“So, let me get this straight…”
Jess sat wedged between Leo and Gabriel in the Chevy pickup, her feet straddling the hump.
“You,” she pointed her right hand at Gabriel on her left. “And you,” she pointed at Leo with her left hand. Her arms made an X across her chest. “Since when?”
“I brought cigars,” Leo said, opening the glove box. He lit them one at a time and handed one to her and one to Gabriel. Jess pulled a silver flask out of her Frye boot and motioned with it towards the screen.
“Movie’s starting,” she said.
She stared first at Leo, with his Beatle-boy haircut, aquiline nose, and backseat moves. She looked at Gabriel. Oh, elegant Gabe. Gabe on the beach in the moonlight.
“Just previews,” said Gabriel. “So, what are you thinking about?”
Jess took a sip of bourbon, and asked Leo to roll the window down. She fanned the blue cigar smoke out into the night. It was almost raining again, the mist as soft as hairspray.
“I”m thinking about math class,” she said. “The solution to three factorial.”
“Easy,” Leo said.
“I know,” she said. She felt Gabe’s hand behind her, his soft fingertips inching up under her t-shirt. Leo slid his hand in from the other side, and grasped Gabriel’s hand at the small of her back.
“Easy,” Gabriel repeated. “Three times two times one.”
Category Archives: Maggie Sokolik
“Whatcha drinking?” yells a woman from the end of the bar.
I swirl my glass. The sugar flower spins in a lavender eddy. “Violet Hour,” I say, more loudly than I’d planned.
“Isn’t that the name of the song that’s playing?” I squint trying to hear the music coming from the speakers above the door.
“I can’t hear it,” I say, still swirling. “My name is Violet,” I add. I am trying to stop lying. Going without cigarettes has been easier.
She moves to the empty chair next to me. “That’s what I’ve been talking about,” she says. She smells like a fried egg.
“What?” I say, catching a bit of lyrics… And now you`re setting upon your chair.
“Fucking coincidences everywhere, I’m telling you.”
“Hmmm… like what?”
“Violet! Violet Hour!” She slams her glass down, sloshing the last of it onto her napkin.
“Aha,” I say. “Tell me another.”
“Yesterday, I was reading a book on the bus. I looked up and there’s the author sitting across from me. Right there, on the bus.”
“Like Leave Her to Heaven? Did you kill her son?”
“What the hell are you talking about?”
I shrug. “What are you drinking?” I ask, staring at her empty glass. “I’ll get you another.”
“Funny. My name is Margarita.”
“Oh, fuck you,” she says, and grabs her coat from the chair.
“Could I have a scotch and soda?” I ask the bartender, as I toss another quarter in the jukebox.
Lord Jesus, will you look at that picture. There’s little bitty Johnny in his great big old cowboy boots, sitting on Santa’s lap. That must have been at Penney’s. I had a job there selling shoes for a short while. Anyway, Little Johnny loved clomping up and down the stairs in those boots, and kicked our tomcat a time or two with them, even though Big John hollered at him not to. Big John could holler, that’s for sure.
Johnny’s got on that blue denim vest I made him, back when I had a Singer of my own. And, if you look real close, you see there’s a bullet hole next to his left ear. A stray one went past his head and straight through Santa’s heart. I tried fixing it with scotch tape and red construction paper from an old shoebox of Johnny’s school supplies, but you can still see the ragged edges where the .22 went through. I suppose it might look a lot better if I put in some new glass.
But of course they won’t let me replace the glass. Who knows what I might do? I’m on suicide watch, you know, which is ridiculous with a capital R. I’d only be suicidal if I’d have missed a second time.
The manager complains that the closet shelves are lined with newspaper. She has instructed the front desk clerk to affix proper paper to each of the empty shelves.
Bharadwaj stands with his back to me, scraping off the yellowed pages of the Ganashakti. He then begins measuring, cutting, and gluing brown paper from a long roll. He sings in Bengali. The manager enters to inspect his work. After a short discussion, he says, “Yes, Madam,” removes the paper from the bottom shelf, remeasures, recuts, and reglues.
The telephone is a mere prop on the desk. It is not connected to a wire, the wall, or the outside world. The small hard cots are covered in graying sheets, naked of blankets. A trail of ants creeps along the grout in the shower, going from nowhere to nowhere. The little red fridge humming in the corner is empty except for one Kingfisher beer, supplied by Bharadwaj.
“Americans like beer, right?” he asks. “It’s not acceptable for a woman to buy beer.” He proffers the beer in a brown paper bag.
The window stands open in hopes of a breeze, but diesel fumes and dust drift in instead. I think I hear a monkey, but Bharadwaj says it’s just an ordinary bird. I want to hear monkeys.
The shelves are completed. I run my hands over the clean dry surface of the fresh paper. “Beautiful,” I whisper.
I have nothing to put there.
“Right there.” Doctor Hagedorn pointed. “That dark spot.”
