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“Excuse me, ma’am?”
Javid hovers over me, looking all snappy in his uniform.
“I’m afraid I’ll have to confiscate that book. You’re corrupting the neighborhood.”
“Funny! You got the late shift?”
“Just heading in. Is that a good one?”
He refers to Freethinkers by Susan Jacoby, my latest purchase from Paul’s store.
“So far, yeah. It’s a good set of weaponry, next time I meet one of those In God We Trusters.”
“Or a One Nation Under Godder. Or a God Bless American.”
He pulls up a chair and straddles it backward. I’ve noticed lately that all my men sit this way.
“I have come to the conclusion,” he says, “that these confrontations occur mainly in my head. To actually conduct something resembling a debate with one of these church-state deniers would be, oh, I don’t know, like trying to talk to someone who has their head stuck up their ass."
“Ha! You’re funny. The most intriguing part, so far, is discovering how truly atheist/agnostic/secularist many of our founding fathers really were. I mean, George Washington? Who knew?”
“Well, yes. Many of them felt the need to be a little vague about it. Except Thomas Paine, and you see what happened to him.”
“We’re a country of idiots. But we do have a Constitution. Is that butternut squash?”
“Paul swears by that stuff.”
“Want a taste?”
Javid takes my spoon and gives it a try. “Damn! That bastard is right about everything.” He pauses, looking hesitant. “You know, I see you two together sometimes and I wonder, why aren’t you… together?”
“Wow. Um… that’s pretty complicated.”
“Give me a sketch.”
“Okay. Well. Two people arrive at a… potential relationship with their respective collections of baggage. And sometimes…”
“The baggage doesn’t match.”
I smile. “Ambiguous analogy completed.”
“And secret reasons for ambiguity respected. Still. It’s pretty cool that you have transitioned to friendship. Doesn’t always happen. In the case of my fucked-up culture, you might very well find yourself in a marriage with neither love nor friendship. But enough about my parents. I had better get my sorry ass to work.”
He stands and spins his chair so it’s tucked under the table.
“Bye, Jav. Thanks for dropping in.”
“By the way,” he says. “When Lexi makes the popcorn, it is not half so good as yours.”
“That’s because mine is freethinking popcorn.”
“And Lexi’s is brainless blonde popcorn.”
He leaves on a joke. I watch him disappear past the espresso bar. I feel very much that Javid has just told me to wise the hell up.
Mack takes me to a Cajun place in Sausalito called the Twist ‘n’ Shout. The décor is classic French Quarter: panels of distressed wood, wrought-iron railings, red lamps. The food is downright salacious. I order blackened catfish, a shrimp pirogue and a Hurricane big enough for a Navy squadron. We’re both feeling pretty jolly – especially Mack, whose affection for food is well-established. I sit back, warmed up inside and out, and study his demeanor. Lately, there’s something different about him. Twinkle-eyed, avuncular, Santa Clausian.
“What’s up with you, loverboy?”
He pops a hush puppy and chews it down. “So it shows?”
“It’s like you’ve been snorting glitter.”
He laughs and folds his hands over his belly. “There’s an image for ya. Well, gumdrop. I suppose I’d better ‘fess up. I’m in love.”
I pull up the automatic smile, but the interior walls are quaking. “The redhead?”
“Yes. And, well, I’ve never been in this position before, but I’m afraid I’m going to have to terminate your services.”
I laugh gaily, which proves what a good actress I am. Given the setting, I suppose I’m Blanche DuBois. “I haven’t been in this position myself. When do you need me to… move out?”
He rubs a hand over his moustache. “Well, the lease doesn’t run out till September, so why not September first?”
“Mack! That’s very sweet of you.”
“And I… won’t be so crass as to give it to you here, but I’ve written you a severance check. Five thousand. I also wanted to give you something more… personal, so I got you a day-long treatment at Graziela’s Spa.”
With each tribute, my insides are calming. I’m beginning to see a possibility.
He gives me a smile. “For all the wear and tear I have inflicted on that lovely body of yours, it’s the least I can do to see that it’s taken care of.” He takes off his glasses and rubs his eyes.
“Mack! Are you crying?”
He stares at the tabletop till he regains his composure. The big softie.
“Honey. I know what most people would think about you and me. But I’ll tell you, once my wife got through with me, I felt like a beat-up sack of money. Somehow, by taking the transaction to a more overt level – let’s call it retail affection – I met you, and you have restored my manliness, my joy. That’s what Marnie – my redhead – saw in me. And so, you see, you have succeeded in working your way out of a job.”
Now I’m the one who’s losing it. I am laughing and crying, all at once. I am craughing. That’s a good one; I’ll have to tell that to Paul.
We walk to the car, arm in arm – for all the world knows, a father and daughter celebrating a birthday. I am downright giddy. I feel the wings sprouting at my shoulder blades. As Mack pulls his SUV onto Highway 101, I get up on all fours and undo his zipper.
“But Jazz, you know you don’t…”
“If I were you, young man, I would concentrate on your driving.”
Photo by MJV