The Wish Bathers, Chapter Four

Sometimes Flowers are Not what They Seem

Chapter Four

It’s raining. The death breath twins are exuberantly chatty by the coffee machines. I sit in an empty booth to escape their mindless octaves and entertain myself with the falling raindrops on the window. The grey sky is lonely today. Mr. Baxter pulls into the parking lot like a sudden ray of sunshine bursting through a crack in the clouds.

“Good morning, Walter,” I pat him on the shoulder.

“My dear Penelope, it is so wonderful to see you on this rainy morning.”

“I can’t believe you are out and about today. It seems like the rest of the world is staying inside.”

“Yeah, well, when you get to be my age you can’t wait for another day to do something you like. You have to have a little carpe diem because you never know what’s going to happen tomorrow.”

“The usual?”

“You know it.”

“I’ll be right over with coffee.”

Pam and Deb’s conversation turns abnormally silent when I grab a pot of coffee for Mr. Baxter. Pam has a mouthful of sausage that she tries to eat covertly, despite her bulging cheeks, and Deb slurps the last sip of her purple addiction.

“Hey,” Deb says.

“I think I’ll join Mr. Baxter for awhile until we get some business. I’ve already married all the ketchup bottles, filled the sugar jars, and swept,” I say.

“Okay, but if Five Dollar Guy comes in, he’s mine,” Deb says.

“Sure, fine.”

Five Dollar Guy is another regular who comes in twice a week and always leaves a five dollar bill no mater how much or how little he orders. He’s been a patron of Aphrodite’s for years now and sadly none of us can remember his name. I thought about asking him, but it feels too awkward after all this time and I just can’t bring myself to do it. Five Dollar Guy always comes in with the best smile and good vibes and he loves his blueberry pancakes with extra blueberries.

Mr. Baxter is staring out the window as I walk up to his table with a pot of fresh coffee. He seems distracted in his thoughts or lost out in the rain. I try to get his attention, but when I set his cup down in front of him, he remains focused on something outside.

“Oh, dear, I didn’t realize you were here,” he says.

“What are you looking at?”

“Nothing really. I was just thinking about Mildred. She always loved the rain.”

“Mind if I join you?”

“Please do.”

“Why did she like the rain?” I wonder.

“Because she loved going to the movie theater and she only wanted to see a movie when the weather told her to stay inside. She always said it was a sign.”

“Cool.”

“Mildred was full of funny traditions like that.”

“What else did she do?”

“Oh, let me see.” The bell in the kitchen dings before he answers.

“I’ll be right back. It’s probably your food.”

Mr. Baxter’s breakfast is underneath the heat lamp. It still looks insufficient to me, but then again, it’s better than Vietnam. Actually, since our bed-in, everything to me is better than having to be fighting in that stupid war. We have food and warm beds and we’re reasonably safe, you know, regardless of the everyday weirdos walking around.

Since our protest, I feel more grounded in some of my perspectives and completely lost in other ways. It was vulnerable to share bits of my soul but I think it was necessary for all of us. I feel a deeper connection now—to my friends, to myself, to the universe. The conversations we had make our existence seem more real.

“Star?” Five Dollar Guy says.

He walks past me to sit at his regular table and then I realize that I’m standing still in the doorway to the kitchen, plate in hand, staring into the distance and probably looking like one of the above said weirdos. I acknowledge Five Dollar Guy and hurry back over to Mr. Baxter’s table before his egg gets cold and chewy. Whoopsie!

“Anything important in there today?” I say.

“Moon talk, war talk, you know. The same old stuff for years now,” Mr. Baxter says. He folds the paper neatly into a rectangle that he puts under his plate like a place mat.

“Were you ever in the military?” I say.

“I thought about it, but when I met Mildred she said she didn’t want to marry anyone that she had to miss all the time.”

“How did you avoid the draft?”

“She told me to go to medical school and that’s what I did until I quickly realized that they might need young doctors overseas.”

“Hi Star,” Five Dollar Guy says in a medium voice from his table. I turn around.

“It looks like I’m being called.”

“Well, go on then. I will be here when you get back,” Mr. Baxter pulls out the newspaper from under his plate.

Five Dollar Guy has the biggest smirk stretching across his face. His smile lines indicate he’s probably older than I think, which means he’s somewhere around 40, but his body is skinny and wiry like a young school boy. Despite his perfectly tucked in collared shirt and flawlessly combed hair, he reminds me of an excited puppy ready to pounce and be free at the whim of anyone’s command. I don’t know who or what he’s waiting for.

