The manicurist left lye out among the pedicure chairs, struggling to maintain the salon to her standards, but the We’re Open sign was only half true and gone were the days her window said No Walk-Ins. After a customer burned skin off both feet, she kept things hygienic and let the overall harmony of the salon decay. One afternoon, the bamboo chimes stirred, announcing the arrival of three women. Breasts so large, the first woman was on the verge of tipping forward. A second woman lumbered under an oily mane. A third burbled, lips swollen and barely moving like two dowels in the teak plate of her face.
He put the button on her tummy. ‘Breathe now Hetty’ he said, ‘and watch the button … that’s what it’s like for a boat, going up and down on the sea.’
Earl Chatsby, six years ceased being a father for real, felt an odd distinction coming into his place of being. The newspaper for the moment loomed an idle bundle in his lap the way it stayed weighty and rolled and unread. Walls of the kitchen widened, and the room took in more air. He could feel the huge gulp of it. The coffee pot was perking loudly its 6 AM sound and the faucet drip, fixed three nights earlier at Melba’s insistence, had hastened again its freedom, the discord highly audible. Atop the oil cloth over the kitchen table the mid-May sun continued dropping its slanting hellos, allowing them to spread the room into further colors. Yet to this day he cannot agree to what happened first, the front porch shadow at the window coming vaguely visible in a corner of his eye, a familiar shadow, or the slight give-away trod heard from the porch floor, that too familiar, the board loose it seemed forever and abraded by Melba’s occasional demands to fix it.
Words cannot adequately express the giddy joy I experienced while I stood on the ferry’ s bow, alone with my “escort” (an amiable deckhand twice my size, half my age), as the vessel glided swiftly across the gunmetal Puget Sound toward Charleston, where the Law awaited me with open bracelets. The early spring sun made a lovely show of going down behind the Olympic Mountains–all dreampurple and pastel poetry. It had been ages since I had felt a sunset unfettered by loss. I was was further gladdened when my escort shooed off some fool who had come out of the cabin to capture (thus desecrate) the sunset on his phone. There was a reason we were alone; that reason (also, twice my size, half my age) was inside the cabin holding one of those phony “Blu-Ice” bags to the spot on her meaty chin where I had landed a right cross just a few minutes before.
And the name of the star is called Wormwood…
Pus star Wormwood glowered ceaselessly in the cigarette sky. Although it was only midday, Wormwood pulled long shadows from the sour crabapple trees, whose fruit not even the crows will eat. Embittered little trees, Scotch broom, feral blackberries and scrub grass are all that grow in the brief ridges and ravines and knolls that serve as the community “backyard” throughout the valley. During wildfire season the broom pods burst and the smoky wind disperses their dusty spore. During wildfire season it’s easy to believe in hell.
OK everyone, attention please. Find the table that matches your number, sit yourselves down and get chatting! When I ring the bell, ladies remain where you are, gentlemen move to the table to your left. Good luck and good love!
“Did she really just say good love? Sorry, I mean hello my name’s Darren and did she really just say good love?”
“Your badge gave you away and yes she did. Sorry, I mean hello my name’s Lucy which you probably already know now that I’ve given away my secret powers of name tag identification, your badge gave you away and yes she…you’re actually wearing a wedding ring. Of all the…”
“Hold on, I can explain.”
“This should be good.”
-Go on! A minute of rest is a minute lost in the Garden of Eden. Legs, listen to me. You will stop cramping and raise my body of burden another step. One more. That’s it.
I know. The air is drier, lesser than I thought. I have not given you sufficient energy to climb another cliff. If I could I would have banished my thought process and saved you some energy. It has done me no good, only fueled me with doubts. I remember praising the hour when the sun set. ‘To be rid of the burning sun,’ I said, ‘is all I can ask for.’ The heat cost us my water and I was already conserving my supplies.