Henry Lee stayed around to help Bill on the line. Bill said he didn’t need it, that he was quite all right, and he was all right. He popped two more black beauties and came down off the acid speeding. A few beers and some bourbon helped that, and later, when the dinner rush was over he went outside to smoke a joint.
Tommy immediately got on Bill’s case. He said for the amount of work Bill had done he shouldn’t get paid for the day and that was just his starting point.
Bill liked Tommy and didn’t want to go back at him, so he gently passed a comment that he was putting up the dinner. Then he reminded Tommy that he’d cut meat two times during the day, put up the lunch, did the breading, set up the line and was going to break it down, clean up, change the French-fry grease and close up.
Tommy had no response to the list Bill presented so he started on how bad the drugs and alcohol were for him, how they would, as much as the cigarettes if not more, end up killing him or messing up his mind.
Bill thanked Tommy for the caution and the concern and of course paid him no mind.
Both new girls, Lilly and Brooklyn hung out for the dinner, or, actually, they did a double. The overall and major concern was that Mother’s day was coming up in about two weeks, and the worst thing that could happen was not having enough or properly-trained and experienced wait staff.
The kitchen was set. Alvin would come over from the west side and the west side would work with their swing-shift cook, their relief man. The relief man was not familiar with the east because he only relieved part-time in the west. When the east needed help, Alvin came over because he knew the layout, the help and the system.
Before Bill was fully trained and experienced enough to handle a full-house, rip-roaring Friday and Saturday dinner rush, Alvin, who was training Bill on the broiler, worked the middle cutting the prime rib and putting up the side dishes until Bill needed help on the broiler. At that point, the rush in full-swing, Alvin would take over, but not before then, mostly cause he was lazy and was busy fooling around with Marie who was still over on the pantry station.
Alvin wasn’t fooling with her that way, although he would have if he could have. She had no interest in him cause she was messing with Henry Lee and Henry Lee and he were friends. Alvin would’ve done Alfreda too, if Alfreda had permitted it, even though he and Henry were friends. But Alvin was funky, fat and sloppy and always unshaved.
Alvin and Marie hung out. Alvin ate a boatload of cocktail shrimp and helped himself to whatever else he wanted from over there, things like ham and Swiss cheese for the chef’s salads or rice pudding or one of the other desserts.
Training Bill, from Alvin’s point of view, had been a good gig, much easier than doing Friday or Saturday nights out West on the open-hearth line.
But all good things have to come to an end and it ended when Bill could handle both Friday and Saturday nights no matter how busy they were. That’s when Bill got his first raise. That’s when Alvin didn’t have to come over anymore unless there were special circumstances or Bill was out.
So the kitchen was set and Tommy was doing his best to get the front of the house all set. Norma and Lexi might have stayed through Mother’s Day if not for Drenovis. Drenovis was a drag on their economy, a pain in their asses, and their leaving right before Mother’s Day was a way to let him know just how they felt about him.
Coming in a few weeks
The answer to why was simple but of course Bill didn’t know it. Bill would discover it years later, but not until he’d lost his marriage and a good chunk of his life.
So he didn’t have to feel.
Because some things were just too painful.
“You know,” Mary said, “they have rehabs.”
“When I have a problem, I’ll let you know.”
“You have a problem. And I don’t want to lose you.”
“Not up to you,” Bill said.
He kissed Mary again but suddenly she didn’t want to be kissed. She didn’t want to be in the storeroom with him because she knew he was going to do something to stop her from talking about what she knew he needed to talk about. She wanted to talk about it even though she knew now wasn’t the time for it.
“C’mon,” she said. “Henry Lee’s waiting for you. Can you cut meat or you gonna cut a finger off?”
“I’m going smoke a joint, pop some speed, drink some bourbon. Then I’ll cut meat.”
He took her in his arms as they stood. Mary, despite the ice she wanted to feel, melted. He felt her melt, knew she was caving and that he could do anything he wanted there in the storeroom.
“We need to get back to work,” Mary said.
