Mood Music in a Diner
She remembered. It was before you couldn’t touch anybody. No human touch, now. Before you could not find or touch anybody new—Remembered how—then—
She was not in a good mood. It was winter, it was raining, her feet were cold, her palms itched. How she reached in her imitation leather bag for a tube of gloss. Smeared pink over her lips, licked them, then reapplied it. Uncrossed her knees. Should she go or stay. Couldn’t decide. Skin itched under her slip, between her thighs. Rain out there was chill. Maybe it’d snow. Saw herself in the spackled mirror on a pillar to her right. So-so. Not lovely but not ugly. Just a woman with a dim light. And she was no genius when it came to sex or ideas for that matter. She was just a woman with no name. The couple at the next table were wiggling their fingers at her like grownups to a stuffed baby. It made her uncomfortable but then they kept it up and she guffawed.
Remembered. When it could be like this.
Buck up, kid. It was the man. In spite of herself she whistled. Hey stranger, one of them said. It was the woman. You’re sweet. Now it was the man, leaning not even dramatically toward her table, not scary, just a human. Wanna get warm with us? She saw her own nameless face in the pillar again, ran a random hand through her new bottle-blondness. Her skin felt like roofing tin. Who’d wanna touch it? She scratched at her right hand with its opposite, the palm still itched. She’d read somewhere that when your palm itches it means money or luck or something. Couldn’t quite remember. Lowered her lashes the way an actress in a movie would. That was all the answer she could afford. Batted lashes. She did look sideways at the man who was pretty in a male way. Lots of hair. Her mouth felt like sand, but she wanted to say something. One word or two. I like beautiful men, she blurted, not knowing where the hell the words came from. In fact, she was very loud considering the diner was empty.
Now of course, everything was empty.
No one blinked. She was in a glass booth. She knew she had neither spoken nor whispered demurely, her own voice sounded like the bellow of a doe in a trap. Her hands flew up to cover her face. The woman over there slid easily into her booth, sitting close. Come’on sister, you’re ok. Promise. She twisted away, but lowered her hands. Watched a thin frost glaze the diner window. Now the man moved all his beauty onto the bench opposite hers. We like you, darlin’. No worries. He was kinda beautiful. So was the woman. It was the woman who pressed a small note on a scrap of napkin into her ready hand.
It used to be like that.
Could have been like that.
She didn’t ignore it, didn’t refuse it. Read “Hey stranger, we’re swingers and we think you’re gorgeous, care to join us tonight?” And then the woman again, easy and laughing. We’re not parasites, darlin’. Just swingers. You know what that is, right? The circle was drawn like a soft gloss on all their lips.
She especially remembered the song on the jukebox.
Ain’t Misbehavi’n. I’m savin my love for you—
Billy’s crouched at the top of the park slide, going library-paste white. Nasty yappy dog about to lunge. Kicking his heels on the metal, a bully overseeing the view from his up-there-perch. I want him to fall and break a bone at least. He doesn’t. He perches there humming “O say can you see!” He wants to be President.
“Soldier, you wait…I could whisk you!” But he doesn’t flinch and doesn’t come down.
There’s his street, down and over there, he can see it, where his best treasures are hidden under his bed on the twelfth floor at number 8, a block away from the playground. No one knows what treasures he has but he always brags he has plenty. I definitely suspect him. He has things that could hurt me. Billy’s not more than four feet tall. Little Billy’s called a creep by everyone in our class. It’s the glasses. The scotch-taped nose. The smell. It’s his whiny voice and how he spies in the toilet stalls and jumps out hissing or climbs up on the seat and looks over the top and hums at you. Hums through his nose, “America! America!” Or, it’s always the damn anthem. It’s the way he sucker-punches and gets away with it.
Boys especially hate him. I especially hate him. He nails me, and once when I can’t take anymore, I break and they send me—not him—to the guard, and she says I have to understand because Billy’s Daddy’s been in the war. I should forgive him.
I didn’t. I don’t. Back in class I call him a creep, everyone hears me and then we all call him that. He shakes it off like a dog pissing on its tail. I should put that dog on a leash with spikes that dig in his neck. Instead, I get sent home. No one’s home, I grab a pack from my own box of terrible treasures underneath my bed in my room on 95th street and head for the park, and there’s Billy. No one in the playground but us.
I light one, and toss it under the slide. It sizzles and hisses and boom! black fumes slither up the slide to where Billy’s still perched. Smoke, like snakes. Now he’s scared. Can’t shed me. Not kicking his heels anymore. Not grinning. Arms waving every which way and he looks like a wind-up machine. “Hey helicopter, let’s see you fly,” I yell at him as the smoke gets him and he’s coughing and I’m all set to light another one when a guard shows up and twists my arms til’ I let go and all the little red dyna-sticks spill out of my hands and pockets. Billy’s slinking down now. I scared him. I know I did. I get hauled in and Billy gets off again. But I have a better plan. I need to get into his mind and tamper with the gears in there. I’m going to have to work on that as long as he’s in this cage with me. Night/day/night/day….
We don’t know the difference. Our same dreams are getting bad. He’s in the top bunk and he’s kicking his heels against the metal edge of the bunk again. Having a Daddy who was in the war is not an excuse!
MARGO BERDESHEVSKY NYC born, writes now in Paris. Latest collection: Before The Drought (Glass Lyre Press/ a National Poetry Series finalist.) Author as well of Between Soul & Stone and But a Passage in Wilderness (Sheep Meadow Press), Beautiful Soon Enough (1st Ronald Sukenick Innovative Fiction Award for FC2/U of Alabama Press.) Other honours include Robert H. Winner Award from Poetry Society of America. Published in Poetry International, New Letters, Kenyon Review, Plume, The Collagist, Prairie Schooner, Big Other, PN Review, The Wolf, Under the Radar and many more. A hybrid book, Kneel Said The Night and a new poetry collection, It Is Still Beautiful To Hear The Heart Beat, wait at the gate. For more info, kindly see: http://margoberdeshevsky.com.