“Would you make me a milkshake?” he says.

“Sure, but didn’t you ask Deb?”

“Well, you do make the best milkshakes.”

“Oh, well, finally I have a purpose in life,” I wink. “Let’s not tell everyone, cool?”

But, seriously, I don’t need that news spreading any further than the edge of his table. Making milkshakes is a really annoying request when you have too many other things to do. It also spreads like a vicious wildfire through a cotton field when surrounding eyes grasp the idea and make it their own. It’s like a sneeze that starts at one table and goes around the entire room and soon you’re stuck behind the blender trying not to bend the spoon with beads of sweat running down your face while a sea of impatient customers wait for you to return. After five shakes, you start wishing that each customer was that spoon only millimeters away from the deadly spinning blade in the center of the creamy goodness.

“Good timing,” Five Dollar Guy says. Deb meets me at his table with the rest of his order. I return to Mr. Baxter’s conversation.

“Hey Walter, tell me another story,” I say.

“Funny you should ask, Penelope,” he pulls out a stack of post cards and begins telling a story about watching the Aurora Borealis in Iceland.

Somewhere between the shades of green and yellow, a familiar man’s voice echoes inside my ears and distracts me from Mr. Baxter’s tale. I do not turn around immediately to see who it is because I am so enthralled by the descriptions of color and mysticism, but I know that I’ve heard the voice before somewhere.

“New table behind you,” Deb says, walking past swiftly and shooting the words like a drive by incident.

“Penelope, are you listening?” Mr. Baxter says.

I start nodding my head affirmatively. That’s when I hear a cane tap on the floor three times. Tap, tap, tap.

“Baby, why don’t you put that thing away?” Carmelita’s voice breaks the tapping.

“Penelope?” Mr. Baxter looks confused as to why I’m standing in front of him frozen all of a sudden, but he doesn’t feel the weight of my stomach thudding to the floor like a hurled bowling ball. Actually, it’s more like the aftermath of, say, swallowing a pretty cane in one gulp.

“I’ll be right back,” I whisper very softly trying not to make myself noticeable.

“Miss Star?” Darryl’s voice brushes against my spine like a creepy gust of wind and then the realization that he’s my table sinks in, so I turn around with an expert customer service smile and approach him.

“Hello, how did you wind up on this side of town?” I say.

“Business as usual,” Darryl says, but that can mean any number of things. Who really knows what a pimp is doing most of the time?

“What can I get for you?” I say.

“Oh, excuse me for being so rude. This is Carmelita,” he says.

“Mucho gusto,” Carmelita says. I follow her cue.

“What would you like?” I say.

“You know what, I will take the biscuits and gravy, that is, if you think it is the correct choice, sweet child,” A single sparkle shines from his incisor piercing my retina for a quick instant.

“I will have the same thing,” Carmelita says.

“Great choice,” I say but am thinking run. “Coffee?”

Pam and Deb are huddled next to the coffee machines. They are obviously gossiping about my table. I pour two cups. Eleven pots down and who knows how many to go.

“Who’s that guy?” Pam says, her breath still reeking from old sausage.

“He owns a club on the other side of town,” I say.

“Is she a hooker?” Pam whispers.

“Yeah,” Deb says, “Is she?”

“Why don’t you ask her,” I say. “I’m sure she would just love the friendly conversation.”

“You’re funny this morning,” Pam says.

“Well, you’re the one asking stupid questions,” I smile.

“What?” Deb says.

“You heard me. I don’t know what she does and it’s none of my business, so why don’t you two worry about cleaning something,” I walk back to Darryl’s table with coffee.

“Bitch, I told you not to be actin’ like that,” Darryl says as I set the cups down in front of them. Strangely enough, he says the word ‘bitch’ in a tone that is loving and kind and it rolls off of his tongue like fluffy clouds. Almost.

“Baby, you know I can’t lie to you,” Carmelita reaches across the table to grab his hand.

“Your food will be ready soon,” I say.

I walk back over to the empty booth I was sitting in earlier. Finally I can continue contemplating the world in the falling raindrops outside. I’m cashing in on small mercies today.

For pleasure, of course, Darryl and Carmelita’s voices carry throughout the entire restaurant.

“You bitches got to be controlled,” Darryl says.

“But, baby, you know I love you,” Carmelita says.