“The mouse was dead. I was with Annabelle and the three guys were together in Jack’s room. They were gay and doing what they were doing. Rell’s brain was totally fried. Him and Richard. Richard’s mind was fried too. Richard told fiction stories he was writing from his head. He never wrote them down that I know of.”
“I have no idea what the hell you’re talking about.”
“Talking about the mushroom cloud. I’m gonna make it burst for you.”
“Boy nothing. Ain’t nothing gonna burn upstairs, is there?”
“I need to go up and check.”
“Let it burn.”
“I was never with Annabelle. We were together at times, but we were never boyfriend and girlfriend. We were both friends with Jack and Jack was with Rell except we didn’t know he was with Rell until one time, maybe two years after we’d met him, he finally came out of the closet.”
“Why you telling me this?”
Bill kissed Mary, softly, sweetly, then harder and more forcefully. As he did so, he pushed her back onto the cases on which she’d been sitting.
“They were all there. In the egg wash. The dead mouse and the two cats. One was smoking a j. The mouse was telling me the cats killed it, him, asking me how I could let that happen. Then the dots came and the Armageddon.”
“You done lost your mind?” Mary looked at Bill critically.
“Not me. I’m right here with you.” He got on his knees then pointed two fingers to his eyes then pointed them to Mary’s eyes. “We’re right here,” he said. “you and me, Mary P.”
Mary leaned back and let him spread her legs. She closed her eyes and sighed a deep, deep sigh.
He spent an inordinate amount of time on her, carefully, meticulously, painstakingly ministering to her every whim. She could not contain herself, could not hold back as much as she wanted to. At one point someone passed by in the hall and she wanted to stop but wouldn’t let herself, couldn’t force herself.
“Lord have Mercy,” she said when it was all over.
He needed to help her to her feet, to hold her while she pulled on her underwear and got her balance. Then he kissed her a last time, popped a black beauty and unlocked the storeroom door.
Coming in a few weeks
“We ain’t dying today,” Mary said. “You’re on drugs, boy.”
She held him to her, cradled him. Wasn’t him she was holding, and she was straight except for the weed she’d smoked. Was Yulie she was holding. Yulie had flashbacks to Viet Nam. He sweated and screamed in his sleep specially when he’d shot up and had a bad trip. Then, all she could do was hold him and cradle him and hope, coming out of it, she could help him with soft love.
Bill reached into the mushroom cloud. All about them was desolation. He reached and felt something soft…he couldn’t understand what it was. He squeezed, softly at first, then harder, and when it got harder, he heard Mary say, “Let go my tit.”
Annabelle watched him with curiosity as he swept up the dead mouse. Then, when they were in bed, out of nowhere, she bust out laughing.
“You were talking to the mouse,” she said.
“The mouse was talking to me.”
“I didn’t hear anything.”
“You weren’t listening.”
“Was not. You were busy with the tuna fish and we didn’t even eat.”
“We could eat now, I got something for you to eat.”
“I should pop some speed,” Bill said to Mary.
“You should rest a minute. But this damn floor is cold. Let’s get up.”
They went back to sitting on the stacks of cases there.
“What were you seeing?” Mary asked.
“Armageddon,” Bill said.
Mary looked at him. “Explain to me why you do these drugs.”
“Drugs. All the drugs you do.”
Bill laughed. There were fish swimming around them in the quarry. Or so he thought.
When they got out, they lay on towels in the sun, a line of naked bodies. They smoked weed and drank wine from the bottles they had brought.
Two of the people there were fellows at the University. One of them was a fourth-year nursing student. Annabelle was an actress, would-be at this point. Bill was just an English major.
Was Annabelle’s idea to switch partners and mess around. That was because she and Bill were not a couple. They were with each other, hanging out and fooling around, but neither of them were serious about the other.
No one else went for the idea so without any sense of abandon she stood up, took Bill’s hand and pulled him up. They grabbed a bottle of wine and some weed and disappeared to a place behind some rocks and at the front of some woods.
“Was the mushroom cloud.”
“The drugs, why do you do all the drugs?”
Bill had no answer. Mary knew he had no answer and didn’t really expect one.
“You with me now? Or you someplace else?”
“I’m in multiple places.”
