Saturday, February 28, 2015
Friday, February 27, 2015
By Michael J. Vaughn
First published in Rose & Thorn Journal
2005 Pushcart Prize nominee
Hear the author's podcast
Find out more about shape poems in Interplay: Finding the Keys to Creativity.
(Draeger's is a high-end grocery store in Menlo Park, CA)
Thursday, February 26, 2015
The Boy’s a Freak
The heat is back up, and Zelda and Courtney are cranking out the mint mojito iced coffees. The secret of their popularity is the use of manufacturing cream, which is pretty high on the fat content. But no one really wants to know.
The lunch rush comes to a sudden stop, and Zelda gazes out at the parking lot. It’s one of those days when a lot of people have parked in the shady spots under the trees, even though they’re farther away. She raps her knuckles on the counter as she counts down, then shoots out her fingers as if she were saying “Ta-dah!”
“Three, two, one…” Nothing.
“Three, two, one…” Bupkus.
“Three, two, one…” Zip.
Maybe if she actually said it. “Three, two, one… Ta-dah!”
Courtney appears from the back room. “Ta-dah what?”
An ugly yellow object rolls across the window. Zelda relishes her response. “Ta-dah that.”
“I have my reasons.”
She’s getting the gist of approaching Edward, so she grabs a towel and initiates a scrub of her station. She tries not to respond to the fact that Edward is wearing shorts, revealing shins the color of toothpaste.
“Edward! No! Look at yourself, you’re all sweaty. I will not serve you a hot drink. Let me make you a mojito. Everyone loves them. On me.”
He stares at her, as if she has broken some law regarding the number of words spoken to a homeless team mascot. A bead of sweat drops across his forehead. He fishes out a dollar, drops it in the tip jar and heads to his corner.
Zelda concocts yet another mojito, adjusts the angle on the sprig of mint, and delivers it personally. Edward stares at it.
“Go ahead. Give it a try.”
He brings it to his lips, takes a reading on the flavor, then tries a full drink, slurping the liquid over the ice.
“Am I right?”
He nods. She waits for something else. It fails to arrive.
“Well. Let me know if you need anything else.”
She turns to go.
It’s the first time he’s ever said her name. She turns. He’s staring at the tabletop, trying to produce words.
“Do you… know a place… where I could dance…” He takes another sip. “By myself?”
“Boy. Do I.”
For a small city, Campbell has a good-sized industrial area, running between Winchester Boulevard and Interstate 880. Zelda takes a left over the railroad tracks and splits a pair of high-tech buildings to the garages and machine shops beyond. She pulls into a lot next to a long gray building and takes Edward to a door at the far left. A bat flashes overhead, squeaking like a bad wheel.
Zelda hits a switch. A bank of fluorescent lights flickers on to reveal a half basketball court of hardwood, fitted with mirrored walls and a barre. The far end is screened off by a purple curtain.
“Okay,” says Zelda. “I think I know how we can work this. There’s a separate section behind this curtain. I will retreat there and work on some stuff, and all the rest is yours. We can even turn off the lights if you want.”
“Yes,” says Edward.
She turns off the fluorescents, leaving only the dim light from a security lamp over the back door. She heads to a table in the corner that holds a stereo.
“We’ve got a standard mix for workouts. I think you’ll like it. Sort of ramps up gradually.”
Edwards looks at her.
“Okay,” she says. “Have fun.”
She ducks behind the curtain and begins the long process of stretching, dying to know what’s going on out there as the music and the footfalls increase in pace. “Something Stupid” by Sinatra. “Purple Rain” by Prince. “What’s Going On?,” Marvin Gaye, speeding up into rock, hip-hop, techno, salsa, finding its final eruption in “Brave and Crazy,” a propulsive acoustic by Melissa Etheridge.
It’s been an hour; Zelda has run through all her tricks and invented some new ones. The stereo heads into a section of warm-down songs: Mazzy Star, Cowboy Junkies, Natalie Merchant. When Edward parts the curtains, she is upside-down, her legs wrapped around the pole.
“This is what I teach,” she says. “And no, I never worked as a stripper.”
She grips the pole with her hands and performs a walkover dismount.
She smiles at his review. He is absolutely soaked in sweat.
“So are you all danced out?”
“No, I…” He rakes a hand through his hair and wipes it on his shorts. “I have an idea.”
Zarita works for a company that is marvelously green, arranging subsidies and loans for homeowners who want to go solar. Still, sometimes she envies Zelda. Money for coffee is a deliciously direct transaction, and less likely to lead to office politics.
When she picks up Zelda at the Pruneyard, it’s apparent that her friend has been raiding the supply. She is as giggly as a tween, and wearing a ridiculous amount of paraphernalia: orange jacket, orange and black ribbons in her hair, Giants T-shirt, Giants earrings, and a stripe of eye-black on each cheek.
“I’m sorry, are we watching the game, or are we in the game?”
Zelda reaches for her seat belt. “Come on! Where’s the team spirit? Ya gotta get on the train, baby!”
“I gotta get some of that French roast you been snortin’.”
Zelda giggles and covers her mouth. “Maybe.” And giggles some more. “How’s life at the douchebaggery?”
Zarita hits the ramp onto 880. “Oh no. It’s one of those days, so we shall not be discussing the great solar dynasty.”
“Just fuck him. That’ll knock the nerd right out of him.”
Zarita bursts out laughing. “I can’t believe you just said that.”
“Well I… I did, didn’t I?”
Zarita climbs the long ramp to 280.
“Tell me one of your coffeehouse stories.”
“Let’s see, let’s see.” She taps a finger against her teeth. “Oh! Yes. Gina.”
“Gina’s this beautiful Italian girl, college student. We have this running conversation going, and the other day she just needed to ‘fess up, I guess. So her dad works in finance, middle management type, old school. She says he manages to hold on to his job mostly because he tells a good joke. But he comes home every day bitching about his boss, this young hot-shot type, and he tells her, Don’t ever fall for a man like that, it’ll be the ruin of you.”
“Uh-oh. Forbidden love.”
“Yep. And it so happens that Mr. Sleazeball had his eye on young Gina, had even begun to do some lightweight stalking. One day he shows up at her karaoke bar dressed like a blue-collar type, proceeds to sing this Journey song in this beautiful tenor voice, and she just melts. Does not discover who he really is until the next morning…”
“Yes, young Zarita, such things do occur. Gina is wandering around Duke’s apartment – and yes, that is his Christian name, Duke, when she sees a photo of a large corporate gathering, a photo that includes her father.”
“Oh God!” says Zarita. “Did that ruin it for her?”
“Au contraire! She went back upstairs and had sex with him again. And she says it was even better.”
“Oh, fickle woman!”
Zelda gives her a puzzled look. “I’m sorry?”
Zarita laughs. “Something my mother used to say.”
The San Jose skyline sprouts to their left, and Zarita takes 87 toward the stadium. They both know what the other is thinking. Forbidden love.
Zelda is just as squirrely at the game as she was on the drive. She does annoying little-sister things like poking Zarita’s shoulder and playing keep-away with her bag of peanuts. It’s beginning to get annoying, and Zarita fights the urge to say motherish things like Now listen here, young lady… Instead, she asks Zelda what her problem is, and Zelda gives her a look of sly guilt. At the top of the inning, she pops from her seat.
“Where you going?”
