Dreaming of La Sal

A serial novel by Michelle Curry Wright


Leave a comment

Chapter 17 – Circus tents

July 31 held no spare minutes for anyone at La Sal Junction. Syd and Mimi manned and womaned the kitchen while Anna planned for the wedding and Max placed orders for more supplies. Sydney felt he deserved one last day in the kitchen of the La Sal Junction Cafe and Mimi was only too glad to have him there doing the bulk of the work and being enthusiastic enough for two. The next day, the cafe would be closed, and, as of August 2, John Werner Standish would be around probably to look better than he tested out.

Sydney decided that mushroom curry on couscous would be his last daily special and advertised it as “The Yogi Special.” For whatever reason, it worked, and once again, a diverse group of people agreed to taste something they’d never tasted before. Later, Syd and Mimi argued about weather they all associated the name to an Indian yogi or to Yogi Bear, and even though she might have been right about Yogi Bear, Syd felt she was being a little too quarrelsome over something so silly.

During the midday rest, Mimi went to find Max, and having indeed become irritable with sublimated worry about the be, picked an argument with him this time, about switching some of their distributors. Then just to e fair, she rounded up Anna and posed pointed questions about her reasons for this and that concerning the wedding. Three arguments later and feeling a little better about herself, she returned to work to find a note from Syd. “Went for a drive, be back before 4. Curry sauce is made; couscous just needs to be re-steamed briefly.” He signed it, “Yogi — whichever one you want.”

“I probably drove him away,” Mimi chuckled to herself. Affixing the “iced Coffee” sign to one of the windows, she gazed outside. The afternoon thunderclouds, bright white but dark-centered — and not too far distant — promised a cozy and cooler evening in the cafe where the light had already begun to change things. While the stark and flat look of objects under a blazing sun stirred neither artist nor feeling human being, once the light softened and obscured itself, in the process creating patterns and shadows and highlights over things large and things small, the beauty of the landscape was evident even to the most blasé. Mimi stared at the rain coming down in mist-like sheets ten miles away and would have remained reverential had a couple of recreational vehicles containing cyclists not pulled in and sucked her back into her life.

Sydney came back on time feeling much refreshed, or so he said And his parents pulled in very shortly after that, hauling a hell of a lot of food with them and not looking, not surprisingly, anything like Syd at all. Joelle, Caucasian except for a deep tan, had a striking head of coiffed white hair and the look of a forty year old rather than what Syd said she was, which was 62. Lucien, a black man, also completely white-haired, had skin the color of dark chocolate and the most perfect teeth Mimi had ever seen, but gapped in the front rather widely. With little talk between them but much, Anna thought, understanding, Syd set up his parents beside him in the kitchen so that they could prep for the next day. Anna, obviously taken with them, hovered about offering to do anything to be of service. This pleased the parents who still could not believe that the would be grandparents soon. Thus did they let the aristocratic-faced Anna do chores for them.

In the course of a pretty good night of business, Mimi garnered four more signatures, which boosted her confidence but did not diminish her personal prayers to the god of just rewards. She never questioned how a god might feel about her prayer-mantra that went something like this: Let the best person win, God. Just let the best person win.

She never thought about appropriateness, she just simply said the prayer-mantra over and over again, silently, in the course of the night It was all she could do having still had no word from Yates Bishop and Sally Varner Vicks. “And hold Yates and Sally in the palm of your hand,” she added every so often. Evidently, this was the Irish part of the prayer.

Max spent the evening at work on a wedding gift for Syd and Anna, tiling the tiny kitchen and bathroom floors of their Airstream while they busied themselves with the elder Renoirs; and when he came to fetch Mimi to show her his handiwork, she squealed with delight. “It’s just like our trailer!” she said, and then realized she had not had time to think of a present for her best friend. “Oh-oh,” was a response that matched the new look on her face.

“This’ll be from both of us,” said Max kindly. “We can say you thought of it.”

“Anna would see right through that. No, I’ll just tell them my present will be a little late. Then I’ll think of one.”

All slept fitfully on the night of July 31, despite four additional signatures on the testimonial. A full moon, brighter than you average full moon, questioned all the implications of the word “night.” Anna got up to pee at least six times while Syd wished he hadn’t had an iced coffee around eight. Joelle and Lucien, in the foreign desert and out of their time zone, played Belotte, a card game of French origin, until about 3:30 in the morning and didn’t have to turn any lights on to play, the moon was so bright.

Max went in and out of dreams like a worm crawling in and out of the earth, and would wake up periodically to look around in a panic and then fall back onto the pillow. Mimi decided to take the animals for a walk in the middle of the night, animals who were the only ones sleeping peacefully. She roused them nevertheless and dragged them into the moonlit world, vindicated in having made them stay up with her. Once outside, the animals raced after each other in circles and figure eights; and Dale Evans even tried to get Mirabelle up on Napoleon’s back with her, circus style. They pulled if off for about five seconds and acted giddy and drunken afterwards. “It’s got to be the moon,” Mimi summarized, yawning .”Wow, an actual yawn,” she said, and then went back to bed.

They were all allowed the luxury of sleeping in until eight o’clock on the wedding day, since the restaurant was closed, which all of them did on account of being exhausted from the moonlit night. Joelle and Lucien made them a breakfast of “tartines” — grilled French bread with butter and jam, and commented on the quality of their coffee, which made the others laugh out loud. “People will actually come back for the coffee,” Syd explained. “They’ve sort of become addicted to it.”

“Yeah, and so have we,” Mimi added. “I get going on the decaf alone, and so does Anna.”
After several cups of this coffee, however, newly filled with ambition for the day and angst about the bet, the six current residents of the cafe split up and attended to their affairs. Sydney helped Anna with laying out her wedding dress and she helped him with his white silk. Mimi acted nonchalant enough but could be found in the back of the restaurant calling people in La Sal who might know the whereabouts of Yates and Sally. They still needed four trucker signatures by the end of the day, and the cafe wasn’t even open. Max was in the warehouse tiling to quiet his own nerves; with scraps, he had decided on a mosaic to span a room divider he had erected earlier.

Friends started arriving around eleven for the wedding at two o’clock and Anna was delighted to learn that her mother, not yet present, had arranged for the delivery and erection of a large red and white circus-like tent, two banquet tables, sixty chairs and enough balloons to lift the tent off the ground.

“I had wondered where the people were to come together,” said Lucien Renoir in a voice deeper than anything Mimi had ever heard and with the finest most mysterious accent to go along with it. She envied Anna such an in-law. “Your mother must know how to make a party,” he added, utterly serious.

“That, she does,” Anna admitted with a trace of a sneer.

“Well, we will have a big beautiful party here, bien sur,” said Joelle who had figured on having the meal around 2:30 after rum drinks and strawberries. Sydney had warned everyone that there would be no champagne but enough rum to ride a raft down — that was the surprise. “Tradition, you know,” he’d said sheepishly “And it’s the best rum money can buy.” Anne, in her condition, would have to forgo the rum but couldn’t have been more thrilled that her wedding had taken a turn down carnival lane. She was grinning a grin bigger than anything Mimi had ever seen.

At noon, Anna’s mother arrived in a rented sports car and came to a screeching halt, making a movie star’s entrance most notably on account of white gauze-like scarf wrapped around her head, Audrey Hepburn style. If she was surprised by the look of the place and the lack of anything surrounding it, she didn’t show it. “Oh, hello darling,” she said and proceeded to introduce herself to everyone there. Oddly enough, Anna thought, she was endearing herself to everyone. “Your father should be showing up very soon,” she said to Anna confidentially “He’s been doing something or other in Nova Scotia but wouldn’t dream of missing his little girl’s wedding…”

Anna, not daring to hope he’d come, was beside herself. “Sydney,” she screamed, “My dad’s coming!” And sure enough, he showed up right on the heels of his ex-wife, in a tinted-windowed car big enough to live in. He was alone, though, and got out of the car wearing a tuxedo. “Dad!” Anna yelled as she raced to meet him, laughing at the sight of him in formal clothing, “You’ll expire in that thing if you don’t at least take off the jacket”
Another handsome father, Mimi noted, staring at the formidable waxed mustache stretching the width of John Ortiz’s face.

More friends arrived, among them Michael Norris Hanratty, alone this time and driving a Jeep, publishing types from Los Angeles, selected Telluride people bearing gifts, and the jazz quartet who, from the looks of them, had never played such a venue. “This is it?” said the bassist, a smile spanning his face. “We’re playing in the middle of the Mohave desert, Man!” he said.
“Naw, man, this isn’t the Mohave. We’re in Utah, man, this is the fucking MOON, man,” the keyboard guy laughed, adding, “”Scuse me,” to Anna’s mother who looked too proper for such language but who proved later not to be that proper at all. The musicians set up inside the tent but kept emerging to chat and to gaze about, and to stare into the distance — something La Sal Junction prompted in nearly everyone no matter what their origins happened to be.
When 1:30 rolled around and Yates hadn’t shown up with good news or bad news or any news and hadn’t phoned in either, Mimi had to think of a contingency plan and began again to explain the bet once more to everyone — how this was deadline day, how she was expecting her trucker friend to call in any minute, and how in any case she would have to begin serving burgers after the wedding in an attempt to get those last four signatures since she couldn’t exactly wait on him forever.

“By the way,” she added to the assembly before her, “If you’re wondering why I made this bet in the first place, it was because I was sure I’d be able to win and because I really don’t like the nut-case who put me up to it. It may look a little reckless to you now, but he’s making me look that way on a technicality. In principle, I’ve already won. Anyhow, that’s it. Keep your fingers crossed for me. For us.”

At this point, everyone taking part in the wedding shuffled off to change — including Max and Mimi, the Best Man and Maid of Honor. Folks from La Sal whom Anna and Syd had invited were beginning to arrive and approached the tent with a visible combination of anticipation and circumspection. They had never seen such an elaborate set-up but wanted nevertheless to be with Anna and Syd on their big day
Angel Sheetz, who on the sly had acquired a crush on Syd, had made covers for their Airstream love seat as a wedding gift, using material Mimi had seen and approved. Actually, Mimi had been surprised at Angel’s good taste; the material was heavy tapestry-like material just exotic enough to look right in the white and khaki trailer. Angel’s plan was to slip the new covering on during the wedding. Other gifts from La Sal included a French kitchen knife, a pure white hand knit cotton blanket, presumably for the new baby, a copy of the Book of Mormon (no one took credit for that), and a tiny coffee press, among others. Anna and Syd loved all the presents, were tickled with them really, especially the new tile job in the Airstream and the slip covers Angel had made.

While the wedding party busied themselves with buttons and zippers and earrings and belts and all the rest, friends who had gathered for the near-nuptials of Anna and Syd witnessed what only a few of them — namely the La Sal folks — could explain. Eighteen wheelers began to roll in one by one, starting with Yates Bishop’s rig, and rolled in slowly and silently as if paying homage to the sanctity of the day and of their mission.

Yates jumped out of the rig and upon learning that all the involved parties were occupied took it upon himself to direct the truck traffic in, quietly, and everyone watched the parking lot overflow in no time. Within several minutes, very large trucks, probably over fifty of them lined the road and filled the lot at the cafe, while more rolled mutely in every minute Even the more eccentric of the guests, those used to the unusual, were dumbfounded by this mobile show of support and love, and began to suspect that something far removed from the ordinary was happening at this little cafe with the 50s look, plopped down in the middle of a flat Utah plain.
The truckers themselves, grinning at the sight of each other and at their sheer numbers, silently gathered near the tent as if prepared for nothing other than the witnessing of a wedding. Yates and Sally had given them two o’clock as a deadline and had mentioned that they would be coinciding with a wedding party.

So, none of the truckers batted an eyelash at the sight of the great red and white tent, the balloons, the band, or the motley group, though some were tempted toward surprise. The band, truly an outstanding feature, had flabbergasted them.
So on this warm July day centered in the heat of the sun but rimmed all around by clouds that promised to roll in later on, a scene was taking place, one, that by its sheer craziness would impress itself upon the minds of those gathered and would be called up by many of them whenever life began to disappoint them, whenever the fizz in the soda of living began to flatten. And this scene, in all its glory and color, would remind them of two things: one, that life can indeed take you by surprise if you let it; and two, that the imagination will manifest itself if given half a chance. Heartened by this reminder, they would think of Mimi and Max and Syd and Anna fondly. And gratefully.

When the wedding hour finally struck and the bride and groom, best man and made of honor appeared at last, Mo Robbins was ready with her camera to catch the expressions on their faces, even though Anna’s mother had arranged for a professional photographer from Moab to come in. Mo’s pictures would show four beautifully attired people in various states of disbelief and joy, hugging each other and everyone else they could get their hands on. In one photo, Mimi, with a look of unbridled ecstasy on her face, had her arms open as if to embrace the land, the people, the life she’d come up with. In another, Max, dressed in old blue jeans and a formal shirt, had Mimi in his arms and twirled her about while her dress, made of yards and yards of pale apricot rayon, floated behind her. Syd, looking as exotic as a priest among heathens — though that would hardly be the case — stood still in one of Mo’s photos, smiling sweetly in the loose white silk tunic. And Mo’s favorite of Anna had her laughing like an idiot while she held her protruding belly, a belly swathed in the satin and pearly beds of her wedding gown. Photos of the crowd were no less expressive. A total of 80 truckers showed up, sort of the Greek chorus of the wedding, and could be counted on to cheer at the right time, be silent at the right time, and generally lend the event a larger proportion than it otherwise would have had.

The ceremony — an exchange of vows with neither judge nor minister nor priest present — was felt deeply by all. The science fiction vows recited by Syd and Anna were not that wacky, after all, and the two of them exchanged rings as a symbol of eternity in love even though there was no officiating presence in their midst to tell them to do so. It was when Syd stood holding both of Anna’s hands in his own that Mimi broke down, just as she knew she would. Mimi, whose tear ducts were on call 24/7, would cry at sappy TV commercials, Olympic Games ceremonies, the voice of Ray Charles, old letters and photos. She’d cry at the thought of an argument and after sex. Mimi O’Rourke cried at the drop of a hat.

And so despite all her best efforts at staying dry, despite lip biting and swallowing and pressing her tongue to the roof of her mouth, she finally could not help letting the waters flow as she watched Syd and Anna, hand in hand, gazing at each other as if no one else in the world existed. Max, embarrassed by the tears — nevertheless put an arm delicately around her. And much to his own surprise, felt a tear of his own fall to his lip.

it came as a great shock to both of them then, overcome with emotion as they were, when they heard Syd’s voice directed at them. “Maybe we should just make this a double wedding.”
The crowd cheered wildly behind Max and Mimi who were now caught in the spotlight and who, still crying, looked each other in the eye for a good long moment, and then began to laugh, sniffling at the same time. Both shook their heads. “Nope,” Mimi ventured the first word, and then simultaneously both added, “We’re not ready!”

“Well,” said Syd addressing himself to the crowd, “I guess they’re not ready. It looks like they’ll have to have their own wedding then, some other day, when we’ll all have to get together again.” Another round of cheers.

“I’d like at this time to give my wife her wedding present, or at least tell her what it is, and I have to say I hope she’ll like it. I went ahead and bought a little cafe over there in Dove Creek, from Cherise and Parker Pivey who are here today… in the hopes of staying in this part of the world and close to my friends here at the La Sal Junction Cafe. I managed to purchase some acreage not too far from there where we’ll be able to park our Airstream, and I’m hoping to make a go of my own brand of vegetarian cuisine in Dove Creek. I hope to see you all there once we open.”

With this he handed the keys to the cafe to his near-wife who stood there happily to receive them, crying now herself. Mimi not one to contain herself, had rushed to the bride and groom and was hugging them while jumping up and down. Then she went to one of the band mics and made her own little announcement.

“Wow,” her voice was loud, and with reverb on, it echoed itself. “Wow-ow-ow.” The bassist came over to adjust it. “This is almost too good to be true,” she said. “But I’m not going to fight it! I really want to thank you all for coming to Syd and Anna’s wedding, which has only just begun, by the way. Joelle and Lucien Renoir, Syd’s parents, who are also in the restaurant business, having come generously prepared to feed us all and make us drunk with good rum, and Bring Betty, a jazz quartet from LA are here for your listening and dancing pleasure.

“Meanwhile, I’m assuming all you truckers are here by the grace of God and the wiles of Yates and Sally.” A cheer went up and they did the wave. “Well, I’m absolutely overwhelmed,” she choked on her words but went on. “You can’t know how much this means to me. The only thing I can think of to say is this: I hope we’re here for a long time to come, and I hope you’ll always feel very very welcome at the La Sal Junction Cafe. There will be burgers served after all the Renoir’s food is gone, and everything is on the house today! Let’s have a serious good time and drink some of that rum! And for all you drivers, please feel free to sleep here tonight. In fact, that’s an order, if you don’t have to be somewhere else. Thanks again, all of you, for saving me, us and the cafe.”

And with that, Joelle and Lucien set about to create a banquet and a feast comprised of heaps of fresh fruit with a yogurt nutmeg sauce and salads of grains and vegetables Mimi had never seen the likes of before. A row of curried dishes was lined up next to a pile two feet high of chapatis, followed by a soup tureen of extra mild lentil dal. Lucien was cooking flambeed bananas to order on a Coleman stove, dousing them in rum and throwing brown sugar down like dice. In the hour it took to get everything ready, people drank rum, the best rum, all agreed, they’d ever tasted. “And tasting better all the time!” as someone put it.

Mimi, looking out over the sea of people while Bring Betty played everything from Thelonius Monk to the weirdest James Brown she’d ver heard, was proud to have been even remotely responsible for this gathering. Nothing could hav pleased her more than seeing Michael Hanratty, in khakis, striped shirt and rep tie, in an animated arguem3n5 with Cherise Pivey, whose standard boots and halter would ordinarily have been enough to make him blush. Or Mo Robbins’ twins attached to Dodge Robuck at each of his hands, attracted to the “puny” man once again and for no apparent reason. Or the Dali-esque John Ortiz dancing with Anna and holding her in his arms like a bouquet of gardenias, the scent of which was about to make him swoon. Certainly there was something fine about the aristocratic Jane Kidd on her third rum and pineapple trying to lead the small jazz combo, wooden spoon in hand, foot tapping lightly beneath her thousand-dollar dress.
Max, himself not immune to the beauty of the moment, brought the animals out to mingle — which they did well until Eleanor and Emma Robbins gathered them together for a few crowd pleasing circus tricks For that matter, the festive nature of the gathering was lost on neither the cats nor the dog; all were on their best behavior, sitting politely together and watching the crowd throughout the better part of the event.

The surprise of the day came in the form of Isadora and Rimsky Bell, who happened to be vacationing in the States and, finding out about the wedding, decided to make the detour and see a part of the country they’d never seen. It was beginning to be clear to Max, Mimi, Syd and Anna that many people had never seen this part of the country and that friends might be lured out on these grounds. Missing the actual ceremony by ten minutes, the Bells spent the rest of the day trying to get someone to repeat the “science fiction vows” Mimi had already told them about, herself half-drunk from “just strawberries.”

Both Isadora and Rimsky wore traditional whites and khakis, looking at once elegant and perpetually cool. Mimi couldn’t take her eyes off the slender Isadora, whose facial structure alone suggested a true Slavic beauty. She made sure Mo got a shot of both of them together. Rimsky, whose appearance as the token famous playwright — Mimi was happy to note — duly impressed the professor, did a lot of looking around and gazing into space. His plays, what one could call “minimalist,” could have found a happy home here on the range.

The gathering grew steadily in the curse of the afternoon since all of those stopping by for burgers were asked to stay rather than leave. By six o’clock, Burgamaxes were being flipped and strong coffee was being brewed, and the testimonial list of truckers for vegetarian burghers had reached 120 signatures, at which point Mimi considered it safe to place a call to the Kid ranch in Montana just in case Rory was there, which he was.

“Well, Rory,” Mimi told him standing on top of her truck and speaking not only to him but to the hushed crowd before her. “It look as though I have something to tell you.”

Rory Kid, well aware of the situation, told her he knew she’d won. “How did you already know I’d won?” she asked him, not really caring how he’d found out.

“You sent out a spy!” she screamed to the crowd as well as to him. “He had a spy here! Isn’t that perfect?” The half-drunk half-wired throng went wild. “Well, I suppose you know what this means,” she went on. “Yes. It means you’re letting your cows go free. But I’ve changed my mind on the vegetarian part of it. You’re no longer required to change over. Just let your cows go and we’ll call it quits.” She covered the mouthpiece. “He’s got to let 500 head of cattle go!” she squealed.

“Yes,” she said pressing her ear to the phone. “No, I don’t know who owns the other half of the runway, who?” And while listening intently to the other end, the smile marking her as a woman of glory faded. “You’re about to become the new owner?” She repeated the words she heard, weakly, then felt herself rise to the occasion, for herself, for her crowd.
“Well, you won’t have any friends here, will he people?” She held the cordless phone to the crowd who booed and hissed and grumbled, sounding more like a crowd of 600 than what it was. Anna felt her blood run cold while Syd and Max individually felt they would knock the guy’s lights out given half a chance. But for the four of them, one thing seemed evident: here was a guy who wasn’t going to disappear from their lives as easily as they’d thought.

“Well,” said Mimi, ready to express what they all felt as she jumped down from the top of the truck. “It just appears that the thread of our lives and the thread of his comprise the same web at this point in time. I don’t know what else to say, except, “THANK GOD I WON THAT BET!” Otherwise I’d be up shit creek serving burgers branded with a K. Now, let’s forget that lanky son of a gun and get on with it. We’ve still got lots of food and our DJ from Telluride is here ready to relieve the superb jazz guys. Let’s give Bring Betty a big round of applause, and let’s bring on the rock and roll!”

Mimi, stunned by this new piece of information that Rory Vermillion Kid would be her neighbor on most sides, realized something as she headed toward the DJ with some requests. What she realized was that it was the place of plots to thicken — that this is what they did of their own accord. And that even though she despised her new neighbor, in her heart she felt herself rise to the occasion and she felt herself smile about it.