“You gonna be okay?”
“Why you care?”
“That’s not fair.”
“Life isn’t fair.”
“They killed Yulie. I loved him. They’re gonna kill you. I love you too. Wanna talk about not fair? You can’t even love me back.”
“But I do. I do love you and that’s not the drugs talking.”
“Damn you,” Mary said.
Bill kissed her. But he wasn’t kissing her. He was back in the mushroom cloud only he landed on Fred’s farm in one of the fields where he and several of his friends were sitting in the sun after taking mescaline. They were all couples and all the women had gone among themselves off to a different field. They had taken weed, speed, Quaaludes and wine with them.
The guys had taken about the same with them only in larger quantities. They were passing around the joints and the wine. One of them was telling a story, narrating a piece of fiction he was writing in his head as he went along.
Bill remembered. Richard spoke in cryptic fiction but never seemed to write any of it down. He had a bottle of whiskey he and Bill shared.
Coming in a few weeks
“C’mon boy,” Mary called.
Bill was roused and with Bea doing what she was doing he wasn’t sure he wanted to leave where he stood. He closed his eyes. Everything started dancing in the starburst-dark.
The infinite microscopic dots inside his closed eyes swayed to the non-music buzz in his ears. Familiar with him, Bea knew precisely how to touch him. Her hand spread honey-warmth through his midsection and up his stomach.
Thinking he was on the sly, he slid his hand along the shelf to her and began lifting her dress. Both their hands were low and against the shelf, so if someone came into the kitchen they wouldn’t be able to see exactly what they were doing.
Then he felt a slap on the back of his head and his ears rang.
Mary stood behind them. Bea let out her throaty, deep-voiced chuckle.
“Boy,” Mary said, “you got those trays of fried food to be carrying downstairs. Then you got your stuff to be carrying up for the dinner. And Henry Lee waiting on you to help him cut meat.”
She led him by the hand away from Bea’s station and away from Bea.
He could do anything to Annabelle. Annabelle would do anything for him, everything.
The three others were naked in bed together. Their bedroom door, Jack’s bedroom door, was ajar. Bill and Annabelle peeked in before they went into one of the other bedrooms. Bill carried a joint, Annabelle carried the bottle of wine.
They had not eaten any tuna fish.
“Maybe it’s still alive,” Bill said before they left the kitchen.
“I’m dead, stupid,” the mouse said. “Look at me, man. I’m dead.”
The cats lost interest in the mouse once it was dead. At first they kept playing with it, but once they were sure it wasn’t doing anything back, they left it, preened themselves, cleaned themselves and went off to their food bowls to eat.
Bill thought he saw it breathing. He thought he saw her breathing too, that day she plopped down on the sofa and died.
He let that thought go quickly. His mother had been dead now for more than eight years.
Annabelle told him he had to clean it up. She sidled up to him and rubbed herself on him. Like a little girl begging, she said, ”please, please, please?”
Bill found the broom and dust pan. He swept that sucker up and dumped it into the garbage bag then he took the garbage bag out, spun it and tied it with a knot, dropped the bag into the can.
“Good bye cruel world,” he heard the mouse say from the tied bag inside the closed can.
“You ain’t giving it to her,” Mary said.
It was déjà vu. She led him into the storeroom and bolted the door from the inside.
She took a lipstick tube from the pocket of her kitchen dress, painted her lips the dark purple she knew he loved.
No more dinosaurs. No elephants dancing or mice talking or cats in sunglasses. In the closed storeroom, there with Mary, he lost himself in an apocalyptic vision of the mushroom cloud of an atomic bomb.
“Get under the desk,” he said to Mary even though he wasn’t saying it to Mary. “Quick. Get down and under your desk.”
“Boy,” Mary said, but before she could get anything further out, he was pulling her down, down, down to the floor.
For her, she would tell him later, it was like that time she was being pushed beside the bleachers at school. She wasn’t being forced then. She’d gone because she was hot and curious and young and stupid.
“We’re all gonna die,” Bill said. There on the floor of the storeroom, he held her to him and said he was glad that at least they’d die together.
Coming in a few weeks