Saturday, January 6, 2007

The Cheeseburger Incident

1. The Draperies
“Cheeseburger,” initially. Then again, louder; “Cheeseburger, cheeeeeeeseburger!” As Thomas rolled over, opened his eyes, widely then squinting, moving them from side to side in a struggle of recognition. “Cheeseburger, cheeseburger, cheeseburger!” The call came again from down the hall.
“Someone gives that kid a cheeseburger,” he whispered sitting up, letting the rattan furniture creak under the shifting of his weight. He breathed deep; the I’m at home deep breath. Somewhere down the hall where the kid was screaming the desire for a cheeseburger over and over again in crescendo, he suddenly heard the under current of distant jazz. A recording of Dexter Gordon and better sounding than if live, in all likelihood. Re-mastered, had to be, no sound like that on a forty year old record, no way. It climaxed out with a chorus of “cheeseburger” and a version of Fly me to the moon, one he had never heard before chimed in. At once, it had to be of the same vintage, and sounding better than ever, and the voice of Astrud Gilberto, who fabled as a wonderful Brazilian singer, was rumored not to speak English very well. Didn’t hurt record sales any, and in this new age of computers, and enhancement, she was still floating around rising appearances in all sorts of venues. And this venue, Emma’s apartment, which as close as Thomas could tell was as good as any.
Dressing, all the more slowly and stretching out the knots of sleep he stood arching his back, and listening to the cracking. Not enough, he thought after the first attempt, and he arched again. Recent weeks had been kinder to him than to his back. He inhaled deeply, yes home it was, dampness, and dust and an insidious hint of mold, there were termites, if not still there and the smells of pine sol from a neighboring apartment. He left the room of last night’s residence and moved down the hall to the width of the apartment. He hadn’t seen the rest of the place the night before, but had been in these types of places all his youth. He had stayed the night in the office, which accounts for the rattan sofa, and the office being right by the apartment’s front door.
All matters of dust balls, dust bunnies, and ghost droppings lined the corners of the hall. The path most appropriately taken down the center of the dim passage way was well worn, and shiningly clean from traffic. The entire girth of it may have been the same if it was in fact possible to walk right along the walls. The walls, darkly painted or aged to be so where fanatically filled with the last twenty years. This he knew. Thomas took his time moving from picture frame to picture frame to discover what each one was. Art, some of them, and small sized, perhaps meant all the while for such a space, and others were photographs, and of all the characters in them he recognized only one. The hallway opened up a little, at least optically as he neared the brighter potion of the apartment when all at once under an open transom and door came all at once the loudest “CHEESEBURGER” of them all on the wings of a parrot.
“What the…”
“Thomas, jeez, I’m sorry,” Emma leapt up, panic stricken. “I didn’t hear you get up, I’d’ve put him away.”
“Did he think I was a cheeseburger?”
“Well, no, I shooed him off the draperies.”
“You’ll find out, jeez, come sit down, coffee?” Emma started for the kitchen before the reply, which was a rising of the eyebrows and a nodding of the head. “Jasper will calm down I promise,” she said from the kitchen.
“Cheeseburger, cheeeeeeseburger.” Jasper retorted.
“Here, I hope you take it black.”
“Um, yeah,” Thomas lifted the cup from her hands.
“The cream’s sour and I can’t reach the sugar bowl.” And on cue he looked up past her nest of black and grey hair to the ceiling. They were every bit as dimly painted as the hall, only the color was lighter, perhaps the light was lighter. “I prefer it black too.”
“I can offer you tea too,” she sounded distracted, had she always been like that?
“No, coffee’s fine.”
One screech was followed by another. “Dirty birdie, dirty birdie, dirty birdie,” Jasper cried humping a fold in the draperies. Followed by “Get off those draperies Jasper, you filthy beast.” As she chased him away Thomas sipped the coffee, Astrud Gilberto had silently stopped and a familiar recording of My Funny Valentine came through the speakers. Not altogether outlandish, Thomas laughed at the combination.

2. A collection of Shoeboxes

Once Emma settled down, Jasper followed suit. He looked at the draperies with a certain longing and must have decided to forgo the demands of cheeseburgers. Not a dumb animal after all, anyone with some wits prefers love over cholesterol. It was obvious once she settled into her chair and glared at the bird she would probably be lost without him, although better rested and proud of immaculately clean draperies. Thomas looked her over the rim of the cup. She was not the girl he had met. Certainly not, this was a woman, after all. “You look great,” he said.
“You said that last night.”
“But I mean it today,” and he did. She couldn’t take a complement. “It’s been so long, you look great.”
“Thanksgiving, 1986.”
“It’s been a long time.”
“I have all your letters.”
“Yeah? You kept them?”
“Incidentally, I have a collection of shoeboxes,” she relaxed a little. “And now, here you are.”

“May I see them?”

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