Chapter 1: Lunch and Other Matters
Almost looking like a small hamlet in New England, the neighborhood is a lovely collection of cute white houses with brown rooftops nestled into the side of a hill, cradled by towering trees. A scattering of children played along the black top streets and on the fresh grass in the May-time sun. There was an unconcerned air about, in the men mowing their yards and the women drinking rum and cokes in their parlor rooms, an unnoticed or ignorant quality that prospered in its own vile hypocrisy. Sitting out at a table on our back patio, I had just finished a light lunch of a ham sandwich, which Francine had, as usual, added too much arugula and mustard, and a cucumber salad which she had managed to make to perfection. I lit a cigarette and watched a wasp fly up the side of my house. Francine, who had only a few bites of her lunch, busily cut postcards into small bits with a pair of blue handled scissors, her feet touched mine under the table, which I found comforting. Gates, the dog, snored by the sliding glass door.
“Dear, what are you doing there?” I asked.
“Cutting up postcards,” she replied, her eyes almost cross as she came to a particularly difficult cutting angle.
“Yes, I can see that. But whatever for?”
“To make them better. My Aunt Lily would send them to me from the places she visited in her travels. The gloating bitch. See, here is one from Houston.” She handed me a card which had a picture of a bull with enormous horns and the words HOWDY From Texas! written in a bold blue. Howdy at the top, and From Texas! at the bottom. A note on the back read Francine, how wonderful it is here. Such beautiful… Blah Blah, and so on. “You see,” Francine continued, “howdy is such a funny, cute word, and the bull is very charming. But together they look atrocious. Wouldn’t you agree?”
Admittedly, she was correct. The two did not seem to belong together. The bull being rather frightening, with a large nose, glassy, mean eyes, and those dangerous horns. It was kind of intimidating. And howdy being such a welcoming word. Perhaps that was the point, though. A kind of ironic twist. But I was not a graphic designer, nor predisposed to any artistic interpretation of post card aesthetics, and had no formal education on the matter to provide any qualified response. I just answered, “Of course. But what is it you plan to do with all of these small pieces. Make a collage? Oh, please don’t say you are going to start that, or a scrap-book or some nonsense.”
“No. And what is wrong with scrap books? People really like those you know. You are very rude. I will probably put them in a plastic bag and stuff them back in a drawer in the attic. That is where I found them you know. I had pretty much forgotten about them. I have them all; Those she gave to Laura, Michael, James and me. My aunt would send them to us all the time. Perhaps I will use them as confetti and scatter them over her grave when she dies! I will have purple flowers in my hair, and, looking morose and laying atop her grave stone, throw them across the fresh mound of dirt.”
“You have such wild fantasies.”
Looking up to me, Francine flashed a sinister smile as she pinched my calf with her toes. She went back to passionately dismantling the postcards, and my attention and gaze volleyed back and forth between sprinklers drizzling a saturated patch of grass and Mrs. Watson whose back-end stuck up like some prairie dog as she weeded her flower bed. I felt as if I was in some horrendous tennis match where the contestants were equally terrible, barely compensating for the lack of any other interest in the general area. Eventually, however, Dale appeared with his bronze chest glistening with sweat, and his perfect hair, and his strong muscular frame as he moved from the front to the back yard in his quest to eradicate all grass over two inches in height. I will acquiesce my envy to my well endowed neighbor, who, by some gift of a Grecian God had been blessed with an unbelievable amount of charm and physical beauty. Qualities my poor frame and temperament had nothing in common with. Striking up another cigarette, I glared at him as he pushed the machine with grace. Lord, he even pushed a damn mower with grace! I wasn’t so much jealous of him, however, with what he had, a blond, thin shrew of a wife and a career as a financial manager and who golfed with his business parties every Sunday afternoon after church. No, not that. This stemmed more from what he could take.
“There is Dale,” I said.
“Hmm?” Francine replied, not looking up from her cutting, but it appeared as if she was finishing up her coping exercise. “Sorry, dearest, did you say something?”
Putting down the scissors she stole one of my smokes and lit it, its small stiff frame pursed beautifully between her lips. They were not so much full lips, but thin with the bottom being a little larger that the top. To some this could be off-putting, but I found it wonderful. “What would you like to do now?” she asked.
“Now I wanna be your dog.”