Zelda yells back over her shoulder: “Rhode Island!”
It’s a tense inning. The Giants’ pitcher walks the bases loaded, lets in a run on a wild pitch, then gets the next guy on a home-to-first double play to end the inning.
The PA plays the opening of “The Time of My Life” from Dirty Dancing. Zarita spots Gigante near the first base coaching box and suspects something is up. Then she sees Zelda in the on-deck circle. She holds the back of her hand to her forehead as if she’s just spotted the love of her life. Gigante responds by holding out his arms, beckoning her forth. Zelda crosses the green in a tippy-toe scamper, and Zarita realizes they’re going to attempt the lift from the movie.
Zelda leaps at Gigante, Gigante tries to catch her, and they topple over in a heap. The music stops. Gigante lies flat on his back, motionless. Zelda goes into a fit of sobbing. She’s killed Gigante! What is she to do?
From the PA comes the opening strains of “Shock the Monkey.” Zelda raises a finger to indicate she has received the suggestion. She motions for everyone to stay clear, rubs a pair of invisible defibrillators together and applies them to Gigante’s chest. After a couple of tries (and appropriate spasms from the patient), Gigante leaps to his feet and starts doing the robot, as if he’s trying to make sure all of his limbs work. He and Zelda join hands for an intricate pop-and-lock wave, then they work it closer until they have tied themselves together in a pretzel. Finally, Gigante whips her into a spin; she drops to the turf in a perfect split and raises her arms, victorious. Gigante follows with his own spin, but has to stop when he gets dizzy. He sees Zelda still holding her split, pretends he’s going to do the same, then changes his mind and works his way to his knees behind her like a crotchety old man. They indulge in some jazz-hands, then he lifts her up and they exit the field to wild applause.
“I just can’t believe… I mean… You were awesome! I know you can do that stuff, but… what the hell!”
“Here’s the shocking part,” says Zelda. “It was all Edward’s idea. I can’t get three words out of the schmuck, but then he creates these fantastic choreographies.”
They reach their secret parking spot at the tennis courts. Zarita starts the car. “You might just have the perfect relationship.”
“Hey!” says Zelda. “Let’s not be throwing the R word around. The boy’s a freak.”
Zarita catches Zelda smiling, and she cracks up.
Photo by MJV
Tuesday, February 24, 2015
Monday, February 23, 2015
It’s the first truly hot day of May. Hours of sweating over coffee have paid off with a perfect night. Zarita and Zelda settle into their usual right-side spot wearing nothing but shorts and T’s. Zelda savors her first swallow from a cold, cold beer.
Zarita laughs. “You’re easy to please.”
“Been doin’ hot yoga all day.”
“How’s the bohemian quartet?”
“Maggie the slut has returned to the fold, just in time for their first shoot. I’m a little worried about Mae. Girlfriend looks worse every day, and her coughing is horrible.”
Zarita twitches her lips. “Hope she’s having that checked out.”
“Hard to say. You know these artists.”
One benefit of being a San Jose Giants fan is the near proximity of the parent club, which means regular appearances by re-habbing big leaguers. The latest is their third baseman, who steps in and unceremoniously launches the first pitch over the right field fence. The crowd rises and yells as the ball disappears into the parking lot.
“I guess Pablo’s hammie is feeling better!” says Zarita.
“Yeah,” says Zelda. She looks toward the left-side stands. “I notice Gigante hardly gets over here anymore.”
“I think ‘Gigante’ is a devotee of the bro code, and although it’s hardly his fault, he did sleep with the object of his wingman’s affections. Could be he’s feeling awkward. Any news on the whereabouts of the Phantom?”
“Well-trimmed but still missing. He better show up soon. Jackson’s gonna stroke out in this heat.”
The Z’s are returning from a beer run in the sixth when they find themselves directly behind Gigante, working a standard routine. Under the team mascot code, any major league hat not bearing the logo of the parent team is fair game for ridicule. Gigante reaches out to shake the kid’s hand and instead nabs his Cubs cap. He holds it aloft to show it to the rest of the section, giving a thumbs-down, holding his nose and then cupping his ear to get everyone to boo the Cubs.
The cap’s owner is looking amused but a little concerned. Gigante is about to make a return when he’s overcome by an enormous sneeze – directly into the cap. He uses it to wipe his nose, then his armpits, then his butt. By the time he hands it back, the kid isn’t sure he wants it anymore. Gigante gives him a pat to let him know it’s all in fun.
He turns to head downstairs and, finding Zelda in his path, goes into the stock routine: joyous surprise, a finger to the cheek and then, once he receives the kiss, a lovestruck stumble down the steps.
Zarita watches him go. “What was…? You don’t think…?”
“I’m sure they share routines all the time.”
An inning later, Zarita nudges Zelda’s arm and points to the dugout. The PA is playing “Blurred Lines,” and Gigante is dancing in a distinctly Edwardian style.
The bohemian quartet is back down to a trio. Rudy the screenwriter is a wreck. Zelda almost hates to ask.
Rudy takes a thoughtful blink. His blue eyes are rimmed with red.
“We… broke up.”
“Oh! I’m sorry.”
“She’s convinced herself that she’s going to die, and she doesn’t want to take me down with her. I already feel like death right now, so what’s the fuckin’ difference?”
Like bartenders, baristas occasionally turn into confessors. It’s a hazard of the job.
“Do they have any idea…”
“Lupus,” says Rudy. “It’s very unpredictable. But it’s also treatable. Mae worries too much about other people’s feelings. She needs to let me be as tough as she is.”
He looks at the menu board, perhaps a little embarrassed at talking too much.
“I’d like a small Parisienne.”
“You got it.”
He hands her the money. “Thanks. Been a long day.”
“You’re welcome. I hope she comes back.”
More illicit information, she thinks. She looks at Edward’s corner – still empty – and pulls out the French roast.
She’s surprised when Jackson shows up at the end of her shift. He orders his Istanbul not Constantinople and waits on a bench that forms a square around a laurel tree. Zelda makes herself a General Washington (cherries, honey, Colombian roast) and joins him.
“Mmm… Sometimes I forget just how good our product is.”
“That’s why I come here,” he says. “Well, that and the hot baristas.”
“I was thinking you were avoiding me.”
“Just when Edward’s around. That was nice of you to get him the haircut. I think that’s why he finally came back to the job.”
“If not the coffeehouse.”
“Yeah. Apparently he can’t talk to you unless he’s in costume.”
“I’m so freakin’ intimidating.”
Jackson straddles the bench. “I can’t give you the details, but Edward is deathly afraid of good things in his life.”
“Look, Jackson. Don’t make the mistake of thinking I’m interested. Your friend is a fucking train wreck.”
“Then why the haircut?”
“Because I care. And I’m nice.”
Jackson slaps a drumroll on the bench. “I… really wouldn’t expect anyone to be interested, that way, with Edward. And he sorta makes a point of looking as unattractive as possible. But. I would do anything for that guy.”
Zelda straddles the bench, too, but in her own style. She straightens her right leg, lifts it in an arc above Jackson’s head and puts it back down.
Jackson laughs. “That alone would send Edward screaming to the hills.”
“Sorry. Didn’t mean to show off.”
“Yes you did.”
“A little. But why exactly would you do anything for that guy?”