Guest DJ Chuck Ludman, of the Buck and himself a music aficionado, was ready to roll and to rock. “Hey Chuck,” said Mimi handing him a glass of pure rum on the rocks. “How about The Clash to get things going?”

“Sure thing, Mimi. Oh, and by the way, fantastic party. Incredible, really. ” And there he was, a heavy set guy wearing a baseball cap that said “Makita Tools” sitting at a lone table in the dust, connected to the power source by means of a very long and very orange cord. He dropped the needle in the groove and out came the extra loud first notes of “Rock the Casbah.”
“Ah,” thought Mimi, losing herself in the overwhelming sound. “Sharif don’t like it…. Rock the casbah, Rock the casbah.”

Max, evidently more hurt by Rory’s news than Mimi, had come to the conclusion that life itself is bittersweet. Syd, sure that the guy would be running home long before he would ever consider living here, was amused by the information and saw life as ironic. Anna had decided just not to think about it at all right now, though her comment on life would have been “fateful.” Ready to ensure the success of their party, however, they all committed themselves equally to dancing the night away and to getting others to dance.

At this time, the professional photographer took over for Mo who needed liberation from the ten pound ball and chain called a camera. Larry Miltman’s photos, the magnificent product of a disorderly professional given a disorderly assignment, showed much promise as pieces of art. Not having denied himself any of the rum the others were also drinking, he took all the remaining photos with a wavering eye and a wide angle lens. He’d forgotten about replacing it. Miraculously in focus, the otherwise surreal photos showed people in motion and at odd angles smiling the beatific smiles of those living for the present moment.

Whenever Mimi would look at those photos later on, she’d smile a crooked half-smile at the bonding of odd couples, the bonding of a group so diverse it boggled the brain. Larry Miltman, ashamed he’d gotten so twisted, never charged them for the party but remembered it fondly as the best assignment he’d ever had. He’d framed a photo of the dog and two cats sitting together under the light of the blinking La Sal Junction Cafe sign, heads cocked at precisely the same angle, eyes glowing with concentration. It was his favorite photo of all time.

As the day turned into night and came to a close, reluctantly and slowly, Mimi and Max convened with their friends Anna and Syd. “We are so glad you’ve decided to give it a go in our general vicinity,” said Mimi slurring all her words by this time. “Yes,” Max answered solemnly, “We are. Were your parents upset, Syd?”

“No, no,” he answered, “I don’t think they ever really expected to see me in Jamaica. Even they were drawn to this place in the same way we all were. They promised to visit more often and stay longer. I think they’re going to sell the restaurants and retire, which is something they are more than ready to do. Restaurants are hard work, as you know.”

“As we all know,” said Anna, the only sober one at the Junction aside for various children and pets. “Personally, I’m happy to be staying even if that creep will own a bunch of land out here. I’m just happy,” she went on. “Happy to see my dad, happy to be happy to see my mom, happy to have this life. Sorry to be so happy!”

“And as for me,” said Syd, “I needed to stick around as Mimi’s editor for the publication of her book. If it goes over well and she decides to keep writing, I can be her agent. There cant be that many agents in the vicinity. I might be the only agent in four states….”

Mimi, with a rubber tongue and rubber knees grinned a very messy grin. “I can’t top this, can you top this?” she said. “I mean who could top this? I need some coffee, don’t I — I’m about to be a published author but meanwhile my life is much more interesting than anything that ever went on in my head. Can you explain this?” She pointed at Max. “Can you?” She pointed at Syd then at Anna. “Scuse me,” she said unable to wait for the answer. “I’ve got to go sober up a little.”

She found the professor leaning appropriately against a wall and dragged him in with her to have coffee. It didn’t take long to emerge, partially anyway, from the rum haze but just to ensure a clearer head, she stuck her own under the cold water tap. “Ahhhh,” she said. “I think I might be coming back.”

Michael Norris Hanratty, no less the product of rum, rum and more rum, would not be coming around so fast. “Do you need help to your vehicle?” inquired Mimi politely and then screamed for Max to come and help her with the professor. “He’s really out of it,” she giggled. “I never thought I’d see the day; but in this particular meeting of rum and the human body, we have all been equalized once again.”

The professor let himself be carried to the back of his vehicle where a bed had been laid out. “Thanks,” he mumbled. “S’been quite a day, quite a day. Oh and Mimi, I don’t think I ever really told you how much I liked those letters all that time. I thought I’d better tell you that. Thought I’d better….” and he fell not only into sleep head first but right into an aggressive sounding snore.

Max, who’d managed to hold his liquor well, took Mimi by the hand and headed off into the darkness. “I want to see the party from a little ways back,” he said pulling her along. They crossed the highway and from what would soon be Rory Kid’s land, gazed at the lighted oasis in the middle of the black night, at the people still dancing, at the trucks lined up along the road for what looked like miles and miles Over to one side and on the edge of the shadows stood Yates and Sally, arm in arm and swaying to the beat. Syd and Anna, in the tent beside Joelle and Lucien, looked remarkably happy as they said goodnight and headed toward their trailer. Mimi figured some people would be dancing through much of the night if Chuck kept the music going, and knowing him, he would be doing just that.

“Hey,” said Mimi, “I know I’m open for business tomorrow at 5:30 in the morning and that I have to train someone new. I’m sober enough to know that. But the thing is, I can’t tell whether I’m sober enough or drunk enough to know just how good life can be. What do you think, Max?”

“I think,” said Max, stretching his body as if it were morning, “that if you’re drunk enough when you’re sober — and sober enough when you’re drunk — that you’ll always be on the right track. Like right now, you’re sober enough, when drunk, to know how good life can be. In the morning, and in other mornings, hopefully you’ll be drunk enough — figuratively speaking — when sober to know just the same thing. Never completely drunk; never completely sober.”
“Wow,” said Mimi, “That’s pretty good. Do you think you’ll remember it tomorrow?”
‘Maybe,” he said to her. “Maybe not.”

It was after midnight when they opened the door to the trailer and stepped into a sanctuary far enough removed from the party to be almost quiet. Max lit a candle, afraid that too much light might physically hurt them. It was in the candlelight that both of them noticed an object on the bed and went over cautiously to inspect.

‘Maaaax,” said Mimi, accusing him and wagging a still rubbery finger. “You put that there — just to get me.”

“I didn’t put that there,” he answered staring at the small burlap bag of Anasazi beans. “I had nothing to do with it.

“Don’t deny it, Max, I know you did it.”

“I’m not denying it, Mimi,” he said a bit more loudly. “I didn’t do it.”

“Well, then, who did it?” Mimi had a certain half-drunken urgency to her.

“Probably Anna and Syd,” said Max, not convinced that either of them would do this on their wedding day.

“Yeah probably them,” said Mimi as she tucked the bag under her pillow. “I’ll just sleep on it and see what it brings, okay Max?”

“Okay, Mim.” Max was feeling his limbs get heavy with fatigue. Under the sheets and with a cool breeze to caress them, they lay their heads down ready to drift off.

“Max,” whispered Mimi. “I know we’re not Syd and Anna, we’re not like them.”

“I know that, Mimi,” answered Max, comprehending what her point was without her having to say any more. “We’re more confused and more complicated as a combination. But I think we’re just as durable.”

Mimi’s heart leaped the drunken leap of a drunken heart. Soberly drunken and drunkenly drunken. “Yes,” she agreed sweetly. “We may be just as durable, we’ll have to see.” It was as she kissed him on the cheek, her head propped sideways by the sack of beans under her pillow, that she felt asleep — impossible as it might have seemed — and fell into the magical world of bean dreams and long lasting rides into the sunset.

THE END


Leave a comment

Chapter 16 – I Kid you not

Mimi had not been away for more than nine hours total and had been anxious to return. But when she pulled into the circular drive and into the adjoining parking lot it was evident that much too much had happened in that short period of time and that the story line had jumped on her, left her wondering if she was writing her own script. Or not.

For one thing, Max’s car was sitting there, indicating that he had returned nearly two weeks early. Her heart began to pound, until she noticed another anomaly in the shape of a small plane parked on the airstrip about ten feet from Max’s and her trailer. (Mimi and Max had placed the trailer right on the abandoned air strip which they felt would never have occasion for use anyway). She stared hard at the plane, frowning, and then saw Max coming toward her from the cafe. Again the pounding of the heart.

“Whose plane?” she asked, unable to face their reuniting just yet but meanwhile looking him up and down, the most intimate stranger she’d ever seen.

“It’s Rory’s, Mimi,” he said softly. “He found out that you forged my name as notary on nine of the twenty five signatures and flew in to tell you that personally. To tell you he’d won the bet. He’s brought some of his designer beef with him.” Max was looking at Mimi now, confirming what Syd had told him — that she wasn’t pregnant. Too caught up in her, however, and the feelings painted across her face, he did not experience his own regret all over again.
“What did he bring,  whole cows or bits and pieces?” Mimi was numb from emotional overload and could only ask stupid or weakly flippant questions.

Max ignored this kindly trying to keep her in balance. “Syd’s already started calling people — Yates Bishop, for one  — to see if he could round up some truckers really fast, people who might have been here before and didn’t get a chance to testify even though they liked the place and the food — pr possibly some of the people whose signatures were the ones you notarized. And he’s called the state treasurer’s office to see about you becoming a notary ASAP and post-witnessing, so to speak, the signatures already there. That’s a long shot though.”

Anna, wanting to see Mimi and comfort her but unable to leave the kitchen with Syd on the phone and Max outside, stuck her head out the side door. “Max,” she called out, knowing her friend’s circuits were shorting in the prolonged presence of the man once again in her life. Even Max sensed that a little at a time would be best for Mimi, and he calmly told her he was going to take over the kitchen for a while to give Anna a break. Max’s face as he turned away from her accountably wracked with love and pain and understanding, was not visible to Mimi who felt nothing but his hand grazing her check before he headed back to burgers and iced coffee.

Mimi O’Rourke stood there mute, just beginning to comprehend the current state of affairs.

Anna approached without caution and put her arms around Mimi. “He loves you so much, Mimi,” was the first thing she said as she squeezed a body frozen with shock. “Now what are we going to do with that ranching  maniac? I consider him a close personal problem of my own!” Anna was playing up-beat for all it was worth.

“When did he get here?” Mimi was striving for some for some control of the nasty situation which had tricked its way into her life while away from it. So much had happened in her own head on the road; and it pissed Mimi off that it was being canceled out by predominating circumstances.

“About an hour ago,” Anna answered, getting down to business. “He’s in there with his first mate, or first hand or whatever the second in command is called — assistant ranch-meister — finishing a piece of pie and having coffee. He’s been staring at me since he walked in the door but addresses himself to Syd and Max and not to me. Sydney is getting a big kick out of that part of it — the perpetual puppy dog look  – but the bet part is rather serious. By the way,” Anna pointed to where the plane was parked. “He landed right there, as close to your house as that. And deplaned a raving lunatic going on and on about putting something eight in the middle of a runway. Didn’t we know enough to leave runways empty, didn’t we ever consider the consequences, and so forth. Personally, I was surprised as shit to see him in the pilot seat. It would have made more sense to see him leading a cattle drive through three states to get here.” Anna’s talk, though excessive, soothed the recent returnee who was starting to feel her life at the café come back to her like a wash of color from back and white.

Mimi smiled at Anna and shared a thought of her own. “I almost wished he’d run into the trailer with that mother-effing plane so that we could blame him, then possibly hurt him, then to top it off, charge the worthless piece of shit with some criminal act for which he would have to pay dearly.” Profanity, insult and injury gave Mimi the sense of power she needed to go on, because inside – scared to death of losing the bet and made at having been stupid enough to make it in the first place – she was not feeling that powerful.

“I supposed I’d better go in there and face him,” she said with a frustrated sigh. “I’m just very happy that they guy was dumb enough to show up three days before the bet was actually won of lost.” Kicking stones with her cowboy boots, she headed to the front door and Anna, looking worried but loyal, followed her. “Some nerve,” Mimi added to herself and she gripped the hand and pushed the screen door open, adrenaline infusing her system on the providencial cue.

Rory Vermillion stood up and smiled a victory smile, ready apparently to make a victory speech, but it was Mimi who got the first words in edgewise and with no hesitation. “You’re very lucky you didn’t run right into my trailer, Mister,” she said as she stared not at him but at the stranger beside him. “I’m Mimi O’Rourke, “ she said to him, “And the first thing you should know about me is that I’m not a very nice person.” She took a step back and addressed them both as if reading them their rights.

“You may not unload your plane or its contents until this bet is won by one or the other party; as a matter of fact, your plane is not welcome on my property As you know, Mr. Vermillion, half of the runway belongs to me and half does not Therefore, if I were you, I would either get out of here now using the entire runway – and come back only when the bet has actually been either won or lost and not before – I would start thinking of how to get out of here using only half of a runway because you may not use my half unless you do it now. Do I make myself clear?”

Vermillion, the victory smile gone and another look far less patronizing in its place, whispered something to his companion then squared off with Mimi. “You should all know I’ve changed my name legally to Kid with one D.” He glanced over in Anna’s direction as if to grant acknowledgement due her. She was ready to step forth and speak, but he cut her off and  kept on at Mimi.

“You don’t have a chance at winning this bet Miss O’Rourke,” he said to her while reaching for his hat and trying too hard at this now trademark confident yet offhand cowboy manner. “But we’ll  humor you for a couple of days. When we fly back in to La Sal Junction, Utah, though, you can bet it will be to unload our supplies ado to see some beef grilled in the pretty little kitchen of yours. I look forward to it; in fact, I’m feeling so generous, I’m giving you through the first of August That’s actually an extra day.” He tapped the hat into place a gesture that sickened Mimi and made her want to slap him or choke him.

“Well, now” Mimi mocked his manner, “Don’t you be lookin’ TOO forward to coming back here, great conquering hero.”

“If you had to forge signatures, they couldn’t have been that easy to come by,” he was walking out the door but Mimi went after him.

“I didn’t forge the signatures,” she yelled at him. “I didn’t have to. I forged Max’s name because he was gone and I didn’t want to lose the signatures.”

“Forgery just the same,” he answered, a grown-up but still a snotty 5th grader. And before Mimi could think of anything to say – a clever curse, an equally snotty rejoinder – he’d hustled his Wranglered butt to the plane that had been repositioned and was ready for take-off. Hopping in quickly, he stared straight ahead while making some comment to his assistant.

Mimi thought she saw the two men – cockpitted but cowboy hatted – laughing and stamped her foot and screamed in the noise of the engine as loud as she could. “Anna, that man deserves to lose so bad it would be a shame and a crime and a sin for him to win.” She shook her fist at the plane as it took off and felt a little better seeing herself as someone else might have seen her – a comic heroine battling a comic foe. “Piece of shit, mother-effing cartoon,” she added, hating him more than his principles at his point in time.

 

Only a couple of customers had witnessed the scene in the café and being singles they had not been able to discuss it amongst themselves so Mimi obliged them with a brief explanation fo the situation, an explanation so heavy-handed in her favor that they could not help but smile and like her for it.. “In conclusion,” she told them, “I’d like to ask you to spread the world in the next 48 hours if you could to any truckers you happen to run into – that there is a woman about to lose a very important bet that will change life as we know it at La Sal Junction if they don’t get their rigs over here as fast as possible. The food will be free, of course.” Having made her pea she smiled at them and told them to have some iced coffee on the house.

Appearing through the screen door with a notepad in one hand and an expensive fountain pen in the other was Sydney Renoir who wore an expression of hope. “I’ve been able to contact Yates Bishop,” he said, “Who promised to get out there right away in his rig and hail as many truckers as he could. It was his day off but he was worried for you, Mimi. He and Sally are going to be in the rig together. “

 

Sally had taken a week of vacation to visit Yates in Durango, presumably in the interest of her beginning to learn how to make furniture, starting with a  four-poster Shaker bed of all things. The irony of bed-making in the style of a group of people whose religion prohibited them from sleeping together. They pretended to be shocked at the idea of making a bed together, but they weren’t, not at all; they appreciated the irony of the Shaker bed and they were happy for Sally who had evidently found in Yates a man she could talk pen knives and ham radio and belt sander with.

Once they told Syd of the gratuitous extra day, he promised to inform Yates. “He doesn’t know about contacting any of the original signers but he’s hoping once he gets close to Utah some of the truckers who’ve been  here will pass on the word that help is eeed. Yates sounded pretty confident. He said to tell you not to worry. And now with that extra day, our wedding day as a matter of fact, it should be a breeze.”

 

Mimi, consumed by the drama and exhausted by it, felt her body weaken with the ebb of adrenaline and a sickly look passed over her face. “I think I need some food,” she said as she found a booth and scooted herself all the way in, leaning against the window. “Could someone make me some food?”

In a matter of a few minutes, Max had fixed her a green bean and chick-pea salad and a slice of fresh black bread, some of Syd’s specials for the day. The group sat together on the vinyl banquettes, squirming uncomfortably, as Mimi ate her food. Syd stared at Anna who stared at Max because she was worried about his effect on Mimi. Max stared at Mimi who stared at Syd because he was the only one who wouldn’t trigger some cataclysmic emotional state. “Good bean salad,” she said to him, as if validating the stare. “Really good. And the bread, too.”

Anna, currently most viable as orchestrator of events and of people, was the first to get up and say one of the things that was truly on her mind. “Can you believe that man, taking my name, and then giving me that look? We’ll get those signatures no problem. I can feel it in my bones. And then once he’s a rancher without cattle, he’ll be singing a different campfire song.”

As the only one to get up and go back to the kitchen, she took care to make enough background noise for everyone. It sounded pretty much like a regular cafe in regular operation — except that Anna wasn’t really doing anything except moving things around and wiping up. Anna couldn’t have told you the first thing about running a restaurant even though she wasn’t a bad cook, was a great hostess, and did her best to wait on tables cheerfully.

All the noise around her didn’t stop her from thinking about Max and Mimi, and knowing they would have to confront each other she called out to Syd who was only too happy to leave the booth. “I don’t think I could have stood any more questions and comments about the bean salad,” was all he said as he began planning for the evening crowd. “Hey, Mimi,” he called out to the still silent dining room. “You don’t mind if I just take over for the rest of the day, do you?”

“No,” came the response. “I think you should.” The fact was, Syd was having fun in this quirky space planning mini menus out in the middle of the Utah outback. When he’d made the jump from the halls of academia to the malls of LA and life on the outside, he thought he’d gone from the Earth to the Moon. And he’d like the Moon. But wearing a white hat and checkered chef’s pants as he was now, in the stainless steel kitchen, coming up with simple things such as bean salad and black bread for the people randomly passing through and being surprise by most of the folks most of the time where he thought there were no surprises left, at least not in a place like this — well, Syd Renoir was a happy man, not cautiously happy, not conditionally happy, and not ponderously happy. Just content to be a part of what felt like some weird movie-maker’s gestalt. No small thanks were given, of course, to his pregnant better half ,who had made life in the Airstream unbelievably comfortable and cozy. The beautiful silver airstream.

Anna had thought at the beginning that the interior of theAirstream — having typical trailer qualities and even stereotypically so — would suffice in the design department. It was all so new. But after only a few days, she’d begun to plot and plan, and, armed with all of her favorite home design catalogs, had sent away for the necessary accoutrements of a transformed interior space loosely based on the outback theme. Coco mats on the floor, gauze tenting around the bed, screens on all the windows and a color scheme of white-white, khaki and wood. she had made the two of them into travelers on the road of life in this vehicle; and somehow the cafe had made sense in the general scheme of things.

Syd, an extra large man, was happy in the relatively small space of the trailer because around him was nothing. Nothing much at all except that wide expanse of space capable of transforming a normal human being into a naturally philosophic one. Not the “What’s the point?” kind but rather the “What’s out there?” kind. Like a miracle tonic, this particular bent of thought was transforming both Syd and his fiancee into their most idiosyncractic and natural selves. In other words, they felt at home. Very much at home

So much at home, in fact, that Syd had repulsed thoughts of the move to Jamaica just as Anna had. They’d begun to feel that La Sal Junction had been in the cards for them and wondered about the wisdom of moving to a foreign country even if Syd’s own roots were there. True, the cafe — Jolard Jamaica — was already established and a popular spot to boot. But Sydney wondered now about cooking curries all day and worried that Anna might not like it there. her skin was so pale. How would she fare in such a tropical climate? Anna worried not for herself but for Sydney whose trek back home might well cause him more ambivalence and pain than anything else. He never said anything about it, but Anna knew that there would be more in Jamaica than met the sunglassed eye. She couldn’t quite picture herself in loose caftans and turbans; presumably because she had become attached to La Sal Junction as well.

She remembered having daydreamed about turbans once, and now she tried not to think about it. So it came as a great shock to Anna — making noise in the kitchen — and Syd — setting out to chop some garlic with a very sharp knife — when Mimi shouted at them from the dining room, asking if they’d ever considered opening another cafe in the area. Mimi, unable still to look Max in the eye and face the fact that they had much to discuss, had just thought of something so obvious she chocked on a piece of black bread. In refusing to confront Max, she compulsorily continued to think and talk about the bean salad, which led her in turn to beans, and Dove Creek, and the cafe she’d visited earlier in the day. The one owned by Cherise Pivey.

“Because there’s a beautiful old cafe in Dove Creek, just as nice as this one, for sale right now for six thousand dollars. You couldn’t park your Airstream right on the property but theres some gorgeous land in the vicinity going cheap. You’d be an hour away from La Sal Junction and you’d be in the pinto bean capital of the world. The owner of the cafe, Cherise Pivey — who also happens to own the abandoned drive-in also in Dove Creek – referred me to her husband Parker Pivey who has the only real estate office in town. Hill of Beans Realty. I kid you not.” She was still yelling, drowning out the presence of Max, filling up the silence of the dining room, and carrying on about something actually quite exciting to her.

