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He steps through a doorway, glass door swinging shut behind him, and he looks out at a huge garden, nine thirty in the morning, caffe latte in hand. Afar are a dozen pink flamingos standing in shallow water. A few of the birds are on one leg, head tucked under a pink wing, and he thinks: They are sleeping. Several adults with children are on a paved walkway near the flamingos, looking at the birds and taking photos with cellphones. A few other large birds are near the flamingos, colorful fowl, but not pink.
“I liked your reading at the bookstore last night.”
This comes from his left. He turns.
She’s seated at a table that’s tucked unobtrusively next to the door he’s just come through. The area is in shadow, high-rise building accounting for this. He understands she is smiling, and he understands her hair is black and short, but what he doesn’t understand is…
“Why yes. At the bookstore.”
He begins a half-smile. His cup of coffee, which he now raises to his lips, allows for a pause that’ll give himself time to formulate a response that won’t be offensive or stupid, for the woman sitting at the patio table represents opportunity. As it is, she has a paper cup too, and it’s identical to his paper cup, and, like him, she now raises that cup to her lips. He assumes she is doing what he is doing, which means they are joined in an exchange of evaluation, for she’s looking at him like he’s looking at her, but in his case there is the added burden of composing a response to the subject of: “reading at the bookstore.”
It’d be easy to say she’s not bad looking, yet it would be just as easy to say she’s not good looking. This, in turn, gives rise to other assessments, such as age – late thirties. How coincidental, for that’s his age. Also, he thinks of himself as not good looking and not bad looking. He’d be lost in a crowd, and so would she. But they’re not in a crowd right now.
He doesn’t see any rings on her fingers, and she couldn’t possibly see any rings on his fingers. His current thought has him wondering about commonality, for if he and the woman have things in common, shared interests in particular, then they could pursue a course of consensus which might lead to extremely pleasurable activities.
He swallows the coffee in his mouth and he says, “Well, yeah, the bookstore.” He adds a smile.
“Why don’t you sit down and we can discuss the story you read?”
He sits down on one end of a half circle of a bench that’s shaped to match the curvature of the table, table and bench made of artificial marble. The woman is seated at the other end of the half-circle bench, and the reason he chose to sit on the same side of the table as her, as opposed to sitting directly across from her, is that the bench she is on affords a view of the garden, whereas if he were opposite her, his back would be toward the garden. Adding to this is a suggestion of intimacy that comes with sitting on the same bench as the woman even though they aren’t elbow-to-elbow.
“The woman you had in the story, was she someone you knew, or know?”
“No, she’s just a character.”
“So you made her up?”
“That is correct. By the way, are you here with a friend or someone?”
“Yes. How did you know? I’m here with Pam. She’s up in the room sleeping.”
He smiles more vigorously and says, “I see.”
“She has this opioid situation, you see.”
His smile takes a step backwards. His verbal response, though, remains the same: “I see.”
“I don’t have that situation. That’s why I’m down here.”
“I guess that’s why you’re down here, too.”
She raises her cup and sips. He raises his cup and sips.
“Where are you from?” he asks.
“I’d rather not say.”
“You’d rather not say what?”
“Where in New Mexico.”
“Okay. New Mexico is fine with me. I can live with that.”
“Live with what?”
“Live with your living in New Mexico.”
“Where are you from?”
“Really? Are you from Hollywood?”
“You could say that.”
A crow, or maybe a raven, caws, a ratcheting sound that is soon answered by another bird of the same species.
“When we arrived yesterday, and were going up to our room, there was this man in the elevator who must have weighed three hundred pounds, and he turns to Pam and he says, ‘How’s your luck holding?’ And Pam looks at him with her big lazy eyes and says, ‘We just arrived.’ So then the man says, ‘I wish I’d just arrived.’”
He smiles at this and says, “I have to remember that.”
“For when my luck goes bad. Last night it was pretty good.”
“But I have a question.”
“Yeah. Couldn’t the man see that you and Pam had bags? You know, you’d just arrived and were going up to your room.”
“No, he couldn’t see that because we didn’t have bags. And we still don’t.”
“No bags, huh?”
“That is correct. We started driving. We were going to stop off at the Grand Canyon but we missed it. Maybe we’ll catch it on the way back. Have you been there, the Grand Canyon?”
“Yes, I have.”
