Tuesday, August 14, 2012
Kerry sat in the cantina with her two boys, both crew cutted. One in cargo pants and a brown shirt, the other with baller shorts and a Superman shirt. The older was playing with a cell phone and the younger looked at his brother then his mother, waiting for her to get off the phone so he could resume his "Baja Off Road Race" game. He didn't touch his mother or look at her expectantly for too long, he dared not. She had "the look" this morning; combination of tired and mad. He had been conditioned not to bother her when she had that look and he watched his brother play his phone, wishing he had sat on that side instead of next to his Mom. He wished he could, at least, watch his brother play. He turned and looked out the window hoping for a distraction that would ease the nervous feeling he got when he had to be quiet, wait and hope his mother didn't get mad.
"Well honey, maybe you can meet some other guy that will pay your bills and get you pregnant. The worlds full of idiots that aren't happy with their wives. You shake that ass of yours, and look at them like a puppy, and once again you will do your best work... on your back. Ain't that how you got in this mess? Well honey, maybe that's the way out. God knows the well is dry and I ain't raising no more kids."
Gretna's own sarcasm made her laugh, triggering a coughing fit. She held the phone away from her face. Parts of her body collided with other parts of her body as she coughed and swayed. She felt light headed and steadied herself on the 2x4 holding up a corner of the roof. She got dizzy and set the phone down on the table.
Kerry listened without response, knowing all her mothers questions were rhetorical. She had made a mess of her life, she knew that, but her boys were in a good school and got good grades. She was a good mother when it came to things she could control. They were well fed, she was good with their homework. She had always done well in school and loved to help the boys with their studies. They would look up at her sometimes in awe of how she could do math and science. She hadn't done everything right, but she had done a lot of things. She had to remind herself of her good points because no one else ever seemed to. She could hear her mother coughing in the back round. She knew she had put down the phone. She hung up. If her mother was done talking the call was over anyway. She never cared about what Kerry had to say. She would just make her judgments and insults, point out where Kerry was wrong and get off the phone. That's why Kerry only called on Sundays or when she needed money. Otherwise, why would anyone put themselves through this abuse? On Sundays Gretna drank and would drone on and on about the weather and how nice a day it was and Kerry could escape before she remembered what a disappointment her daughter was. Week days were filled with Gretna's anger and remorse and her daughter was the perfect target for her bitterness. She seemed to feel better about herself after she tore Kerry down for being a failure, or a slut, or whatever she thought she was that day. When the call came for money, or a ride, or (in situations of extreme hardship) to watch the boys.
At the next table he noticed all three of them. He thought about his boys at that age. Now they were starting college and he could feel them slipping away. All his life he had been busy and he secretly dreamed of being able to have quiet and to get some rest. To eat a meal without having to negotiate with everyone else for what to eat, what to watch on T.V. and to have room on the couch to relax. Now he was faced with his wish and it felt like a curse. She was beautiful, tanned and natural looking with no make up. She reminded him of the surfer girls he grew up with in the seventies. Tan, blond and looking like they just fell off album cover of a songs about peace and love. She was slender and fit and her boys were very well behaved. Not like the kid in the booth behind them that was making his own sound effects for his every move.
As he fired a finger gun.
As he cross cut the air with an invisible light saber.
As he sat down with an explosion.
He thought to himself, that anytime a kid makes his own sound effects, a teacher, police officer or (anyone with any sense) should be able to note it in a file, so that he would be prohibited from owning fire arms in the future. The frantic waitress came to the table panting.
"Can I take drink your drink order?"
"Unsweet Tea with lemon and I'd like some chips and salsa, mild please."
She was gone before he finished his sentence. Nothing makes a waitress more happy than a table for one. It's all the trouble of a table for four with one quarter of the tip. She sped away and he looked up at the screens, playing videos of men riding impossibly huge waves. He used to draw scenes like that on his notebook in high school, but he never dreamed that anyone would ever ride sixty foot waves. He was tired. He'd played a gig last night and he had that afterglow feeling that nothing else gave him. It was the only thing that ever made him cool. In his life he was invisible to most. Women stopped looking at him years ago, and to his cycling buddies he was the funny slow guy. It was as if he had a secret and knowing it made life good again. He was great at something. Behind a drum kit he transformed into a confident player. He left his awkward nervous life at the edge of the stage and fell into music like a bird. He knew how to play, how to sing and how to read his fellow musicians. He understood gear and how to run sound. This was the only place he had ever been surrounded by people that listened to him and treated him with respect. He hadn't played in years because like all the great loves of his life, he almost never got back what he put in. There is a great ache that comes with pursuing something you love more than your own life. You get to bask in the light of what you want more than anything, but at any moment you could be broken beyond repair. He had known both sides of that coin and it was why he hadn't played for eight years. This gig was too good and the players too talented to say no. He was elated, but fear sat next to him again. It was a silent partner, and a patient thief that would wait until the dream died, to move in, take the jewel from his heart, his confidence, and his last ounce of denial. He wondered if he could weather another recovery, this late in the game.
