Below is Part 10 of 23 monthly installments for Visitant.
On The Dot
The day before Thanksgiving, Agnes Person feels unglued. She battens down her hair in a complex mesh of marine knots. Black squalls threaten inland waters. Grey cumulus has crashed a horizon line now free of shadows. City colors have petered out like dud neon. Should things go freaky, she can use her hair as a safety net or a sleeping mat. Or a signboard for aliens invaders.
Agnes pulls her rubber boots over drab unisex Pilgrim knee-socks dotted with pumpkins. She stuffs her hair into day-glo raingear and, zipping up, braces for the cold shoulder. Earlier in the week, she agreed to meet Jena at The Cupcake, a local greasy spoon. They both know Jena’s husband Sam does not want Agnes and TN at their place for the big bald bird, trussed up with all the trimmings. Just family this year, Jena explained by way of excuse.
Prompt, on the dot, Jena has ordered for them both—House Special toasted, easy on the mayo.
Dripping Agnes sits beside her at the counter and pulls the tasseled toothpick securing the first quarter of the day’s special. The stacked sandwich is cut in triangles. The chicken salad, good, tastes like tuna. The coffee, bad, passes for run-off.
Jena doesn’t notice. She tugs at the napkin dispenser and wipes her mouth with a flimsy paper folded in thirds.
Who designs these fractions? wonders Agnes, amazed by work-a-day parts and wholes.
Against the grim light, signature blue velvet cupcakes rotate in the bright window case, the thick icing hardened in darker chevrons. The owner’s school insignia, Agnes learns on inquiry, her discomfort about blue food too obvious.
In the awkward silence that follows, Jena touches up her eye shadow, also blue.
Chilled to the bone, Agnes sits on her hands. Fearful her lips have turned blue, she’s grateful for the schmaltz, the canned muzak—Moonlight Sonata played over Cole Porter’s Night and Day.
Agnes admires the Liberace merge, like warm syrup seeping into the steaming Belgian waffles she’d hoped to order from the anytime breakfast menu.
Yes, Jena calls to the waitress, I will have that refill.
Chewing slowly, Agnes recalls the other big L shows on TV—Lone Ranger, Lassie, I Love Lucy. She remembers them in color—painted deserts, gingham apron against two-toned collie shag, Lucy lips too red, and, of course, crushed velvet Liberace with violet wrist tinsel. How? Her family’s cheap Alcoa was a lousy black-and-white set with rabbit ears.
Agnes also remembers the sponsor products in color: “Breakfast of Champions,” gold box; “Double Your Fun,” school hallway green gum wrapper over sugared foil; Pall Malls, royal red cigarette carton.
On a schoolyard bet, Agnes had looked up the word “pell-mell” (as pronounced). She was dead certain the hyphenate meant tall, sharp aim, skilled with lasso. Goodbye lunch money.
Back then, even tomboy Agnes knew that buckskin Tonto wasn’t birth Apache, but she hadn’t noticed Lassie dog was male or Lucy was unhappy in love or Liberace queer. Agnes still thinks of the
Masked Man as the Long Ranger, not Lone. Well, he wasn’t alone. He had Tonto. Or didn’t Tonto count on Schmaltz Mountain?
Doggie bag? interrupts the waitress, tapping fingernails painted dusky frosting blue.
Agnes isn’t sure about take-home and reviews the pickle spear, a limp reject beside three uneaten triangles.
Ready? Jena digs in the side of her purse for tip and bus fare.
The rain has let up, and world color returns to store fronts. Couples with blown-out umbrellas huddle in doorways.
I’ll get the tab, says Jena.
Thanks, Agnes nods, clutching her doggie bag like a second chance.
At home, she removes the toothpicks for TN’s Thanksgiving treat. As for the pickle spear, he can make his own decision. Is she selfish to demand more of chicken salad than canned tuna? More of Beethoven’s piano sonata than moonlight? More of night than day?
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