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)