“How was it?”
“That’s exactly why we want to stop there.”
He sips his coffee. She sips her coffee.
“By the way, what’s your name?”
“Leslie. I’m Kenny.”
A man and a woman come out of the door that’s to their right. The man is pushing a dual baby stroller. In each stroller is a baby, four blue eyes like birds’ eggs looking skyward. The woman pulls a canopy halfway down on each stroller, direct sunshine probably a concern. The building’s shadow ends in about ten feet.
“Are those twins?” Leslie asks.
“Yes, they are,” the man says and smiles enthusiastically, complexion plump and reddish. “Two boys!”
“I was going to have a baby, or two, who knows, but I had an abortion instead.”
Kenny looks at Leslie. Leslie is smiling pleasantly. Kenny looks at the man. The man’s smile is diminishing. Shifting his view to the woman, who sports a pageboy-like hairstyle and blue eyes, Kenny sees dismay. The twins, though, are unfazed.
“Well…” the man begins, but trails off.
“What are their names?” Leslie asks.
“Robert and Thomas,” the man says. “But we call them Bobby and Tommy.”
“Are they circumcised?”
The man’s expression falters. The woman next to him, presumably his wife, places a hand on her hip.
“Can I hold them?” Leslie asks. “I’ve never held twins before.”
The woman, whose voice dents the air with a wedge of authority, says, “We don’t want to disturb them.” She gives a dismissive smile and begins walking. The man picks up on this and starts walking too, but in his case he’s strolling the baby strollers that are fastened together. The couple and their tandem baby stroller proceed down the concrete walkway.
“I bet they’re going to show Bobby and Tommy those pink flamingos,” Leslie says.
“Yeah, but they’ll have to lift those babies up to see the birds,” Kenny says.
“Pam and I were down there last night, and at first I didn’t think those birds were real. I thought they were phony, you know, imitation flamingos. They were standing on one leg and they weren’t moving. So I said to Pam, ‘They’re fake,’ and Pam said, ‘Do you think so?’ So I stepped in the water, that shallow water, and reached out because I was going to pick one of them up, but then, it was so surprising how they know things, the bird and some other ones nearby brought their heads out from under their wings and set their other leg down and started squawking and lifting their wings, like they were going to bite me. Scared the shit out of me. I jumped back, and my shoes were wet and I stumbled and Pam was laughing and—”
Leslie breaks her colloquial to look at Kenny, who’s laughing.
“You think that’s funny, huh? Well, listen to this. There was this man nearby, a big guy, and he says, ‘Careful with the birds, honey.’ So Pam and I look at him. I didn’t know he was there until he said that. And then he said, ‘I’m going to show you gals how to handle birds,’ and it’s obvious he’s from Texas because of his voice. So he turns, and, you know, over there on the other side of the path from the flamingos they got those little penguins, and so this jerk unzipped his fly and got out his wanger and started pissing on those little penguins. The flamingos by then had settled down, but now the penguins started up, but not real bad, just kind of splashing a bit in the water. They got shallow water too. So Pam says to the guy, ‘I got this knife in my purse and I’m thinking about putting a hole in your neck.’ And the guy turns his head and looks at us, but then suddenly he changes, his posture I mean, and he zips up. Pam and I turn, and sure enough, here come a couple of security guards, which turned out to be a guy and a gal, down the path from the automatic door where the casino is, and Pam says to me, ‘Walk toward them, real easy.’ And that’s what we did, and they passed us by and started after the man who pissed on the penguins, and who was now hurrying away.”
Leslie brings her cup up and sips. Kenny watches this and thinks about how articulate Leslie can be.
“When we were at a bar in the casino having a drink,” Leslie resumes, “I suggested to Pam that maybe we should go out there and give the leftover ice in our drinks to the penguins. I mean – penguins in the desert? They must be missing cooler climes. But Pam said no, and went on to say that the water that was trickling where the penguins are is probably refrigerated because how else could they survive? I had to agree with that.”
Leslie looks at Kenny. Kenny moistens his lips with his tongue.
“Well, you and Pam had quite a night – bookstore, casino, and the events in the garden here.”
Leslie has a serious question mark on her face.
Kenny, sweeping away quandary, says, “Yeah. What bookstore? Okay, the casino and the garden and the flamingos and the little penguins.”
