Saturday, February 23, 2008

Found Out

Her life was more a string of surprises and events than a contiguous history. Plots and subplots would emerge and disappear only to surface again much later or perhaps a moment later or not at all, always with a chapter or episode having been missed and something not quite right in the tale. She would shake her head and shake it off, always moving on, not knowing or caring that the constant was chaos.

Mondays were particularly bad and its arrival would mold the week to come, or the attitude her karma would take until the next weekend. Weekends were exhaustion, renewal, routine and ennui. mostly in that order. But Mondays . . . the need to come up for air and come up to speed all in one panted breath, the instant desire for more and the certain knowledge that in the long scheme, it didn't matter if she went to work or not, if she took the kids to school, if she wrote in her diary or brushed her auburn hair. She didn't dread Monday, in fact, she was happy that the emptily busy weekends were over so that she could change her environment to one less fraught with the variability of teenage sons and her unknown, absent lovers.

But Mondays came, invariably. She wore her hair short because her schedule was full and it was just easier that way. She was short by the standard of the young, even a little shorter than her peers at work. The shorter hair meant that she didn't look quite so small, or so she thought. Next to her children, she looked more like a large, top-shelf, carnival-prize teddy bear, one that could drive and smoke. When she saw herself in the morning mirror, she projected her 22 year old face onto the glass, oval then as it was now but without the extra wear of 22 summers and winters since. Her green eyes twinkled back at her as if to mock, "you can't touch this." And her reflection, had it been an actual entity would be right, of course, as any attempt to touch what was gone had the price of despair.

She hardly noticed the man behind her at the Dunkin Donuts though she should have. He was dressed in a surprising way, as if he had been teleported directly from Bayonne, 1976: light blue polyester shirt, fitted, gold rope chains visible only to a point through a mass of black and grey chest hair, three-inch-wide white vinyl belt holding up a pair of tan polyester pants, slightly flared toward the bottoms, perfectly and permanently pressed, draped deftly over somewhat broad but curved shoulders a matching jacket with four-inch wide lapels, and, naturally, Italian leather platform loafers, alligator-skin-embossed, with gold buckles. He was clearly past fifty but maybe not yet fifty-five, mustached, sideburned, eyes shielded from the bright morning light with semi-aviator gradient-toned glasses. He might have stepped out of a Scorsese movie, but he was real enough. And he was looking at the back of her neck, chewing a toothpick, waiting in line.

"Excuse me," he said to the back of her neck,"I think I know you." She heard him but couldn't imagine that he meant to be addressing her. She continued to watch the progress of the scurrying brown Dunkin' servers as they aggressively filled order after order, deleting patrons until it would be her turn to order her medium coffee with cream, not milk and a bagel, toasted, with cream cheese, plain. He chewed his toothpick some more and then said, "Hey, Red, don't I know you? I think you know me." She half-turned and looked at him at him from her periphery and was startled enough by what she thought she saw to turn the rest of the way around. She was taken aback when she took him in, recovered and said, "Are you talkin' to me? He smiled, took the toothpick out of his mouth and said, "Yeah, I know you. You know me, too. How the hell you've been?"

She could not quite absorb what charisma he seemed to exude, but the anachronistic dress made her at once wary and amused. Who was this nut, now? "Do I know you? I don't know you," she concluded and started to turn back around to see if coffee was any closer. "Sure, you know me. You had a crush on me - from Carter. I worked at the deli across the street. Alfonse - you called me Alf? No? You don't remember? C'mon . . ."

And then, suddenly, she did remember and all at once, she felt electricity in her rectum. She remembered how she and her girlfriends would once or twice a week go to the deli instead of school lunch or the Hot Dog Lady, but it was mostly once a week, since none of them had all that much lunch money to start with. She remembered that Alf was a tall kid, maybe five or a few more years older than her, and that he was cute but very stupid. They went to the deli to snicker at him and maybe to oogle him, but, in the end, to deride him as only high-school girls can. He never seemed to care: in fact, he clearly liked the attention and in particular, liked her very much. She remembered how they laughed at Alf and wondered whether the headcheese had more brains than he did. And now he was behind her, more than a quarter of a century later, stuck in time, it seemed or perhaps he was insane. And he was shorter, or she was taller, but he seemed to be only a little taller than her and that was why his best feature then was below average now - time and growth had robbed him of that single, important advantage.

She felt badly now at the memory of their side-handed teasing. Should she acknolwedge him? There was no harm in it, she thought. He was just a guy in the neighborhood though it occurred to her now that she never saw him around other than at the deli. And now, they were all grown up, so . . .

She turned back around, hoping that this would be quick and uninvolved like most of her other interactions with the world. "Sure, sure - you worked at that deli on Carter Ave - sure, how's it been for ya?"

He smiled broadly and she noticed that his teeth were perfect, too perfect, in fact and she thought 'dentures: God, what is this guy's story?' "It's not every day you get to meet the love of your life, huh? After so long?" She wondered whether than even made sense and he continued, "I've been good, life's been good to me, very good. You look okay, a few pounds, a few years, right, know what I'm sayin'?" He choked out a chuckle that was lewd and a little congested. "I'm gonna buy you a cup of coffee and I'll tell you all about it." She started to raise a hand to object and to her deer-in-the-headlights surprise, he took her smooth hand between his hairy mits and said with great gravity, "I insist, besides, you must, since I'm here to tell you something very important, and, besides, I don't expect you to put out on a first date . . . heh, heh . . ." He trailed off with another congested laugh, broke her gaze and stepped to the counter. His order was in before she could utter another word.

She did notice one thing before she blacked out, before she soundlessly crumbled to the floor. She noticed that there seemed to be dried blood, or maybe it was tomato sauce, on the bottom of one polyester pants leg, as if it had rested for a while in one spot, long enough to absorb whatever made that stain. And then, her experience turned into a funnel, then a black, fuzzy border around the swirling shop and then, nothing.

to be continued when I damn well please, thank you very much . . .