Jackson taps a finger on his nose. “Okay. That’s fair game. In high school, my parents decided to keep their marriage together by yelling at each other on a nightly basis. A couple of times, the cops showed up.”
“My only escape was to hop the back fence and knock on Edward’s window. We would go to his garage and play CDs real loud so I couldn’t hear my parents. And you know the way Edward dances?”
“That used to be his personality as well. If you were down, he wasn’t happy until he could shake a smile out of you. Unlike many people in high school, he actually gave a fuck. My parents eventually got a divorce, and I was greatly relieved. But until then, my sanctuary was Edward.”
Jackson takes a sip and looks out toward the parking lot, shading his eyes. Zelda runs a hand over the bench, the grain ridged and cracked.
“Jackson? Could you make up some reason to take Edward to Boswell’s and get him drunk?”
“Our communications are pretty sketchy. What about tomorrow night?”
“There by nine? Drunk by eleven?”
“Just don’t pull any of those stripper moves. His head might explode.”
Zelda leans back and laughs.
The band that night is Cougar Unleashed, an all-black five-piece that barely fits on the stage. The singer, Rhonda, produces a smokey-whiskey sound somewhere between Billie Holliday and Etta James. Their playlist is a mother lode of infectious rhythm, thanks in large part to their bassist, a big dude with a bit of swag.
Zelda is dressed in dance clothes, stretchy jeans and a tangerine top that falls over her butt so as not to alarm her prey. She heads for the usual table, where Jackson stands with four amigos – none of them Edward. Jackson points toward the dance floor, where Edward is working out to “What is Hip?”
“Excellent,” she says. “Now. What I need next is a decoy. Got any decent dancers among your retinue?”
“Lucas is good”
“Oh sure!” says Lucas. “Pick the black guy.”
“Well? Are you good?”
“Well then shut up and dance with me. Oh and, no offense, but let’s keep a little distance out there.”
“Why, because I’m black?” Lucas cracks himself up. “I’m sorry, I gotta stop doing that. Yeah, I got the word. Eddie’s got the hots for you.”
She leads Lucas to the left-hand side of the floor, far away from Edward. She sticks to the microscopic shimmies she uses for conservative wedding receptions. Lucas is content to stay in one place and look smooth, applying little swoops and murmurs with his hips and hands.
The programming couldn’t be better. The band breaks into “Hard to Handle,” which is eminently danceable. Edward’s getting lost in it, arms weaving in front of him. He sinks toward the floor then straightens up, kicks out a leg and pulls a crossover Michael Jackson spin. Zelda backs her way in his direction, using the crowd (an active dozen couples) as cover. Lucas follows along, but keeps his distance.
After the guitar solo, she blows Lucas a kiss, pivots around and is side by side with Edward, although he’s too involved to know it. The song ends, everyone applauds and Edward finds himself two feet away from Zelda.
For a moment, he looks like he’s going to run, but the bassist starts up a sinewy line, followed by the drummer on a bossa nova rim-click, and Rhonda sings “Use Me Up” by Bill Withers. Zelda holds out her right hand and twists it back and forth. She sends it toward Edward, and he can’t resist. She lets her hips join in, and so does he. Now she waves the wrist-flip wider, and mirrors it with her left hand, a move that feels somehow Caribbean. Edward takes the move higher, lifting his arms over his head, then crosses his hands behind his neck and brings them back like a small, flapping bird. Zelda follows.
This give-and-take lasts the length of the song. By the end, all appendages are engaged and Zelda and Edward are riffing, balancing their attack on a smooth back-and-forth shuffle. This is jazz improv, she thinks. Bebop. She has found Edward’s language.
She wonders if she is pushing her luck, but then the band heads into “Hey Ya” by Outkast and all bets are off. Edwards starts this one, shifting his right knee to the outside in a mid-air, a kind of Bollywood maneuver. He claps his hands together and pushes them side-to-side in front of his chest. Zelda follows, and allows herself a smile. Edward maintains a look of deadly seriousness.
Three songs later, the band takes a break, and Zelda decides it’s time. She ventures to touch Edward on the elbow.
“Thanks, Edward. I have to get up early, so…”
She heads for the door and hears his words: “Good night.” By his standards, it’s a soliloquy. Zelda waves to Jackson, who gives her a thumbs-up, and heads outside, feeling pleasantly sweaty.
Photo by Sonia Cuellar
Thursday, February 19, 2015
Photo by Sonia Cuellar
Zelda is driving Bascom Avenue in a fierce rain when she sees a man in a long black coat fighting his way along the sidewalk. She spots his British cap in the rear-view mirror and hits the brakes, sending her car into a thirty-foot slide. She pulls to the curb and hits the button for the window.
Edward freezes, then keeps on walking. Zelda slams the car into park and runs to catch him.
“Edward! Where have you been? Jackson needs you, he’s worn out and he’s worried about you, and I’m really sorry if we embarrassed you. Edward!”
She races in front of him and stops. But his eyes are down, he doesn’t see her and knocks her to the ground. Zelda squeals and falls on her butt. Edward looks at her, expressionless, and reaches down to help her up. Then he keeps walking. Zelda tries to think of something that might make him stop.
“I… I liked your poem!”
He takes two more steps, pauses, takes another step, and stops.
“It was very touching. I… didn’t know anyone could see how sad I was. And I liked it because it was funny, too and it wasn’t easy. Because life isn’t easy.”
Edward’s upper lip twitches, as if he’s about to laugh.
“I guess you know that,” says Zelda. “That life isn’t easy.”
He turns his dark eyes on her, maddeningly inscrutable. He tries to walk away, but Zelda is holding his hand.
“I’ve got an idea, Edward. Come with me. Just for an hour. Come on, you owe me.”
They stand there for a long time. Edward looks across Bascom at a hospital building, then down at their hands. He unwraps her fingers from his, and walks to her car.
After navigating San Jose City College’s convoluted parking system, Zelda manages to coax Edward to the cosmetology department. They are greeted by Cecily Flores, who cocks one of her expressive eyebrows in Edward’s direction.
“Um. You do know that this will take a while. At this point, I am very slow.”
Zelda pulls her far enough away to keep Edward from hearing.
“I was actually hoping I could pull a switch. My friend Edward needs a cut much more than I do.”
Cecily purses her lips, producing a duckbill effect. “Ooh! I mean, I’d like to help, but I haven’t even done a man’s haircut, much less… that.”
“Charge me double. And think of it this way. Whatever you do is going to be an improvement.”
She gives him another look.
“Well. Okay. I could use a little spending cash. You are throwing me way out of my comfort zone.”
Cecily puts on her easy smile (another point of envy) and heads toward Edward.
“Hi, Edward. Why don’t you give your cap and coat to Zelda and follow me. Oh! You do have a lot of hair.”
She gives Zelda the side of her eyes and walks them into the work area, where a dozen students in pink and purple scrubs are working on clients and maintaining a low-level chatter. The counters are littered with mannequin heads, which endows the place with a creepy fringe. After giving Edward a thorough shampoo, Cecily stands behind the chair and flips his ragged locks this way and that.
“So. Edward. Any ideas on how you’d like it? Short? Not so short?”
Edward stares into the mirror, at his usual loss for words. After a suitably awkward pause, Zelda jumps in.
“How about something like this?” She hands Cecily her iPhone, which shows the photo from his reunion.
