Sunday, September 27, 2015

Mascot, Chapter Twenty-Five: The Two Z's

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The Two Z’s

Zarita arrives at noon, and takes a moment to study the opening-day banners, humongous images of former San Jose players – Joe Panik, Madison Bumgarner, Buster Posey – who recently helped the big-league club to another championship. She enters the tunnel past the churro stand and immediately runs into Gigante. She grabs him by the arm, but realizes that this Gigante is too tall. Joe gives her a cartoonish wave.

“Hi,” she says. “Is Zelda here?”

Gigante raises a finger, faces the third-base end of the tunnel and outlines a route: straight, a left, a right, another right. Then he lifts an imaginary stein and takes a drink.

“Oh. Past the beer stands?”

He places a finger on his nose.

“Thanks, Joe…gante.”

Gigante belly laughs and ruffles Zarita’s hair.

“Aigh! Silly.”

She takes the prescribed route and finds Zelda at a picnic table, her legs propped against a low fence bordering the field. A cluster of players are taking grounders near shortstop. Zelda’s hair is a ragged mop. She wears a brown tank-top with bleach stains. A roll of flab spills over her waistband. There’s an empty Budweiser on the table, another in her hand. She pops a handful of sunflower seeds into her mouth and spits the shells onto the grass. Zarita takes a breath.

“Hi, Z.”

Zelda takes a glance, her eyes covered by dark glasses. “Hey. ‘Sup.” She turns back toward the field.

“I’ve been trying to get a hold of you, but…”

“No response? Yeah, I know the feeling. Coulda used a friendly voice myself, back around Edward’s accident.”

Zarita bites her lip. “I saw the video.”

Zelda takes a swig of beer and belches. “They do some amazing shit with videos these days.”

The delusions are piling up, and Zelda realizes it’s useless to argue.

“Z, I miss you.”

Zelda says nothing.

“Z? I’m pregnant.”

Zelda stares into center, where the outfielders are shagging flies. “Bitch stole my boyfriend. Got her ex-husband in on it, how the fuck does that work?”

“Zelda! I’m pregnant.”

Zelda lowers her sunglasses to reveal bloodshot eyes and day-old mascara. “Glad to know the plumbing works. Bring the kid to a game and I’ll buy him a churro. Meanwhile, let me know when you can help me get my boyfriend back.” She turns back to the field and mutters in a rumbling meander. “Fucking cunt and her fucking ex-husband, bitch has superpowers give me the restraining order like I’m the problem get a fucking lawyer myself take these assholes for all they’re…”

Zarita slams both hands against the table. The aluminum produces a surprising amount of noise.

“Stop it, Z! Stop it! Goddammit!”

Zelda half-turns. Zarita clears her throat.

“Edward and Roxy are getting married. In July. Jackson’s the best man.”

Zelda turns away and tosses more seeds into her mouth.

“It’s over, Zelda. It’s over. Now please come back. I can’t stand this. I need you. My baby needs you. You need to start over. I’ll help you start over.”

Zelda spits her seeds, finishes her beer, stares at second base. The groundskeeper comes out to drag the infield. Zarita stares into the back of Zelda’s head, tears tracking her face.

“Zelda? Please?”

She waits a long time, but nothing’s coming. The air is split by the sound of a bat striking a ball.

“Goodbye, Zelda.”

Zelda listens to Zarita’s footsteps, fading away, and whispers. “Later, bitch.”

The second inning ends. Zelda reports to the dressing room. Joe’s on the couch, headless, talking to his wife on the phone. Putting on the costume is something Zelda has been looking forward to for months, the chance, finally, to disappear. She pulls on the head, the familiar cave, the stale smell, and checks herself in the mirror. Gigante gives her a goofy smile.

The second she’s out the door, she feels a tug, and turns to find a little fire hydrant of a girl, hair so white-blonde it looks like vanilla ice cream. She looks up at the monster with wide blue eyes.

Zelda kneels and offers a fist-bump. The little girl goes in with her knuckles and finds that the gorilla has switched to a high-five. She changes to a high-five, but now the gorilla has returned to the knuckle-bump. The joke swims around in the little girl’s eyes but finally lands. She explodes with a squeal of laughter. Zelda wants to smile, but she knows that Gigante will do it for her.

Photo by MJV (painting by MJV)

Friday, September 11, 2015

Mascot, Chapter Twenty-Four: The Meeting

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The Meeting

A week later, Zelda doesn’t know if Edward is alive or dead. Her calls to Roxy go unanswered. As do her calls to Jackson, to Zarita, her texts to Zarita, her emails to Zarita. Roxy’s plan has worked: to cut her off from Edward, to free him up for harvest.

She’s at the coffeehouse, searching local news sites for accident reports, when her cell phone rings, an unidentified number. She’ll take anything.


