Flash Special: Five by Robert Scotellaro (September 2018 / 18.6)
The canned music was awful, and I was in a foul mood. They were all out of my favorite Triple-X-Chocolate bars. In fact, a frowny Safeway faux goddess, who’d stocked the shelves, said they probably were discontinued, which left me steaming. And I didn’t know it then, that art and endurance were what I really craved. Till the old woman in a walker said “I’ve got it” (to the frail man behind her, pushing a shopping cart) and reached up out of her aluminum scaffolding, onto her toes, one arm extended, her fingers inching a can to the edge of the shelf. A can of tomatoes with a bursting-with-flavor label; a transformative move, in her old housedress with wrinkled yellow flowers—that momentary full-body stretch into an angled reach, so balletic, it made you wish the canned music was orchestral, instead of what it was: some whiney guy with a broken heart. And then she eased back down, handing the can over, and the two ambled slowly down the aisle. He, in her wake, grabbing a box of something and flinging it into the cart, and the spell was broken. My Triple-Chocolate-empty-space, returned. And where was a goddess when you needed one? When the stage was swept clean, and all that remained, it seemed, was a desperate, growling need for something really sweet.
Ben was still wearing the rubber antlers from the Christmas party. His Rudolf the Reindeer red nose, which was really a rubber clown nose, lay between the salt and pepper shakers. It was late and the old diner waitress kept calling him Bullwinkle (the goofy cartoon moose from his childhood) each time she filled his coffee cup.
His Snow Queen wife of 27 years glittered across from him.
“I pitched it,” Ben said. “Hard. But all he could do was say ‘Uh huh, uh huh’, and eyeball that bimbo in the elf outfit shaking her butt all over the place. What elf is six one in heels? Christ.”
She lay down her wand and slipped out of her coat. “How about a steak?’ she said. A nice juicy one?”
“They got antacids on the menu? I could use a soup bowl full.”
“Maybe you’re shooting too high,” She said. “Aim a little lower, you’ll hit.”
“I’ve been shooting into the dirt my whole life. Wearing oven gloves for everything I touch.” His glasses fogged with steam as he sipped.
“Cooking metaphors suit you,” she said and smiled.
“What’s that supposed to mean?” She shrugged and a bit of glitter sprinkled onto the seat.
“My goose is cooked with this company,” he said. “How’s that for a cooking metaphor?”
She reached a gloved hand across the table, grazing the clown nose. She had offered to get him one she’d seen that flickered on and off, but he said the clown nose was good enough. The gloves were white and she’d meticulously sewn sequins to the backs of them.
Outside the plate glass, snow was beginning to dust the fat backs of cars. A cat ran under one of them. It was black and she found the contrast stunning. The waitress came over and filled her cup, then his.
“Here ya go, Bullwinkle,” she said. And without looking up, he thanked her.
It was an old cat hanging out of a first floor window of an apartment building, peering down intently. I’d passed it a hundred times and it was always there, its nose against the glass as though it was trying to sniff through it to the world outside. It was boney and matted and little pieces were bit out of its ears. Its rheumy eyes would stare down at me.
As Tina and I passed below the window this time, it was open. The cat was leaning halfway out, its ears pinned back. Its paws edged toward the end of the sill.
“Shit!” Tina said, “Jeff!”
I heard myself say, “No, Kitty!”
As it leapt, I thought: cactus, I thought barbwire, I thought pain and stepped back as the animal landed with a horrible screech and noticed then, it had only three legs. It hobbled off under a car, lowered itself and hissed. Its goopy eyes peered out at us from the shadows.
“Why didn’t you catch it?” Tina snapped. “You were right there. You bastard!”
“Look at it? It’s freaked out. A leg missing and it probably just broke the other three.”
“It happened so fast,” I told her.
“Sure,” she said. “All you ever think about is yourself.”
“Not that again.”
“Christ,” she said. “It’s old. You were right there.”
I bent down snapping my fingers, said: “Kitty, kitty. Come on kitty…”
Tina went under the window and called up. “Hello! Hello!” She rang the bell, kept pressing the button. “Nobody’s home,” she said. “Shit.”
“Maybe we can wait,” I said.
“For what? For it to drop dead under the car?” She got down on all fours, her head street level and began sweet talking it. It was a voice I faintly remembered.
She took off her jacket, reached in slowly. It spat. She put her hand down in the gutter in front of it, kept it there motionless. After a bit the cat inched forward and sniffed it. She was talking to it the whole time, softly. I couldn’t tell what she was saying, but eventually it came out and she wrapped it in her jacket, pressed against her breast.
As we drove to the vet, I could hear it purring. One by one she gently fingered its legs. “I don’t think they’re broken,” she said.
“Great,” I said. She turned and glared at me.
I wondered what the hell it was thinking. Was it a final fling into the wild before it went, away from that sill and those olive curtains? What was it, that Tina needed to let the past stay where it belonged? Would a handful of blood and claws have done it?
The car windows were shut and I didn’t dare open them, even a crack. It was hot and I was sweating terribly, but I didn’t complain. As she baby talked, rocking it gently and rubbed the tips of its ears, the purring grew louder. Till it was finally louder than anything else.
Dear God (A Love Story)
She’s learned to yodel, and somehow listening to those rapid fluctuating changes in pitch is turning me on. She’s sitting by the window and her yodeling competes with a tree full of noisy birds and a jet overhead, a garage band not nearly far enough away. She was once my wife and now she is just my daughter’s mother. Everything in-between has burned up in some desert when I wasn’t paying attention, sucked up by some saguaro cactus, dangerously unapproachable.
She’s good. The yodeling is good. And I can tell she’s proud to be showing me this new useless prowess. And I wonder if it has the same effect on whoever the hell she’s seeing at the moment. Those cherry red lips smiling now, and only the tree full of birds, a drum set and one screechy electric guitar remains.
“That’s great,” I say, thinking too bad there aren’t any old Roy Roger movies she could try out for. I’d love to get her back with some magnetic brilliance machine I haven’t yet invented. See again what was once in those same eyes, only younger, that looked at me so differently. Want to tell her I feel like I just got a personal note from God that says: “You’re screwed, pal!” when she asks how I’m doing.
“Great,” I say. And there’s those cherry red lips half-mooning up. I can hear our daughter singing in the next room, as she gets her stuff. The weekends never last long enough and I will have to rememorize all the names she’s given her extensive menagerie. “Can you yodel a few lines from Shakespeare?” I ask.
“Always the kidder,” she says and lifts her cup of coffee which must be cold now. Then her cell lights up and blares a Mission Impossible ringtone. The garage band stops, for what I’m sure must be a pot break.
“Excuse me,” she says, and goes into the kitchen with the phone to her ear, laughing.
I write the Big Guy back in my head (simple and direct): Dear God: What the fuck?!
A Rush of Shadows
She fell in with some bad nuns who smoked pot behind the rectory. The eldest had a past, a prison tattoo: the name Emma in a heart cracked down the middle under her robes. The other stuttered, and cursed herself for doing so. Said the high point of her life was going up all those stairs in the Statue of Liberty as a kid, and looking out from the big lady’s crown. Her little eyes above those big ones. Both heads in the clouds.
After a jet made a grey scar above them and it was quiet again, the nun with the tattoo said: “Inexhaustible abundance is a myth. You’d be wise to remember that.” The novice nodded—watched some fast moving clouds send a rush of shadows across a half-painted house in the distance. Wondered who the hell Emma was.