pick up a guitar right now and go on down Aida Marie’s road a ways.” He reached across the table, put an index finger on Lamar’s chest, over his heart. “It all comes from right there, Lamar. Can’t play the blues ‘less you have some. Can’t tell stories if you don’t have none. Nothin’ happens that you don’t carry the blues of it in your suitcase and know the story goes with it. Less you got ice in your veins or live some kinda way so as you always have money in your pocket and don’t never set up to get your heart broke.” He guided the leftover melted butter pecan ice cream from his pie plate into his coffee cup, stirred it. Eyeballed it a second and motioned for another refill.

“The Talon fella? It don’t matter he lost some fingers, he got what he truly wanted. Me and Miss Aida Marie Charpentier? It don’t make no difference who wrote the song I’m playin’ when I think on her, I put her in there. So truth told about true love?” He reached, tapped Lamar’s heart again. “We all write our own fairy tales, my brother. And we all sing our own blues.”

 

Photo – The Absinthe House, New Orleans.

Skin Deep

The Nutcracker – Dress Rehearsal 2016

“You looked great up there.”

“For someone more than twice as old as the principals from New York City Ballet.”

“I didn’t say that.”

“I did. We’ve been married ten years longer than they’ve been alive.”

“So, it’s good that you looked great up there on the same stage with them.”

“Mmm. I’m not so sure how great I looked.”

“I have pictures.”

“You weren’t supposed to take pictures.”

“No flash. How long have I been doing this?”

“We just had that discussion.” She flipped the visor down, opened the mirror. “Anyway, my costume is a blue velvet corset I’m cinched into. And I have my extra nylon hair.” She put the ringlets in a large zip lock, stuffed them in the dance bag then dumped fifteen bobby pins that would stay in the cup holder on her side of the console until the next trip to the free vacuums at the car wash. Or we bought drive-thru coffee in her car. Or she ran out of bobby pins.

“You still looked great.”

“The secret is old lady ballerina make up.” She peeled off one eyelash that would have made Dolly Parton envious, blinked in the mirror.

“I didn’t know they made that.”

“Oh, they make it, alright.” The other eyelash came off, got stuck to a small piece of white cardboard with the first one, wrapped in wax paper, dropped in a make up bag. She blinked again. Her own lipstick had come out and she did that thing women do with lipstick and a car vanity mirror.

“What’s in it that makes it so special?”

“Spackling.”  She rubbed her lips together, checked the mirror, smiled. “And formaldehyde.”

The Nutcracker

Go see The Nutcracker, wherever you are, whoever is doing it. It’s good for you. Trust me, I’ve seen it more than a couple of times and it hasn’t killed me. Yet.

Soul Cry

All he’d ever wanted
Coffee
In a diner
A moment of her time
Diners became cartoons
of themselves
bowed long ago
to franchises
So here is where he was

Macbook student, a booth for two
his backpack guest
Overflows with grad school

Forty-ish flight attendants
flashing nails
severe ponytails
carry-on handles extended
stand wheel-locked guard
at their table

The possibly blonde
furrows her brow
turns the phone
on its stomach as if to
Quiet a small child
Struggling with under bed monsters
Question mark eyes from the other
a simple shrug of no
One of them needs
to smile

Thick paperback woman
of age
glasses down her nose
her table covered
dozens of napkins
spotted with lipstick say fastidious
Her hair says modestly vain

Two deep blue scrubs eat salads
oblivious
Speak of rectums and spleens and all the
in-betweens
Would you like more
Dressing?

A waitress so young cynical
Her eyes see no one
worth seeing
Deposits steam
in all the cups
Stained-glass colored
arms
disappear
up dark t-shirt sleeves
black nail polish remains chipped
Thoughts, smiles
offered to her arrive
unwelcomed

Her colorful arms should wrap
the sparsely bearded sandwich
handoff boy
somewhere fun, free
gray and drizzly
on an empty pier
His place later
Do each other’s nails while
he listens to her heart

Back across the granite table
softer
by far
than the gulf of years between them
She sat quietly
A picture of herself
A frame of flesh and bone
If asked he’d call her expensive, well maintained like
the German car
he watched her park
Only it was newer than her
by far.

Yeah, yeah her husband
he heard her say
so healthy so wealthy so wise
So much
Smarter than a crystal ball
Rich as Croesus
believes in Jesus, had compassion stood by her
side
in her dark hours of grief
That was important for him
to understand
All the standing by

She had grieved
Too many hours
he would agree
Death close by comes hard
harder still
Cloaked in violence
in surprise
In quantity

Did he hear kind, giving, helpful, fun, funny
he must have missed them between great
wonderful hard working successful provider father
Couldn’t miss the children
though
Beautiful, smart, loving, doing
well and yes she played golf
Why did he ask?
Why did he smile?

She made that face when he
romanticized
waitress and sandwich boy
She heard laughter
Hidden
in his voice
Bodies wrapped together
undulating, melting into
a human painter’s palette
Had she forgotten
being young?

Her frown on such simple things
Such simple beings
easily affordable
And yet do you think
would they
Could they do each other’s
nails?
He would really
listen to her heart?
He could
possibly would
care
Do you think?

Still
How would that pay
the bills
fill the time
the house
Impress the neighbors
and the board of
Misdirectors

He smiled again
She remembered why
You’re still so…
she tried to find it
Wouldn’t
finish it

He’d gotten even
older
his coffee colder
while he listened to everything
Except her heart
She averted and avoided until he
locked her
in his vision
Caught her eye

Knew at once if a bit of her
made it through
The parted lips she moistened
with a tongue given
to keeping what was her
inside
He would surely hear her soul
Cry

All he’d ever wanted
Coffee
in a diner
a moment of her time

The dream offered only
Coffee
And a moment of
her
Lifetime

To offer him more
Impossible!
He could see her soul
She knew that even
Now
And she would never
allow him to see
Her
Cry

No Why

He never asked her why she danced
Or why so long ago
Sewing elastic on new pink slippers
She stuck a needle in the comforter
Covering a waterbed

She never asked him why he had to play
Strange music
Or what he heard or where he went
In expensive headphones with
Famous strangers

She showed him Oxford on the power of her words
Walked the cold mist
Touched history together
In turn he rode a box of musical wires
Offered her Venice, kissed her
Under the Bridge of Sighs

Never much money
Very little time
They never asked why

The novel it is said resides within us
Lies inside our lives.

Written in response to Ian Graham’s 3 Day Quote Challenge

https://ianggraham.wordpress.com/2016/10/19/the-3-day-quote-challenge-day-on