“Don’t quote Iggy Pop, please. It is vulgar.”
“Why, I thought you liked Iggy Pop.”
“No, you like him. I cannot stand him.”
“Haven’t we had this conversation? He is course and vulgar, as I said. His version of China Girl is terrible. Guttural. A mess. David Bowie saved that song. It has wonderful lyrics, and the composition is terrific, but Iggy managed to drag it to the lowest, filthy hole and roll all around in it like it was a part of one of his grotesque performances.” This conversation, sadly, points to my dear child’s utter lack of musical appreciation.
“He sang it originally, you know.”
“I don’t care! Who sang Hound Dog originally? Who cares? Elvis sang Hound Dog. Now, would you like some tea?”
Her getting up and walking away brought my attention away from Dale and his Herculean frame to her gentle rear end. Francine had obtained, either from nature itself or by some gypsy who taught her in some lamp lit tent, a mesmerizing way to sway her butt as she walked. It is like watching some ship full of harlots bobbing and weaving on the Mediterranean. Other than her thighs, it’s my favorite part of her body.
Francine returned in a very little amount of time with two fresh ice teas in large cups with plenty of ice and a mint sprig. After handing me one, she remained standing at my side, sipping her drink and looking out at the view. Dale continued to work on his mowing, circling a sycamore tree. The sprinkler had finally been shut off, and a robin hopped about in the swampy grass, splashing and hunting for worms. There was a haze in the air, the green of the woods up on the hills dulled in a whitish hue. She laid a hand on my shoulder. It was peaceful, except for the mint which I violently plunged deep into the ice with my index finger.
“How about a movie, darling, and diner at Rosatti’s afterward?” I asked. Rosatti’s is a quaint winery with a restaurant that serves your standard Italian fare. The food is not particularly good. Passable with odd dashes exuberant seasoning would be the best way to describe the cuisine. However, it is not for the food that I liked the place so much, but the venue. It has a terrific patio area. White metal tables standing on square brown tiles near a small pond that is bordered by an intricate wrought iron fence, and a serene waterfall fountain splashing over stones and spraying the ferns that grow nearby. Crickets could often be heard in the tall grasses and bushes, and ducks frequented the location as well, entertaining patrons by their quacking, all the while harboring the underhanded aspiration of garnering from them a morsel of garlic bread. It also has small statues of saints hidden throughout the area who watch you with their wooden or stone eyes as you devour your meat ball, or slurp your spaghetti. It is a perfect place to sip a gin and tonic, or a martini. I did not bother with their house wines. Cheap and distasteful, to tell the truth, with uncouth aromas, leaving your palate in an unsavory and rather disgruntled mood. The place is overall a farce, but I enjoy it there.
“Don’t be flippant. You know we are having dinner at the Periwinkles. They are having their bar-b-que at six. But a movie does sound nice.” Her favorite statue at Rosatti’s was one of Saint Agatha of Sicily. She stood near the waterfall, bare breasted and with an angel floating above her head. A fat, cupid like angel stuck, like a fly in a web, to the rainbow fashioned halo surrounding the saint, chubby arms and legs all akimbo. Francine noticed it by the fountain, standing moistly serene in the mist, and immediately recognized it as old Aggie. She liked that particular saint so much that one day I bought her a necklace with a small, silver Saint Agatha charm I found in a religious store whose shop keeper was a man with a glass eye. The icon was fully clothed in a Roman toga or some such monstrosity, and circling it were the words Saint Agatha Pray for Us.
I reached up and took hold of the hand she placed on my shoulder. “I wasn’t being flippant. I’m sorry, I must have forgotten.”
“You were either being flippant or idiotic. It is your choice, love. Forgot,” she added in a sarcastic tone. “You didn’t forget. And it is your own fault you know. We must make an appearance. For damage control.” Here she referenced a rather indiscreet comment I uttered in an otherwise uneventful conversation with a Miss Darla Stornberg, the niece of Cora Periwinkle, the Periwinkle matriarch whose house we would be visiting that night.
“I was only trying to give her fair warning.”