Syd and Anna, whose ears had perked like a dog’s at the sound of food being poured into a bowl, said nothing at first, daring only to glance at each other to check the other’s response. “I know you like it out here,” added Mimi, still shouting. “It’s pretty obvious!” Syd and Anna, drawn into the dining room like spirits, looked at Mimi with questions in their eyes, and she obliged them with a speech on the beauty of Dove Creek. “And it’s in Colorado,” she summarized as if clinching the deal, in her mind at least. Syd was the first to speak.

“How nice is the cafe, I mean really, Mimi, is it as nice as this one?”

“It has no blinking sign like this one,” she conceded. “But it has arches and beautiful turquoise trim. It has its own billboard and the shape of the building — you know that kind of overhanging front – is exactly the same. They could be twins. And six thousand dollars, you guys, that’s nothing. Of course, the traffic would be different. You’d be in a town — albeit a small and depressed one. But it’s gorgeous there. The  earth is richer and darker, and it’s farmed; you could have a garden, a big one. And the most important thing is, you’d be in the vicinity!” Mimi had world herself up into a caffeinated state and everyone could see it, but if what she was saying was true, Anna and Syd at least could not be far behind.

“Cherise Pivey?” Anna repeated the fascinating name as if everything, once again, were in a name. “What did she look like?”

“Too interesting to go into; but I’ve invited her out with her husband. I pretended to be interested myself. She actually followed me through town after someone apparently spotted me and reported seeing me at the cafe.” Pulling out the canary yellow business card, she handed it to Syd to confirm her story.

“Motor Madness Cherise Pivey Proprietress,” he read aloud.”She’s a mechanic?”

Mimi nodded.

“Well,” said Sydney staring at the card and thinking about owning his own fifties vegetarian cafe for six thousand dollars. “We’ll think about it.”

“Yes,” Anna added, “We’ll definitely think about it.” It was not as if Sydney didn’t know of Anna’s fondness for the four corners area or vice versa. They just hadn’t admitted to it yet. “Now if you’ll excuse us,” he took Anna’s arm and headed back to the garlic. “We’ve GOT to get ready for dinner.”

Max, who had been silent all this time and was beginning to feel like an intruder in the operation, got up slowly and reached over to take Mimi’s dishes. Overwhelming sadness filled from the knees up and his expression showed it. Unable to reach out to this woman, he could now only clean up after her. “I’ll be out in my warehouse,” he said in a voice that sounded a lot like cracked eggshells.

Mimi, whose heart leaped for him and whose body yearned for him, couldn’t even meet him halfway and sat there paralyzed in the silence of an empty diner while the familiar but unfamiliar man walked away. Anna, aware of her failure as orchestrator of events, came over to Mimi. “He’s so hurt, Mimi,” she said too loudly. “He’s so hurt, can’t you just give him a reassuring pat on the hand, or some sign that it’s you inside that body and that you care about what happens even it it’s hard to deal with right now?”

Mimi sighed an old woman’s sigh and looked down at the pattern in the formica. “It’s like I want to hurt him,” she said  “I want to hurt him like he hurt me; and then maybe he’ll be so hurt that I’ll forgive him and I won’t have to go through the rest of our time together resenting and hating him.”

“I understand that part,” said Anna. “But he’s confused and doesn’t know what to thin. Confidentially the first thing he asked Syd when he got back was whether you decided to keep the baby or not. Syd said when he told him you’d gone ahead with the abortion, his face fell a yard. Evidently, he’d done some thinking of his own, so don’t go thinking that maybe you’re experiencing much more than Max ever will, much more hurt and disappointment. He must be blaming himself, Mimi, especially if he realized that maybe a baby wasn’t such a bad idea.” Anna felt deeply for Max, struggling with himself and with Mimi and with the whole situation, and felt like running to him herself. Pregnancy had brought a deep mothering instinct into play.

Mmi, shocked by a revelation of such magnitude remained mute and numb. Max had possibly wanted the baby after all?

Meanwhile, Max, feeling dirty and feeling a hopelessness he might not have felt had he been clean, pointed his feet in the direction  of the warehouse, but decided at the last minute to seek the solace of his old home — now not so much his as theirs but nevertheless familiar and comforting. Animals met him ceremoniously, like some demi-god returned from the odyssey. Even Mirabelle was all over him. Dale Evans gave him her lowest and most profound purr and Nero licked his ears, his eyebrows and even his lips.

‘Hey, you guys!” he said, genuinely happy to have such a welcome. “How’s it going, huh?” Stroking them all and dividing  his attentiveness by three, he sat on the floor of his trailer for fifteen minutes, receiving wag of tail and brush of cat cheek.

Afterwards, noting the improvement in his mood, he was able to make his way to the refrigerator — which was empty except for some old tortillas, some yogurt and a half empty bottle of Coca Cola — and then on toward cupboards nearly as bare. Wondering what she or anyone else had been eating in the trailer and stuck in a reflective moment, he noticed papers stuck between two cabinets and pulled them out. It was the letter Mimi had written to him on that day that everything had seemed so right to her, the day she’d wondered about her fate and about his. Aching for her and for the way it was, he became nostalgic even for working the kitchen which he never would have thought possible.

It was in this state of wanting to get closer to er that he picked up the uncorrected proof of her book of letters and began to read, from the beginning, with animals strewn in heaps around him.

Mimi, frantic inside with the information that Max may have wanted to have a baby, exited the cafe — and had expressions been actualities, she would have been seen pulling her hair out by the root as she stamped across the grass to Max’s warehouse, a spot she had not visited much until now. Inside the barn-like space, hazy with dust and particles, all was in relatively good order considering the amount  of time he’d had to himself since she’d opened the cafe. It felt like Max. Small patches of the wall had been built up an tiled, whimsically, as experimentations, obviously Maxian. Tile molds, stacked neatly in one corner, looked sadly out of use. An old table, set up in the middle of the room, held catalogs and invoices and a candelabra holding five half burnt red candles. mimi had never seen the antique before and wondered how such a beautiful thing had escaped her. She let her fingers caress the curves of brass and , seeing a book of matches beside it, lit all five candles and watched them glow and drip in the later hours of the daylight slipping into the warehouse. She sat still for ten minutes at least, until her curiosity got the better of her.

Desperately, she wanted to rifle through the papers on the desk for some clue, some secret which would put her in control, give her some understanding of this man. Had she known that at that moment Max had already read a letter never meant to be read and was currently making his way through a book of letters so personal even Mimi herself had not been able to get through some of them, she would have gone through the desk as thoroughly as any investigator. But without this knowledge, she proceeded carefree thief-like and guilt-ridden.

“Ideas for tile murals” was the first item that caught her eye.  Eight by forty foot mural in china blue and white. Just the legs of horses in a stampede.  They’ll look like upside down flowers won’t they?” And then he’d drawn, in blue and white, exactly what he’d written, with some indication as to the number of tiles it would take, and how they would have to be glazed. On the bottom of the drawing the words “add maroon” had been scratched in. “Cafe mural” was item number two, and it simply said, “Ask Mimi. Red gas pumps or turquoise chevy truck.” A mural of red gas pumps? Mimi, thrilled by the idea, flipped the page hoping for a drawing but there was none. “Mosaic, not glaze” were the only words footnoting the gas pump mural idea. “Oh Max,” Mimi said aloud, pulling at her bangs. “You need to get back to what stirs inside of you.”

“I know I do,” was the reply that wafted from the darkened shape of one Max Lee Perdue. As he walked toward her, coming into the light, Mimi felt she had never really seen him before and stared at him, cataloguing the features. Blond and blue-eyed and fair-skinned, he nevertheless had a rugged disheveled quality that made him look both bold and modest, kind of a goofy combination. Again, those eyebrows that formed perfect arcs above eyes so light in color that when you looked at them from the side — which Mimi had — they bore only the faintest trace of gray color The lips were normal enough except for a scar that traveled from the lower part of his right cheek into his upper lip, only noticeable at close range, but creating a crimping effect when he smiled. Max’s face was a nice one; and his body, Mimi noted as she stared uncontrollably at the crotch, was all she really needed in a body. The voice that had just spoken was rather deep, and made newly aware of this fact, Mimi found it a very sensual, very masculine sort of voice.

It was her turn to feel shy. “I didn’t mean to be nosing around,” she began. “But then again, I guess I did.” Her grin could have melted any old heart at a hundred paces. “Where did you get the candelabra?” she inquired while turning to face the still burning candles atop the piece of art.

“That,” said Max, regaining confidence at a geometric rate, “was hidden under a bunch of stuff over there,” and he pointed to a corner of the large room still cluttered with what looked like a pile of junk. “Wow,” answered the freckled face whose hair was getting out of her own control. “A very very good find.” She continued to stare off into the junk until she felt a hand upon her shoulder, a warm and very strong hand immediately followed by the brush of another hand gathering her hair together. “Would you like to have it?” the deep voice asked, sending shivers up the backs of Mimi’s arms.

“No, no,” answered a voice too squeaky not to be funny. She cleared her throat. “I mean, it looks so good here.”

“Mimi,” the voice said, closer to her ear than she expected. “Your letters are wonderful. That’s you in there!”

Having her letters mentioned sobered Mimi and she answered having regained some of her composure. “It’s a part of me,” she said “Possibly an old part of me.” Scooting around to face the man crouched behind her, she continued. “Sometimes I can’t believe I wrote all that stuff — well, some of it is just plain embarrassing, you probably read a lot of that. The cliche idea was pretty good, I still like it; but I don’t think I could write in the same way anymore. Or I’d have to find some other audience — someone that’s not so much my teacher, my friend my father, and someone I had a crush on, someone I wanted to please. And unfortunately, this would probably change the quality of the letters — unless I found something equally convoluted. I guess that’s a possibility.” she seemed to cheer up at this last prospect but continued on. “I mean a lot of writing is based on who you think your audience is, especially with something like letters — maybe until you’ve gotten good enough not to care. Maybe not.”

‘Maybe it’s like you said: you just need someone else to write letters to. You seem to like the letter format.” he paused then added, “I liked the one you wrote to me.”

With a look of confusion turned to recognition, she feigned shock. “You read that?”

Max smiled at her a smile so quick she might have missed it in the blink of an eye. “Well, it was addressed to me, baby.” He couldn’t resist touching her cheek and when he did noted the peculiar feeling of being a prince kissing a sleeping bride. Mimi had never been called “baby” by anyone before and felt her knees weaken even though she was sitting down. Her lips parted in spite of her efforts at composure and she pressed them together, afraid that the drool would give her away. Max, as if playing out the only imaginable script, picked her up and placed her gently on the desk, standing up and fitting himself between her legs. He pulled her hips toward him. “How’re you feeling down there?” he asked her, the woman who was melting like warm honey in his arms.

“Okay,” she said in a voice far less squeaky than before “But you know I can’t have sex for three weeks.” Already in the other world and squirming with pleasure, she muttered, “What are we going to do,” and didn’t resist when Max pulled off her boots and unzipped her jeans. “I know what I’m going to do,” he said kneeling in front of the female goddess and ready to worship at her shrine. “I know just what I’m going to do.” He reached up towards her breasts to remove any underwear impeding his tactile progress, while his mouth stayed low. Mimi groaned, fully engrossed in a moment littered by candle flame, dust fleck and delight. And then she too her turn at the table of lust.

 

A little while later, as they emerged from the warehouse, just as the candle had worn itself out and the light from outside had turned watery and sunset delicate, Max and Mimi appeared, triumphantly sated They would have had chocolate rings around their mouths had the menu been chocolate; and thus invisibly marked, they headed hand in hand toward the cafe to check in on Anna and Syd and to let them know just by their appearing together that things might be alright after all.

Not that the slate of their relation had been wiped clean, it had not. In fact, walking together slowly, their hands slipped apart as each of them quite on their own sensed in separate unworded ways how full of opposing emotions and forces life could be. They loved each other well for spirit and expression and self, and they also craved each other like some crave salt and sugar; but their plot had thickened into a family plot whose blood now carried each other’s histories and their history together. Old hurts could never be completely washed away, and misunderstandings might never be understood. Things might be fine for days, or months or even years, but then during harder times the bad blood between them would course mightily and they would both hurt again and everything would be confused and everyone would be resentful. They they’d get over it, but never completely.

So as the sun dropped decisively over the horizon on July 30 to let the cool shades of evening lend comfort to a parched desert, Max and Mimi for better or worse felt the comingling of their common blood and the bittersweet bond of those close enough for pleasure and for pain. Mimi saw it in terms of having to learn to forgive, just as she had earlier in the day. Max saw it, rather, as each of them having to retain a certain amount of independence; and though the perspectives seemed utterly female and male and mutually exclusive, they were, actually, not that far apart. Instinctively and from some place deep within, each and both were hopeful.

 

They should have known better, however, than to expect a moment of quiet glory in the cafe where “Never a dull moment” might have beeb an additional italic slogan written at the top of the menu. For as Max and Mimi walked in, ready to smile their confident yet wary smiles of togetherness, an argument was in progress. Syd had come out from the kitchen, presumably just as they’d walked in the door, and had squared off with an irate customer whose strong smell of patchouli could have put a bloodhound to bed. She reeked.

“You know,” she addressed Syd beligerantly, “I asked the waitress if this restaurant was strictly vegetarian and she said yes. Now after having eaten some kind of noodle pudding made with EGGS and COW MILK, you wonder why I’m mad? I’m made because I don’t eat products derived from cruelty, products full of hormones and antibiotics and probably rife [she pronounced it reef) with salmonella.”

“That RIFE,” interjected Syd to deaf ears.

“I don’t endorse the meat and milk and egg-eating world advertised and run by men in suits and ties. This SEEMED like my kind of place, but looking around, I just  don’t know.” It would be fair to say she did not look like the rest of the people sitting in the cafe, all of whom were now facing her.  First of all, she was young, probably 19 or 20; but she was dressed like a relic from the 60s — accessorized to perfection with selected eighties and nineties items. Crystals and small crocheted bags hung around her neck, a neck further protected by waist length deadlocked blond hair. Long underwear covered her legs despite the heat, with an Indian skirt on top of that, then a tee-shirt, and on her feet sandals made of synthetic rope. In addition, she happened to be the only female customer in the place aside from Angel Sheetz, who had given her the four-times over by now. The rest of them were truckers and cyclists.

“Is there some problem here?” Mimi felt she should cut in as owner and proprietor of the premises. “What’s going on?”

“Yes, there is,” answered the not-so-sweet young thing. “I was under the impression that this was a vegetarian cafe and ordered without even thinking about it. By vegetarian I mean truly vegetarian. No dairy, no eggs. Now I’ve discovered I’ve just eaten eggs AND milk. I already feel sick and I’d like my money back. AND I think you should stop advertising yourselves as something you’re not. You’re obviously not true vegetarians.”

This is not one of the situations Mimi had encountered before in her outpost, in a cafe meant to sway the barbecue beef eaters of outback America to a more diversified, less animal-oriented diet. And though her ire had risen, lending a purplish, beet-reddish hue to her just recently flushed face, she felt it fall away as she stared at this young thing trying so hard to be a purist. The smell, however, nauseated her and prompted her to walk over to the overhead fan and turn it on, even tough the heat of the day no longer warranted it.

“It’s okay, Syd,” said Mimi to her friend who was no less ready than she was to give the newcomer a lecture but who politely deferred to the woman of the house. Mimi motioned for he girl to sit down again. “I’m sorry you’re feeling sick,” Mimi began, sounding neither sarcastic nor made but matter-of-fact, “but there’s really no reason you should be. The milk in the pudding is raw milk, and the eggs are from free-range chickens. No cruelty is involved. We don’t use that many eggs and we feel that the milk is wholesome.”

“But honey,” and this is where Mimi let her inclinations toward lecturing take over and everybody pretty much knew what was about to happen. “That is not the point. The point is not whether we eat eggs or no eggs, fat or no fat, protein with carbs, fruit with veggies, or coffee with cream. That is not the point at all because it’s all relative. Just when you thought you were being pure enough to make snow look dirty, someone walks up to you and says that it’s been proven that plants have nervous systems and you’ve been murdering them for years. Or someone else walks up and says ‘What difference does it make whether or not  you’ve never eaten meat if your heart was never purified in the process?’ What if the most important thing is your effect on others? What if what you put in your body isn’t as important as what you put in  your head? Someone will always be more pure, more loving and more vegetarian than you; and someone will always be less. See? This cafe is what I can do, okay — it’s a compromise I can live with. I don’t think I’m better than other people, I just think they should give vegetarianism a try. Even if they only do it in my cafe. At least it’s something, and we have fund doing it. Now, Anna, get this little girl her money and give her a glass of soy milk to purify her. She needs all the help she can get.”

The little girl, meanwhile, had not come around like an eager disciple looking to broaden her horizons. Her hand had been slapped and she knew it and without waiting for her money or her glass of soy milk, she stormed out toward her — you guessed it –VW bus. No sooner had she left the premises than everyone in the cafe stepped outside for air “What’s in that perfume?” inquired Angel Sheetz. “Disinfectant?”

“I bet it’s herbs,” said someone else evidently mystified by the breadth of this particular botanical realm.

“Whatever it was,” summed up Angel, “was worse than skunk. I wonder if tomato juice will get it off my clothes or not” She fingered her clothes, pulling them away from her skin.

“It was run of the mill patchouli oil,” said Mimi, afraid that the smell might not ever leave the cafe. “It comes from an East Indian mint plant; and it’s really not that bad in smaller doses. But THAT,” she waved her hand, fanning the air, “was excessive. What would possess someone to put that much on?”

“No sense of smell,” said one of the cyclists who had tied a bandana around his face. “Even the worst case of BO is better than that.”

Max, feeling he should give Mimi — still high from her tirade — a bit of a hard time, said to her, “I remember when that cyclist came in and inquired about a real burger and I remember than you gave him the third degree. “Old fashioned burgers come from old fashioned cruelty,” you said. “He probably thought you were just as bad as she was.”

“Probably did,” said Mimi. “I didn’t think she was bad, Max,” she corrected him. “I just thouyht she needed a little perspective, just like that guy did. He didn’t even want to try something different. She wanted to assume all the wrong things. Someone will walk in her some day and give me a lecture I need and hopefully I’ll be smart enough to open my mind up and listen. Besides, we probably need more people who don’t eat eggs or milk and who are adamant about it. I don’t know. What do I know? Let’s go back in and have a snack. Noodle pudding ok?”

Syd Renoir, busy testing another ethnic specialty on his customers, suggested they try to find something on the radio since nightfall did have the tendency to perk up the airwaves.

“We could listen to Dr. Joy Jameson’s Talk is Cheap out of Albuquerque, we get that sometimes.” Anna loved talk radio and had scoped out all the best shows. It was her dream to have such a show, more philosophical than psychological. “What do I do about that helpless feeling when I look out into space at night and see nothing but eternity?” might be one question, for instance. But while Max fumbled with the radio, he discovered a new radio station coming through loud and clear. “Hey,” he said. “It’s La Sal!”

“And here’s more Marvin Gaye to be followed by a solid hour of Aerosmith. Hoping you’re enjoying yourselves, friends, this has been another edition of Rebel Radio out of the town of La Sal, Utah, close to the middle of nowhere, and I’m your host John Standish. For all you just joining us, remember our motto TUNE ME IN DON’T TURN ME IN. Now this one goes out to a dark-haired older woman in bean burger land who will soon be ordering me around.” Strains of “Let’s Get It On,” faded in and Mimi, horrified that such a young man could be sold bold, turned a stricken face to Max who recognized the allusion to his very own woman, without understanding it. Mimi jumped in before he could ask questions. “That’s John Standish,” she said. “Our summer help who starts work in three days. He’s just a kid, right Anna?”

Enjoying the scene far too much to be asked for help, she simply said, “Werner John Standish was a young hunk looking for work. Mimi hired him on his looks alone.”

“That’s not fair,” Mimi retorted, whining now and ready to plead with Max. “No one else even applied for the job. I had to hire him.”

Max, feeling no threat and no anger whatsoever nevertheless feigned surprise and shock and played the interrogator. “How long will he be working here? How long will his days be? Will he be allowed to  nap in the trailer? Are you aware that he is a minor and should not be used as a sexual plaything?” Finally, Mimi got it. After punching Max hard enough to elicit an “Ow!”, she finished her noodle pudding.

“Well,” she said having consumed the last raisin and sensing an appropriate moment for pow-wowing, “I’m putting my faith in old Yates Bishop because I don’t know what else to do. Okay, so it was stupid of me to forge Max’s name, but what else was I supposed to do? I was in a bind. Now, however, I’m in a bigger bind.”

“I think not hearing from him is probably a good sign,” said Anna, ready and willing to analyze the situation. “If he hand’t had any luck, he would have called after eight hours because he would have felt so bad. Yates seems like a worrier deep down, and I don’t think he would have let you go on thinking he was being successful if he wasn’t.”

Syd had to agree, but for different reasons. “Yates is our closest friend out here. He is not going to let you down nor is he going to call before the news is good.”

“And Sally V. isn’t exactly what you’d call a quitter,” Angel Sheetz piped in from across the room. Shed been listening in, of course.

“So,” concluded Max, “Let’s not worry about it until tomorrow. What about this wedding , though?” he asked Syd and Anna who would be tying the knot in two days “What’s the plan?”

“Nothing but a friendly little wedding in the middle of the Utah dust. My parents arrive in Salt Lake tomorrow and are going to rent an RV and drive over, hauling some of the supplies with them I have some friends coming in from LA, a few, they might be camping. Anna’s mom is flying into Moab and will be renting a car to come out here. Her dad may be coming in from parts unknown, we don’t know yet. As for the food and decorations, my mom and dad said they’d love to take care of it, so I hope you’re all amenable to Jamaican curries.”