“Well,” says Cecily.”I can’t actually make you look this young, but this is a good style for you.”
She fetches one of her teachers, a big-breasted Mexican lady with black-rimmed spectacles. She studies the photo and smiles. “Okay. Let’s go with a scissors cut. It’ll take a while, but have patience, keep looking for your guide, and call me if you feel stuck.”
“Okay.” Cecily pulls a section of hair through her comb and snips the ends, then gathers up another. She calls for more help around the ear, and on the bangs. At the end of a three-hour session, Edward’s coiff has been adjusted by five different teachers. When she gets to the trimmers, Zelda gives the okay, and she removes his week-old beard.
Edward is passive throughout. Once Cecily’s teacher gives him a final polish, he gets up and heads for the restroom. Zelda and Cecily walk toward the lobby.
“Why do I feel like I’ve still only done cuts on mannequins?”
Zelda hands her two twenties. “You would be shocked if you saw him dance.”
“Ah-hah! Somethin’ goin’ on here? Boyfriend in training?”
“Yeeesh – no! He’s a regular at the coffeehouse. I was tired of lookin’ at his sorry mop.”
“I don’t know, sistah. Under all that muck, he’s got sort of a cute undead thing goin’ on, like Edward Scissorhands. And you know how cosmetology students feel about Edward Scissorhands.”
“I could make a guess.”
Cecily gives her a hug and retreats to the work room. Edward appears at the end of the lobby. Far away, he looks a hundred times better. Closer, the cleanup has served mostly to accentuate his lifeless eyes, the unsettling lack of facial expression.
“You look great!” she says. “Do you need a ride somewhere?”
He shakes his head. She hands him his cap and coat. He puts them on, looks at her for a moment and leaves, crossing the courtyard toward Bascom.
“You’re welcome,” she says.
Photo by Sonia Cuellar
Sunday, February 15, 2015
“May I have another Code Green?”
Getting an order from Marcus can be a little startling. His baritone splits atoms.
“Certainly,” says Zelda. “Hey, where’s Blondie? I haven’t seen her for a few days.”
Marcus bites his lip and leans in confidentially.
“On a semi-regular basis, Maggie tires of the starving-artist life and heads off to harvest a crop of dinners and jewelry from a circle of rich nerd-boys. Drives me fairly mad with jealousy, but I can’t say that I would be opposed to the idea of a sugar mama myself. Anyways, she’ll be back once we start shooting. For Maggie, screen time is like heroin.”
Zelda takes Marcus’s money and smiles. “I’ll have that for you in a couple of minutes.”
She assembles the Code Green blend: fair trade Colombian, slices of Granny Smith apples, pistachios and a sprig of mint. She glances at Edward, drilled in on his laptop, dressed in threadbare black and gray, doing his best to cloak all that terpsichoreal talent. Before the thought can work its way any further, Jackson Geary bursts into the coffeehouse.
“Miss Curve! Awesome to see you.”
Zelda looks at him and has not a thing to say. “Code Green!” she calls. Marcus comes to fetch his drink.
“What would you like, Jackson? Istanbul?”
“Sure.” His smile fades. “Miss Curve, you’re not miffed, are you?”
She looks at him again, but feels like she’s looking at a chimera. Jackson is a brilliant piece of light and color, but he’s not really there.
“Jackson, are you… Why don’t you dance the way Gigante dances?”
Jackson smiles. “Okay, you caught me.” He lowers his voice. “Gigante is performed by two guys. He’s more the dancer, I’m more Mr. Yuk-Yuk.”
“And will you tell me the name of this other performer?”
“Tito Fuentes. East Side kid. Hell of a talent.”
Zelda studies him for another second, then exhales. “Yes, he is. Don’t worry, I won’t tell anyone.”
“Not sure that anyone would care. By the way, thanks for yesterday. That was fantastic.”
She feels the blood speeding up all over her body. “Anytime, Jackson. I’ll have that Istanbul for you in a few minutes.”
He smiles and turns to greet Edward.
The Giants are getting good and pounded. They bring in a new pitcher, he gives up runs, they bring in another, he does the same. Z and Z have a lot of time to talk.
“So you thought it might be Edward?”
Zelda laughs. “The absolute last person in the world I would wish it to be. I’ll tell you, though, he’s a freaky-good dancer.”
“I just cannot picture that.”
“Something’s bugging me, though. This other guy who plays Gigante. Tito Fuentes. Why does that sound so familiar?”
“Tito Puente,” says Zarita. “Famous Latin bandleader.”
“Oh! Yeah, that makes sense.”
The batter drives one deep to center. The crowd groans, but the fielder catches the ball at the fence for out number three.
Zelda rubs her hands together. “Twelve to one. We’ve got ‘em right where we want ‘em!”
“What the hell are you smokin’?”
“I am high on eternal optimism. Hey…”
A song comes up on the PA. “Pumped-Up Kicks.”
“That’s funny. That’s the song that Edward…”
Gigante leaps to the dugout roof, shoots out both arms and furls them backward in a wave. He joins his hands together and works the wave further, his arms weaving in and out like ribbons.
“Hey Z,” says Zarita. “Check it out.”
She holds up her iPhone. It’s a picture of a ballplayer from the ‘70s. Second baseman. San Francisco Giants. Tito Fuentes.
When Jackson walks in, Zelda’s on the case. She circles the counter and stops him at the condiment table, placing a hand on his chest.
“What’s my favorite candy?”
Jackson laughs. “Hello, Miss…”
“Curve, right. What’s my favorite candy?”
“M & M’s?”
“Okay. Try this one. Of the fifty-seven qualities that a woman looks for in a man, how many do you have?”
Jackson gives the question what appears to be actual consideration, then smiles. “I like to think about forty.”
Zelda slaps his chest. “Wrong! What Giants second baseman held the National League single-season record for fielding percentage until Ryne Sandberg broke it in 1986?”
“Tito Fuentes! You asshole.”
Jackson looks around nervously. “Can we talk outside?”
“By all means.”
Zelda heads into the courtyard, slapping her thighs in an agitated manner. Jackson grabs her by the elbow and marches her into a walkway.
“Just walk. This is dicey stuff.”
“You bet it’s dicey stuff.”
They pass Lisa’s Tea Treasures.
“Wait a minute. You slept with me! Why did you sleep with me?”
“Because you’re hot, you were all over me, and I’m heterosexual. Now, do I take it that Gigante has been flirting with you?”
They pass Buca di Beppo.
“Yes. He gave me some Red Vines, and a poem.”
They near a row of palms trees wrapped in lights.
“Edward wrote you a poem?”
“Yes. God help me.”
They stop at the rows of flowers outside Trader Joe’s. Jackson holds a hand to his forehead.
“This is huge! You have no idea. But. Shit! Listen, he can’t know that I slept with you.”
“I can see how embarrassing that would be.”
People are watching. They keep walking, past the Sports Basement.
“Look, you’ve got problems, I’ve got problems. But Edward… Edward has been through a kind of hell that I can’t even imagine. The fact that he’s even alive is amazing. The fact that he’s interested in a female is a goddamn miracle. So be nice, okay?”
She stops in front of Togo’s Sandwiches. “Be nice? Be nice?! Why didn’t you just tell me it was Edward? What’s the big fucking secret?”