Lina moved in closer, but didn’t see it. Her brain scan looked like a lotus slice.
The doctor continued, “Probably accounts for your symptoms.”
A week ago, Lina had felt a pain crack over her right eyebrow. It was there every day, creeping from her ear to the middle of her forehead.
“I’d like to do further tests…”
“No,” said Lina.
“You can’t ignore this.”
“Maybe next week.”
“Tomorrow.” The doctor started writing. Lina noticed the part in Dr. Hagedorn’s red hair was gray. This comforted her.
Lina sat quietly at dinner, not eating the potatoes she had mashed or the corn she had husked. She thought about the stroke that had crippled her mother, leaving her silent and drooling.
Aphasia. Lina’s mother could no longer speak, read, or write. She could move her left hand, so she would feebly gesture to Lina–a sad game of charades.
Lina drove to Morrow Manor, where her mother was probably already in bed, dreaming of the mad scene from Lucia di Lammermoor. Lina called it Sorrow Manor—just half in jest.
She drove away without going in, taking the freeway to the Ferry Terminal.
No one noticed her on the ferry. Not a soul on deck. She walked to the railing and looked over the edge. She couldn’t see the water below. No matter, she thought. She knew it was there.
She climbed over the rail and jumped into the mist.
“Have I told you this one before?”
I can’t think of one he hasn’t told me, but saying so won’t stop him. I fire up the FreeCell game, put the phone on speaker, and pour a tumbler of chardonnay.
“Nope, I don’t think so.” The chardonnay is good, not too oaky. My opening deal looks promising, too.
“May she rest in peace,” I say, before he can say it.
“Yes,” he says. “May she rest in peace. I don’t know why you couldn’t get along better with her. She loved you as much as I do.”
Comforting, I think.
“Well, I doubt that,” I say, “I mean, Jesus. She took back all the gifts she ever gave me. Even that red dress. Did she ever wear it?”
“You didn’t have to give it back.”
“I was happy to. She never gave a gift with an ounce of sincerity. Only conditions.”
“Okay, well, anyway. I think I’ve told you this one before…”
I deal again. FreeCell isn’t working out. The chardonnay is getting warm. I drink a few ounces and refill the glass, hoping to bring some chill back to it. I think I bought the bottle in Sonoma, at that little shop on the corner of, oh, what was it?
“It was that time, at the beach house, do you remember? You kids loved the beach house.”
Right, the chardonnay came from the general store near Schellville. A good price. I really should go back sometime.
At dinner in Marrakech, Namid danced on the table, waving a white napkin, propelled by jetlag and poor judgment. She had danced in Viennese palaces, tangoed in Tashkent, and swayed to the music of Georgie Fame in Dublin.
Gypsy blood, her grandfather called it, an easy metaphor for the desire to wander. He was military careerman.
On his rare visits home, he bore tales of eating goat’s eyes with Haile Selassie and riding the last chopper out of Saigon.
Gypsy blood. Namid wanted it.
Vilnius wasn’t as advertised—no meat shortages, no bread lines, no Soviet-era grimness. Her hotel was owned by basketball star Marčiulionis. She ate sushi next to Michael Jordan’s oversized sneakers in the memorabilia-filled bar.
Saturday night she found a traveling disco in an old monastery–the cover charge included champagne and caviar. The Macarena played, and everyone jumped and shimmied. They did not do the Macarena.
Namid asked the guy next to her, “Don’t you know this dance?”
He was a Marine Guard. On Sunday, they drove to the Polish border in a Mercedes with diplomatic plates. He translated the Russian monument where Hitler’s trains stopped in the leafy green forest.
Her grandfather had been a Marine Guard at the Nuremberg trials. Or, so the story went. Namid doubted the truth of these stories, just as she began to doubt the truth of her own.
Gypsy blood. She wondered if they knew the Cupid Shuffle in Johannesburg.
She had seen those nutjobs who carried Jesus-sized crosses around the Old City, walking the stations of the cross in their self-serving piety. They were worse than the Haredim, the hard core Jews with their goofy hats and bald wives. Each hat told where its wearer was from, although she didn’t know which hat went with which place. She imagined the big fur ones were from Poland, or some other frigid clime.
There it was–a cross, leaning in the corner against the ancient wall. She had often wondered how heavy they were. She picked it up and felt its weight–lighter than she imagined. A stone in the wall of the Via Dolorosa showed the symbol VII. She had no idea what the seventh station was–an Arab shopkeeper across the narrow cobblestone walkway said, “Jesus fall the second time.” He didn’t look up from his newspaper.
“What?” she asked. His coffee smelled like cardamom.
“Jesus fall the second time. You want a map? Ten shekels.”
“No thanks,” she said. “Can I just look at one?”
He shook his head.
“Do you know where the eighth station is?”
“Around the corner. By the souk. Jesus meet the daughters of Jerusalem.”
She picked up the cross, put it on her back, and walked towards the scent of cinnamon and cloves.