“I’ve taken the liberty of ordering the necessary supplies. The Renoirs say there will be a surprise, and I know as much as you all do about that. The only really weird thing about the wedding is that I’m wearing white silk from India — my father got married in it, and so did his father; and that we’re using the vows from one of Anna’s favorite science fiction novels. We won’t be legally married until we find a county courthouse somewhere and do it there.”

“Sounds like FUN,” Mimi said, thoroughly taken by this idea of white silk and science fiction vows. Max, delighted that someone else was going to do the cooking, began to anticipate the festivities wholeheartedly.

“Oh, and the music,” Anna added. “The best part. We splurged and hired a jazz combo out of LA. They just happened to be doing things in the area. Well, sort of in the area. Anyway, just think of it… jazz in the desert; you’ve GOT to love that.”

“So who’s going to make up the majority of the crowd?” Mimi suddenly figured it might be a small crow indeed.

“Anyone who drives by,” answered Syd. “That’s going to be the beauty of it.”

 

As Syd lay in his bed that night, Anna snoring very lightly beside him, he thought about Cherise Pivey’s cafe in Dove Creek. For six thousand dollars he could buy it without much commitment at all, and even if he didn’t open it right away he would have it there waiting for him. Sydney, never having committed himself fully to the move to Jamaica, had become involved with the southwestern landscape just as Mimi had, just as Max had, and even though he didn’t know it, just as Anna had. Something about the landscape — and about being among people quite different than yourself — that made them all, each one of them, feel more alive and more themselves than they had before.

As Mimi and Max lay together for the first time in some weeks, joined by animals who gazed at them from the floor approvingly, scenes from life at La Sal Junction came back to them, reconnecting them to life a the Junction, to a place they had chosen so well. Unable to stop remembering parts of Mimi’s letters, Max fell into her world before falling asleep. And Mimi’s sleep came on the literal heels and legs of Max’s stampede mural. As they dozed off side by side, the gentle breeze caressed their cheeks, blowing loose strands of hair across their foreheads.

In the quiet of the late night, very few semis roared by, very few. Among them, however, one passed by at a greater clip than the rest and acknowledge the darkened cafe with a short blow of exhaust as it did so. Inside the cabin sat Yates Bishop and Sally Vicks Verner, having a conversation about routers as they sipped the extra strong coffee he had prepared for the excursion. Sally, who’d made scones, and had come up with an excellent idea that for every two hours of work on the radio they received one fifteen minute coffee break during which only favorite topics could be discussed. She timed these breaks down to the second on her multi function sports watch, her first gift from Yates. When the alarm sounded, they’d get back to work.

Their plan, which no one knew about, was to round up everyone they could and have them show up at the cafe on Syd and Anna’s wedding day, the day the bet had to be won or lost. It wasn’t a question of a dozen signatures, it would be more like ninety. Yates Bishop figured Mimi had lost track of just how many people had eaten there; she recognized the regulars and the more-than-oncers, but she didn’t realize how many more had sampled her food, even in the few short months she’d been open. No, Yates Bishop had no worries for Mimi O’Rourke; his main concern was getting enough people together to really bowl her over. And as he construed the occasion once again in his mind, he smiled a wicked smile and patted Sally’s hand. “She’s just not going to believe it,” he said, shaking his head.

“Nope,” answered Sally, CB in hand, and ready to hail whomever she could between where they were and Salt Lake City. “Should make for a very interesting wedding, too, I should think.”


Leave a comment

Chapter 15 – The field trip

One other thing happened while Max was away, and that was that Mimi got a day off.

After nearly two months of having a cafe and of being there day in day out from dawn to nearly the next dawn, Mimi had begun to realize that days off would be more than necessary and that they would be a problem.

Her first thought was to close the restaurant one day a week but she couldn’t decide which day since they all had their peculiarly good hours of business and — it would seem – their regular customers. It occurred to her that she might close for a month twice a year, but figured that would ruin business altogether. Before she had a chance to come up with a plan that made sense,  however, Anna and Syd offered to run the place for a day so that Mimi could escape and do what she pleased.

Nearly at their feet with gratitude, she expressed it in tones no less dramatic. “I was just beginning to feel as though this was a trap I’d gotten myself into instead of an adventure. Which either indicates I did the wrong thing or I need a day off.”
“You need several days off, but one’s a start, “Syd said, already calculating what his specials would be for the following day.
If anyone was going to run the place, Mimi thought, it should be Syd and Anna since she trusted them and people liked them. She wouldn’t feel bad withdrawing herself for a day and didn’t have to think of where she would go. After all, there weren’t that many choices.
So the next day when she called to Nero, for him to take his place in the passenger seat of the little pick-up, he looked at her as if she was nuts. “We’re going for a ride. Just like the old days,” she said. Putting his two front paws up onto the seat, he craned his neck backwards to see if the other two animals were watching and how they felt about this imminent departure. Sure enough, Dale and Mirabelle were sitting there, very close together, watching with interest as Mimi loaded only one of the animal clan in the the vehicle. It was the cats who wondered if this didn’t signal some meaningful break in the routine, some change signifying something. But cats will think things like that. Napoleon just felt kind of uneasy.

He felt uneasy, that is, until they peeled out of the dirt drive, leaving a cafe half full of hungry customers at nine in the morning, and hit the open road with all the joy of those who have been away from it for too long. The dog’s ears flapped in the breeze, the cassette blared Marvin Gaye and Mimi’s only wish at that point in time was that her pick-up have a sun roof. What did she look like at this particular moment, this particular meeting of open space and time off? She looked like a free woman with sunglasses on, back on the road with a vengeance.

Much of the day was spent in the car, as per the wishes of both the driver and the passenger. First they headed toward Telluride, stopping midway at the landmark Bedrock Store in negligible Bedrock, Colorado — not far from the town of Paradox, not too far from Redvale, but still quite a ways from Telluride. At the store, she purchased a bottle of that rare and exquisite 6 oz returnable Coca Cola — yes at 10:30 in the morning — and sat on the hood of her truck swinging her cowboy booted feet happily. After so many days of Birkenstocks and running shoes the dusty grey-brown shit-kickers were indeed satisfying to the soul as well as the foot

There’s not much to look at in Bedrock besides the Dolores River put-in for boaters, and a very brief assortment of mobile homes. And the proximate Utah-style cliffs. Bedrock sits in the Paradox Valley, so dubbed on account of its river’s running the wrong way. According to the laws of nature and geography, the river should never have begun flowing across the valley north and south but east-west instead. Hence the paradox. It’s pretty empty in the Paradox valley except for a few cows, a few trucks, and the fenced entrance to someone’s ranch now and then. The road is straight for a long stretch and perfect for clearing out an engine, perfect for seeing just how fast that car will go, perfect for blaring music and the flap-flap of a dog’s ears occasionally accompanied by some loose canine spit.

Once past Norwood, a horsing and hunting village about an hour from Telluride, the higher elevations make way for the more predictably Rocky Mountain surroundings. Nothing but aspen and cottonwood and evergreen trees, and lots of them. The San Miguel river runs alongside there road, cold and clear and as yet un-dammed. The road itself winds and climbs relentless into the little box canyon nestled at nearly 9,000 feet at the end of the road.

Mimi was excited to be back in Telluride and made her first stop at Farfalle to say hey to the guys and especially to Lloyd LaBosco who was himself busy supervising the making of chicken agro dolce. “Hullo dahlin,” he said, coming over to give her a hug.

“Had enough of the restaurant business, huh? So you decided to come back to where the money is — waiting tables. I understand completely. I myself have decided to become a water and sell the restaurant to Howard Moss who is sick and tired of waiting tables.” Mimi laughed the sweet laugh of someone tickled by a particular sense of humor and grateful to hear it again. “No, Lloyd, it’s better than that,” she told him. “I got a day off.”

Instantly, he picked up a large funnel and began speaking through it. “Uh, ladies and gentleman, I believe we have a circumstance here that warrants our undivided attention. A respected member of our community of restauranteurs has somehow managed to give herself a day off. Can you imagine such a thing, ladies and gentlemen? Is this business? Our question to you, Miss O’Rourke would have to be…. How did you do it.? He handed her the funnel but she was laughing too hard to take part.

“You think you can just have days off when the rest of us are like indentured servants, not to be released until the dentures wear out?” He switched voices. “Hows’s business, Mimi?

“Better than I ever hoped, ” she answered. “But seriously, what am I going to do about vacations?”

Lloyd LaBosco, partial to the somewhat Irish face from the time he’d first met her, fed her a light lunch of bread and vegetarian antipasto and sent her on her way, happy for her success but sad they had lost her. “As for the vacations,” he told her as she was leaving “I only take one a year, and look at me!?”

‘Yeah, look at you?” she put her hand on her hip as she headed out to make the rounds. “What do you do for vacation, commit yourself?”

He grabbed the funnel one more time, “No, Mimi, he spoke loudly into the street, “What makes you think I need help of any kind. I’m perfectly sane. I like to work. I like to work. I like to work…”

Having visited nearly everyone she cupel think of and having done a little shopping just for the hell of it (a pair of checkered underpants, a silver pinkie ring) she carefully walked toward her old house. There were cars in the driveway, two high end recreational vehicles with ski racks. Connecticut plates. “well, what did you expect, Mimi?” she asked herself, “For it to stay empty as a shrine in perpetuity?” Nothing the new flower boxes and new paint job on the trim, she could have admitted that it looked better than it had when she lived there. But instead of admitting to the obvious, she sneered quietly and uttered with distaste the five syllables that came to mind. “Gentrification.”

A fresh, young-looking athletic-type person happened then to step out of the door and, seeing Mimi staring at the house said, “Can I help you?”

“I used to live here,” said Mimi simply, “For a lot of years. Just thought I’d see the old place.”

“It won’t be old for long,” Miss Co-ed said, “We begin remodeling the entire thing in a week and a half. It won’t be the same house.” She stood there most confidently in her lycra pants and tight-fitting tank beaming at Mimi, the beam of those capable of doing whatever they please, of those who have only had to ask to receive — whether for an allowance, a car, or a brand new remodel of a good old house. Mimi, sick at the thought of this 24-year old Pinkie or Bunny or Beth getting a new house without having known the perfectly good old one, turned her back and walked briskly away. “That’s too bad,” she said, unable to bear one moment more of this woman whose socks even looked like they’d just come out of the package. A woman whose husband probably had just turned in his loafers for sport sandals, his college sport coats for mountain wear. A woman who would never get a pimple in her life, who would go out to dinner every other night, who would work in a boutique selling expensive clothes because she already knew all the appropriate label’s names. In short, someone Mimi didn’t want to get to know. As she stalked off she head the door open and  heard a masculine voice saying “Who was that?”

“Just some hippie who used to live here,” was the awful woman’s answer, at which point Mimi turned around and stared at the two of them clumped together conspiratorially on what had been her threshold. She didn’t give them the finger, or stick out her tongue, or flick her fingers under her chin even though the temptation was strong enough and hot enough to melt ice. She just stared at them. The cold, clear and level sore of a reptile lounging in the water. Then she smiled at them, kicked a dirt clod, and continued on her way. “If I’m what they call a hippie,” she thought, “It’s worse than I thought around here.”

Max’s trailer spot had hardly fared any better. The little shelf of land on the sunny side of town had been built up with a rock retaining wall where behind it a monstrous foundation had already been laid. No doubt the future site of another multi-level, multi-luxury home. Having no desire to glean the gruesome details on another sweet spot lost she headed back to her car and got it into court as quickly as possible.

Three miles out of Telluride, mimi and Nero took the turn toward Cortez, the gateway to Mesa verde, where they would then turn again north toward Dove Creek. The big circle would eventually take them through Monticello, Utah, then back to La Sal Junction, back to life in the lived-in lane. Mainly, the driving was hot and windy but agreeable; Mimi’s choice of music — Marvin Gaye, the Temptations, Joe Cocker and a little Ella Fitzgerald — created a suitable score for this brief episode, this short 8 millimeter reel of her life.

In Dove Creek – once again, notable for its distinguished appellation as the pinto bean capital of the world — Mimi espied another left-to-the-ravages-of-time cafe and pulled in, as perfunctorily as a tourist would pull over at a sign labeled “scenic lookout.”

“This one has arches, Nero,” she said , feeling she’d been reunited with an old friend as indeed she had. “And I still love that turquoise trim and all the white paint.” Its permanent lettering said “Candy – Pop – Cigs – Gum,” but its large billboard, with press-in letterset still left from the last day of operation read “__om _n in Try r _ien_rs.” Mimi laughed as she remembered the sign from the last go-round. “Try our wieners,” she said aloud. Smiling the smile of a dirty jokester — attractive, slightly ashamed but tickled nevertheless — Mimi, who had not thought of them, the core of him, his own self and his place in her life except to see where his trailer used to be, thought of Max as she thought of our wieners.

And there she sat, covered with sweat and dew in a dusty rundown driveway if a bit-gone spot, filled with the memory of having loved well, of still loving, but of this recently acquired pain around the edges. Flooded by this mood — as she knew she eventually would be on this day of driving — she peeled out of the cafe and headed for the spot the whole trip tended toward, the spot that allowed her think these thoughts and would echo them for her. It was just down the road a couple of miles.

On the far side of Dove Creek — whose main street had, let’s see, a giant farm supply store, a couple of bars, a newspaper office (an outlet was needed for the multiple foreclosure listings and for divulging the week-to-week status of the bean market) a coffee shop and a “stained glass lampshade factory outlet” — was an abandoned drive-in theater.

Mimi pulled in close beside it, got out and lifted herself over an old barbed wire fence rimming the entire location like a corral, something fenced in for posterity. Nero slithered under the wire and loped alongside, sensing more purpose in her than in him.

She on the other hand, wanted total seclusion. “It’s okay,” she said to the dog so as not to reject him. “You can go exploring. Go on.” In a dog’s way, Nero figured he would take advantage of a little alone time, too. No cats to bog him down, no routine to remember. He trotted off gaily, sniffing the ground low in zig-zagged lines heading vaguely west-southwest.

Mimi aimed without thinking for the old concession stand building and peered in the windows, seeing something that evidently pleased her, because she smiled. Knowing her is to know that she simply liked looking into abandoned buildings. Not so much houses, that tended to be too intimate, but other kinds. Standing there with her hands cupped around her eyes, she would peer in and it would hit her, this feeling of looking in on time, of its standing still, its evanescence and its mystery. The “thing” that got her had to do with time made visible like a ghost with a sheet on; and this “thing” activated her deeper parts. It made her yearn for something definite but in no way nameable. It made her smart for what was just beyond the grasp of a mortal being with an immortal soul.

Once in the proper mood for contemplating her life, she turned around and stare at the empty screen in front of her and in front of the hundred-and-fifty and some empty spaces marked by sentry-like speaker posts. having made her way to the center of the non-existent audience, she sat down cross-legged and looked straight ahead waiting for the floodgates to open.

Random images of Max were upon her in no time. Max laughing and sleeping, Max groping for her, chopping vegetables, Max tiling on all fours with a cat on his back. Max in dozens of other positions and scenarios, with dozens of expressions to go with them Max finally going off in his car after having yelled at her — looking like some scared and trapped animal. With these images upon her and in some sly way transferred to the screen in front of her, a screen now filled with the memory of the man she had not dared let herself dream of in two weeks time, she saw him — helped by the giant screen — for what he was. A good man. She had to love him because he was lovable, and because he was good, and because he loved her.

When she tried to picture herself with him, however, the picture became cloudy — stuck in fact with them separate and distinct and not together. Pained and confused but not yet articulately so, Mimi slipped into sadness, a still, a truthful state during which her feelings might coalesce. Language did Mimi the favor at this time of staying in the language part of her brain; and it was without words or syntax that Mimi realized what was absent from her heart: forgiveness. The forgiveness required to love someone wholly. At least on her part. And it was not Max she had to forgive, it was herself.

“Mimi,” she said to herself, articulating, but nervous from having come up with the right answer, “Forgiving yourself is something you’ve read about and heard about for years but the words just didn’t mean that much to you because you really didn’t have any ida what they meant. Now it’s all beginning to make sense. Don’t be so hard on yourself, girl. Don’t find faults with others that are really your own. Don’t blame others just because you’re scared they’re going to beat you to it and blame you first. In wanting Max to be perfect, you wanted to save yourself from your own criticism. Very convoluted but true. Mim,” she used her childhood name, “Ease up on yourself. The root of your hurt is that you thought Max didn’t want your baby. He was criticizing you and you couldn’t cope with that. The flower of your hurt is that in your own way you really did want that baby, and you resent him for making you think you didn’t.”

That was the lecture, conceived from feeling and given birth by words. And Mimi knew the resentment part would be the kicker. It would be one thing to learn to forgive herself, more like a lifetime commitment. But it would be another thing not to resent Max for what she felt he had made her feel.

Although a clenching of teeth was the only visible change in this woman wearing cowboy boots and a baseball cap, she got up from her cross-legged position alive with renewed anger, confident with resentment.  She glanced around quickly to make sure no one had been watching or was watching now and headed back to the tiny pick-up. It was then she noticed that someone was in fact standing near the truck, with one foot hoisted and swinging on the barbed-wire part of the fence. It was a woman dressed like a cowboy; and as Mimi stared at the woman staring at her, she though to herself that that woman might have said the same thing about her.

“You the one who owns the cafe over there at La Sal Junction?” the woman asked when Mimi was still a good twenty feet away. The voice, raspy but rather poetically so, was not accusatory in the least. “Yeah,” Mimi answered hesitantly. “What about it?” She couldn’t imagine why anyone would be asking such a question except maybe for work; but this woman looked like she’d worked plenty already.

“I’m Cherise Pivy,” she held out her hand, and at fifteen feet Mimi had to hustle to reach it. “Hi,” said Mimi. “Mimi O’Rourke.” Cherise was a big-boned woman in her forties, probably, whose shirt was plaid flannel with the sleeves cut off. The pants were Wranglers. Here hair was mid-length, naturally curly and half gray, and her eyes were ice blue. Attractive. In fact, elegant in beauty despite the clothes.

She was in turn giving Mimi the once over. “What, are you just out for a ride?” Cherise queried, still staring at Mimi’s whole person but not quite ready to lay judgment down. Neither one of them, it appeared, was as interested in the conversation as they were in each other. “I got a day off from the cafe,” said Mimi, with a certain amount of guilt. “My first day off since we opened.”

“And you’re sitting in the remains of a drive-in thinking…. is that it?” Cherise was perceptive. “They do have their charm,” she added, looking out onto the screen and further off into the distance obviously amenable to the lure and the effect of the place.

“Yes, they do,” Mimi assented, surprised that in Cherise she had found someone who appreciated ruins from the 50s. And with such encouragement, she posed a question. “So,” she said. “What are you doing here?”

Cherise was succinct. “I own this old drive-in; and I also own the cafe you were parked in when you first drove into town. I was curious what you looked like; I thought I’d have a look. Ask you what you were doing here. Now I know you were just thinking — but I don’t know what you were thinking about. The folks in town, they think you might want to buy another cafe. I’m wondering if that’s true.”

Cherise unbottoned her sleeveless flannel shirt to reveal a denim halter top and took off a bandana with which she wiped her face clean of sweat. “Hot one,” she said purely as a statement of fact. Her stomach was ripped, Mimi noted, and couldn’t stop herself from asking outright if she were a body builder or something. “I mean, how did you get a stomach like that?”

“Sit-ups every day,” was Cherise’s answer. “I believe in keeping fit. Now back to the question at hand. You looking to buy more property, or not?”

Though the thought had never occurred to Mimi to expand, she answered with an unequivocal, “Maybe,” adding, “Why? You looking to sell?”

“I may be,” Cherise Pivey answered, unable to hide her anticipation. “I’d take six thousand for the cafe. It needs work. The drive-in I don’t know about. It’s worth a lot more than that. You want to expand your vegetarian burger business, is that it?”

“I just don’t know,” said Mimi, now truly playing some part she’d never even considered before.”It would make sense to have a bean burger joint in Dove Creek, the pinto bean capital of the world — don’t you think? And since it doesn’t have a name, I could just call it the “Pinto Bean Capital of the World Cafe.”

Cherise, torn as to the correct response, just looked down the road toward Dove Creek. “It is the pinto bean capital,” she admitted.

“Well,” said Mimi, “Where can you be reached, now that I know who owns two of my favorite spots?” Mimi sounded to herself like a female version of Rory Vermillion looking into land deals. It both revolted her and stimulated her imagination.

“I’m a mechanic,” said Cherise, pulling out a business card.  Mimi noticed for the first time that she was wearing old Jack Purcell tennis shoes. “MOTOR MADNESS” the canary yellow card read. “Cherise Pivey, Proprietress.” Mimi took the card and thanked her. “You’re welcome anytime at the La Sa Junction Cafe. Come in and have a free meal, taste your first bean burger. Have some really good coffee and chat with a bunch of truckers and bicyclists.” Mimi laughed. “You might enjoy yourself.”

“Can I bring my husband?” Cherise asked, not at all sure that the patrons in Mimi’s vegetarian cafe weren’t all women. Women truckers, women bicyclists. Cherise had never met a male vegetarian before and couldn’t visualize a world in which they existed. “By all means,” answered Mimi, dying to know what Cherise’s husband would look like. “Bring him along, we’d love to have you both. In fact, I’d like to meet the husband of a woman mechanic. What’s he do?”

“He sells real estate.”

Floored, Mimi said the first thing that came to mind. “You gotta be kidding.”

“Nope. He started up an office here in Dove Creek. Hill of Beans Realty. And if you’re interested in the cafe or the drive-in, you’ll have to talk to him. He’s the one with the license.”

“And the one with the sense of humor, Mimi wanted to add but laughed instead. “Hill of Beans Realty? Who’s buying land in Dove Creek?”

“No one right now,” answered Cherise slowly, “But it won’t be long before they start, just like every place else. Besides, Park owns all the stuff he’s trying to sell, so there’s an incentive.”

“I’ve heard of people doing that in other places,” said Mimi thinking of Telluride and wondering if Dove Creek was that far behind. Looking around again, she felt sure that it was.

