They were sitting in the airport before she left. Serge was reciting some extremely bad poetry that he’d written in hopes that Joanne would fall in love with him and say, “Oh, yes, I’ve made a huge mistake. I’ve changed my mind. Please don’t let me go. I want to have your baby and stay with you forever.” Instead, as the putrid, sentimental phrases rolled off of his tongue, “Light of your being, eyes like blue sapphires, the taste of your fruits,” she wanted to barf. Her head was wavering on its stem of a neck and she held it in one hand while his sweaty hand stroked her other. Why did there have to be these long drawn out delays in airports before you could get on your goddamn plane and pass out? Why this distorted time warp of embarrassment and calamitous demolition of the language?
No question, he had been a good time. I mean the guy was French, a chef and was quite skillful with his hands, but enough was enough. She’d been careless, lost in the valley of endless bottles of wine, hash and the double vision of floating through his territory of nights, days, tongues, legs, rolling, bending, the sound of unrestrained French whispered in her ear, all so damn far from the shore that she’d been running from. It was moving into perfection until she sobered up and he started talking in English. She’d still hoped for reality to stick its ominous head elsewhere and with the help of postcard landscapes to hike through and amazing food and sex she’d held out for a few months.
And now here she was with this bristly, exotic man, who looked like he should be making films and doing a hundred women a week instead of trying to hold on to this frail American woman who was about to vomit right there in the airport. He went to kiss Joanne and she turned away before she lost it. “I’m not feeling so hot,” she whispered. She knew she was fucked. She was going home to her fiancée and to get an abortion.
“You look very hot to me,” he crooned. “I would wish you to stay here with me.”
She held her breath as the spasm traveled across her stomach and finally went away. In the raucous epicenter of CDG Terminal 2E the realization struck her that the only problem was the tattoo; right on her butt cheek, scrolled in delicate blue ink, the name of her gourmet lover. Intoxicated by his endless patter, the bon mots dripping from his lips, the way he spoon-fed her his homemade goat’s cheese ice cream, she simply shrugged and dropped her jeans in the tattoo parlor around the corner from the Violin D’Aingue bar where she’d met Serge.
“I’ve got to go. They’re calling my flight,” she said, eager to escape his maudlin nonsense. Maybe there was a laser removal place in Boise? How come she always ended up with these men who fawned over her like idiots? She was sure it was some pathology on her part.
“Wait, I have a gift for you. Please,” Serge said, pressing a neatly wrapped package into her hands. “Do not open it until you are in the air. I will email you every day until we meet again.”
They hugged awkwardly, his bristles scratching her cheek, and she felt his hot breath in her hair. She recoiled and made for the security gates. From behind the Perspex wall she watched her gourmet lover wring his toque, as if trying to squeeze the last of the tears out. A last pull of regret tugged at her, the allure of Paris and the afternoons they’d spent fucking in his apartment while the rain fell on the narrow street outside. Oh, shit, she thought, there were worse places than Boise to endure the loneliness of the Planned Parenthood waiting room.
Safely in her seat, the cheap Delta Airlines headphones inserted in her ears and Yanni’s “One Man’s Dream,” crackling away, she untied the gilt bow from the package and tore the wrapping away.
Her gasps were audible to the other passengers, who gazed in her direction with curiosity and annoyance. A bald headed flight attendant with a thin, drooping mustache came to her seat.
“Miss, are you alright?”
Joanne spewed forth a quick, dismissive yes, clearly hyperventilating with just that one syllable.
Staring at her from the torn paper were two nude, anatomically correct figurines of her and Serge in mid-fuck. It was clearly the work of Albert, a charismatic and thoroughly eccentric artisan friend of her lover. Albert specialized in eerily lifelike miniatures of people, animals and genitalia, and the rendering here was absolutely spot on, from Serge’s stubble covered cheeks in mid-gesticulation depicting ecstasy to her furrowed brow and long auburn hair. It came complete with the new tattoo that graced her ass. She pulled back on the Serge figurine and his erect penis retracted from her figurine’s vagina. She was appalled and this time let out a shriek.
“Miss, are you alright?”
“Yes…what?” Joanne asked. She waved him away.
A Parisian woman sat to her left, eyeing the gift with repulsion.
“You Americans are the death of us. Your garbage and stupidity will bury us all,” she hissed with disgust and then returned to her book she’d been reading.
With that, Joanne scrambled to stow away the miniatures in her bag.
It was now a matter of how to dispose of this grotesque monstrosity before meeting with her doting fianceé at the gate in Boise. First it was the weeks of mindless, drug and alcohol induced sex, then it was a tattoo to erase, an abortion to fit into her immediate schedule and now a miniature replica of her indiscretions to destroy. The fucking French were nothing but trouble! Yanni was no longer soothing her in an already fragile state, and, after three Xanax, she tossed and turned wondering what to do with herself and her new little friends.
She realized after a moment or two that she wasn’t hearing Yanni anymore. The miniatures were starting to orgasm into her headphones from inside her bag. She could hear them loud and clear, gasping. Joanne could hear her voice panting, screeching, ‘Do it, baby, do it to me, harder, harder,’ while Serge was rasping, ‘Oui, oui, oh, fuck me, brut, bébé, brut.’ She knocked the earphones out of her ears and looked around her at the bland faces reading magazines and staring into computers. She took a deep breath. She was really losing it. This trip had not been a good idea. She closed her eyes and tried to focus on her breath and the other passengers rattling on about nothing.