“And that’s not all.”
“Of course not.”
“Pam doesn’t take any shit from anybody. We were at this gas station in Arizona, and it’s night, and Pam’s at the pump, going to put gas in the truck, my pickup truck, and this fellow comes over and says, ‘Let me give you a hand with that, little lady.’ And Pam says, ‘Stand back.’ But this guy keeps coming. So Pam turns with the nozzle and shoots gas all over his Levi’s. While the guy was dealing with that, Pam says, ‘Leslie, I want to smoke a cigarette. Give me a match.’ The guy’s trying to brush the gas off his pants with his hands, and he’s saying things like, ‘You fucking cunt.’ So Pam steps more towards him with that nozzle and says, ‘You better be on your way, pal.’ So the guy runs over to the booth where you pay, you know, if you don’t got a credit card, and he’s waving his arms and pointing, and there’s this guy behind that thick glass in there, looking at him.”
“Pam finished putting gas in the truck and off we went. Last I saw, that guy with gasoline on his pants was fooling with a cellphone.”
Kenny searches for a rejoinder.
Leslie looks out over the garden and muses, “It’s a beautiful day, isn’t it?”
“Oh, yeah. Absolutely beautiful. They say it’s going to be a hundred-and-six-degrees beautiful this afternoon.”
“They have a pool here, don’t they?”
“Yeah. I think it’s on the other side of the garden, over there.” Kenny points. “If I’m not mistaken, they call it a ‘pool area.’”
“So then, maybe there’s more than one pool.”
“Is that a clothing-optional situation?”
“I don’t know. You might want to check with the concierge about that.”
“Good idea,” Leslie says.
Kenny sips his coffee.
“I went to college for a little while,” Leslie relates.
“Did you go to college?”
Kenny, stuck between realities, says, “Yes and no.”
Leslie says, “That’s what I thought.”
Leslie sips her coffee. Kenny looks at this and sees chapped lips with a coating of lipstick, pinkish red. As with Kenny’s arms, Leslie’s thin arms display no tattoos.
“So he comes up to me at the bar in the Broken Coyote. I’m standing, not sitting. And he says, ‘Leslie, I’m real sorry about this. If I’d known he was going to OD, I’d have sent him home.’ You know, like that’s all I’d need at the house. Anyway, I said, ‘Don’t worry about it. Why don’t you buy me a drink?’”
“Who are we talking about?”
“Who are you talking about?”
“My deceased husband, James. So I says to Del—”
“Del’s the floor manager at the auto-parts warehouse where James worked, you know, when James was alive. Del, I think, is still alive.”
“Things are clearing up.”
“There’s this opioid situation at the warehouse, you see.”
“Actually, you might say the whole town has that situation.”
“And it’s not just opioids.”
“Of course not.”
“Hey, look. The people with the twins are holding the twins.”
“Oh, yeah. So they are.”
“I wonder if they want us to take a cellphone picture of them. We could go down there and do that.”
“No need for that. They probably have a selfie stick.”
“I hope they don’t drop one of those babies.”
“I do too.”
“It took forever for the insurance company to come through. At the warehouse, where James worked, there was insurance, accident and death, but if you kill yourself they don’t pay up. So what’s an OD, suicide or accident?”
“A perplexing situation.”
Kenny nodded pensively.
“I tried explaining to the gal, you know, phone calls and her coming over to the house and so forth, that James didn’t want to kill himself. It was an accident. It could happen to anyone.”
Leslie sips her coffee. Kenny sips his coffee. Kenny’s cup is running low on coffee.
“I better get up to the room to see if Pam is alive, or awake. Do you want to go with me?”
“I’d love to, but I have to do some shopping.”
Kenny looks at Leslie. Leslie stands up.
“Why don’t you give me a buzz a little later on, on my cell?” Leslie says.
“Okay. What’s your—”
“Pam’s a lot of fun if she’s awake. You could come up to the room.”
Leslie’s around the table, swift and nimble, paper cup in hand, but then she tosses the cup aside as she strides down the concrete path that leads to the flamingos. More of a crowd has gathered near the birds, sunglasses and shorts and caps and bottled water endemic. Leslie, in a flower-print one-piece, mules on her feet, slips into the crowd.
Kenny focuses on the crowd, waiting for Leslie to emerge. He wants to know what direction she’s headed.