“Yeah, but you are my bitch and you owe me from yesterday.”

“I told you my trick didn’t show last night, baby.”

“I will not be peeled by any bitch. You dig?”

“Yeah, baby. I dig it, but I told you already.”

“So if one of my bitches doesn’t have work then what is she doin’ all night? You’re my top bitch. I made you.”

“I know, baby. You’re so good to me.”

“That’s right. So, what is my top bitch doin’ if she isn’t turnin’ tricks?”

“I was just out with some of the girls, baby, you know.”

“No, I don’t know because all of my bitches were workin’. So, whose bitches you hangin’ out with? Are you cheatin’ on me?”

“Of course not, baby, you know I am yours.”

“Well, I don’t want no sweet, sexy thing as yourself to be a lyin’ bitch now. You best be tellin’ me the truth otherwise that Cadillac is outside.”

“No, baby, I swear to you.”

“Well, then,” he taps his cane three times, “I expect a phone call from my bitches when tricks don’t follow through. You dig?”

“Yes, baby, I can dig it.”

“Now that we have an understanding—”

“Yes, of course.”

“Miss Star?” Darryl yells. “Would you be so kind as to check on my breakfast, please?”

It’s only been five minutes. The kitchen bell dings as I pass Five Dollar Guy slurping at the last of his milkshake. It better be the damned biscuits and gravy. Please.

“I knew she was a hooker,” Pam whispers.

“Yeah, now the whole restaurant knows,” Deb twirls the straw in her mouth and puts her hand on her hip.

“A customer is a customer no matter how they make their money,” I say and then pull Deb’s straw out of her mouth and throw it in the garbage. “You’re going to fuck up your teeth if you keep chewing on straws, honey.”

Thank you, small mercies. Two plates of biscuits and gravy glow underneath the red lights. I have never been so excited to see this food in the window. It just means everyone is that much closer to escaping pimp drama.

“Here’s your breakfast,” I say.

“This does look quite delicious, sweet child,” Darryl unfolds his napkin and finally puts his cane to rest on the seat next to him.

“Can I get anything else for you right now?” I say.

“This will be fine, thank you,” Darryl puts his hands together to say grace.

Five Dollar Guy retires from eating and pulls out his wallet. He puts a five dollar bill underneath his water glass, says goodbye, pays at the register, and then braves the wetness outside with a newspaper umbrella to shield his sculpted hairdo. His image fades into the distance and vanishes behind the misty wall of rain. The death breath twins clear his table and stare at the five dollar bill for a moment—reveling in the beauty of a patiently waiting tip—and then Deb folds it carefully before putting it into her apron.

“I get him next time,” Pam says.

“Yeah, yeah,” Deb says.

“So, how is everything?” I approach Darryl’s table.

“This is tasty. Thank you,” Darryl wipes the corners of his mouth and then flashes his incisor again.

“Would you like more coffee?” I say.

“You know, if such a fine lady as yourself gets tired of slingin’ eggs, we could always make room for you at the club,” Darryl puts one hand on his cane as if to make sure it hasn’t gotten up and walked away.

“Right on, I think I’ll stick to the eggs.” I fill their cups and head back to the coffee machines.

“Did he just proposition you?” Pam asks.

“Didn’t you say you were looking for extra work?” I say.

“What’s going on here?” The Boss suddenly appears and barks his words.

“We’re working,” Pam says.

“Working? I don’t see you working. I see you moving your lips back here and being lazy. Get out there. Talk to the people,” Boss says.

“There are only two people in here,” Deb says.

“Well then, get out there,” he says and pushes Deb’s back with his index finger. She turns around and glares at me and the boss goes back to his office.

Deb walks past Darryl’s table to rearrange the condiments on an empty booth. He taps his cane three times. I don’t blame her for not wanting to mingle but I know the tapping is a beckoning.

“Miss Star,” Darryl clears his throat. “We’ll take the check.”

The pimp and his lovely bitch manage to burn rubber as the Cadillac pulls out of the parking lot and disappears into the grayness just as everyone before—another tangible experience turned into a memory not fast enough. Deb stops at his table to see what kind of a tip waits for me. I pick up a crisp twenty dollar bill, folded in half, and grin.

“Wow,” Deb says.

“You can have Five Dollar Guy next time,” I say.

“Yeah, yeah.”

Once again, the restaurant is empty and the high octaves of the death breath twins echo inside the room. I return to my booth to stare out the window and just as I rest my head in the palm of my hand, Greg taps on the glass in front of my face.