"That was unsweet right?"
The waitress leaned on the table as she put down the chips, her breasts swayed in her tank top independently of each other. He saw the edge of her tan lines and a tattoo of a swallow. He was careful to make eye contact as she looked up from the table. She had on thick rimmed glasses and jet black dyed hair. She was oblivious to his glance and never considered how she looked because (he was reminded) there was no threat of interaction outside of the food transaction they were completing. What he thought of her breasts, hair and tattoos was the farthest thing, from anything she was thinking. She neither regarded or ignored him. She completed a group of robotic tasks as though she was sleep walking. He was invisible again. He was used to it. He fought the urge to make a joke.
"Yes, with a lemon please."
She was looking at her other tables assessing a list of what to bring back, to minimize the trips she would need to make. A black and gray rose stem with thorns, ascended into her shorts and disappeared beneath the fabric of what he could only imagine, were very naughty black underwear, with a goth lace theme. A single drop of blood hanging from the lowest thorn was in red ink and the only feature of any color against her skin. He looked back at the T.V. and surfers ripping the turquoise water, in long white tracks. He realized the list of things out of his reach (the attention of young waitresses, surfing great waves in exotic locales etc.) was getting longer everyday. For today, he was a musician again, and that would be enough to fuel him through the next few days and weeks until he played again. He would almost disappear to all those that knew him and then he would play again, and his colors would return. He would repeat the process as many times as he could.
The 2x4 gave way as Gretna leaned on it. She cascaded from the porch like the side of a mountain in a California landslide. Her fall was chaotic and unbalanced to the left. She rolled out of the bush and onto her back covered in wet leaves. She heaved in deep panicked breaths and a whistling sound underscored the cubic yards of air she took in and forced out like exhaust. She rolled to one side and got all her limbs under her till she could gather her knees one at time and reach her feet. She was facing away from the house when the front porch broke free of its nails and hurricane clips, crashing and creaking its way to the thunderous conclusion on the porch. Gretna let out a huge thoracic roar, as she began to run from the unseen threat behind her. The roar crescendoed into a full blown scream as she steamed away from the house. Her left sandal folded in upon itself under her toes, as she stutter stepped to regain her balance. As her right foot slammed to the ground to steady her, she found not solid footing, but a fresh pile of dog shit. Her legs began to slide away from each other and she heard a crackling sound that reminded her of pasta being twisted and broken in half to fit in an undersized pan. She was once again on the ground, with something broken badly, covered in dog shit, and leaves, unable to move. She lay there on her back with her moo moo up around her ribs. From her belly button down she was butt ass naked. Her stomach, legs, and lady parts were in the shinning sun for the first time in forty years. Her mother had always warned her about having an accident in dirty underwear and somehow she had surpassed that nightmare, ten fold.
Kerry clicked on the name and started to text her friend. The boys sat silent with their to-go boxes wondering why they couldn't eat in the restaurant.
"I'M IN BAD SHAPE. CAN YOU HOOK ME UP? I GET PAID FRIDAY AND I WILL PAY YOU BACK, I PROMISE? YOU KNOW I WOULD DO THE SAME FOR YOU."
Kerry, hit the send button and jiggled her leg nervously as she stared at the phone screen trying to will a response. She would manage, she always did, but it was very bad this time. She had gone too long between hits and she had exhausted all her friends that supplied her.
She stood up and left and the boys scrambled after her. She walked out the door and it swung shut between her and her sons. She crossed the street walking full speed and the older boy stopped his brother at the curb while they checked for cars. They had done this before, it was second nature.
He watched her go, she was in great shape. She looked so young. He imagined her on a beach in a bikini. He could hear the surf. He wondered what her story was. He wished she had waited to watch for her boys. He remembered holding his sons hands as they all crossed streets. It was all such a very long time ago.
"I didn't charge you for the chips, thanks for being so patient."
Again she leaned over but this time she smiled a little. The tab was four dollars and twenty cents. He tipped her four dollars, signed the ticket and headed back to work.