“By suggesting that her professor wants to sleep with her?” I did not actually say that her professor wanted to sleep with her, but, yes, I did imply it. The conversation took place a little over a week prior. We ran into Darla at the grocery store while we strolled through the cereal section and struck up a conversation with her next to boxes of Golden Grahams. She related how she was to be graduating from the local university soon, and she would then be immediately flying out to an island nation in the Asian Pacific to take part in a sociological investigation, or an archeological one, or maybe both. This point I was not too clear on. I was not really paying that close of attention. Regardless, Darla, whose physical manifestations are not to be taken lightly, would be alone on this trip with her professor, and would be participating as an intern, or a form of post-graduate work, or something. They would be in remote areas, far from technology or any structured, modern society (hospitals, police, forensic labs, that type of thing) for three months.
“If all goes well,” Darla explained, “Doctor Cruz may even apply for a grant and take a sabbatical from the university, and I may be hired on as a field agent. It is a once in a lifetime opportunity. That is what Doctor Cruz told me, and that I was chosen for my ingenious work and dedication to the program.”
“Yes, and I am sure that is not the only reason,” I heedlessly blurted out.
“Robin!” Francine gasped.
“What do you mean?” Darla inquired in a condescending tone, shifting her weight to her back hip, narrowing her eyes as she looked me. And it was that tone which probably served as the impetus for me to not drop the conversation, or redirect it in a more discreet manner. That would have been an easy matter. Just simply state it was also for her charm, or her background in Polynesian linguistics, or any similar lie. But that tone, her manner, and the fact that I was bored with her beyond pale, helped steer my comments like a ship adrift and careening headlong into the grinding ice.
“Only that, while I am sure your educational achievements played some part in your selection, your physical attributes are also a major, if not the major, reason. Your lovely Doctor Cruz has a perfect opportunity to watch you sweat in the hot topic sun with limited amounts of clothing to shield you from his groping eyes. Possibly even catching a glimpse of you as he is hiding behind the fronds and you are skinny dipping in the ocean, or bathing in some small reclusive pool deep in the island’s interior. ‘Once in a lifetime.’ I am sure it is. And what do you think he means, really, by ‘If all goes well?’ I would just be careful if I were you. Of him that is. And of heat stroke, of course.”
“Thank you for your concern,” she replied, her tone unchanged, “but Doctor Cruz is a woman. Doctor Stella Cruz. And, by the way, not all men are perverts like you are.”
Other than changing the pronouns in my statement, I did not see how the sex of the professor influenced its overall relevance. Additionally, I am well aware that not all men are perverts like me. I am sure that among the many different types of perversity found in men, and with the great number of us living in the world today, the particular category I fall under is a reserved group that very likely represents a relatively small percentage of the male population. Since she so unscrupulously turned and walked away after her remark, however, I did not have a chance to bring these up to her. Later that day, Francine worked the phone to try to make amends, speaking to both Darla and Cora. She is wonderful at being able to smooth things over, having missed her calling in being a hostage negotiator, or an ambassador to Chile or Scotland, and quickly brought matters to an amenable resolution. And so this is how we came to be invited to the barbecue, a party being held by the Periwinkles in honor of Darla’s graduation at the end of the month. Attendance to the barbecue gala was one of the conditions I had to meet in order to obtain a pardon for my offences to the Periwinkle clan et al.
“What did you get her for a gift?” I asked.
“A cute yellow scarf I found at Chic. And I got a bottle of wine and cheese for Jacob and Cora.”
“Did you go to Anthony’s for the wine?” Anthony’s Wine and Spirits, my preferred establishment for the purchase of alcohol.
“No, The Wine Cellar. Don’t give me that look. They have cheese there as well. And it is virtually right next to Chic, so I was able to get both presents at the same time. So, what movie do you want to see?” The Wine Cellar is actually about a mile from Chic. But in fairness to my dear girl, Anthony’s is across town.
“I don’t know. An action movie sounds good. Something with a lot of explosives, I think. Robots or aliens would be a nice touch. Anything out like that?”
“I will check. In the mood for an adrenalin rush are we?”
“I have a lust for life, my love. A lust for life.”
This is the first chapter of a novel I am working on. Right now the working title is Marcello’s Revenge. I will be focusing more on finishing this and the short story OF 6209, and I am not sure what impact this will have on my poetry writing, or the time I can devote to that. Anyway, I just wanted to share this excerpt of the novel. It is a mystery, though this chapter does not go into that, and more just sets up some of the characters.