“Hey man,” Greg says. Water droplets fall from the end of his ringlets creating tiny puddles on the table top.

“Hey, what are you doing today?” I say.

“Looking to score some grass, man.”

“Do you work tonight?”

“It’s my day off.”

“Groovy. Wanna hang later?”

“Sure, man. I want to talk to you about something anyway.”

“Meet at my place around 5pm?”

“I’ll see you then, fire sister.” His wet bell-bottoms drag on the floor and leave a trail of water behind him.

***

I collapse onto my bed. There is nothing like the comfort of my feathery pillows after a long day. The arms of sleep cradle me like a baby until I drift off into another strange world.

I am walking down the streets of shiny, silver city. The day is warm and sunny. The sidewalks are bustling with happy people prancing around in the enjoyable weather. A bright, yellow sun beam shoots through the alleyway ahead of me and I slow down to process the inconspicuous beauty of the vision.

Multi-colored pigeons flock in the sun’s spot light and seem so serene inside the thickness of the concrete jungle. I have this great sense of harmony between nature and the modern world and feel a peace within myself and around me that I haven’t felt for a long time. One particular bird floats down in front of me holding an orange flower in its mouth. I feel elated to experience the simple beauty of nature amongst all of this complicated chaos.

It isn’t until someone bumps into me that I realize the bird is not holding a flower but is stabbed in the mouth with an orange colored syringe needle. I gasp when the elusiveness wears off and pick up my pace with disturbed motivation. Suddenly, a bomb explodes one block ahead of me. I turn around and start running and then another bomb explodes. The explosions become more frequent and then the sound turns into a loud knocking.

“Oh shit!” I jump out of bed and look at the time. It’s five.

“Man, I’ve been knocking,” Greg says.

“Yeah, sorry, I fell asleep when I got home.”

“No problem. Groovy dreams?”

“Not really, more like disturbing.”

“Oh, well, shit, man,” Greg sits down on the couch and lets out a bummed sigh.

“I’m fine. What did you want to talk about?”

“Is Kat going steady with anyone?”

“What? You dig Kat?” I laugh.

“Man, I’m feeling pretty heavy about it.”

“She isn’t seeing anyone.”

“Do you think she would go out with me?”

“Are you Jewish?”

“No. Why?”

“She’s got this weird fixation with Jewish men, you know.”

“That’s a drag. Maybe I can pretend.”

“Do you know any Yiddish?”

“None.”

“Well, I’m sure you have other things going for you.”

“Man, I’ve been dreaming about Mexico since the bed-in.” Greg says and then pulls a plastic bag full of grass out of his jacket pocket.

One thing about Greg is he always scores grass. I don’t know if he has a million connections or he’s just got an endless supply, but it seems he’s got some really good reefer karma. I suppose that’s not the worst kind of karma to deal with.

“You’ll never guess who came into Aphrodite’s today. And Mexico would be out of sight.”

“Who?”

“Darryl.”

“Wow, man. That guy is intense.”

“Yeah, and he was with one of his hoes. Do they hang out at the club?”

“Man, they’re always around. Haven’t you noticed the amount of women compared to men on most nights?”

“Oh.”

“I am pretty sure he uses the club for pimping out his girls. The go-go dancers always go home with someone, too.”

“Are they hookers?”

“Yes and about a quarter of the crowd every night. Jeff, Jazz, and I are the only ones not working for the dark side, well, at least not directly.”

“How public is it?”

“It’s word of mouth, man. The people who seek out that kind of energy find it. Other people just have a groovy time like it’s a regular club.”

“What about Joe?”

“The door guy? He’s Darryl’s body guard. That’s why he takes so long to get people inside. It’s so he can screen them and weed out the suspected trouble makers.”

“He’s like the club gardener then.”

“I never thought about it that way.”

“So, what are you going to do about Kat?”

“Give her a bouquet of bagels?” Greg shrugs his shoulders.

“Don’t forget the cream cheese, unless there are footprints in it.”

“Yeah, yeah, we’ll see. Maybe I’ll just think about her when I’m alone at night. Heh heh.”

“Come on, man.”

“Heh. Sorry. What’s going on with you and Sydney?”

“Nothing. Why?”

“It just seems like there is something going on, you know.”

“He’s totally boss. We have a blast.”