“You and your husband — Park is his name? Parker? — well you and Parker come over some time and visit. We’ll talk.” Mimi was the first to extend her hand this time. “Pleased to meet you, Cherise,” she said and called to her dog who came whizzing back, tongue hanging practically to his knees. She waved as she pulled out and headed back to Utah.

 

On the final leg of the journey, Mimi deemed it appropriate to reflect over the day’s doings; and, pleased by her journey both physical and mental, she settled into driving, thinking mostly about Max whom she missed terribly and with whom she wanted to share things. Anecdotes, jokes, observations, sunrises, sex.

She missed him, yes. ut she was also sure that once he returned to the cafe — once she saw his face and remembered what they’d been through most recently — she would have a hard time being nice to him no matter how badly in need of companionship she was. Snagged in this difficult projection of the future, she turned her thoughts to other things. The wedding of Syd and Anna in two days. The hiring of Werner slash John. The signatures for Rory, 25 of which had been sent to him several days before.

And suddenly she felt anxious to be back home. Her cafe. Her complications.


Leave a comment

Chapter 14 – Max over there and Mimi over here

It took Max about a week and a half to get to Piermont, New York, because he allowed himself the luxury of taking minor roads and even of making wrong turns. He didn’t know where he’d been, which cities in which states, which borders he’d crossed, which rivers, which mountain ranges, or even what the weather had been like through any large portion of it. Except for the corn field. He did recall being on a small and empty road that had sliced right through the seven-foot stalks of an endless corn field; and he recalled taking slow note because the scenery, generally nothing more than a blur of changing shapes and colors, had turned into into a very consistent golden blur, almost a tunnel of gold.

So, periodically jerked into focus from these trance-like driving states, he’d get his bearings if he could find the main road; and then he would drift back into the other world, the randomly blurry one, the one that usually caused traffic accidents. Except in his case, he never actually fell asleep at the wheel. He never even ran a red light. Once in Piermont, an old mill and factory town and now a cleaner place with a bigger chamber of commerce, he felt as though he had slept for a hundred years and that his hair ought to be long and straggly by now, his breath bad and his fingernails grown out and curled. His mother remarked only that he looked mystifyingly refreshed. “I don’t know,” she said. “When I drive for a long while, I never arrive looking as though the whole thing has relaxed and invigorated me. I usually look wiped out; but you look like you just woke up, so….”

“It feels like I did just wake up” he told her. “I’ve been in a driving trance for what seems like months.”
“You said you left on the 14th,” she said in the flat, almost dead-pan tone what was uniquely and endearingly hers. “That would make it eleven days”
“Is that all?” said Max, beginning to come around. “How you doing, mom?” He put his arm around her “Where’s dad?”
“I’m fine,” said Katherine Perdue. “Old and wrinkled, but fine. Your father has planted vegetables this year and is tending them in the back yard. They have to be thinned, you know, and weeded, and he’s got the back muscles for it and I don’t anymore, so…” She finished many of her sentences with “So…,” an infuriating habit Max had learned to live with, even laugh at. “So what, Mom,” he poked her in the ribs. “So what?”
“Huh?” she said while she stared at Max with motherly adoration and let herself be teased. The attention was gratifying.

Elliot Perdue with his hands in the dirt? Max found this hard to believe. “You mean carrots and beans and peas and stuff?”

“Yes, Max, real vegetables. Including zucchini and tomatoes. The tomatoes are what take up so much of his time.”

“Incredible,” was the extent to which Max could comment and went to the window to see the od man, who, humbly bent over a plant, was straightening up to wipe his brow and take a sip from a squeeze bottle he had rigged to his belt. For no reason at  all, he looked up toward the big picture window and saw Max standing there watching him. Elliot Perdue smiled and waved and then turned his squeeze bottle upside down to indicate that it was empty and empty was a good enough reason to come inside. “He’s not running any more, you know,” Max’s mother said. “But he bought a recumbent bicycle.”

“You’re kidding me,” said Max, entertaining visions of his father on the only such machine in the vicinity. “He’ll tell you about it himself, so….” added Katherine Perdue.

The visit with the folks was a good one for Max, even though it was hard for him to see his parents growing old, only because they themselves seemed so surprised by it. Wrinkles surprised his mother more than her bad back. Elliot Perdue — an athletic man by nature — had reluctantly given up running at the age of 65 on account of bad knees, but felt certain that with the  new recumbent bicycle, he could reclaim his physical stature. At 65, he was doing a hundred sit ups a day, ten pull-ups, and a series of isometric exercises he himself had developed for men over sixty. Katherine couldn’t help but worry about the day he’d be forced to give up the exercise or to opt for a lighter version for even older folks. “You guys are looking good,” said Max to them, because he felt they really did. And as Elliot beamed, Katherine simply said, “Well, we’re getting old, so….”

Max persisted, “But you look a lot better than a lot of people your age.”

Naturally, they’d asked him about his new life in the middle of nowhere. Did he have pictures of the place? Of his girlfriend? Why not? Was something wrong?

“No,” he simplified it for them and for himself. “I just had to have a little break before going headlong into the tile-making business.”

“I would imagine so,” agreed his father.

“Hmmm,” said his mother, still wondering why he hadn’t brought any photos. But she didn’t press him.

“We just recently got a card from the Abruzzis, Gianni and Pietra, who asked about you,” Katherine told her son. “They always ask about you. And they have that new cafe. Haven’t you written them lately?”

No, Max hadn’t written to his surrogate family because every time he’d tried, it made him want to see them so bad he had to stop. Only at Christmas, because they would have been offended it he hadn’t, did he send them a card, usually a  picture of the Madonna because he’d known they received other such cards at Christmas. His said nothing but “Love, Max” at the bottom. “I haven’t ever written them anything more than a Christmas card,” he admitted. “But I want to see them this time. I’ve missed them.”

Elliot and Katherine Perdue looked at each other and then they looked at their son. Somewhere along the line, they felt, they must have neglected him, driven him away. It was too late to make it up to him but they kept on trying. They never criticized Max, never demanded anything from him, and they supported him in his endeavors. And they were always very, very polite.

Max, for his part, had been pining to see the Abruzzis, to be welcomed in their home, to sit at the dining room table and have big noisy meals with them. He wanted to hear Gianni and Mama argue and tease each other and argue some more. Hard as it was to admit, he wanted to be with them, his adopted tribe, as much as he wanted to be with his own family. And now that he’d heard about their new cafe — well, the one their sons were running for them, he would simply show up there and hope to catch either Gianni or Mama.

The reunion was no disappointment.

Peter — called Pietro at home — and Mark — Marco — gave him big hugs at the cafe, fed him lunch – which turned out to be as much a meal of nostalgia as a meal of Italian food — and arranged to have him surprise their parents at dinner that night. “Mama, make enough for an extra person,” Marco had told her.

“You brining’ home a girl Marco, finally, after all dis time?”

“Yes, Mama, but she’s nothing special.”

“We’ll see how special she is,” said Mama, barely able to contain herself. With this, Marco knew they would be eating well.

Isn’t that kind of hard on her, to get her hopes up like that?” said Max, worried for Mama now.

“It’s not like I don’t bring girls home, Max,” said Marco. “But if she don’t like ’em, she forgets they ever existed. So it’s like I brought no one home at all. That’s why she always plays like I never bring any home: because she hasn’t liked any of them. Not even the Italian ones.”

Max smiled thinking of Mama. “Not even the Italian ones, huh, Marco?” he repeated, laughing at the impeccable Italianness of it all. “Why don’t you try shocking her with someone from the twilight zone? That’ll make everyone else look wonderful.”

“That’s a thought,” said Marco. “You mean like a professional exotic dancer or something, right? Knowing Mama, she’d probably  go for that one! But she’s right, Maxie. The ones I bring home, they just aren’t that special. There’s no fire. And you, what about you?”

“I got myself a special one, all right.” Max surprised himself with his quick answer. “Enough special for three people. But she’s a handful.”

“Well then,” said Marco with his arm around his little surrogate brother, “You’ve got your work cut out for you. She feed you good?”

‘You wouldn’t believe it if I told you,” Max said. “It would be like something out of a cartoon strip. But I’ll give you a hint: she runs a cafe in the middle of nowhere — well, I’ve been helping her get started — and she’s pulling in truck drivers from all over the place. The thing is, she doesn’t serve any meat.”

“Na-a-a-a-ah,” said Marco thinking of all the truckers he knew or had known.

“Yes,” Max crossed his arms and nodded his head.

 

Oh, the tears and the fussing over Max that night!

They ate and drank until their cheeks puffed and their noses redeemed. Or was it the other way around? Finally, after espresso and Sambuca, and after Carol and Marco had gone home, Max was able to bask in the company of the two people who made him feel safe and understood, and he started talking about La Sal Junction and about the cafe and Mimi and his plans for the tile business. They asked him questions and he answered more than he needed to answer, which is how he happened to mention that Mimi was pregnant and about to have an abortion.

Mama brought her hands to her face. Gianni looked worried and spoke for the first time in a long while. “You know what you’re doing, getting rid of this baby?”

“I think we do,” said Max. “I mean I’ve only known her since last October. We hardly know each other, how can we have a child when we don’t know each other that well?”

“How well you gotta know someone if you love them? said Mama.

“Pietra and I, we had Carol very soon after getting married. We didn’t know each other besides being in love, but we knew we wanted children,” said Gianni. “You want children, Maxie?”

“Well, I think I do, but I’m not sure. I love Mimi. She loves me. But there’s so much I want to do. I don’t want to feel trapped by them. And I’m not sure I’d know what to do with them. And based on how much I worry about our animals, well, what if all I ever did after having them was worry about them? And besides that, there’s so much I want to do. Did I say that?”

“Why you can’t do it with children/” Mama shrugged. “You make such a good father Max. Such a good father. What’s more important than having a family?”

There it was, The Importance of the Family. Captive in this Italian household, Max felt drugged by the whole notion and found himself agreeing with them. What was more important than family?

“You gotta picture of this girl?” Gianni wanted to know.

Max shook his head.

“No picture?” Pietra echoed with a sour face. “Whenna we gonna meet this girl? Your parents meet her?”

Max shook his head.

Gianni and Mama shook their heads. “Where is it that you live, Maxie?” Gianni asked trying to catch up on his near-son. Max sighed and wondered if he would ever express the beauty of where he lived. “In the middle of nowhere,” was what he said. “Close to the pinto bean capitol of the world.”

“Pinto beans?” asked Mama beginning to comprehend his location in terms of the food that came from there.”Pinto beans are pretty good. But we use these new Anasazi beans now.” Noticing Max’s look of disbelief, she added, They cook fast and don’t make you gas as much. At our age, Max, you know, your insides go crazy with foods you eat your whole life. At our age.”

“Anasazi beans only grow right where we live. Right there! That’s where we live!” Max told them, still hardly believing that these two Italians were sitting there telling him they ate the tiny reduced-gas beans Max used to make his own burgers.

“You joking, Maxie? Anaszi beans? “Whatta coincidence!” Gianni sensed some gap had been bridged and sat back, proud that they had connected the dots. Mama took all the credit, though. “Si. Anasazi beans,” she summarized. “Must be good country,

At the end of a long evening, Max went home more confused and sadder than he would have wished on himself. In realizing how long he’d been away from Gianni and Pietra Abruzzi, their absence from his life scooped out a void in his rib cage, the region of his solar plexus, Like lighting a match in a cave and seeing how empty it is after having gotten used to the dark. He should have written to them, kept them informed, asked them for help when he’d needed it, asked them for advice. Now it was too late for that. All the years had changed him, “politened” him, as Mimi said. He needed the Abruzzis for their bluntness and forthright love and for their interrogations, and now that he’d had one evening of what he craved, it was choking him.

In the black hole of night, he dreamed deeply and remotely again, this time about a mound of green grass swelling in the summer heat. The emerald green sod, velvety and cool, welcomed Max, who lay upon it face down, arms and legs splayed. It seemed to be breathing Max’s own breath, Max who crawled up to its crest like an infant crawling to a nipple.

As he reached the summit he noticed, alarming himself in slow dream-time motion, that an opening was forming and kind of caving in. The grass at the top of the mound was cracking apart and Max, scared but unable to removed himself from the comfort of his perch, simply watched as giant fruit == black grapes, bananas, cherries, cantaloupe, kumquats, plums, everything — poured forth and surrounded him like denizens of some sweeter, riper world. He leaned delicately upon a grape whose diameter measured approximately two and a half feet. “I’m quite comfortable here with you all,” was the last thing he heard himself say, awakened by the sound of the coffee grinder.

“But “I’ve got to get back to the cafe” was the first thing he heard himself say to his parents who looked at him sadly but without much surprise.

A two-day visit Max?” inquired Katherine Perdue as delicately as she could. Her voice cracked.

“We understand, Max,” said his father. Who in fact didn’t have enough facts to understand anything at all.

And Max, ashamed for never having given these two the chance to understand him, drove away biting his lip. Only this time he hit the interstate immediately and let his lead foot take him back as quickly as possible, because now that he’d decided to return and now that he had gathered his scattered wits to him, he realized that he had to be back for the August 1 marriage of Syd and Anna. Once on the open road, and unlike the earlier lackadaisical journey of a man in a cloud, he focused with such intensity on the return destination that had he been wearing glasses his gaze might have burned a hole through paper or wood.

Not that he had any answers or was any less confused by the players and their respective parts, but in spite of that he let himself be driven back to the vortex, back to the figuring out of life, back to the companion he missed. Back to dreams of her and the warmth of her body, back to their animals and their life in the dusty, dreamlike middle of nowhere. It would be unfair not to mention that Max, after the dinner with the Abruzzis and the green mound dream and everything, was somewhere deep within himself hoping that Mimi might still be pregnant when he got home. that she might have opted to have a family, that she might have known enough for both of them to do this thing.

“Dear Max,” Mimi had written a couple of days after the arrival of Syd and Anna during the midday break. She had his address in Piermont and planned to use it.

“Did  you ever notice how  when you look out the kitchen window from the third tile back — how the horizon perfectly bisects the window. That there’s this grey-blue ever-so-changing sky exactly halfway into the window, the the landscape is taken over by earth and roadway and brush and an occasional comforting semi? It’s just one of those great things about our kitchen Or when you’re in our little bed, that the night breeze seems to come in across our faces and shoulders, caressing them actually, more than any other parts of our bodies? Lately, I’ve been thinking, well, about you, of course — more than anything else I’ve been thinking about you because you’re gone and I miss you — but I’ve also been thinking about all the little things that make life so full and so frail.

You’d think I’d be thinking about becoming an accidental author, about actually having a book published and gaining some notoriety (or not). “I spit in your eye–?” I could finally say to everyone who thought I was nothing more than what I’ve done for a living. “So don’t bother even trying to say hello because it’s too late.” Period.

You’d think I’d be grooming my ego for its new life.

You’d think all that.

But the fact is, I don’t think about it that much, Max. Oh sure, I think about all those letters I wrote; and having re-read them, I naturally think about that earlier life. The life of longing, and of comparing, and also the life of thinking that thinking well was the best revenge. I’m a little embarrassed by the whole thing, frankly — the student’s approach to life thing — but at the same time I can’t get over the fact that I wrote all those letters, not to mention someone’s saving them and liking them. Liking them more than me, I might add!

But more than all of that, much more, I think about all the small magnificent things that happen everyday. I think about the way the early morning light comes up so subtly here, like a shade being pulled up from the bottom, and how it seems to raise my spirits with it. I think  about the sandstone cliffs and the dignity of vast spaces made captive by rock and sky and wind. I smell desert smells and they fill my lungs with the present. And on a more personable note, I think of my friends and acquaintances who share their lives with me (all those detais, their clothes, their styles, how they hold their coffee cups and say, “Excuse me, I’ve got to use the john.”). People who laugh at my jokes and eat my daily specials, smiling at themselves and at me. I think of Sally and Yates building furniture and cleaning pen knives, of Mo and her unbelievable golf scores. Of our hilarious family of animals. I think about repainting the gas pump old-time red, just for looks, and about replacing the burnt-out bulb on the incredible all-too-good-to-be-true turquoise sign.

This life of mine is lived for the present, I think, at least right now it is. It doesn’t pine or wonder or wish, it just kind of goes along moment by moment accepting the fireworks and the fizzles within the framework of each day. It’s not a cliche, although many of its more interesting ornaments are. What I’m trying to say, here, Max, is that that vision I had months and months ago sitting inside these buildings when they were as empty as time, that vision was a true vision, as true as they come. And my question to you and to the rest of the world would have to be, “Who the hell put that bag of Anasazi beans there in the first place?” This is the big mystery for me now. And besides wondering about this, the cause of my destiny, I wonder what propels you – another instrument of my destiny — to find yours.”

She signed it “Yours in space and time, Mimi.”

But it was a letter Mimi would never send to Max. Because several days after having written it, she kept her apointment to have the abortion. Afterwards, and even during the procedure, she couldn’t help the tears that trickled in a constant stream down her face, tears that confused her more than the actual pregnancy They wanted her to get counseling, all those people at the clinic, but Anna somehow managed to get her out of there in a hurry and they headed back to Utah, Anna driving, both quiet for the first hour of the trip. The trickle of tears didn’t really stop.

“Did  you want the baby then?” Anna asked her, sickened by the effect of her own condition on her friend.

Mimi wasn’t sure enough of hseself to speak righ taway. “I thought I didn’t,” she said, feeling the lump in her throat.”I thought I had it all under control. The idea that it would be better to wait. The idea that I have time. The idea that I’m not ready yet and that Max didn’t want it, or couldn’t bring himself to want it.” She was beginning to struggle with control, and Anna, barely able to keep from sobbing herself, pulled the car over onto the gravelly dirt shoulder of an empty road and reached over to her. Mimi did not hesitate to lean into the proffered shoulder. “But now I feel so bad,” she cried into Anna’s sweatshirt. “Like what if I made the wrong decision and I don’t get a second chance? I wonder if I shouldn’t have just kept it in spite of Max. He would have gotten used to the idea, and he probably would have loved it even more than me, knowing him…”

Anna, unsure of the answers to such questions, decided not to admit to this. “You did the right thing, Mim. The only thing you could do given the timing and the circumstances and the way your perfectly unique brain works. And even it it it was a mistake, well people make mistakes on an hourly basis. Some lives are based on mistakes: which means you can’t really call them that. They’re just a part of life.” Extricating herself from the mass of Mimi’s hair and the clench of moist palms, she lifted Mimi’s hand and stroked it, finally bringing it up to her own face. “I’m sure you’ll get another chance to have a baby. And in the meantime, you and Max can talk about this. “

Mimi, in the grips of some horrible new hormone — or lack thereof — tried to calm herself, tried being even the slightest bit objective. Pondering her chemical imbalances and feeling more like distilled essence of crap than anything else, she nevertheless attended to the conversation. “Yes,” she admitted without much energy and hardly any feeling. “It will be important to talk to Max about it.”

Inside, however, she felt the blow of misunderstanding hit her again, even harder this time, because this time she was curiously devoid of anger. Instead, she felt as if her body, once filled with blood and guts, now flowed with a milky white substance. A cold milky white substance. And she had a dreadful feeling based on this observation that she and Max would not be getting along well for some time to come.

When she got home, after having gathered the animals around her for some love and support, she tucked away the letter to Max that sat on the counter waiting to be postmarked — slipped it in the crack between two kitchen cabinets, actually, which happened to be right there — and tried to think of what she’d said. What had she said? She couldn’t remember whatever it was she’d tried to express except that she’d been full of blood and guts then.

In the more of less two weeks Max was gone, much happened at the La Sal Junction Cafe besides Mimi’s own cataclysmic change. Well, enough happened. And it’s not as if Mimi couldn’t function as her old self in the cafe — she could. She merely worried for the day of reuniting and hoped he would give her that month he’d promised. Except that in that month away, he would miss the wedding and she didn’t know whether she could ever forgive him for that either.

 

As promised, Mo Robbins’ twins were delivered for the weekend of the golf tournament and were given explicit instructions by their mother especially on four counts. They were to behave at all times and keep their hands clean; they were to take care of all the animals’ needs for Mimi, Syd and Anna; they were to eat all vegetarian food without complaining; and they were not to stay up past nine unless Mimi said it was okay.

The twins fit themselves right in at the cafe without delay. Not what you’d call precocious, they did however have an uncanny ability (for ten-year olds) to listen to and be amused by people. Strangers didn’t scare them no matter how strange. The twins simply liked people.

The three adults running the show were no less than smitten by the spectacled twins who wore boy’s playclothes, who studied people casually and laughed with them, making conversation as if they’d done it professionally for more years than they’d been alive. Emma asked Dodge Robuck one night after looking him and up and down for a good five minutes if everyone in their family was “puny”; and Dodge, so taken aback by the question he didn’t have time to think, said no, he was pretty much the runt. “Runts are usually the nicest of the litter though,” Emma answered not missing a beat. “We’re not sure that’s true for humans, Emma,” Eleanor countered quite seriously.

Mimi was happy to let them stay up until closing both nights; and the staying up until midnight thing turned out to be the highlight of their weekend’s memoirs. It was the first thing they told their mother. It was what they talked about for weeks afterward. Midnight, Eleanor told Mimi in confidence, was the absolute middle of the night and it was when you could actually scare the bogey man. She laughed aloud when she said this, as if this idea of scaring the bogey man was the most deliciously righteous thing she had ever heard of. “So it’s perfectly safe for us to be up,” Emma summarized for everyone. “No bogey man to harm us.”

“I see,” Mimi responded with equal gravity as she wondered what books they’d been reading. “How do you know this?” was her cautious query.