After a fitful nap she opened her eyes and noticed a boy staring back at her from a few rows up. His oversized glasses and dark hair reminded her of the playboy movie producer, Robert Evans, if he had gone through some kind of time portal. He couldn’t have been more than twelve or thirteen. What the fuck did little Bobby Evans want? He had turned away but then was peering at her again, his pudgy face showing no emotion. Wasn’t there a crappy in-flight movie he could watch? Maybe something with an Evans flavor, like a remake of The Cotton Club with Zac Efron in the Dixie Dwyer role?
She unbuckled the seatbelt and fumbled her way to the lavatory. Locking the door, she sighed and whacked the mini spigot, splashing lukewarm water on her face. The garish fluorescent lighting made her look ten years older. She twirled and then bunched her loose brown hair in a scrunchy, turning her face from side to side in the mirror. What else could she do?
When she opened the door, Bobby Evans was standing there. He had on loose-fitting, blue shorts and an Angry Birds t-shirt.
“I can help you,” he said quietly.
“I said, I can help you.”
“Kid, I don’t need your help.” The bald flight attendant eyed them while meticulously stocking the beverage cart. Joanne nodded toward a pair of unoccupied seats and they sat down. Outside the window fluffy white clouds hurried by, acting as though everything was as it should be.
“Oh, really,” the boy said. He cleared his throat, scrunched up his face. “Oh baby, do it to me, harder, harder.” Joanne’s eyes froze into Peter Lorre, thyroid-swollen globes as she clamped the kid’s mouth shut before he continued. This was beyond the Twilight Zone. The kid had actually heard the dolls going at it like she had. For a moment she felt some relief. She wasn’t completely psychotic.
“I’ll take those dolls, off your hands,” he said, hesitating on the last word. He stuck his hand in his pocket and pulled out a twenty-dollar bill. “A trade, fair and square,” he smirked. “I was saving up for tickets to the Justin Bieber concert, but when I was changing channels and heard your crazed-ass statues going at it on Channel 11, I goddamn lost it.”
“They’re just dolls, not statues,” Joanne screeched, then wondered why she was even arguing. She suddenly pictured Albert, squinting while he expertly applied paint to her doppelganger’s ass with a tiny brush; and then she pictured her fianceé, with a cheap bouquet of airport-bought flowers, waving maniacally as she trudged through the gate and into one of his bear-like uberhugs.
“Fine. OK. Let me put them back in their box first.” The boy nodded and smiled. She held out her hand and he stuffed the twenty into her palm. “Who the hell is watching you, you little deviant?” she asked.
“I’m traveling alone,” he said. “My dad lives in France and I’m getting picked up by my cousin Randy. He’s nineteen – he won’t say anything.” Joanne must have looked worried because he added, sotto voce, “Randy’s cool and he’s into animation. He’s going to find these statues, bloody kick-ass.”
I’m sure he is, Joanne thought. At this point, she could hardly afford to quibble. Whether or not Bobby Evans was on the level, this was one less patty in her particular shit sandwich. And with that passing thought, she scratched her Serge-autographed ass and started brainstorming that particular bit of business.
She had a Swiss-army knife in her carry-on bag that had passed through security. She wondered if she needed to make another trip to the bathroom.
This month’s contributors to Exquisite Quartet are:
James Claffey, who hails from County Westmeath, Ireland, and lives on an avocado ranch in Carpinteria, CA, with his wife, the writer and artist, Maureen Foley, their daughter, Maisie, and Australian cattle-dog, Rua. His writing has appeared in various publications including New Orleans Review, Gone Lawn, Thrice Magazine, Connotation Press, Artichoke Haircut, the Drum Literary Magazine, the Molotov Cocktail, WordPlaySound, the Toronto Quarterly, Shadyside Review, and the Cobalt Review. More is forthcoming in the Bicycle Review, NAP Magazine, Wordlegs, Apocrypha & Abstractions and Drunk Monkeys. He contributes to the Nervous Breakdown and writes at www.jamesclaffey.com.
Kevin Ridgeway, a writer from Southern California, where he resides in a shady bungalow with his girlfriend and their one-eyed cat. His work has appeared in many print and online journals, including Underground Voices, Gutter Eloquence, Mad Swirl, The Writing Disorder, Rufous Salon, Red Fez and Carnival Literary Magazine. His chapbook, Burn through Today, is now available from Flutter Press.
Larry O. Dean, who was born and raised in Flint, Michigan. He attended the University of Michigan, where he won three Hopwood Awards in Creative Writing, and Murray State University’s low-residency MFA program. His most recent chapbooks are About the Author (Mindmade Books, 2011) and abbrev (Beard of Bees, 2011). A full-length collection, Brief Nudity (Salmon Poetry) is due in 2013. Selected magazine publications include The Berkeley Poetry Review, Passages North, Big Bridge, Keyhole, OCHO, filling Station, and Alehouse. Also a critically-acclaimed songwriter, Dean has numerous CD releases to his credit, including Fables in Slang (2001) with Post Office, Gentrification Is Theft (2002) with The Me Decade, and Fun with a Purpose (2009) with The Injured Parties. He was a 2004 recipient of the Hands on Stanzas Gwendolyn Brooks Award, presented by the Poetry Center of Chicago. www.larryodean.com
Meg Tuite, whose writing has appeared in numerous journals including Berkeley Fiction Review, Epiphany, JMWW, One, the Journal, Monkeybicycle and Boston Literary Magazine. She has been nominated several times for the Pushcart Prize. She is the fiction editor of The Santa Fe Literary Review and Connotation Press. Her novel Domestic Apparition (2011) is available through San Francisco Bay Press and her chapbook, Disparate Pathos, is available (2012) through Monkey Puzzle Press. Her blog: http://megtuite.wordpress.com.