“Okay, man, I’m gonna split,” Greg hands me a joint and puts the rest of his stash back into his pocket. “Thanks for listening.”

“Sure. Are you working in the next couple days?”

“I am.”

“Cool. I’ll see you soon then.”

“Dig it, man. Peace,” Greg opens the front door and Audrey is standing behind it with her fist in the air as if she is just about to knock. Her fro is a bit more untamed than usual and she has a crooked look in her eyes.

“Come on in,” I say.

“Catch you later, Greg,” Audrey waves goodbye to him.

“What’s going on?”

She pulls out an ornate jeweled pick from her purse to fix her almost perfect fro. Her flawless skin radiates like rich, light brown, silk and she smells of lavender oil. I’ve never noticed the floral smell before, but whew, it is really nice.

“I’ve just been in my head so much since our bed-in, you know,” Audrey sits down on the sofa.

“Far out, me too. I’m thinking about everything differently.”

“I think I’m into Kat,” Audrey says like Speedy Gonzales.

“Wait. You dig Kat? I thought you were into Jazz.” I feel like I am having some twisted version of déjà vu. “I don’t think Kat digs women.”

“Really? I totally get that vibe from her.”

“So, you are lesbian?” I ask.

“Not exactly. It’s all about the energy for me.”

“Have you been with a lot of women?”

“Enough to know what I’m doing,” Audrey smiles mischievously and I can’t tell whether she is being dirty or honorable with her meaning.

“I don’t know what to say.”

I find myself in the middle of a profound, personal revelation where I am completely and utterly confused that I can know someone for so long and never really see them. Am I blinded by my own projections and illusions or am I that oblivious? How scary.

“Do you think you can help me?” Audrey says.

“How?”

Sometimes I think that life is like being surrounded by multiple stages and we watch their curtains fall one by one, eventually—revealing truths like hidden images covered by a veil of false impressions. And why do we have these false impressions? Is it something that correlates with age or personal growth and how do we avoid it? Maybe we can’t avoid it because, without mistakes, we wouldn’t be human. Could these false impressions be the very essence of human nature or are we all just fucking selfish and seeing others without regard for their own truths.

“Star?” Audrey snaps her fingers to catch my attention.

“Uh, sorry. Your reflection is intense for me right now,” I half mumble.

“My reflection?”

“Yeah.”

“I dig the idea but how do you mean exactly?” Audrey says.

“It’s like what we share and reveal to others is like a mirror staring back in the sense that we are affected by what we see and it makes us reconsider preconceived thoughts about ourselves and the world. It can even change us.”

“Cool.”

“Like, when you look into the eyes of someone in pain you start to feel and process what they are going through.”

“So, why is my reflection so intense for you?”

“Because it is making me realize that I am not really seeing people for who they truly are. It’s making me look deeper into myself, man.”

“Far out!”

***

The next few days at Aphrodite’s are a blur of voracious business and too many coffee refills. I haven’t been to the club since our bed-in and I haven’t seen Sydney, either. Honestly, we’ve all been a little reclusive since those three days in Sydney’s pad, but I’m crawling out of my cave tonight.

“Hey Joe,” I walk up behind his firm, stoic stance. He gives me a nod, without blinking, and continues staring through each person in the crowded line. Joe is the gardener and he is serious in his assessment. I watch him in action before going in.

Joe makes eye contact with the next couple in line and does a “come here” with his pointer finger. When they approach him, he scans their bodies from top to bottom a few times and then checks ID’s. At this point, he either uses his left hand or his right, signaling to the party goers whether or not they will get into the club. The left hand points to The Dragonflower and the right hand points to the parking lot. Silently, Joe raises his left arm and the happy couple enters the building. I follow their bliss and feel glad I don’t have to deal with that bullshit. I am not a weed. I just like to smoke it.

Inside, Sydney sits at the bar talking to Jazz. The fringe from the bottom of his vest dangles below the bar stool and his shaggy locks lounge around his broad shoulders. The music is too loud for Sydney to hear me behind him, so I slide into the empty stool to his right.

“Hey chick!” Jazz says.

“Hey,” I say.

“Que pasa?” Sydney says like a nerd.

“Huh?”

“How are you?”

“Everything is groovy, you know, but I’ve been deep in thought since the bed-in.”

“Yeah man, I know. I dig it. I’m feeling this crazy vibe lately. Like something is going to happen.”

“What do you think it is?”

“Change.”