“Hi. Is this Zelda Cameron?”


“Hello! It’s Carson Alameda. Roxy’s ex.”

“Sure! Carson. Hi.” Anything.

“I have news regarding Edward.”

“Oh God! Is he okay?”

“Yes. Relatively speaking. Listen, I have some details for you, but I really need to see you in person. Could you drop by my office today? Maybe four o’clock? I’m in Los Gatos.”

“Yes! Anything.”

“Good. It’s right off of Main and North Santa Cruz…”

Carson’s in a modest two-story, a boxy white building with bits of Spanish Mission trim. Zelda checks in with the receptionist, and Carson comes out to meet her. His hair has grown a little grayer, but he retains the strong-chinned handsomeness, the smoky blue eyes. He wears a silver suit, a tie of maroon and chocolate.

“Hi Zelda. Please, follow me.” He leads her upstairs to a windowless conference room with a family-size table. One end of the table offers a large monitor hooked up to a laptop.

“Please. Sit here. I need you to see the screen. First of all, you should know that I am representing Mr. Svaretz in this matter. Let’s begin with the medical report.” He hits a button on the laptop. An X-ray appears: two ghostly stripes, a large bone abruptly cracked into two pieces, a thin bone still intact but with visible fissures.

“The right tibia,” says Carson. “A compound fracture. The right fibula, a greenstick fracture. From evidence at the site, it appears that he landed on the edge of a tree stump.”

Zelda covers her mouth. One of those odd empathetic chills runs from the middle of her spine to her groin.

“Better the leg than the skull. The fall was twenty feet. He could have been killed.”

Zelda chews on a fingernail and hums her concern.

“They placed six pins in his tibia. He’ll have a year of therapy, much of it painful. In the end, however, he should be able to regain complete mobility.”

“Could I… Is he receiving visitors?”

Carson taps a finger on the tabletop. “Not sure, actually. Let’s address that later. Now. Being a lawyer’s ex-wife, Roxy had her property equipped with security cameras, including this one on the deck of the treehouse. I would ask that you watch this carefully.”

Carson expands the picture to full screen and hits the play arrow. The shot comes from the eaves behind Zelda, aimed at the slide. For a security camera, the image is well-defined. You can see the features on Edward’s face. He is holding up his hands, speaking in a nervous but intelligible manner. All you can see of Zelda is her back, and her words are barely discernible. Her voice rises and falls in wild, mewling arcs, like a cat preparing for a fight. Edward slowly backs away; Zelda paces forward, her voice climbing in volume and pitch. When Edward pivots toward the slide, Zelda lets out a barbaric scream and charges. She strikes Edward on the shoulder, sending him into the gap between the slide and the railing, and then she’s gone, too, her momentum pulling her over. The rest is a faint audio of thuds and cracks, interrupted by Edward’s shrieks.

“But I… I slipped! It was an accident.”

Carson pulls the play bar back and uses a frame-forward device to analyze the action. “Notice your feet, just before the charge. Firmly planted, knees bent, like an athlete. And then…” He nudges it forward, one step, two, a lunge. “And here, the moment of impact. Your forearm strikes Mr. Svaretz’s shoulder and drives through, with such force that both of you are hurled from the deck. The intent to cause harm is fairly obvious.”

He plays it back one more time, making certain to include the shrieks at the end. Then he closes the frame and reaches into his jacket pocket.

“This is a flash drive containing the X-ray and a copy of the video.” He pulls a brown envelope from a folder. “This is a restraining order. You are not to come within three hundred yards of Edward Svaretz or his current residence on Alameda Lane.” He gives her a few seconds to scan the paper, then sits in a chair next to Zelda’s. Zelda can smell coffee on his breath.

“Let me be clear, Zelda. If not for the affection that Edward, Roxy and I generally feel for you, you would, at this moment, be in jail. What you saw on that video is criminal assault.”

“But I didn’t mean to…”

“‘I didn’t mean to.’ I once had a divorce client who spoke those words. What he didn’t mean to do was to shoot his wife in the head. You have a problem, Zelda. Do not take it lightly, and for God’s sake, get some counseling. If you break this restraining order, I will file charges, and you will end up in prison. Are we clear?”

Zelda looks up at Carson’s gray-blues and begins to cry.

“Just nod your head.”

She does. He pats her on the shoulder.

“I’m sorry about all… this. Feel free to stay here in the room as long as you want. And do give me a call if you have any questions.”

He hands her a box of Kleenex and leaves.

Zelda sits on a bench in the town park. Orange light washes the facades of the stores across Main Street. She runs her finger along the flash drive. The drive is a magic lamp, and it contains the evil Zelda. She recalls that the Los Gatos Creek Trail is two blocks away, and gets up to begin the long walk home.

Photo by MJV