Jackson puts a hand on her shoulder – which, at the moment, is a dangerous move. “Look. Something happens when he puts on that suit. You’ve seen the difference.”
“The reason it works is because no one knows it’s him under there. And it may be the only thing that’s keeping him alive. So please, don’t let on.”
Zelda feels roundly insulted by the whole situation, and is dying to be selfish. Sadly, she has a conscience. She grits her teeth.
“Thanks. Now, take a breath and let’s play normal.”
“Fine, whatever. I need to get back to work.”
They walk along the plate-glass window of the coffeehouse. Zelda shakes her head, trying to clear the cobwebs. Jackson stops at the corner.
Zelda now lives in Bizarro World. She gazes out the window, longing for Edward’s appearance. She dreads the arrival of Jackson, who looks more haggard each day – a combination of anxiety for his best friend and working every inning of a six-game homestand. And it’s all Zelda’s fault.
Today, the Giants are on a bus headed for Visalia, but Jackson arrives, anyway, at the end of Zelda’s shift. They adjourn to Boswell’s, to his usual table. He takes a long pull from a wheat beer.
“That is the drink of a thirsty man,” says Zelda.
Jackson places a hand on his forehead and rakes his fingers through his hair.
“Tired man. Exhausted man. Yaknow, when they first hired me, I used to do full games all the time. I must have been crazy.”
He gazes into the distance. Zelda has nothing to contribute. She taps her finger to a humpa-dumpa country song on the jukebox. Jackson takes a deep breath and plants his forearms on the table.
“There are many things about Edward that I can’t tell you, but I think the whole Gigante thing is fair game. Two years ago, I was cruising a farmer’s market in Los Gatos when I saw him. I could tell something was wrong, but Edward’s tricky. He manages to stay clean enough that you wouldn’t know right away that he was homeless. I bought him a cup of coffee, and eventually he told me his sad tale.
“I learned his hangouts, and I would sort of accidentally on purpose run into him. After a while I talked him into joining me at the stadium. His expressions are hard to read, but it seemed like he enjoyed it. I started taking him once or twice a week, and I made a habit of ordering too much snack food so he would have to eat my leftovers.
“One day, about the fifth inning, I started feeling sick. Tight stomach, fever, dizziness. It felt like food poisoning, and I certainly didn’t want to throw up inside the suit, so I retreated to my break room and took it off. Edward looked pretty concerned, and asked if he could do anything to help. ‘Yeah,’ I said. ‘Put on the costume and walk around a little.’ I was half-joking, and half delirious.
“I went to the staff restroom and spent a couple innings worshipping at the toilet, then I cleaned up, bought a Sprite and felt much better. When I worked my way back to the stands, I couldn’t quite believe what I was seeing. The team was having this tremendous rally, and every time we scored Edward would run up and down the steps, high-fiving everyone. At the end of the inning, they played our comeback song, ‘Back in Black,’ and he started to dance! And you’ve seen him dance.
“That costume has a transformative effect. For one thing, it allows you to do things that, in ordinary life, would be considered rude and intrusive. And they love you for it! But with Edward it’s more than that. It bestows superpowers, and it brings back the goofball that I knew in high school.”
He stops, as if the telling has worn him out.
“Does your boss know about this arrangement?” Zelda asks.
Jackson gives a weary smile. “My boss is one awesome dude. Edward prefers to stay off the grid, so Augie lets me pay him out of my wages. He also lets him use the team showers, which is much appreciated by the other guy who wears the suit. God, Zelda, we’ve just got to find him.”
The look of worry in Jackson’s eyes is enough to make Zelda fall for him all over again – but then, that’s how all this trouble began.
“I wanted to show you something,” says Jackson. He fiddles with his iPhone. “That’s Edward at our ten-year reunion.”
Standing between Jackson and some blond rocker dude is a fresh-scrubbed, clean-shaven Edward, wearing a devilish smile, his dark eyes gleaming in the afternoon sun. He’s got one hand on Jackson’s shoulder, and uses the other to shoot a finger-pistol at the camera, as if he’s got the future in his back pocket.
Wednesday, February 11, 2015
Zelda thinks that she’s rationing her Red Vines rather well, but the morning rush is a bear and she is apparently sneaking bites as a coping mechanism. When she arrives, finally, at the end of her shift, she’s down to three. She meets up with Zarita and they head next door to the pizza place. Zarita sits sidelong in the booth, resting her long, slender legs atop the bench. Zelda carries an unhealthy envy for those legs.
“Any news on the saga of Carson Alameda?”
“Nothing much. The wife came in today with a handsome young buck.”
“Cool your jets, pal. Her nephew, on break from UCLA.”
“Ah. Well, I’m sure Carson will create some drama soon.”
“I hope so. I am freakin’ bored!”
Zarita gives her a scornful look. “You were on the field last night, receiving weirdly psychic gifts from your lover Gigante, and you’re bored.”
“The gift was a coincidence. It’s a ballpark. Ballparks have Red Vines.”
“I think the gorilla is stalking you.”
“Yeah, well – here.” She takes two of the Red Vines and gives the third to Zarita. “Following tradition, the final licorice goes to the Pakistani princess.”
Zarita bats her eyelashes. “Thank you. You would not believe the morning I had. My boss keeps trying this low-level flirting, and it’s just so lame that I can’t even…”
The far end of the pizza parlor offers a square opening leading to the moviehouse. As Zelda watches, Roxy Alameda enters from the left, holding a half-consumed bag of popcorn. She turns to look back toward the theater. Her nephew enters the square, takes two long strides, wraps an arm around his aunt’s waist and scours her mouth with a kiss.
“Ho Lee Crap!” whispers Zelda.
Zarita is aghast. “You’re not even listening to me!”
“Z-girl, at your earliest opportunity, take a look to your left.”
“O…kay.” She scrunches back against the booth and takes a peripheral glance. “Wow! That is one affectionate nephew.”
Zelda says nothing.
“You do realize that I’m kidding.”
Zelda is looking at a white index card.
“Z? Whatcha got there?”
Zelda studies it once more and hands it over. “It was in the bottom of the box.”
Zarita gives it a look.
Hazelia, queen of the
pastry house crumbs,
life is low
I give you orangutan words,
drops of cucumber for the
scars, the ellipses, the holograms
Drawing breath is not simple,
the purpose of life to
find a purpose in life
Spell your wishes on a
portobello burger and
take a bite
A single hand somewhere in the
palpable world needs to
be held by yours
You have had those moments.
You will have those moments again.
Tonight we walk the
hurly fog, the burly waft,
the Raymond Chandler avenues,
the allure of shapeless forms
Leonora, Mysteria, Creolina,
daughters of chance and
mythology we do the
rest in our heads
An oak to each acorn.
My face an inch from yours.
constellation of want
Of the fifty-seven
qualities a woman looks
for I have only three:
One is grief
one is a an ability to cha-cha
three is a portrait of you,
inscribed on my eyelids.
When she looks up, Zelda is staring into the distance, running a finger along her lips.
“Girlfriend! The gorilla has a thing for you.”
The next day, Zelda is under attack on all sides. The gray, cold skies have afflicted everyone with a jones for warm interiors, and her coffeehouse is ground zero. The lunch rush goes on and on, the line stretches out the door, everybody wants bagels and she’s out of bagels! The last weird touch is Zarita, who’s flitting around like a gnat, trying to get her attention. As a last desperate maneuver, she pops her head through the walk-up window.