Jazz interrupts us to ask if I want something to drink. Her blonde hair parted in the middle and tied into pig tails reminds me of when we met for the very first time. She still puts her hand on her hip when she asks a question just like she did when she was 12. Another person trying the same hip action would seem like a snob but Jazz manages to sway her hip into her hand and look foxy. Maybe it’s the way the corners of her mouth slightly curl, too, as if they are hiding small secrets inside their crevices.

“Have you ever tried LSD?” Sydney says.

“I haven’t,” I say.

“Do you want to?”

“Like right now?”

“No, but soon.”

“Sure. I’ll try it.”

“When is your next day off?”

“The day after tomorrow.”

“Groovy. I know the perfect spot.”

“Will it be just the two of us?”

“Yes. Is that cool?”

“I dig your company.”

“Then I will see you soon. I’ve had a long day and I’m gonna crash.”

Sydney’s silhouette melts into the darkness of the black light hallway. I put my hand on the now empty bar stool next to me. It radiates heat like a leather car seat that has been sitting in the warm afternoon sun.

“Hot ass?” Jazz smirks, catching me molesting the stool like I am squeezing the bulge of a flexed muscle. Ahem.

“Yep.”

“You go all the way yet?”

“Not even close. We haven’t even kissed.”

“What?”

“I don’t know.” Is the back of my hand more desirable than my full, freckled lips? The thought is like a bad taste in my mouth that I can’t get rid of. Maybe it’s just me.

“Hey, you want to ditch this place and go somewhere else?” Jazz says.

Ten minutes later, Jazz returns from the backroom changed and ready to split. She is a vision in a teal dress that hangs just above her perfect knee caps. Outside, we find Darryl leaning against Gloria’s driver side door—dressed in his usual décor and charm—grinning mischievously as we approach him.

“Good evenin’, fine ladies,” Darryl taps his cane for exclamation and tips his purple hat like a southern gentleman. “May I assist you in your night time adventures? I’ve got an empty Cadillac and a whole lot of Dom.”

“Did he say Dom?” I whisper.

“He did, yes,” Jazz says. “Okay, Darryl, we’ll join you for a little while.”

“Excellent! The Cadillac is there,” he points across the parking lot with his cane—the silver tip reflecting light from the street lamps for a second before he pulls it down to the ground and walks toward his car. We follow a few steps behind him.

The top of the Fisher Building glows like a gigantic, golden jewel in the starry sky. It is a beautiful sight from any direction—shining like a beacon of hope for the city—and its groovy external architecture and lavish, golden interior are relics of an era that is not yet forgotten. Ahead of us, Darryl hums a silly tune and swings his cane in a whimsical way. It reminds me of Gene Kelly.

“Your chariot awaits,” Darryl opens the backseat door to his gleaming Cadillac. There is a man dressed in black with a matching cap sitting in the drivers’ seat. He is quiet and unassuming and starts up the engine at Darryl’s command.

“What have you got in mind?” Jazz says.

“Well, since it is such a lovely night, I have a perfect spot on Belle Isle in mind,” Darryl says.

“Is that where all your Dom is?” I say.

“No, sugar, we’ve got Dom right here in the car, but we’ll get to that when we’re at our destination,” Darryl laughs.

“Dom Perignon?” Jazz elbows me in the side.

“Oh, that’s what you mean,” I say.

“Jasmine, where did you find her?” Darryl says, giggling.

“Changing in the gym locker room in 6th grade,” Jazz laughs.

“And the rest is history,” I say.

Belle Isle is a small island in the middle of the Detroit River and it is our own little mid-western paradise. The views are picturesque and the monuments and botanical gardens are serene. It is also a peaceful place at night, providing the best view of the downtown skyline. When I was five years old, I used to think downtown looked like it was a million miles away and now it just reminds me how strange time and distance feel when one is barely older than a couple of toddlers combined.

The Cadillac stops in front of the infamous James Scott Fountain. Its huge sculptures bubble over with flowing water on three tiers of white marble and glow in the moonlight like an ethereal bathing place. Belle-Isle is empty tonight.

Darryl leans into the driver side window to discuss something secretly with the man in black. Abruptly, the Cadillac disappears around the fountain and into the night.

“Ladies,” Darryl says. The three of us sit down on the smooth, polished marble and get comfortable with Dom.

“This is cool,” I say.

“It’s one of my favorite places to think,” Darryl says.

“Have you heard any word of your cousin?”

“My cousin?”