“Common knowledge,” the twins answered in unison, smiling at each other and shrugging their shoulders in agreement. This evidently tickled Syd’s fancy because he got the giggles and could not be stopped. Giggles being contagious, Anna and Mimi joined in and all of them laughed until the smoke alarm went off, screeching so loudly everyone in the kitchen and in the cafe covered their ears. Syd ran over and yanked the battery out — without even having to use a step stool — at which point all memory of his test pizzas returned. His first foray back into the world of vegetarian restaurants had ended in smoke and charcoal. But the trace of a giggle remained. 

The twins also taught the animals, all of the, some new tricks. in the two days they were at the cafe, Emma and Eleanor managed to teach Dale, Napoleon and Mirabelle to simultaneously roll over and then roll back the other way. Mimi was astounded that these particular animals, brilliant but equally independent, would perform such demeaning circus acts. She interrogated them on their methods. “We used cocktails franks that mom had hidden in our knapsacks as a reward,” said Eleanor, sensing that only the truth would work. “After rolling over for them together, ourselves, to show them what we meant,” added Emma. They used a corkscrew motion with their arms to make the animals go over, and then reversed it to make them roll back. Mimi, try as she might, could not make them do it again. Only Emma and Eleanor could ever make those three pull that one off.

When Mo returned from the tournament having just played the best golf of her life and ready to commit herself to more practice and more vision, she was in just the right mood to agree to drop the girls off whenever she needed a sitter for a weekend. “You WANT me to leave them with you?”  She sounded doubtful.”We fit in here, mom,” Eleanor interjected. “And we like the food.” Mo could not have been more pleased.

As they said their good-byes, Syd, just having noticed it, gently pulled a sorely dog-eared spy of “Daily Meditations for Golfers” out of the leather purse Mo Robbins had slung across her shoulder.”Interesting,” he said, fingering the item that lay as small as a book of matches in his large hands. “Someone actually does read this.”

“Are you kidding?” Mo asked him. “It’s my bible.”

“Syd discovered that book, Mo,” Mimi piped in. “Didn’t you Syd?”

Still unbelieving, Syd continued to stare at the book. “Yep. I actually commissioned these two guys to write it. But I’ve never seen anyone holding one before.”

“Then you obviously don’t play golf,” said Mo who was as fired up as anyone had ever seen her. “You are responsible for this book? May I kiss your ring and have your autograph, or better yet, will you sign my own copy? This book is what made me the golfer I am — well, and practice and natural ability.”

“But this book — I just can’t believe this — is not only useful it’s lucky. My favorite quote is June 11: The inner game is the outer game. Keep your elbows in. I’ve repeated that quote like a prayer, over and over, since I got the book. It must have been instrumental in some kind of breakthrough for me.” She was beside herself and had succeeded in attracting the attention of the half dozen or so patrons in the cafe who were straining to see what book she was talking about. As Syd signed it, reluctantly and while telling her repeatedly that he wasn’t the author, several of the folks actually got up and came over to look at the source of the commotion. One of the was Angel Scheetz, probably the nosiest of the La Sal Junction regulars; she had her own views on Mo, as well.

“Your Bible is a little green book about golf??” she said not hiding the accusation in her voice “Why of all the….”

“She didn’t mean it was a her real Bible,” Emma snottily squared herself off with angel. “We have a real Bible at home.”

“Well, I’m glad to hear THAT,” said Angel yearning to flip through this curious little green book that had changed Mo Robbins’ life. The only book that had ever changed her life had been a book about starting a mail order business, which she’d picked up on a trip to Salt Lake. The idea of making money at home had appealed to her and having digested the bulk of the book, she’d come up with one item she could sell and make money off of, which, incidentally, she did. That item was made-to-order couch and chair covers. Slip covers. Cheap ones. People sent her the fabric and she made the covers. And to the surprise of everyone who’d heard her talk and talk and talk about it, it worked. She was able to make a substantial living — a better living than she let on, too — without leaving the comfort of her house in La Sal.

That had been four and a half year ago and now the business had gotten so big she’d hired on one of the local girls to help her out, cut out pieces, package things for shipping and so forth. Certainly “How to Make  a Mint in Mail Order” had been the only book that had ever had such an incredible effect on her life. She had to admit certain books were potentially powerful. 

So, as soon as Mo and at the girls had gone, she marched over to Syd. “What else did you ever publish?” she asked pointedly, her thought being that maybe he was a s lucky with other books and not just the little green book. When he’d answered “How to Train Your Pet Rabbit,” she considered it carefully before a canary-swelling expression suffused her face. She figured maybe she was onto something but took care to zip her lip for the time being.

In those two weeks of Max’s absence, of course, there was the whole issue of Syd and Anna being there in Mimi’s personal space. They showed up in their Airstream camper fully equipped to live in it for the next month, which in fact they did, and were such a welcomed surprise in the running of the place that by the end of their stay Mimi wished they’d never leave or that they never had come so that their absence would not be so evident and sharp. Naturally, the ripening Anna, visibly pregnant and blooming, had no small effect in Mimi, who sometimes could not even bear to look at her, especially after the procedure. Fortunately, Syd seemed to take the pressure off by being between the two women. In another circumstance, he might have come between them in not such a good way.

 

Syd, in fact, had been given free reign in the kitchen and seemed to be having a re-awakening, a re-igniting in the vegetarian cafe. He had linked up his hands and his subconscious with the epicenter of his mouth and — besides his first and failed attempt at pizza, which was never meant to be served at La Sal Junction in the first place — his food was a hit. If Mimi had been the founder of Irish-Chinese and Irish-Mexican nights, Syd himself was responsible for what they were calling, jokingly, “Norwegian East Indian.”

Mimi, infatuated with all the new spices, textures and smells, begged for written recipes. But Syd held out, citing Mimi’s ongoing reluctance to divulge the secret ingredient in the burgers. “Why should I give you the family recipes when you won’t give me one ingredient?”

“I just can’t,” Mimi stammered. “Who knows what you’d do with that information. You might tell someone.”

“Well how bad is this secret ingredient?” Worm juice? Fermented bird seed? Furniture polish, what?”

“No, nothing like that. Just a secret.”

This did not keep Syd from guessing, however; and guess he did in the hopes that Mimi’s face would when the fateful world was spoken. Surprisingly enough, he couldn’t come up with it. And to this end, Mimi was jubilant with both having kept her mouth shut and with having retained some measure of power over old Syd who treated her more and more like a sister as time passed.

By far the most fascinating thing about having Syd and Anna there was watching how they carrie on, how they related Possibly the most verbal combination Mimi had encountered, she noted the huge differences between their style and hers with Max. Anna Ortiz Kidd and Syd Renoir talked about everything under the sun, under all the suns of the galaxy. They discussed, they bantered, they philosophized, they queried. They did minutiae with as much skill as they did rubric and sub-category; they did intellectual and they did pop. But this is how they related. With words. And not even just English words. Mimi listened with interest.

One day, for instance, Syd was making dal and chapatis for a Norwegian East Indian special when he’d noticed that Anna’s complexion resembled the color of the yellow split peas. A backache, she’d said placing her hands on the small of her back and arching slightly. “Low back?” said Sad using his pretty deep voice.

“Yes,” answered Anna, “about two inches above my coccyx.” So conspiratorial.

“Sharp or dull?

“Mostly dull, but as if theres pressure there as well.”

“Shall we put some ice on it?”

“Maybe for five minutes or so. It wouldn’t hurt.”

“Have you done anything strenuous recently?”

“My normal stretches.” She waited. “Plus some extra cat-cows.”

“How many extra?”

And this could go on for half an hour, in very even, almost sensual tones. They relied on no props to explain themselves — no gestures, or exhibit A’s, no finger pointing to “it hurts right here.”

It was a dance to the minutiae of time, in which Anna and Sad intertwined themselves with their brains and their tongues. Such verbal displays absorbed Mimi entirely because had the situation ben hers and Max’s, Max would have gone to get her an herbal muscle relaxant or some ibuprofen and then he might have hugged her. More of their overt selves, their bodies, their manners, would have been involved.

As for the broader discussions – bite-sized topics rather than pint-sized ones — they occurred anytime and anywhere, as well. As a matter of fact, the discussion of her back pain and her stretches had led into a long exchange on the theories and benefits of stretching , in general. Anna, a big believer in stretching, began by explaining the virtues of the 25-second stretch followed by release then contraction then release. You had to remove the blood from the area and let the new blood in, she explained, in order for the tissue to remain youthful. She alluded to her own extrapolations from yoga, to current stretch gurus John Doe and Jane Smith, and to a visceral knowledge of the entire subject. Syd agreed as to the importanance of stretching but parted company with her on the length of the stretch. It didn’t have to be that long if you did it right. Mimi, unable to stand by mute and idle all the time, suggested that a stretch was only as good as your brain thought it was. “Oh, Mimi,” was all Anna could say.

Where this sort of “talk” would have driven Mimi nuts and pitted her against Max and him against her, it only seemed to bring Anna and Syd closer together. And if this talk weren’t enough just on its own, then the manner in which it was said could be scrutinized, as well as all implications, and innuendo. It blew Mimi’s mind.


The only other major thing that happened while Max was gone was that Mimi hired someone to help her out just as soon as her friend left. The ad she’d placed in the Dove Creek newspaper had done no good at all, not in the two months it had been there. And some weeks it had been the only help wanted ad in the entire eight-page weekly. “Cook needed for La Sal Junction Cafe,” it read. “No meat served. Knowledge of beans crucial.” Mimi hadn’t known that for three of the nine weeks it had actually run “No beans served. Knowledge of meat crucial.” In any case, no one had even applied. Dove Creek was too far away, and in another state. So he’d hired on Dominic Standish’s son, Werner.

Werner was a high school grad who needed something to do for the summer, his father sid. He was bright, his father, said, bored, and above all, according to his father, he didn’t particularly care for meat.

Now, Mimi figured this wasn’t necessarily true, but that Dominic needed some way to clinch the job for his son. He didn’t know Mimi had gotten desperate and that she wasn’t considering anyone else since there was no one else to consider. But “Send him over for an interview” was what she told Dominic Standish.

When Werner showed up, her initial reaction to him was “This beautiful young man does not go with the name he is attached to.” Werner didn’t think so either, evidently, because the first thing he did was to identify himself as John. “No one calls me Werner except my dad. It was his great-grandfather on his mother’s side’s last name.

“Okay John. So do you want this job or is your father making you apply for it”

I guess I want it.” Yep, he was eighteen all right.

“Well, what would you rather be doing this summer” Mimi attempted to get to know him.

“Working as an intern at a radio station.”

“Was that a possibility?”

“It was. But then dad said I wasn’t leaving La Sal until the middle of September when school starts.”

“Where are you going to school?”

‘University of Washington.” He was becoming more animated. “For radio and television.” He waited for the next question while Mimi scanned him. All the good looks of youth and fitness and hormones were his, topped off not too subtly by a rather stunning face. This boy was a looker. Mimi wondered if hers was similar to the feeling men had when faced with their sit-com style blond and brainless secretaries. She couldn’t take her eyes off him.

“Sounds good, John. When can you start?”

“When do you need me?” He innocently asked, not nearly unaware of the stare this woman in her thirties 0– not bad looking and with a nice pair of knockers 0- was giving him. 

“August 2. Be here at six o’clock; that’s an hour later than me, I’m giving you a break. The pay is $7 per hour. YOu’re hired until you leave. Deal?”

“Deal, said Werner John Standish, delighted with the outrageous rate of pay And has he walked away, Mimi smiled at the firm gluteus maximum settling itself onto the seat of a motorcycle.

“Mr. Standish?” she said over the phone to the local plumber whose stint as a single father was nearly through.”I think I can keep Werner out of trouble for the rest of the summer.”

Dom Standish was relieved and didn’t hesitate to show it.”Thank god. And thank you Miss O’Rourke. He’s a good kid but it’s getting out of my contro, if you know what I mean.”

“I do. I know exactly what you mean.

Later on, Mimi asked Anna if she thought John Standish was too young to be cute and too cute to be working for her. “There’s no such thing as too young anymore, Mimi, my dear,” she answered. “And as for hiring him, did you have any choice???”

“Good point, said Mimi, glad to be reminded that common sense had played some part in her decision making.

 

 

 


Leave a comment

Chapter 13 – When a man loves a woman

Mimi would continue to walk to the village of La Sal for quite some time before Yates Bishop, on his way to the post office to bring Sally a little gift from the outside world, was to pick her up. After only fifteen minutes of trudging, she had taken off her outer tee-shirt — draping it across her head in the manner of a desert dweller — and began to wonder if she would die on this trek to nowhere, die the meaningless death of a thirsty pregnant woman with no one willing to be the father of her child. Such heat, altering the mercury in the thermometer of life, had brought this sweating woman’s version of herself very close indeed to self-pitying and pathetic.

Max, back at the Junction, was panicking like a cornered animal. Rambling aloud, not something he regularly did, he nevertheless managed to express his feelings on the subject succinctly. “She used me and got pregnant just because she felt like it. She used me, and she got her way. Well, what if I wasn’t ready to be a father?” Addressing both animals, who listened patiently and quizzically, he gesticulated and fell to pulling on his hair. “Or what if I was? What if this whole feeling of being pressured will prevent me from ever knowing the truth about what I feel?

“I’ve got to et out of here. I need some time to become myself again. I need to get out of here just so that I won’t hate her while I’m here.” Max wasn’t one to threaten idly. He began plotting a brief vacation for himself. The animals let their feet slide them into a lying down position, thinking it was all over.
“Why do women do this to men?” he said to his attentive audience of Dale, Nero, and Mirabelle — the brand new one — who were once again sitting at attention. He really wanted to know. Of course, he would feel bad and guilty about Mimi having the abortion, and they would no doubt have plenty of trouble between them, but in spite of a decision and outcome in his favor, he would resent her for his position of possibly having to acquiesce, of having his life’s road paved for him for keeps, of having his mind made up for him.
Max came up with a plan to leave the scene for a month if he could get Anna Ortiz Kidd and possibly Syd Renoir to come out, on the spur of the moment, to help out with the restaurant. This would relieve Mimi of the responsibility of having to hire outside help, and it would give her some time to renew her friendship with Anna. Wasting no time, he dialed the LA number and actually got through to his great surprise. “Anna,” he said, newly calm. “It’s Max Lee.”
“Max?” she answered, half repeating half questioning. “Is anything wrong?”

“Not exactly wrong, but not exactly right either,” said Max slowly. “I was wondering… if you would want to come out for a while, with Syd of course, and help Mimi run the restaurant. I have to get out of here.” Silence traveled the distance just as talk would have. “You two could have the trailer and Mimi could use the guest room in the restaurant.” Sensing that some explanation was required in order for them to want to do this, he quickly added, “She’s pregnant, Anna.” His voice was low. “And I don’t want her to keep it, and she’s going to give it up, but I think we need a break from each other. I didn’t know who else to call.”

“Oh Max, ” was all Anna said to him as she pressed the receiver more tightly against her ear. “Poor Mimi. Poor both of you. Hang on a sec, Max; or no, let me call you right back. Just as soon as Syd’s out of the shower I’ll talk to him and call you back I don’t see why we couldn’t come out, though. But give me just a few minutes, OK Max? Are you alright?”

Max was unused to giving testimonials on his own behalf and felt he’d already said too much, but he’d needed their help and was grateful they were there. “No, not really,” he sighed, staring down at the animal wards who had converged around him. “Mimi doesn’t know I’m leaving; but the fact is I’m leaving as soon as I find out if you’ll do it. I feel like I’m suffocating — like she had no right to get pregnant, even thought I know I’m half responsible. I love her, Anna, but she’ll drive me nuts right now, she’d run it into the ground, you know her. I think we should both recover ourselves.”

“Where’s Mimi, then?” Anna’s thoughts were scattered and she longed to talk to her friend.

“She went walking aimlessly down the road toward La Sal. Feeling sorry for herself like only she can do. She might be back any minute or she might not.”

“Do you think it’s fair to leave her right now?”

“Not really,” said Max, “But I get the feeling the relationship is in  more danger if I stay. I’m not ready to wear this one out, and I don’t think she is either.”

“Well, where would you go, Max?”

“I should go back to New York for awhile. To visit my family. Take my time getting there, and take my time getting back. The drive would do me good.”

“OK, Max,” Anna said, trying to remain upbeat. “I’ll get back to you tout de suite.”

 

Sydney Renoir was more receptive to the idea of heading to Utah than Anna Ortiz Kidd soon-to-be-Renoir would have imagined.

“But don’t you think we’d be interfering by saying Yes even before Mimi knows about the plan? We’d be abetting Max with no regard for Mimi’s feelings.”

“But if Max is so sure it’s for the good of the relationship, then we’d be the cause of their collapse if we didn’t help. It depends on whether or not you trust Max that he’s telling you the truth.”

Anna, truly torn now that Max was not there to defend himself and the invisible presence of her best friend was, bit her lip and wished with all her might for a Lark. She was hoping that the length of her pregnancy would be enough to rid her of the two-a-day habit for good. Instead, she popped a piece of violet gum in her mouth and began chewing quietly but with the gusto of someone with a newly acquired fixation. “I trust that Max loves Mimi. I think he really does. I trust him when he says he’d got to get out. But how do we know that Mimi’s feelings won’t be destroyed by his actions?”

“Well, the whole thing will be ruined for sure if Max stays, according to Max. So what have we got to lose, as long as you trust Max that he’s telling the truth?”

We’ll, what tdo you think, Sydney?”I mean, you’re good at figuring these things out Do you think we’d be doing the right thing?”

“Yes, Anna. I do.” He smelled the aromatic chewing gum and backed up a step or two. “What kind of gum is it today, floral essence from a can?” She had indeed tried more flavors of gum during her pregnancy than during the rest of her entire life, hoping to find one flavor she could live with and wondering all the while why no one made a non-flavored gum for people like herself, incapable of committing so much time — so much of herself — to peppermint, or cinnamon, or worst of all, wintergreen mint. The violet flavor was not unpleasant, but Syd was right; it was too heavily deodorizing or something.

“Violet,” she answered. “It comes in candy, too.” She smiled at him. “Mais ne t’inquiête pas, the first pack was the last pack. Anyway, I should call Max Lee back.” Having a man who spoke French as a fiancé allowed Anna the luxury of practicing one of the four languages she had, at one time or another, spoken well enough to carry on a decent conversation. “Okay, cheri?” It pained her not to speak it as well now, so she had begun with easy idiomatic expressions and interjections.

Syd was beside himself with the company of the woman he as about to marry and who would have his child soon. They got along like friends and like lovers, and he believed they loved each other in light of their complexities, something that touched him deeply. He nevertheless felt for Max, who was not yet ready to be a father. He himself had not been ready at Max’s age, not at all ready. Staring at Anna while she told Max they could indeed come immediately and that they would bring their recently acquired camper so as not to displace Mimi, Syd again noted the changes in her appearacnce since the pregnancy. A face, normally haloed by its own pallor a, had become rounder, shinier and more flush with color, as if, in Anna’s case particularly, she were slightly embarrassed by her own physical changes. Her hair, once as straight as an Asian’s, had become wavy, giving her face an even fuller appearance. The hair change had taken Anna by surprise one morning while Syd lolled in bed at 8:30, far past his normal rising hour. Anna, a frequent visitor to the bathroom now and perpetually poised in the night on the side of the bed closest to the toilet, came out that morning looking as if she’d seen something from the other side — and ran to the bed, diving under the covers like a child.

“My hair!” she cried. “It’s not my hair!” She was afraid even to touch it. “Someone has been meddling with my hair hormones, my straight-as-a pin hair has curled.” This episode, in fact, was instrumental in letting hseself go the way of the inevitable changes she would have to resign herself to. After that, the idea of fatness became easier, and of roundness, and oily skin. As well as the idea that she was now eating enough for two, maybe three Sumo wrestlers

Anna Ortiz Kidd had mellowed out, truly, in the ripening, soft, and sweet sense.

They had been taking it easy  ever since Syd had quit his job, planning for their move to Jamaica, and getting to know one another in ways two people can only do when they have free time together and when they learn things together — be those factual things, or emotional, or spiritual. In Telluride to sort out Anna’s affairs, they had spent four days entirely at the tiny little museum, staring at photos of miners, fingering objects, and nearly feeling one hundred years old themselves at the end of the ordeal. The library, replete with helpful books on the period, served as their evening den, and when they returned at last to Anna’s remodeled shed, they would share historical facts and quiz each other, as if it were all a game. Sydney, the former teacher, could find no faults with Anna’s beautiful brain; and Anna, tickled to have a companion willing to participate in such exploration, loved him for it.

If Syd Renoir had truly been an intellectual at heart, he might not have stooped to the museum level, or gone to the local library. He would have even too busy reading historical theory. Hypothesizing about this and that, talking not about famous people but about famous historians and famous post-historians and about the uses of history. Anna recognized this because she had been on the doctoral trail when all of a sudden she’d seen herself, as if from a distance, spouting nothing -isms out of a fountain mouth, making no sense, babbling in no particular language but in one whose words were long and tortuous. Not a good sign, she thought, for a linguist. The bottom line was she’d felt like a hypocrite; and a good intellectual should never feel like a hypocrite, of this she was sure.

With her partner, a fellow stranger in a strange land of academia, she felt she could be hserlelf at last. She felt he had the right kind of brain to figure her out and that she had enough of one to figure him out.

Then there had been the whole issue of interior decoration, a fascinating study to them both, not for its superficial aspects of trend, and statement, and acquisition but for its more subjective effects. Anna, whose little shed done up in a Renaissance style again in blues and golds and sepia sketches and balconied bed had amazed Syd, had not yet decided how they should or could decorate together. Maybe, she figured, the Caribbean would cure that; she would find the Caribbean style so alluring it would become her own. The alien-ness of it surely would appeal to her and make her forget everything else. Syd, no longer feeling the need to re-decorate for its curative effects, nevertheless looked forward to the Caribbean in much the same way Anna did. When she’d learned of his office fetishes, the themes that had amused him, she made the following comment: “Well, at least you’re willing to not simply to design but be designed. I believe this would cause me to founder.”