“Thirty seconds! Just thirty seconds. You will not be sorry.” She sounds exactly like a used car commercial. Zelda sighs and trots over, risking the ire of Courtney, who must now cover the register and a blending station simultaneously.
Zarita retracts her head and offers her tablet.
“Jackson Geary’s Facebook page. His photo archive has thirty-one shots of Gigante. Not one of those shots features Jackson himself. Ergo… Ergo…”
Zelda’s too flustered to think. “Just tell me!”
Zarita takes a breath. “Jackson Geary is Gigante!”
Zelda’s head goes silent, but for one thought: Jackson stops by the coffeehouse only on game days. She grins.
Courtney turns from the register with a low, meaningful tone: “Zel-daaah!”
“Gottago.” Zelda rushes to the register, where waits a woman in a cream business suit.
“Do you have bagels?”
Zarita takes her tablet and walks away with a sing-song declaration: “You’re wel-come!”
Zelda knows from her time on the night shift that Jackson spends many of his evenings at Boswell’s, a pub tucked into the corner next to the moviehouse. After a post-work nap, she spends a full hour making herself delectable. She uses bronze shadow and heavy mascara for the dreamy huntress look, and goes with sienna lipstick to tie things in to her brown eyes. A tight-fitting top accentuates her modest rack and (ahem!) flat stomach, a fringed suede jacket lends a rocker edge, and a pair of faux-denim leggings accentuates her much-lauded buttocks (in this, she is gambling on Zarita’s assessment, and will slap her silly if she’s wrong).
The surprising part is, Zarita has not been invited. Zelda has decided that a wing-woman (particularly a good-looking, long-legged one) might serve only to scare Jackson off. That poem is a formal invitation, a guarantee of interest, and what Zelda needs more than anything is to make herself as available as possible.
She thinks of sneaking up to the door, but odds are none of her co-workers would recognize her in this get-up, anyway. She enters Boswell’s to a general clamor and the song “Message in a Bottle,” played by the one-man marvel known as Murph. An aging rocker with a wide selection of leather cowboy hats, Murph begins each song with a recorded bass/rhythm track, then provides the rest with vocals, guitar, and foot pedals hooked up to a bass drum, snare and tambourine.
The Boswell’s aroma is oddly likeable, a blend of aging wood and three decades of spilt beers. Zelda heads to the bar for a pint of pale ale. She forces herself to drink it quickly and orders another. Before long, she hears a familiar laugh and sees Jackson, entering with a pair of male companions. The three of them act like they own the place (although not in a bad way), sending a nod here, a wave there, and gather at a thick wooden table in the far corner.
Scoping out this scenario, Zelda begins to understand a complaint once lodged to her by a male friend: how does one infiltrate such a ring of friends? Any effort to home in on the target is fraught with all manner of judgement from the entourage. But one thing is certain: she will accomplish nothing from her barside hidey-hole. She takes her pint and strolls to the middle of the floor, cocking a hip as she pretends great interest in Murphy’s rendition of “Sunday Bloody Sunday.”
“Pretty cool, ain’t he?”
An odd creature has positioned himself to her right. He is stick-thin, with a pile of white hair and a long silver beard out of a Tolkien story or a ZZ Top video. And breath that could melt the barnacles off a submarine. He whispers in Zelda’s ear.
“With that lovely big ass of yours, I bet you need a man with a big cock to reach all the sweet spots.”
Zelda spins and walks away, trying to maintain a calm demeanor.
“Hey! I was just trying to make a little conversation!”
The old man’s screeching draws the attention of a bouncer, who grabs him by the elbow and marches him out the door.
“I told you, Mensh. We can’t have you scaring the good-looking women. Come back tomorrow and we’ll try again.”
“I just said…”
“I don’t want to know what you said.”
“Oh! So you’re gonna take her word over mine.”
“Yes. Every time.”
Zelda finds that she has stopped near the table of the three amigos. Jackson and his cohorts are laughing uproariously and slapping body parts together. Despite all efforts, the blood rushes to her face. She walks out the door, into the courtyard, and sits on a bench under an oak tree. The creepy old man wanders into the parking lot, muttering over his mistreatment.
“Congratulations,” says Jackson. “You’ve been Menshed. Oh! It’s Miss Curve. I’m sorry – I didn’t recognize you out of context. Mensh is our resident perv. If he didn’t tip so well, they’d never let him in the door. Hey, what’s your real name, anyway?”
“Zelda! Awesome name. I get so attached to my nicknames, I fail to get the proper appellations. Appellations? Where the hell did that come from? Isn’t that a mountain range in the eastern United States? Hey, can I buy you a drink? Come sit with me and my buddies.”
Actually, it’s not okay. She enjoys being the center of attention for thirty seconds before the amigos head straight back to Guyville: sports, video games, saucy bartenders. By joining the entourage, she has succeeded only in making herself invisible, and isn’t getting even the occasional glance from her intended target. She finishes her third pint – for her, a sizable total – and stands up, throwing a thumb toward the women’s room in case anyone cares where she’s going.
Zelda sits in her stall, analyzing the situation. What the hell is wrong with this guy? A grown-up male would have ditched his friends and gone into pursuit mode. Perhaps, she thinks, it’s time to pull out the secret weaponry.
Re-entering the fracas, she finds that Murphy has started into Prince’s “1999.” He has even drawn two couples to the dance floor, providing a little cover for her presentation. She strolls to the edge of the floor most accessible to Jackson’s vision, plants her heels and begins a series of small orbits with her hips, fanning her hands to either side like she’s stroking the heads of two large dogs. As she feels the bloodflow, she works the orbits into geometric shifts, northwest, southeast, like the hipshake of a Tahitian dancer. The next move is the rapid pistonwork of twerking, which she massages into wider, sweeping circles. She lowers to a half-squat then releases upward in a cat-like stretch, raising her hands toward the ceiling.
At this point, Zelda conducts an audience check, peeking behind her at the table of the three amigos. Jackson is flat-out staring. His wing-men nudge suggestively at his elbows. It’s time for the coup de grace. She straightens her legs and bends over, aiming her ass at the amigos like a laser. She gives it a slow circle, then arches her back and raises up just as the song ends. She spins to see the snow-white smile of Jackson Geary.
“You have got some mad skills, Miss Curve.”
She tries her best to stay in character. “Yes, and I’d love to use them on you. Gigante.”
“Damn! You know my secret.”
Murphy proceeds into “Nothing Compares 2 U.” Jackson offers a hand. Zelda molds her body to his.
Jackson snickers. “I never dreamed…”
“Maybe you should have.”
Zelda is perched atop Jackson Geary, facing away, eyeing the ribbon-like patterns of her Persian rug. She straightens her left leg to one side, her right to the other, and manages to achieve the splits. This is her dream maneuver, the one she has always wanted to try, and now she will use it to capture the heart of Mister Jackson Geary. She rolls forward, pushes back. Again. Jackson moans. He won’t last for long.
Zelda’s alarm clock offers a setting whereby the volume grows ever-so-gradually over a 15-minute span. When she tunes it to National Public Radio, it’s as if a trio of friends is chatting in the next room, their voices growing louder with each glass of wine. Somewhere along the latest news from Syria, her eyes blink open.
