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Zelda savors the comfy embrace of her leggings. She is back to her human identity, cleaned up, ready to breathe. A twelve-inning day game in the heat of late June has her longing for Jackson’s return. She opens the door to find a Pakistani supermodel in an orange blouse, glowing with honeymoon sex.
Their embrace is so exuberant that a family of Giants fans turns to check the hubbub. Zarita laughs.
“We have disturbed the patrons.”
“I don’t care. Let them think we are lesbian lovers.”
Zarita gives her a swat. “I am taken, honey. And taken. And taken.” Her eyes drift skyward.
“Good sex in the Bahamas?”
They stroll the tunnel arm-in-arm.
“I didn’t even know that Jackson and I had any boundaries left. But we did. Wiped out by marriage and the tropics. Oh Z, I don’t mean to sound all Hallmarky, and I know it won’t last forever, but lately I’m so happy I’m having trouble containing myself in my own skin. Can I buy ya a drink?”
Zelda has so many things to tell her that they jam up like drivers at a bottleneck. She smiles.
In the late seventies, the city of Sunnyvale wiped out most of its downtown to construct a monstrous mall called TownCenter. The mall is now a half-empty ghost, and the center of town is Murphy Avenue, two blocks that the bulldozers missed. Its patrons park across the street in the lot of a failing Macy’s. In the welcome shadow of eight o’clock, the two Z’s settle at a table outside an Irish pub with matching black-and-tans. Zelda attacks a pastrami sandwich.
“Poor girl!” says Zarita. “You must be famished.”
“You know,” she says between chews, “normal people don’t have jobs that go overtime just because some idiot pitcher gives up a game-tying homer in the ninth. I will be so glad when Jackson gets back.”
Zarita chews on a fingernail. Zelda bears down on the sandwich. A wave of music drifts down the street, a band gearing up on an outdoor stage.
“That’s the… thing, Z. Jackson and my boss sort of hit it off at the reception, and he offered him a job as an installer. The thing is, he has to start training first thing Monday and… he can’t do Gigante anymore.”
Zelda’s eyes go blank, as if someone has unplugged her. Zarita reaches for her hand, but Zelda jerks it away. She gives her a panicked look and bolts, kicking over her chair. Zarita gets up to follow, but then she sees all the things they’ve left at the table and waves down a waiter.
“Excuse me. Could you watch my bags? I have to find my friend.”
The waiter looks very unsure about this proposition, but gives her a nod. Zarita paces the sidewalk, dodging pedestrians.
Zelda doesn’t know what she’s looking for, doesn’t remember what she’s running from. She hears a funny old song, “Youngblood,” and follows the sound. The banner over the stage reads Megatones. A tall blond man stands at the edge, fanning his hand over an acoustic guitar as he sings into a clip-on microphone. He sees Zelda and smiles. Zelda looks down and notices his boots, which are the color of butterscotch and have little metal rings on the sides. She slips her fingers through them and holds on.
This one is not going to get away.
The singer finishes, and finds that he can’t move his feet. He sees Zelda’s grip and laughs.
“Hey guys! I think we just got our first groupie.”
Zarita’s picking her way through the tables outside a Mexican restaurant when she notices the cessation of music, and the words of the singer.
“Has anyone lost an attractive brunette?”
Zarita pardons and excuse-me’s her way through the crowd.
“I’m so sorry. I don’t know what…” She manages to yank Zelda’s fingers from the loops. Zelda screams.
The singer quickly backs out of reach. Zarita pulls Zelda as her screams become louder and more shrill.
“No! No! I don’t… You can’t… Noooooooooh!”
“Thanks for coming,” calls the singer. “And as for the rest of you, let this next song be a warning.” They start into “Tequila.”
Zarita doesn’t know whether to laugh or take offense, but meanwhile Zelda is disintegrating in her hands. She leads her into a dark tunnel between two restaurants and settles her onto the Mexican tiles. Zelda turns her face to the wall and sobs.
“Everybody’s leaving me, Z. Everybody’s leaving.”
Zarita hands the waiter a five for actually watching their bags (her faith in humanity partly restored) and walks Zelda to a loft overlooking the bar. She’s quiet for a long time, and Zelda knows better than to interrupt. That’s a good thing about friends, she thinks. They understand each other’s recuperative systems.
A band is setting up downstairs: Darkwave, ‘80s cover tunes. When they blast their way into “Melt With You,” Zarita takes Zelda to a balcony overlooking an alley. Couples pass beneath them, looking cozy in the twilight. Zarita recalls an evening from her honeymoon, a restaurant on a white sand beach, the waves dappled with bio-fluorescence. A jet passes overhead, recalling her to duty.
“Z? Did you say that Edward left?”
Zelda touches a napkin to her overused nose. “He is the disappearing man.”
“How long has he been gone?”
“Were you guys getting pretty serious?”
Zelda gives a sad laugh. “Yeah. The sex was great.”
“So… why do you think he left?”
A long silence. “I was a little mean.”
Zarita slaps the railing. “Well what did he expect? Instant forgiveness? God, if he was here right now, I would kick his ass.”
Another silence. The band plays Depeche Mode. Zelda sniffles.
Photo by Sonia Cuellar