The shuffling line stretches out before Maurice and Estelle.
“Walmart on Black Friday,” Maurice quips. His face is red with effort and a drop of sweat is stranded in unfamiliar territory on the tip of his nose.
It’s a busy shift for the grandiloquent couple and despite the high ceiling and bright fluorescence, the large hall seems confining. It smells close, humid. Even Estelle’s tinsel and mistletoe corsage cannot bring cheer or spur the plodding hands of the clock.
“Maurice,” Estelle says, dandling an ankle.
“Yes, my winsome one?”
“Tell me, this—your first job… how are you managing, so far?”
“‘Without labour nothing prospers!’” Maurice shouts above the din. “Anyway, to answer your question—I love it! So engaging. I feel alive. The simple honest nobility of work…”
“Oh, darling. I’m so glad!”
“Indeed. And you?” he says, one wary eye on the ceaseless queue.
“Well, I do miss the Continent. Shopping. Our Bentley,” she replies, marking each item with an eye roll. “Fall trips to Maine… all of our champagne memories.”
“It was a glorious time,” Maurice adds, his mood swinging like a hatchet. He rears back as if retreating from his memories and the attendant regrets that dangle—ornaments on a heavily trimmed tree. “We fracked… we profited. We trawled… we profited. We stripped and laid bare and bored and bleached and burned and bedazzled and always… we profited. Let the Devil and eBay take the hindmost! We profited. Until it was all gone,” he said, his voice hollow at the finish.
It was more by many times than Estelle had ever heard him speak on any of those subjects. Far more than his usual, curt, “markets are up,” response to whatever questions she might have that began with, “What about…”. She turned and stared at him like a curious vixen might—head tilted slightly and her eyes two glittering chipped diamonds.
Maurice works vigorously for a moment. Bent at the waist he grunts with effort and then pulls up to say, “Oh, Estelle, let’s do it! Let’s run our favourite lines! Rick and Ilsa always pick me up when I’m a little low. For old time’s sake, shall we? Casablanca?”
“Now? In this gin joint?” And then, under her breath, “Oh, alright. I don’t suppose our customers will mind.”
Estelle thought of how it had been. Always awakening to some equatorial shore, the sun already high. Below their balcony, men raked the sand like Japanese gardeners, harvesting a plastic confetti of flip-flop pink and water bottle blue. The tides higher every year, first taking the beach at Saint-Tropez, then Mar-a-Lago and finally inundating the Maldives—now home only to sharks that slide along above the rooftops like silent, wingless birds.
“Ready?” Maurice asks.
“Here goes…” she says, but, ever the ham, she pauses theatrically, straightens the limp strands of hair coming out from under her white paper cap, and awaits the composure of her muses. Then projecting to the back of the hall in a clear stage voice, she cries, “But Rick, what about us?”
“We’ll always have…Oh, shit! Wait, OWFF… Paris! We’ll always have—damn it now, Essie, I’m having trouble with this lout. Get back in LINE, you swine!”
“Oh, yes. These big fellows can be a problem. They too have their regrets. This being the lowly luncheon meat line and all. I’m sure they feel slighted. Here, why don’t you take my stun gun…”
“Yes, and you slit the throat! We do have our quotas to make, my darling.”
Image – Google images.