She finds herself searching the room for something and not finding it. A man. Last night, she had a man here. Jackson Geary! She replays a clip and feels the warmth spreading to her limbs. But Jackson’s not here. She silences the folks from NPR and finds a note: Fantastic night! You are an awesome babe. See you at the java joint. J
Not exactly Shakespeare, but awesome babe feels good. She hops up and heads for the shower.
But of course she’s kidding herself. What would have felt better was waking up next to a naked man. The morning rush is strangely slow, leaving too much space for worrisome thoughts. The lunch rush is better, followed by the arrival of dreadful Edward. And then, all of a sudden, Jackson Geary.
“Miss Curve!” Ah, the high-beam smile, followed by a rumbling repetition of her nickname – “(Miss Curve)” – that summarizes the night before. The sight of him makes her lips twitch.
“Mister Geary! (Mister Geary.) Anything you’d like from me?”
“Just the usual.”
“Istanbul. Coming right up.” She wants to tear his clothes off.
He smiles, holds her gaze for a second, and then heads for Edward’s table.
“And then he left with a wave, and they lifted that puky bicycle into his truck and took off.”
Zarita pulls in next to the San Jose State tennis courts, their secret freebie parking spot. “Well what did you want him to do? You were at work. He was being respectful. Now. Tell me about the good stuff.”
They gather their fan gear and begin the hike to the stadium. Grubby downtown joggers circle a running track.
“The body is fantastic. The boy is lean. Awesome shoulders.”
“And the pivotal accessory?”
“Umm… are we this close?”
She slaps Zelda’s elbow. “We most certainly are. Describe!”
Zelda bites a fingernail. “A little… bigger than average. Not too. Excellent girth. Well manicured.”
Zelda laughs. “Just a trim.”
Zelda’s gaze goes to the lights above San Jose Municipal. An airliner tracks overhead.
“Stamina. Lots of time to get creative. I did the splits.”
Zarita cracks up. “You’re like, a superhero.”
“I felt like Wonder Woman. But the essential ingredient is that Jackson doesn’t give a fuck. It’s very liberating. I just hope it doesn’t extend to the rest of the relationship.”
“It’ll be fine.”
“How do you know?”
“I don’t. But you already did something. You had great sex with someone you really like. Isn’t that better than pining away in a corner? Now go from there.”
“Okay.” She smiles. “Go Giants!”
“Yeah. Go Giants.”
The Giants and the Rancho Cucamonga Quakes are engaged in a pitchers’ duel. Batter after batter returns to the dugout dejected.
“Our batters are worthless!” cries Zelda.
“Now isn’t that an interesting tendency?” says Zarita. “The devoted fan always ascribes the results of the game to her team alone. If we’re not hitting, it’s the fault of our batters. If their team isn’t hitting, it’s because of our awesome pitchers. Couldn’t it be equally true that their pitchers are performing well, or that their batters suck?”
“You’re missing the point entirely,” says Zelda. “The stoopid gorilla is ignoring me.”
Zarita slaps Zelda’s knee. “Yes! Where are my priorities? It’s all about shagging the team mascot.”
“Jesus! Don’t tell the whole stadium.”
Zarita lowers her voice. “I’m just concerned that you gave away the goods a little too easily. He might very well be assuming it was a one-time thing. Maybe next time hold out for at least one official date.”
“Maybe I just felt like it,” says Zelda. “Maybe that’s all I get from a guy like Jackson. And then he spends the whole game on the third-base line. Men are such chickenshits.”
Zarita pats her friend on the knee. “Okay. I’ll stop the lecture. Hey, maybe…”
She’s interrupted by the crack of the bat. Braughtelli strokes a liner into the right-center gap and slides into second.
“Wow!” says Zelda. “Aren’t our batters terrific?”
Zarita laughs. “They certainly are.”
It’s the sixth inning, and it’s still 0-0. But the Quakes’ pitcher, a tall, gangly dude, is beginning to labor. He starts the inning with a four-pitch walk to the Giants’ weakest hitter.
“That’s the stuff!” says Zarita. “Hey, any development on the Carson Alameda front?”
“Nope. But we do have this new quartet of bohemian types. They show up every morning at ten and do a deep dissection of all the latest movies. I think they’re getting ready to make one themselves. One of those digital indie kind of…”
“Uh-oh. Here comes your boyfriend.”
Zelda straightens up. “Where?”
“Behind home plate. I think he’s working on a gag.”
Gigante is tip-toeing behind a vendor carrying a tray of sodas in paper cups. You can almost hear the pizzicato violin that would match his steps in a cartoon. Some kids laugh, and he holds a finger to his enormous lips. Gigante taps the vendor’s right shoulder; when the vendor turns that way, Gigante dodges to his left, out of sight. He pulls the same trick on his left shoulder. When the vendor stops to scratch his head, Gigante grabs a soda and takes off. The vendor sets down his tray and runs after him, shaking a fist. Gigante runs a circle around a man standing in the walkway. Following the Keystone Rules of Slapstick, the vendor runs a circle around him, too. Finding himself surrounded, the man holds up his hands in surrender. After a few laps, Gigante calls a timeout. He and the vendor stand with their hands on their knees and take great heaving breaths.
Gigante calls time in and sprints up the steps. The vendor stands below and continues shaking his fist. Gigante stops at the top and, spotting Zelda, adopts a posture of great joy and surprise. He works his way up the row and kneels to offer her the stolen soda. She’s about to take it when he stands up, removes the lid and empties it over her head. Zelda screams, and opens her eyes to find that she is covered in confetti.
It’s the old Harlem Globetrotters trick. Gigante points at her and grabs his belly with laughter, then leans over and gestures at his cheek. Zelda applies a kiss, and Gigante exits, leading his audience in a round of applause for his victim.
“Wow,” says Zelda. “I really thought I was gonna get it.”
Zarita pushes her friend to the rhythm of her song: “Zelda’s boyfriend still loves her!”
The pitcher, facing another full count, wipes his brow.
At the end of the inning, the PA releases a stream of funky voodoo music and Gigante boards the top of the dugout. With her dancer’s eyes, Zelda picks up something unexpected. The steps are the same but the hand motions have smoothed out, like he’s carving the air. She pictures the embellishments of a magician, or hula, or the intricate gestures of Hindu dance. When she considers what those hands could do to her, she shivers.
“You cold?” asks Zarita. “Want to borrow my jacket?”
“No. I’m fine.”
Zelda is beginning to understand the bohemian quartet. Big, strapping Marcus, opera beard, Shakespearean baritone, always talking – he’s the vision guy. Second loudest is Maggie, blonde hair, one green stripe, jewelbox blue eyes, a sharp, symmetrical face. She’s the starlet. Rudy is gangly, boyish-looking, sandy brown hair, generous nose, but small in his speech and movements. He’s the screenwriter. The last is Mae, Rudy’s Japanese girlfriend, lovely, fragile, porcelain skin, thin arms, and forever coughing into a handkerchief. She’s the detail person: costumes, makeup, props.
Of course, there’s a sad, sad reason that Zelda has all this time and energy for group dynamics. It’s been a week since her night with Jackson, and despite the promise of the stolen soda gag, he has not called, has not visited, has not done a damn thing. What’s more, the ballteam has been on the road, so she hasn’t even had the opportunity of flirting with Jackson’s alter ego. She is unbelievably horny.