Now with the pregnancy, however, she was willing to be designed, and she knew this. Not reveling in it, exactly for fear of freaking the sell, she simply let it happen. Let herself grow fat, let her hormones flow, let her appetite run wild, let the course of events change for the next month not with apprehension but with eagerness. They would go to La Sal Junction and help out her friend, cheer her up without being overbearing, and just be there for her. Mimi would need a friend for the abortion, and even though a pregnant woman might not be the best of choices, there were no other choices. She spent the rest of the day packing both of their suitcases while Sydney, with Jamaican business regarding the cafe still unfiishhed, wrote to his parents. Then he wrote to his French uncle and aunt. And while in the swing of things, wrote to Hanratty to apologize for not having recently bicycled and to bow out of further bicycling. With bicycling in mind, and realizing he hadn’t had any real exercise for nearly a week, he headed out to the beach for a good long run. “A tout à l’heure,” said Anna gayly.

“Oui, ma poule,” answered Snd in the sexiest “Yes, my chicken” she thought she’d ever heard.

Alone in the apartment, Anna began systematically to pack underwear in each valise. Two pairs of white socks each, three colored, one wool. Five pairs of boxers for Sydney, eight pairs of underpants for herself. While rummaging through her man’s Hanes undershirts to get a good grip on the four she was about to pack, her hand brushed against something hard, a package of some kind. What she puled out, slowly and with dread, was nothing more than a stack of old photos, wrapped with a ribbon and looking as though it had not been touched in a long time. The bow, flattened, could have been the bow off an ancient box of candy-coated almonds.

Anna stared at the packet, wondering if it had been hidden or left for her to find. She tried o slip some of the photos out. Several small ones fell onto the floor easily, old photos of foreign looking people, some white-skinned, some black, some in-between. Sydney had not spoken often of his parents, other than to create a skeleton of the story for Anna’s sake, facts it would have been inappropriate to withhold; but she never pushed. Their parents would meet soon enough, and then there would be no turning back on family matters, especially with the the two of them returning to Jamaica. Blood would thicken in the watery veins of two individuals leading their own lives far from the pressures and plots and confrontations of family life. Not wanting to intrude further — in spite of a burning desire to know Syd better and at an advantage — she didn’t try to put the loose photos back but scooped up everything and lay the pile on the dresser. She would not lie about it. It turns out, Sydney never wore the Hanes tee-shirts and had forgotten about the photos. Just to prove to Anna that he had nothing against his family, he untied the ribbon and went through the stack with her, identifying each face and each location. When he put the stack down, even though his tone of voice hadn’t changed in volume or texture, tears streaked his cheek.

 

Max, packing aggressively, was trying to beat Mimi and get out of La Sal Junction before her return. But just  as he had zipped up all purpose nylon gym bag/suitcase, which he had had since the age of fifteen (and still said Tappan Zee High School on it), he heard the screen door slam, and realized he would have to face the woman he loved before leaving her. It made him both tense and relieved.

The suitcase, packed and ready to go, caught her eye in much the same way a flaming object would. Mirabelle had already perched herself upon it, and was about to attempt a kitten’s fledgling shoulder roll on the skinny bag. Mimi’s face, red with heat and the new blood rising to it, froze in its neutral state of greeting. “Going somewhere?” she asked, not looking at Max but rather down at Mirabelle who now lay on her back in a full-on stretch on the suitcase. “Mimi,” said Max, aching that he had already hurt her feelings and was about to do more damage, “I’ve got to leave for a while. I can’t deal with this right now. Right here. I have to go.”

“You have to go,” she repeated in a voice both flat and panicked.

“But Anna and Syd are coming out in the next few days to stay on for a month or so; it’s all arranged. They’ll live in their camper. They wanted to come.”

“You told Anna and Syd,” she said in the same voice.

“I had no other choice. I have to leave and you can’t run the place alone. They’re your friends.”

“You’re leaving me at a time like this, Max?” Slowly the color of her skin matched that of her voice. “Alone with my pregnancy, my cafe, my life. My friends. Gee, doesn’t that reassure me about the kind of relationship we have.” She felt herself getting crazy but couldn’t stop.

“I feel so good, now that I’ve wandered into your perfectly timed exit. And to make things ever better, you would have left me a note, isn’t that right, instead of waiting for me to come home?” The craziness spread to her extremities. Her hands and feet, already hot, now throbbed. “Fine,” she said loudly and looking him in the eye at last.  “Take your stupid gym bag and your stupid car and get out of here. I’ll work it out on my own. And I won’t even expect you to come back. And as soon as I make some money, I’ll pay you back the money on the warehouse.”

Max , not good at fighting the visceral battles waged on the homefront, could not defend himself. He could not think straight, or even say what she wanted to hear, he was simply overcome by the feelings of being incompetent in an argument. For these reasons alone, he would have preferred leaving a note. For these reasons, he had to leave her. “I’m coming back in a month, Mimi, I’m coming back. We’d ruin ourselves if we stayed together now.”

“Oh really,” she lashed. “And so for every problem that comes our way, your solution will be to split for a month. Great solution. So glad we’re not having a child then. She’d become an escape artist, just like her father.” Mimi was becoming ludicrous.

“We never even talked about having children. We never even talked about getting married.” Max not meaning he was against either, nevertheless made it should that way. “I mean it came as too much of a surprise; and I’m not ready to be pushed into something that serious.”

Mimi wasn’t ready for a child, either, and she knew it somewhere deep inside. She should have been ready, she thought. Her body probably was. But the relationship wasn’t. Even if Syd’s and Anna’s was.

 

By the time Yates Bishop had picked her up and taken her to La Sal and all the way back again, she had done some thinking on her own. At La Sal, Yates was greeted with a kiss on the cheek by Sally Varner Vicks who flushed a deep burgundy, in splotches across her face and neck, as Yates presented her with his gift from the outside world: a ladies Casio multi-function watch. She had admired his on several aoocasions. “Oh my,” was all she could say as she put it on and held it at arm’s length. She inquired immediately as to the location of the instruction booklet, and began fingering all the buttons inquisitively. “How did you know, Yates?”

“Oh, just a little male intuition,” he told her. “Being a postmistress and all, you’ll have plenty of opportunity, I imagine, to use the various functions. And to think of me at the same time.”

“Oh my yes,” she answered, unable to take her eyes off the thing on her wrist, and rocking it to and fro’ as one would have done with a diamond ring. “I mean, about the functions. Isn’t it killer, Mi?” Sally had recently purchased a satellite dish and had become addicted to four things: MTV, Andy Griffith reruns,The Frugal Gourmet, and This Old House. She somehow managed to pick up on words  leagues from her realm, and tested them out on Mimi. “Way killer,” answered Mimi, momentarily absorbed in the drama, and tickled by Yates’s gesture. On the drive back to La Sal Junction, she’d asked him what it was exactly about Sally that he liked. He thought about it a while before answering. “Her mind isn’t the mind of a 50-year-old postmistress. She wants to learn how to build furniture next.”

“You gonna show her?” Mimi inquired, verbally nudging him in the ribs.

“I’d like to, ” he said, dead serious.

She asked to be dropped off about half a mile from the Junction so she could think a bit before walking thorough the door. Olive, the big grey cat, was happy to have her passenger seat back. “I hope you get it squared away with that man of yours,” he said as he reached over to help her with the door. “Remember, the grass is always greener.”

I know about the  grass, she thought. I wrote a letter about it, which is going to be published with the rest of my secret thoughts in about three months. But what, she wondered, did it have to do with her situation now? As she plodded in the now familiar heat toward the homestead, she asked herself about these little bits of wisdom that applied to thousands of situations in different ways. Yates always seemed to bring out the philosophical in her. Did it make them more true, or less true that the wisdom was so broad? Like Tarot cards, or the I Ching, wasn’t everything they said always true??

“The grass is always greener on the other side of the fence,” she repeated the advice. Yes, it did apply to her situation. It would be better to be fully, willfully pregnant like Anna. To have a man who wanted children like Syd. It would be better at least to have a man who didn’t attach her situation and accuse her even though he was half responsible. They she remembered that in “grass is always greener” letter she had mentioned something her mother had told her, something that had stuck like to taffy to the very basest of responses in her soul, Just remember;” her mother had said, “That when you play the wishing game, wishing you could be someone else for example, like you are, that you have to take everything that goes along with it. Would you be willing to change places completely with Kelly Devore?” Kelly, her best friend at the age of eight, had frilly dresses with lots of lace and at least five pairs of school shoes. Her hair was thin and straight, and Mimi, at age eight, was jealous. This question of her mothers had give her pause to think.”No,” she had answered with a child’s logic, “because I don’t like her parents as well as mine, or her house.”

In the course of the rest of her life, this arbitrary rule that you couldn’t wish to be more like someone unless you wished to be them, probably made up on the spot by her mother, had greatly curbed her jealousies, or at least had made her feel guilty about them. Now, 25 years later, again she asked herself the wishing game’s loaded question, “Would you like to trade places completely with Anna?” and once again came to that same reply. “No.” Even thought the rules of this game were arbitrary, they still worked, and Mimi went over the things about her own life that made it hers and only hers and reluctantly counted her blessings. “One, I have the cafe. Two, I have a book being published. Three, I’m t, although you would never know it by the way Max is treating me.”

When at last she walked through the door of the trailer, she had cooly and reasonably decided to play the hand dealt her, have the abortion quickly and on her own, and work it out with Max. With whom life would be difficult, no doubt. She almost wished he would go away and leave her alone with this, removed the burden of the relationship when it was so obvious the failing would not be sooth.

Now as she stood by him, throbbing with rage and hurt and feeling her eyes fill up against her will, she forgot her own righteous conclusions and her vague wish that he would leave and focused on Max’s conclusions, his own decision to leave.

He would walk out that door and he would never come back, this she felt was  given. He was abandoning her, leaving her with no one. “What about your cat?” she asked him, “You’re obviously taking her –”

“No, Mimi, I’m coming back, I’m leaving the animals with you, and all my stuff, see? Max knew enough about Mimi to know her fear of abandonment was part of the problem with his leaving. “I’ll be back in a month, I promise, and then I’ll be fresh for tile work, you’ll have found someone to help you out, and you’ll be refreshed as well.”

“I’m glad you have the whole thing figured out, Max. I’m glad you made it so orderly for yourself. I’ll be refreshed and I won’t be pregnant. You’ll be ready for me again.” She could no more help herself from speaking such harsh words than she could from thinking them.

“And you’ll be ready for me,” Max softened toward this woman who looked so stern and so hurt. “Don’t you see, Mimi, it’s better if we have a little vacation from each other. You need to get independent with your cafe. I need to collect myself for my own business.”

“We’ve only lived together a few months and now you’re leaving for a vacation. Which you would never done if I hadn’t gotten pregnant.”

“That doesn’t mean it didn’t still need to be done. I know it’s only been a few months. But we both know a lot has happened between us. We got close fast. It feels like much longer than that.”

On that score, he was right, thought Mimi. It felt like they had always known each other, like they had been together for a good many years.

“You’re going to go, then go,” she said shrugging her shoulders wearily and giving up. She sighed a professional-strength sigh. “I feel like you’re deserting me.” Finally, at the root of the anxiety and the hurt, she felt some of herself come back with her simple words. It felt good just to say them, as if a breakthrough had been made. She’d been too hurt and embarrassed at the beginning, too close to the feeling.

“I know, Mimi,” he answered, “But when you got pregnant I felt you had deserted ME. Can you understand that?”

“I wanted you to want a child.”

“I may want a child, in time. But it’s too soon right now, even if I did want them. Things aren’t settled enough. We don’t have enough history between us, not enough conversations, vacations, private jokes, not enough in the scrap book.”

Mimi’s knees, feeling wobbly, gave way slightly and she sank onto the closest object to sit on, another piece of luggage. “I feel guilty about the abortion and bad about it and worried about it, and I don’t like the idea of the whole thing. How do I know when life starts? In principal, I agree with it entirely but it seems so wasteful. Maybe I was counting on you to convince me that it would be wrong to have one — silly me. Maybe on some level I feel I should have a child because I’m not getting any younger. The truth is I’m just confused and in some ways very relieved that you’re not ready. Maybe I wanted to be more like Anna or something. More serene — did you see how serene she was?”

“But would you want to BE Anna in every way, have her life in its entirety?”

Surprised that he would remember such a thing, she smiled for the first time in what felt like an eternity, almost afraid to shatter the delicate topography of her unhappy face. “Exactly,” she said to the man who sometimes made her feel good.

And as she watched his car glide away into the heat, she held Mirabelle, their only real child, so close that the cat started to labor with its breathing. “Oh sorry, Mirabelle,” she said beginning to cry again. Putting the cat down delicately, she offered it a little tuna juice peace offering from her reserves in the refrigerator. “It’s just –” her lip quivered. “It’s just I wonder if it’s all going to be okay and stuff.” And with this she gathered the animals into her arms like favorite aunts, and she cried and cried, and she cried until her chest felt less heavy, her eyes nearly closed in on themselves. and her body relaxed. “Oh shit,” she finally said aloud. “I’ve got to open in 45 minutes.”

Exigent circumstances can crowd a mood right out, and Mimi hurried through a cool shower, called Anna who told her they would be there the following day, and put on fresh clothes.

Today’s specials would all be comfort foods. Thick slab toasted cheese with tomato soup. Tapioca, which she would have to make pronto. And soy milk malts, which were better than the “real” thing.

Two to four in the afternoon was never very busy at the La Sal Junction Cafe, except for smoothies and iced coffee. Mimi had recently started advertising the iced coffee, inspired by a shipment of red and white striped paper straws Max had ordered on a whim. Much to Mimi’s delight. Somehow they were catching people’s attention, especially when strategically placed in a tall glass full of some iced and frothy substance. Her sign “TRY OUR ICED COFFEE! YOU’LL LOVE THE TASTE AND THE STRAWS! had included an illustration that Mimi was proud of and that folks actually commented on. “I’ll have an iced coffee, just like the one on the poster!”

Leading them down the skittish path of heightened nerves once again, the owner of the coffee clutching cafe resumed her familiar feelings of guilt. But at least with iced coffee, the kick-in time was longer — or she personally felt it was — so that she rarely had to watch them go from desert somnambulists expiring with heat to anxious folks arguing about those turn it was to drive next or what was going happen to Hong Kong in ’97. That would happen in the car, five or ten minutes down the road.

The weirdest thing for Mimi was that some of the truck drivers had actually converted to iced coffee, and filled up their steel Thermoses with it. This picture of truckers lined up at her bar drinking from tall glasses and out of straws rather than thick white cups made her see them as comical — bulky figurines perched delicately with their ice drinks. But then these fellows were turning out to be her best customers, and so whatever they did was fine with Mimi As long as they didn’t smoke inside the cafe, idle their trucks in her lot, or make rude comments about the absence of beef. So far the only one fitting into this last category hadn’t even been a trucker, it had been some whiny brat in cycling gear, probably half crazed with exhaustion, who’d gone on, hyperventilating, about his need for a good old-fashioned burger. Mimi had been completely intolerant of his behavior. “Good old-fashioned burgers are the by-products of gold old-fashioned cruelty.” She glared at him and waved her hand in front of her own nose. “Now for your own good and the good of my customers’ olfactory receptacles, get your stinking butt out of my vegetarian cafe.” As he headed out the door in a fit of rage, Mimi waited until he had the door open to mercilessly add, “God, don’t these people ever take showers??”

Yates Bishop, who happened to be there with none other than Sally Varner Vicks, slapped his knee and turned to the other customers. “We got ourselves a live one here, folks,” he said looking at Mimi. For her own part, Mimi was grateful for the witnesses who would no doubt pass this little story along.

No, the truckers didn’t seem to mind about the burgers once they got the hang of not expecting burgers, chicken friend steak, and fried chicken. They were more than willing to try new food, as long as it was plentiful and no too “Japanese” as one of them put it. The most Japanese that Max had gotten had been vegetal Nori rolls, actually, and the clientele had balked, come to a screeching halt. He’d pretty much known it wouldn’t fly, but had gotten a craving, so the two of them ate nori rolls at the midday break for four days straight. Curiously, the wasabi actually cooled them down. The most Japanese Mimi had gotten had been millet soup, plenty nourishing but not that great to eat. Or smell or touch. On the other hand, the vegetable Chinese dumplings  — or pot stickers — had taken everyone by surprise with their chewy texture and sweet and sour dipping sauce. Someone suggested she don one night of Irish-Chinese food — which Mimi was still considering as a viable option.

Trucker favorites included her orange rind pancakes with vanilla syrup, Texas sized bran-and-stuff muffins, grilled tempeh and potato casserole with gravy served with peas and carrots, mashed potato dinner with mushroom gravy, and, of course, the burger itself, which outshone all the rest easily. All of these were menu items. Her Irish Mexican specials usually went over pretty well, too.

As for the loyalty of the truckers, she had garnered fourteen signatures so far, testifying to the goodness of the Burgamax. She felt she had to see a truck driver twice before she could ask him to sign and testify, and though plenty had passed through and tried the vegetarian burger, invariably on the suggestion of a fellow trucker, it took a while for them to pass her way again sometimes.

Of the fourteen who’d signed, many had become regulars, knew Mimi and Max and the animals by name, and hung out in an atmopphere that had become comfortable to them. Of course, Yates Bishop was father to them all and still Mimi’s personal favorite, though many of them were worthy of having their stories told.

This afternoon, as Mimi wondered if she could handle all the cooking and the serving and the ringing up herself, and worried that it would all come crashing down on her, one of her favorite truck drivers walked through the door. M.O. Robbins by name.

Mary Ondine Robbins, “Mo” to everyone except her granny who called her Mary-O, drove a rig for a specialty foods company out of Salt Lake City. The first time she’d come inside, it had been with some hesitation about entering the newly re-furbished place. One thing about her — she didn’t care for change too much. Mo liked going to a cafe where everyone knew her name, knew what kinds of food she liked, and knew the rich questions to ask, questions like “How’s that chip shot, Mo?” or “How’s the putting green treating’ you?” The cafe’s closed thing to a pro golfer, Mo played every chance she got and usually scored in the high 70s, something no one in the cafe could get over.

Her first time at La Sal, however, found her worried about the new environment. By the grace of God, she was lucky enough to hear the words “Hey Mo!” just as soon as she’d walked in. Carly Balfour, another woman trucker, was having a burger in one of the booths all by herself and motioned her over. Mo considered this a good omen and made herself comfortable. She’d felt welcome ever since — and had opened the door to the fascinating world of specialty foods for Mimi ad Max, to boot. That had started the nori roll thing.

 

Today as Mo walked in and noticed she was the only one in the place, she let out a whoop that, besides being out of character, was completely out of key. Like she needed practice with that whooping or something. Mimi, stirring the tapioca and nearly done with it, peered around the range and saw the last person she expected to see. “Mo!” she said, genuinely pleased, “What’s with the animal sounds?” That’s what Mimi thought they were. “That was a whoop, Mimi,” said Mo feeling too good to feel offended. “I thought I’d try it out since no one was in here. “I shot my first 75 this morning.” Mo, a small woman in her mid to late thirties, had the golf bug bad. Everyone knew she played by the way she talked, but there was considerable argument over whether she was being honest about her scores. “Geez Louise and holy shit, Mo, congrats!”

Mimi, not a golfer and therefore uninvolved as to the integrity of her scores, didn’t really care whether she was fibbing or not, but she did want to show it to the nay-sayers. “Want some iced coffee?”

Mo said she did and they proceeded to talk about her game, and about tapioca and about where Max was. “Oh, he needs some time off, so being the magnanimous woman that I am, I gave to him,” said Mimi, trying to pass it off as nothing more than the facts. “I’ve got friends coming in tomorrow to help me run the place.”

“Well, that Max is luckier than most,” said Mo. “Would he do the same for you?”

She answered before having to think. “Yes, I think he would.”

“Then he’s one in a million. And I’m talking men OR women.” Mo’s sexual preference tended toward females. She had gotten married at the shocking age of 21, given birth to twins within a couple of years, and divorced shortly thereafter. The twins, 10 year old girls named Eleanor and Emma, were somewhat  aware of their mothers lifestyle and when pressured to comment on it by their friends were told to say, “She prefers the company of women.” This made complete sense to them as they preferred the company of their girlfriends; and they took it no further than that. Mo knew that she would have some explaining to do in the next few years. She desperately hoped her daughters would not judge her too harshly, and had faith that they would not; nevertheless her fears spilled over messily into the rest of her life. Hence the distrust of change, the clinging to the familiar and the orderly.

Golf, when mastered, was a very orderly game.

In addition to the validity of this particular golf score, the regulars at the La Sal Junction Cafe routinely asked Mimi about Mo Robbins’ sexual preference, something they wondered about all women truckers, but in the case of Mo, it really aggravated them. “You’re friends with her, Mimi. Is she, you know –” Mimi ready to fly off the handle with the first hint of derogation on their parts, wouldn’t budge on it. “If you want to know something about her sexuality, maybe you ought to ask her yourself or ask the right questions.” It drove them nuts because Mo was so hard to peg.  She appeared to like men and women, once she got to know them, and she talked easily about all kind of things. Her taste in clothes was eclectic but very expensive. Oe day she’d strutted in wearing a pair of deerskin pants that must have cost $300 — and truly she’d loved all the whistles and compliments. “Going’ on a date, Mo?” of the guys had asked.

“If I was going on a date tonight, back in Saslt Lake — cause you know I only do day trips — why would I be wearing these things right now?” Lowering her voice, she added “I just like the way they feel, Derek — you can appreciate that, can’t you?”

The line, delivered in half dead pan and half Mae West had left Mimi and Max and all the rest of the guys holding their sides. From then on, any line spoken surprisingly out of character was referred to as a Classic Mo, even if it were coming out of someone else’s mouth. Mo, though she didn’t much care for change except in girlfriends and clothes, was full of surprises. Today was no exception beginning with the whooping.

