After eight games in a row, Zelda is overjoyed when the Giants hit the road and leave her a few days off. When Roxy hears about it, she extends a dinner invitation that involves a drive all the way to Davenport, a small town ten miles north of Santa Cruz. Their target is the Roadhouse, an impressive two-story restaurant looming over the Highway One strip. Also impressive are the offerings. Roxy gets the pan-seared King salmon; Zelda orders the molasses-cured duck breast with tarragon risotto and porcini mushroom glace. The food is just as good as it sounds; afterward, they sit in a mutual food coma as the sun lowers over a battalion of cliffside cypresses across the way.
“Roxy, you’re so good to me. Why are you so good to me?”
Roxy takes a sip of dessert wine and sighs. “I’m one of the lucky ones, honey. It’s my greatest pleasure to share that luck with my friends. Besides, I know you’ve had a tough time lately.”
“You’re an angel.” She takes a drink of coffee. My God, even the coffee is brilliant. She envisions a Buddhist monk somewhere in Colombia, persuading each bean to fall from the bush of its own free will. Then she remembers.
“I have some news on rat boy.”
Roxy laughs. “I assume you mean Edward?”
“Yes. He set up a Facebook page. The only items that appear on the page are photographs. Nature photos, extremely close-up, like he’s got one of those special lenses…”
“Macro,” says Roxy. “Carson was quite the buff. I know much more about photo gear than I ever wanted to.”
Zelda smiles. “Did he take intimate photos of his wife?”
Roxy answers with a crafty smile. “When I was your age, I had a body that wouldn’t quit. And, thanks to Carson, lots of evidence to back it up. All very tasteful and anonymous, mind you.”
“I’d love to see them.”
“I’ll dig them up sometime. Any dessert for you?”
“Ooh! I’ve got my eye on this guava cheesecake. Want to split?”
“Hell no. You’re going to eat an entire slice of that cheesecake, and I am going to get this fudge volcano.”
“You are livin’ on the edge, Mama.”
After dinner, they head north, take a right into the coastal hills, then a gravel road through a narrow valley. The road ends in a redwood grove, and a large house built in the timbered style of a National Park lodge.
“This is one of my favorite places,” says Roxy. “It’s got a lovely little creek, and the fields out front are gorgeous.”
“Well, okay,” says Zelda. “But what are we doing here?”
Roxy lets out a high peal of laughter. “I’m sorry, honey. This belongs to some old friends, the Simonsons. They’re away in Spain, and asked me to drop by once in a while. Follow me.”
They climb onto a broad-timbered deck. The fog has decided to stay over the ocean, leaving the stars to spangle the sky like tinfoil ornaments.
“My God, Rox. It’s beautiful.”
“Jesus! Maybe you should warn me when you’re gonna do that.”
Roxy slides behind what looks like an enormous wine barrel and removes the cover, releasing a cloud of steam.
“Oh!” says Zelda. “I get it.”
Minutes later, they’re soaking inside, tennis-matching a joint.
“Zelda, Edward’s photos, what were they of?”
“Oh, um. This amazing orange mushroom. A maple leaf. A purple iris. California poppies. A monarch butterfly. And… a banana slug.”
“Banana slug! Y’know, I think he’s actually trying to tell you something.”
“Yeah, those banana slugs are pretty phallic.”
Roxy produces a smurfy pot-laugh. “Pssh! No! Banana slugs are found in very few places, and one of those places is here. I think what he’s saying is, he may have gone off the radar, but he’s still around, and he will be back.”
Zelda takes a toke and lets it out into the steam. “Yeah. Well, good. I will look forward to kicking him in the nuts.”
Roxy snickers. “Well. Don’t hate him forever, honey.”
Jackson stalls a little, chatting with McHenry, the sharp old dude who runs the Heineken cart. When he sees Gigante head up the tunnel, he creeps along next to the wall, feeling like a cop conducting a raid. He crosses to the dressing room and slips a key into the lock.
“What the fuck do YOU want?”
He turns to meet the loopy smile of Gigante.
“Zelda! You’re in costume.”
“Don’t give a shit.”
“At least come inside.”
“Sure thing, asshole.”
For two people, the room is pretty tight. Jackson heads to a locker and starts filling his backpack: toiletries, clock radio, windbreaker.
“So what the fuck do you want?” asks Zelda.
“Just clearing out.”
“Makin’ a clean getaway?”
“Traitor.” She pushes him. He stumbles against the locker.
“Keep your fucking paws off me, psychobitch. I’m not your fucking boyfriend.”
“What do you know about it?”
Jackson finishes filling his pack and tries to look the gorilla in the eyes.
“Edward tells me everything. And I tell everything to my wife, so don’t waste our time with your bullshit sob stories. You’re a fucking mental case, and you need to get some help before you end up in jail.”
“You know where he is, don’t you?”
“I told him not to tell me. But what’s important is, he’s away from you.”
She points a furry finger. “He’s the criminal. He’s the one who left me.”
Jackson feels stupid, arguing with an ape, but he decides on one last foray, just in case something sticks.
“That man lost his life to real things: illness, death, poverty, homelessness. You had your feelings hurt. Welcome to the world, honey. What he did to remake himself, it’s a goddamned miracle, and if you had any decency at all you would just let it go!”
“He owes me,” says the gorilla. “He owes me! Goddamn bastard.”
“Well I don’t really give a fuck.”
Jackson tries to leave. Zelda cuts him off and aims a knee at his privates. He blocks it with the side of his leg and drives her into the wall, pinning the gorilla head with his forearm.
“Unlike Edward, I don’t mind being an asshole. If you ever go after me again, I will fuck you up.”
Jackson gets up and heads for the door. Zelda starts to cry.
Jackson calls out over his shoulder: “Not buying that, either!”
The door slams shut. Zelda cries for a while more, then takes off the head to check for damage. Once the adrenaline has seeped out, she suits up and heads back to work. She is immediately assailed by a squad of eight-year-olds led by a red-headed instigator.
“You’re not a gorilla! You’re a man! I see you in there.”
Zelda tries to remember what she does in moments like these, some kind of gag, but she can’t find it. Her head fills with heat.
“Come on, take off your head, you faker! I’ll bet you’re not even a guy. I’ll bet you’re a big, fat girl. Faker, faker, faker!”
Naturally, his followers join in, faker, faker, faker echoing through the tunnel.
“I will FUCKING kill you!!”
The snack lines go horribly silent. Zelda peers around to see the faces of parents, children, infants, every one of them looking at her.
The redhead laughs. “Oh, you’re in trouble now.”
Just then, she hears the opening strains of “YMCA,” and, seeing it as a chance for escape, turns to make a dash for the stands. Standing at the top of the ramp, arms crossed, is the team owner, Mr. Piccone.
“My office. Now.”
Zelda ends the day at the old coffeehouse, sipping at an Istanbul not Constantinople as she studies Edward’s Facebook page. The latest offering is a rose, blood red, spangled with beaded raindrops. A praying mantis. A chunk of quartz. A clamshell streaked in blue. A heart carved into a treetrunk. These are all she has left.
Photo by MJV