Her prospects worsen when the sky darkens and the rain falls in sheets. She’s a little surprised when Edward rolls in, soaked to the bone, and stands at the counter, shivering.
“Jesus, Edward! You’re going to catch pneumonia.”
Edward blinks a couple of times and takes the British cap from his head. Zelda’s a little surprised at the mop of black hair underneath.
Zelda studies him. “No.”
“I am giving you a prescription. I will make for you a Cocoa Conspirator. A little cocoa, a little cardamom and cinnamon. It’ll warm you right up.”
Edward’s dark eyes flit this way and that, as if he is trying to generate some reason to resist Zelda’s suggestion. He slumps his shoulders, defeated. “Okay.” He offers his three dollars; Zelda shakes him off.
He folds the bills into his wallet and turns to his corner office. Zelda feels miffed at the lack of a “thank you,” but returns from the back room to find him slipping a dollar into the tip jar.
By the time Jackson arrives, Zelda is beyond all sense of propriety. She is going to touch him. She leaves Courtney to take care of her order and greets him with a kiss on the cheek.
“I thought you’d like one without the costume.”
Jackson looks puzzled, but shakes it off. “Always. Good to see you, Miss Curve.”
“So what are you doing here? Wasn’t the game cancelled?”
He laughs. “I’ve learned my lesson about that. You’d be surprised how close they cut it sometimes. Well and, either way, I need to give Edward a ride home.”
Oh, screw Edward. “Yes,” she says. “Edward.”
She targets him with her most winsome smile, and fires heat-rays from her limbs.
“So,” he says. “Can I get my Istanbul?”
“Oh! Um, yeah. Sure.”
At the end of each shift, Zelda wraps up all the garbage bags and loads them onto a cart for a trip to the Dumpster. On the way back, she finds Jackson pacing the walkway, one ear to his phone.
“Right. Okay, boss. Yep. Check in with you tomorrow. Thanks.”
He pockets the phone and smiles at Zelda. “That’s it! Got the night off.”
“Aww. Poor Gigante.”
“So now what do I do?”
Pounce, girl. Pounce. She grabs his belt. “You’re aware that my apartment is close by? And that I get off in ten minutes?”
Jackson chews on his gum. “And do what?”
“Board games. I love board games.”
He grins. “You got a deal, Miss Curve. Let me check in with Edward.”
Oh, screw Edward. “Okay.”
Zelda’s apartment building stands at the edge of the parking lot, two football fields from the coffeehouse. Her balcony overlooks a trail adjoining Los Gatos Creek. She stops at the top of the stairs to find her key and uses her free hand to reach back and fondle Jackson’s erection. He responds by slapping her ass. Once they get inside, everything’s a blur. It’s time to be an animal, to use every trick in her book, and to show this young man that she is the best he will ever have. A half hour later, he stops her by holding a hand to her face.
“Hey. Honey. Slow down. It’s not a decathlon. Slide back up, inch at a time. Now. Back down. Inch at a time. Feel it. Now: look at me. Smile.”
She laughs. “That’s easy.”
He touches a finger to her nose. “Makes everything more fun.”
She nods, and slides back up.
Zelda crawls from the bed and peers outside. It’s twilight, which means maybe seven o’clock. Jackson sees her and sits up.
“Oh shit! I gotta get Edward.”
“Oh screw Edward. I have no idea why you hang out with that troll.”
Jackson stands up, still naked. Zelda tries to concentrate on what he’s saying.
“Do not talk shit about Edward.”
“I’m just saying…”
“Do me a favor and keep it to yourself. Life is not so fucking simple. Besides, it’s his birthday. I told him I’d buy him a beer.”
“Could I… come along?”
“Will you be nice?”
“Jackson. I’m nice to him every day.”
His muscles seem to relax. “Yeah. I’m sure you are.”
Jackson spends an inordinate amount of time showering and primping, making free use of Zelda’s brushes and deodorant. He walks too quickly across the parking lot, leaving her to fall behind in her heels. When she arrives at the door to Boswell’s, he’s already inside, gathered at the same table as before, this time with six amigos. Edward sits next to the wall, the British cap back in place, staring emptily across the bar.
Jackson makes no effort to introduce Zelda to his friends. But he does buy two pitchers, fill everybody’s glass and raise a toast.
“To Edward! Thirty-two years old. I’m glad you made it, old man.”
Edward manages a crooked half-smile and a sip from his beer. His eyes look glassy; apparently he whiled away Jackson’s absence by lifting a few brewskis. After a brief round of hoots and backslaps, the crew goes back to the usual one-upping and babe-scamming.
“G could not handle that if it was delivered in a pizza box.”
“I am not… I am… Yeah, you’re right.”
“Shame! Shame on the man with no balls.”
“Damn, that is torture, dude!”
The band, Asiago Bagel, kicks into something creepy-sexy by Rhianna. Zelda gets that familiar twitch in her hips and puts a hand on Jackson’s waist.
“Dance with me.”
“Duty calls, gentlemen.” He follows Zelda to the floor. She’s already into it, hands raised over her head, hips in orbit, eyes closed. When she opens them, Jackson is doing the white man’s overbite, bobbing side to side. She encourages him by backing her ass into his crotch.
He spanks her and grins. “You are such a package.”
Zelda steps away and goes cyclone, taking a slow spin, arms trailing behind, letting her hips and legs do whatever they want. Jackson is barely moving.
“Come on, Jackson. Shake it! I know you got it.”
Jackson takes a breath, makes two running-man steps, and stirs the pot. And stirs the pot.
“Oh fine,” says Zelda. “Funny man.” She pulls him into a slow dance and kisses his neck. “Apparently, I have worn you out.”
Jackson laughs. “I’m really not that good.”
“Of course you are.”
They return to the table, where Jackson gets sucked right back into his crew. It’s been a long day, and Zelda feels exhaustion creeping in, but to leave now would signal some kind of defeat. She heads to the courtyard, in hopes that the night air will wake her up.
Gradually, she assembles a plan. She will stay for one more beer, and for whatever attention Jackson might grant her, and then she will call it quits. She heads back inside, finds an opening at the end of the bar and orders a pint of Guinness. A Guinness pour takes a while, so she turns around to see if she can find Jackson. What she finds is Edward, stumbling her way.
He stops at the edge of the dance floor, takes off his jacket and tosses it to the floor, next to a speaker. The band is playing “Pumped-Up Kicks,” which carries a slow but infectious groove in the bass. Edward plants his feet and faces the band, soaking it in. His feet begin to shimmy, creating the sensation of hovering. On a hard drumbeat, he shoots out an arm and furls it backward in a wave. He joins his hands together and works the wave further, his arms weaving in and out like ribbons. The hands separate and the arms coil around each other like snakes. The rest of Edward’s body follows suit, absorbing the torque and sending it on to neck, spine, butt and legs in a flow of S-shaped curves. He curls into a spin, the spotlights shining through his hands.
“Ah, lucky girl. This is like a solar eclipse.”
Her bartender, Kat, delivers a completed Guinness.
“It generally takes four drinks and the camouflage of a madhouse crowd. But once he gets going, it’s a hell of a show.”
Zelda hands Kat a ten and turns back around. Edward freezes on a beat, swings to the side, and freezes again, sorting out a shape, chopping up time and rhythm.
Photo by MJV (light standards at San Jose Muni)