“Yeah, didn’t you say you had a cousin in Vietnam?”

“Oh, right. I haven’t heard anything.” Darryl pours three glasses and we make a toast.

“To the war over there,” I raise my full glass of you know who.

“And the war over here,” Jazz says.

“Peace,” Darryl says.

One bottle of Dom is gone faster than it probably should be and we’re all starting to feel the fancy buzz. Darryl rolls up his sleeve, reaches into the fountain water behind us, and pulls out another bottle of Dom with a sparkly grin. His Gene Kelly charms are half-working.

“Did you put that there?” I say.

“Of course, sweet child, how else was it supposed to stay chilled?” Darryl says.

“All fountains should have Dom hidden in their depths,” Jazz laughs.

Maybe it’s the champagne, but Darryl doesn’t seem as creepy as he usually does. There is something more human and genuine about him tonight than I’ve ever witnessed at the club or heard through other voices. Could the man behind the glass be hiding from something?

“Do you always have a driver?” I say.

“Not always, but quite often. I can’t be drivin’ and entertainin’, you know,” Darryl says. “How are you fine things feelin’?”

“Great,” Jazz hiccups. “You know, boss, I never asked you where you came from.”

“Please don’t call me that. I came here from Mississippi about twenty years ago when my family relocated to work for Ford.”

“Do you still have family in Mississippi then?” I say.

“Not really. Most of them moved here or to Cleveland for work,” he says.

“Your family must be proud now at how successful you are, right?” I say.

He doesn’t respond. The only noise is the sound of the water flowing behind us— shooting out of turtles and dolphins—swirling around poised lions guarding the scene with their marble manes looking serious and majestic. Darryl puts his empty glass down on the pavement by his feet and laughs.

“Are you okay?” I say.

He raises his hand like he’s about to say something poignant, but instead loses his balance and falls backwards into the fountain pool. I take the last sip of my expensive libation because I can’t let it go to waste, man. That would be really uncool. Social graces are a must in these hard times.

Darryl crawls over the wall onto the dry pavement like an ashamed, wet dog and begins to cry. His green fur coat is destroyed. Jazz and I are completely confused and stunned by the strange vision of this previously confident man. His soft whimpers soon become thunderous sobs convincing the two of us he is totally drunk out of his mind or, I don’t know, bipolar?

“Darryl?” Jazz says.

“I’ve got to stop it,” he says through his breathy sobs.

“Stop what, Darryl?” I say.

“Pimping. I don’t want to do it anymore,” he looks up at us and then covers his face so that we can’t see his tears.

“Then stop,” Jazz says.

“But I can’t,” he cries. “Where is my cane?”

The Cadillac rolls up to the curb and the unnamed driver gets out with the ivory cane in his hand like a pimp’s knight in shining armor running to the rescue. He pulls Darryl off of the ground, grabs his hat floating on the edge of the pool, and tells us to get in the car. Darryl passes out as his savior clicks the seatbelt. The ride back to the club is long, uncomfortable, and filled with heavy, damp silence. And maybe a little confusion, too.

“That was crazy,” I say.

“I hope he doesn’t remember,” Jazz says.

“Yeah, I’m not sure if I want to remember.”

I drop Jazz off at her place and coast into my parking spot with a feeling of relief. Home. I hear my bed calling to me, pulling on the weight of my eyelids, as I walk up the stairs to my front door. I can’t wait to sleep.

The light above my door flickers with the investigation of tiny insects challenging their fate repeatedly. The air is warm and I can smell the nearby lilacs in bloom like a perfume floating in the breeze. Sydney is curled into the fetal position on my door step—sleeping soundly—looking like a lost kitten who has found refuge on a worn out welcome mat. I consider not disturbing him but he opens his eyes when I pull out my keys.

“You want to come inside?” I say. He yawns and follows behind me. I walk straight to my bedroom, take off all my clothes, and get under the covers.

“I know it’s late,” he says, not even flinching at my naked body.

“Is everything okay?” I say.

“Man, I just can’t do this anymore,” he crawls onto my bed and then passes out when he hits the covers.

Although I am confused, I seize the opportunity to fall asleep and deal with him in the morning. It has been a long day and as my consciousness drifts away, like counting sheep, I hear the soft words of a childhood bedtime story deep inside the depths of my mind. Goodnight moon. Goodnight sleeping Sydney in my room. Goodnight Darryl and Jazz and Dom, and goodnight Mom.


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