“Say Mimi,” said Mo now as she sucked up the last of the iced coffee foam. “I have a favor to ask you. Although this may not be the right time with Max away and everything. But I don’t have anyone else to ask.”

“What’s the favor?” Mimi asked, seeing two Mack trucks pull in at just about the same time.

Mo, following Mimi’s gaze, quickly said, “Maybe this is a bad time.”  Mimi signaled her to go on.

“Well,” said Mo, running her tongue over her teeth nervously, I”I have this big golf tournament coming up in Denver next weekend. My mom was supposed to fly in to stay with Lee and Emma, but is stuck in bed with a fever and the flu. I can’t miss this tournament, though, I’ve been planning for it, practicing for it, praying for it and everything, and if I score well, I could break in. As a pro, I mean. I’m pretty close, Mimi, and I think I could do it. It’d just be for two and half days. I figure they can’t get into any trouble out here. And they’re good at amusing themselves, and they love animals.”

Mimi, touched that Mo would entrust her with Eleanor and Emma and overjoyed at Mo’s standing as a golfer, said yes. “No problem, Mo. Syd and Anna will be here and we’ll all look after them. I’ve been wanting to meet them anyway.”

Mo jumped up and hugged Mimi just as two truckers, Big Tom and Cecil Moore, approached the front door.  Mo was saying to Mimi, “Thank you so much, thank you. I wasn’t sure what I was doing to do otherwise.” It was a good long hug, from Mo’s heart, but the truckers just saw it as a good long hug between two good-looking women and smiled when they walked in .”Hallo girls,” said Big Tom looking around “Where’s Max?”

“Yeah, Where’s Max?” echoed Cecil. Cecil was a echoer.

 

It was in point of fact a long night for Mimi, who ran the place all alone. From four in the afternoon until midnight she served 36 burgers, 11 toasted cheese and tomato soups, 42 malts, 27 assorted sandwiches, 5 grilled tempeh casseroles and 7 mashed potato dinners. She ran out of tapioca at 7:30 and had to make 16 pots of coffee over the course of the night. But somehow she got through it. Miraculously. On her own. Well, with the help of Chinette plates.

In terms of the events of the evening, the turn of the conversation, the mood of the customers, Mimi was too busy most of the time to listen in, or even to inquire politely as to the general welfare. Big Tom felt obligated to tell someone what he had seen as he’d walked in the door with Max nowhere in sight. The hug witnessed by Big Tom had turned into a kiss by the time the tapioca had run out. Yes, by then, everyone was tittering about Mimi and Mo, the fact that Max was gone, and the answer to the question they had been asking about Mo for so long.

Finally, Dodge Robuck had the nerve to wander over, pulling on his oversized belt buckle, to ask Mimi if she could tell them anything more about Mo’s golf scores now that Mimi and her were s close and all. He had the double nerve to wink at her — up at her, actually — and the whole place fell to a hush except for the few bicyclists and families amongst them who didn’t have a clue what the deal was. Mimi took it all in at once, the hug, Big Tom’s big mouth, the implications , and felt the blood rush freely to her cheeks.

Facing the lot of them stolidly with her eyes blazing, she had much more the look of the Irish than the Chinese. “Well if you must know,” she said loudly enough for the neighbors to hear if she’d had any, “Mo Robbins is playing at her first pro tournament in Denver next weekend. If you have any doubts, well, you can just call them up and ask the authorities if her name is on the roster or not. As to the the hug some big-mouthed brother  witnessed and no doubt passed along in an unmanly whisper, which no doubt turned into something juicier, forget about it. If you want to know about her, well ask HER.  As for me, you already know about my preferences. Max is gone for a little vacation. He’s coming back in a month. He left his cat and all his stuff, and you can go out and check the barn if you don’t believe me. Now, Dodge. Do you or your belt buckle want to know anything else?”

Dodge Robuck, a wiry, wrinkled and tan son of a gun whose hat and boots combined gave him that full extra foot he needed, had no choice but to laugh at himself because everyone else was laughing at him, including the stray families and bicyclists who’d managed to fill in the missing parts of the story. “Now,” she summed up. “As your repayment of any injury to me or my reputation or Mo’s, it’s your turn to testify to the worth of my burgers. Are you ready to testify?”

He looked confused. Then someone at the end of the bar started banging his cup on the bar. “Testify. Testify. Testify.” Slowly others joined in. “Testify. Testify. Testify.” Dodge looked pained. As thought he truly thought he would have to stand up and claim allegiance to some religion of Mimi’s and evidently to the others next to him, as well. He began, therefore, to remove his hat.

Mimi, not by nature wicked, came to his rescue. “For those of you unfamiliar with this request, Dodge Robuck is being asked to testify to the goodness of my vegetarian burgers. He will be asked to sign a slip – and I’m gonna have to forge the notary’s signature folks, so forgive me because the notary is on vacation — a slip claiming that my burgers are worthy and wonderful and that he will eat more in the days to come. He will supply his license plate number and his handle if he has one. The purpose of these required 25 signatures is to win a bet with a cattle rancher in Montana. If I win, he lets his cattle go and becomes a vegetarian. If he wins, I agree to make his designer beef available in the form of steaks and hamburgers to my customers here. The reasons behind the bet are far too long to get into. Any problems with signing Dodge? You’ve eaten my burgers.”

Relieved that religion was not involved, or public speaking for that matter, Dodge said he’d be happy to sign. As a matter of fact, Mimi garnered another four signatures right then and there from first-time customers who said they really really liked her burgers and would certainly be back. Was it always this lively, they wanted to know?

After midnight, after she’d served her last burger, her last malt, her last cup of coffee, Mimi sat down in one of the booths and put her legs up on the cushiony vinyl seat. It was so incandescently light in the cafe and so black outside she fancied herself part of an unpainted Edward Hopper painting. Instead of spotlighting her as a lonely soul, however, this light protected her, it enclosed her in a warm and happy space vibrating still from an evening’s activity and noise. Mimi heard echoes of their voices, their laughter and listened harder, straining for the comfort of such relics that seemed to live in the air itself.

With the lights out, nothing would have separated her from the loneliness of the night. There were no rigs parked in her lot, no vehicles on the road. there was only one woman in a brightly lit room in the middle of nowhere, putting her feet up after a long night. She hesitated to move, unable to bear the thought of turning out the lights, of being an indistinguishable part of the night landscape.

But then a brilliantly simple solution came to mind. Even with the CLOSED sign on the door she could leave the lights on. Then she would not be without the company of her well-lit cafe and she could walk back to the trailer in its light. In the darkened hours before dawn, she would be stepping into a place that had waited for her all night long.

Comforted, she nevertheless sprinted the fifty yards to the trailer and then forced all the animals to sleep next to her on Max’s side of the bed. She was unused to being out there, on her own lad, with her own business, all alone.

 


Leave a comment

Chapter 12 – Grand Opening (and more)

In mid-July, the Utah desert bakes under the high temperatures of a relentless sun and a dry hot wind; and its animal population, not masochistic by nature, begins the day at dusk to meet a more tolerable climate and to roam placidly in search of food and water. In the evening hours when the animals meet, their peace comes across more as politeness. This is what makes the scene so charming.

Humans, not by nature nocturnal (but some would say naturally masochistic), take the other tack: they spend much of the summer indoors, armed with fans and air conditioners, cooled by iced liquids and cold fruit. They wear broad-brimmed hats and loose-fitting clothes, they powder themselves with talc, they carry spritzer bottles around. But function they must during the day. Everyone, that is, except for the truckers. Truckers prefer night driving — for obvious reasons  — when day temperatures soar above 100. Radio channels come alive after dark, while during the hellish hours of brilliant daylight dozens of rigs pull over, and even turn off their engines just to get some relief from the heat and all its associated symptoms.

Max and Mimi, having successfully completed over a month of business, had to adjust their hours to make it easier on the truckers. They started opening at 5 in the morning instead of 7:30 and started closing from 10-2 in the afternoon. Then they’d stay open until almost midnight, taking turns on the very late and very early shifts. The schedule was brutal but business was good; and it wasn’t that hard to take a two-hour nap in the middle of a very hot day.
Max, concerned over the inception of his own business, tried to use these middle hours to work on organizing himself and building his tile studio. But this wore him down in no time, and he put his foot down. Mimi would have to hire some help. She worried, not on account of the money – she could certainly afford to hire another person — but because she had no idea of whom to hire, whom to trust, who was vegetarian enough while not acting too vegetarian. Then it dawned on her that perhaps she should seek out someone knowledgeable about Anasazi beans, bean growing, and the Southwest. She should hire someone whose interest was in promoting the bean as a perfect food, and whose financial interest was evident. She should hire someone from the ranks of folks in Dove Creek, Colorado.
In terms of her growing business, Mimi could not complain about it. The opening party had been an outrageous success.
Bicyclists on their way to their mountain biking mecca had been snared by the balloons and had promised to come back for “righteous carb loading”; truckers had been told of the free samples by Yates Bishop who freely advertised over the citizen’s band radio; and best of all, dozens of Telluride folks had made a showing, vegetarians and meat-eaters alike.. Curiosity had driven them to this landmark spot, curiosity and a little envy of Mimi who seemed to have successfully achieved her oddball dream.

The whole Farfalle clan turned up in their kitchen whites and their service blacks and whites to help clean and prepare and wait on folks. Mimi had known about the kitchen staff’s offer of help and accepted it — touched and grateful; but the wait staff’s gesture surprised her.  Guests ate it up. Truckers, dumbfounded by and unused to a formal wait staff, looked embarrassed as well as pleased at the service being given them.

Even Emmonds “Bobby” Marone, surf demon and ex-lover to Mimi, heard about the gig and turned up, surfboard strapped with bungies to the top of his 15-year old Datsun B210. The old red car was completely encased in mud  except for a lime green bumper sticker than  said, “There’s nothing I’d rather be doing.” Jarred by the sight of him and his tanned, sun drenched and ocean-washed appearance, Mimi became anxious about fixing herself up a bit. She didn’t do anything about it, she simply worried about doing something about it.

Instinctively, she solved the problem by fetching Max and introduced the two of them, at which point it was truly no contest for her. She was able to hug Emmonds and wish him the best without hating him for his desertion. Such a tiny revelation was so liberating for Mimi, it practically rivaled the thrill of opening day. Emmonds, certainly no vegetarian, in addition to feeling good for his ex (who would have, he knew, driven his laid back self to an early nervous breakdown) went wild over the sweet bean cakes, studying them from all sides, savoring them , and finally asking whether she’d ever considered packaging them. “Surfers could really go for this little food product,” he said as she packed him ten for the road. “I’m totally serious, Mimi. Think about it. We never have enough of, like, good, easy-to-eat, hand-to-mouth food.”

“I’ll think about it,” she promised, while actually thinking about it.

Other surprise guests included Anna and Syd, looking blissfully happy. Anna, in the endocrine grips of pregnancy, glowed and had begun showing. “My wedding gown will have a Lycra panel,” she admitted , shrugging and smiling. Mimi had never seen her friend so relaxed, which at first she resented to the point of avoiding her for an hour. Anna was wounded by this. But Syd, perceptive in matters of interaction, interpreted the situation correctly. “You’ve changed a lot, my sweet O-K,” he told her. “And you’re pregnant. These things seem to come between women. Give her some attention instead of requiring it all for your own condition and future wedding plans. It is, after all, the opening day of her dream come true.”

Syd, tickled to see Mimi in her element, had invited the infamous Professor — without Mimi’s knowledge — to the opening of the La Sal Junction Café. The invitation had included an airline ticket and car rental package from Grand Junction. And he was to bring the first galleys of Mimi’s book, which included illustrations and cover design. Michael Norris Hanratty had not made his entrance yet; but Syd felt he should remind Mimi of her commitment to publicize the book for a three-week period. “It’ll be those first three weeks in October,” he told her after his advice to Anna had been put to good use.

“Bound to be a very stressful time for me, but what the hell,” she said, “It might as well all come at once.” She told them the story of the bet with Vermillion and the October 1 deadline, seeing Anna Kidd visibly pale with its recounting. “I’m absolutely positively sure that I can do it. I’m very very sure. And then he’ll have to let his designer herd go, and he’ll have to give meat up himself. Besides, even if he wins I don’t have to  stop selling my product; I just have to make his expensive beef available. Which means I could ask $22.95 for a hamburger.” Pulling at her bangs, she noted, “Not that I want any boxed beef on my property, for sure. By the way, Anna, he won’t be able to make it to your wedding.”

“You invited him?” Anna gaped at her friend, horrified and for a moment looking as though she were in desperate search of a cigarette.

“I was forced into it. He asked about you and was so silent and dejected when I told him all your good news that I made the offer praying that he would turn it down, that he would have that much good taste. Well, he doesn’t have that much good taste, but he’s still too hurt to want to beat himself to death by seeing you again.”

“I kind of wanted to meet this man,” Syd Renoir admitted, “Just to make sure he’s real and not some figment of some overactive imagination.”

“You don’t want to meet him, Sydney,” Anna said while staring off into space. “You won’t have a solution to his problem. In fact, you won’t be able to identify the problem, exactly. I don’t even know why he picked me to go berserk over or how that factored in to the blossoming of his problem.”

“I do,” Syd answered, giving her the nicest look Mimi had ever seen. She smiled for them, noting that her resentments had subsided. “He could have picked anyone,” Anna continued Anyone who happened to come into his life at the moment of metamorphosis. He imprinted on me.” She turned to her friend. “You know, he wrote to me for a couple of months. Every day. Long letters full of pining and longing and cowboy idioms. Full of Aqua Velva smell. I stopped opening them, they were so upsetting — I mean he was obsessing and I was the object, for god’s sake. I sent the police out, the state patrol in Montana, claiming harassment as my charge, telling them it was an emergency, that I couldn’t take it anymore.

“Apparently, authority figures mean something to him, because he stopped writing after that. That was when I collected myself enough to type a note telling him I was in love with a man, not him, and that if he truly loved me, he’d leave me alone. I sent back the hat, boots nd necklace; but he wouldn’t accept the box and it came back to me.” Anna paused to stroke her stomach as if to reconnect to the here and now rather than the there and then. “Are you sure you can handle this guy, Mimi? I mean, he’s just plain scary.”

“He was as lucid as he could be about beef,” Mimi answered, furrows forming above her eyebrows as she kicked a stone and stared at it rolling. “And besides,” she added grinning sheepishly. “The deal is done.” Syd Renoir, who wore a cotton sweater in a shade currently known as “banana,” approached Mimi and put his arm around her.

“Mimi dear,” he said, physically turning her to face her bustling party,”I think your bet is in the bag. You’re going to have a whole convoy of 18-wheelers in here signing their souls over to you. How could Vermillion ever know this, in the land of steak, steak and more steak, though? It’s just too bad you don’t get some monetary reward should you win.” Rory Vermillion had taken on the proportions of a legend at this point. People who didn’t even know him were talking about him and conjecturing, including Syd Renoir, probably Vermillion’s polar opposite, if such a thing existed. “By the way,” Syd added, “What’s the secret ingredient in the burgers, flax-seed?”

“What do you mean?” was her reply, colored white with innocence.

“I mean, fiber wise. My diet is quite good, you know that; but it isn’t that good.” He spoke behind the back of one hand, as one would speak an aside. “What’s making your bathroom one of the most popular spots on the tour of the La Sal Junction Café?”

“Secret,” said Mimi, feeling great joy well within. “All the recipes are. Now if you’ll excuse me,”  she added with aplomb and a smug smile, “I must return to my flock.” Waving the wave of a prom queen, she walked backwards toward the diner; she blew kisses at Anna and Syd. It was whilst blowing kisses that she noticed a car pull in to the café, a recreational vehicle full of kids and parents. She noticed it for that very reason: not many families had been snared so far. This was a Japanese four-wheel drive vehicle, looking new and thoroughly outfitted.

Syd, seeing Mimi stare, turned around and, recognizing the family, said, “It’s Mike Hanratty. And family. In a strange vehicle. I’ll be a son of a gun, he brought them all.” Flagging down the family, he ushered the car over toward them. “Michael Hanratty?” Mimi, incredulous, repeated. “What’s he doing here??” She wore the stare of an orderly person hideously surprised, her face contorted into that of a Chinese dragon.

“I invited him,” answered Syd over his shoulder. “Twisted his arm.” He said this loud enough for his erstwhile friend to hear. Hanratty, dressed as casually as any other normal man on vacation, was out of the car first and shaking his hand. “You certainly have a way with invitations,” he told Syd. “Fortunately, we’d been planning a trip to this part of the country and it fit our scenario rather well. Hello Mimi” His hands were in his pockets. “So this is yours?”

By this time, the family had released themselves from the bondage of the automobile, spilling out like marbles, and were all coming toward her along with the husband, father, and professor. “Uh hullo,” said Mimi, giving everyone the once over and trying to relax her face into something more savory. “This is very very surprising. How are you all?” She mumbled her hellos to Joyce Hanratty and the kids, Kit and Juliette, grateful, really of the buffer between herself and her longtime correspondent. Finally, focusing herself on him, she could only give him a punch in the arm and say, “So, how you been?” a comment he pleasantly ignored.

Joyce and the kids were delighted with the café and the odd assortment of folks gathered around the burger-maker, and stood contentedly in line while Hanratty exchanged pleasantries with Syd and Anna to whom he evidently had something to say. Mimi peered at them, nervous over her café in the same way she had once been nervous over her grades.

Uncomfortable with the turn of emotions, she sought out Max who had become the celebrity burger-meister. They had prepared 300 mini burgers and had served well over 150 so far. Of course, some of the truckers had wolfed down a tidy half-dozen but it didn’t matter; there would be enough. The chili also was going over big, as was, not surprisingly, the coffee, which the gang from Farfalle could not make enough of. “What’d ya put in this stuff?” Lloyd LaBosco asked her, “A little crank, some crystal, some uppers, diet pills — or it is meth or marching powder?” He ground his teeth for her. “I mean, dahlin’, come on; I’m used to coffee, caffeine, the bitter black, the morning juice, the java, the joe. But this, this stuff has even me, Lloyd of Telluride, chattering away like an idiot. Seriously, now, tell Uncle Lloyd what Mimi’s secret coffee has IN IT.” If eyes could have bulged and spiraled around like they did in cartoons, Lloyd LaBosco’s would have. Mimi, frankly, was surprised. “Well, how much of my coffee have you drunk?”

“Oh, eight. Maybe nine cups. Hard to stop.” With this, Mimi, though sorry for the nervous man, began laughing a beautiful pealing laugh. “I’m really going to have to put a sign up warning people about this very thing,” she finally said, dead serious. “You might be awake for days, Lloyd.”

“So you mean, maybe I should stop –” he queried, holding up the pot in a mock gesture of being about to pour. “I’ll make it easy for you, signore,” she said and then raised her voice, “You’re cut off!” Grabbing the pot, she quietly told him an antidote had not been invented yet, but that alcohol had been known to mask the effects of coffee rather well. Did she have any alcohol, he wanted to know. No, she answered, not in the cafe, but he was welcome to check their trailer. She gave him instructions.

Several minutes later, Lloyd returned with his coffee cup, fuller than it had been. “I found the Irish whiskey,” he told her, but spilled most of the original coffee down my front when a blur of animals circled around me like dervishes 40 or 50 times then tore around the room like maniacs Threw me way off. What was it, a bengal tiger and a –”

“Oh, the animals ,” Mimi said, visualizing the dervishes. “I forgot. We didn’t want them running around out here with so many people around so we locked them in. They’re rather comical together. Dog and cat. Nero and Dale Evans.”

“What a thought, the two of THEM together,” he said quickly referring to the names. “Well. They were comical. But that doesn’t change the fact that because of them surprising me and forcing me to spill coffee down my front, I had to fill the glass even further with the Irish whiskey. Bushmills.”

“You’ll manage, Lloyd. But do me a favor: stay out of the kitchen and relax a little.” She winked at him and returned to the problem of Michael Norris Hanratty. He was here on her turf, making her feel as though she were going to be graded on this assignment. And how idiotic the notion was. She was full-grown, an adult now, and he could no more judge her than she could judge him. Mentally tamping him down into something small and insignificant like other folks on Earth, she put her hand on her hip, enjoying the task.

While creating the proper perspective, Mimi  noted that the entire town of La Sal Junction was beginning to show up, like a funeral procession, in cars from the early 70s: Novas, Ramblers. Firebirds, Dusters, Chevelles, Pintos, Pacers and even a Ninety-Eight. Evidently, they had stopped buying cars then, or they had a mechanic specializing in such models. Touched by their show of support, Mimi headed over to greet them and thank them for coming, these folks who still viewed her as an alien. Not only had they come to her café, they had each brought their favorite bean recipe for Max and Mimi, personally, to sample. It was my idea,” she heard Sally Varner Vicks say, “But the whole town thought it’d be a good one. We know you all are vegetarians, so none of them contain any meat. Well, a few have chicken in them — but there isn’t one speck of meat.”

“That’s awfully sweet of all of you,” Mimi said to them all. “Now, why don’t you come on in and have some of our house specialties along with the rest of the folks?”

Sally, not thinking of where else to put down her dish called “Bean-amole”, put in tentatively on the front hood of Angel Sheetz’s Nova; then everyone else followed suit, including Angel. What Mimi ended up with was a hood covered with bean dishes, all of them titled, only six of them containing chicken.  “Max’ll freeze them and eat them for lunch while making tiles,” she thought. “It’s the thought that counts.”

The group of Junctionites — all except Sally Varner Vicks –moved cautiously in an amoebic group form to the café where they no doubt would be tasting their first vegetarian burgers Some looked over their shoulders longingly, as if still unsure of the moral tone being set. Mimi smiled and could not help herself from calling out to them. “Think Buddhist!” She gave them the go ahead sign with her arm.

Sally, never married, incidentally, had taken a post next to Yates Bishop of Fresco, who’d surprised the proprietors with not only his presence but with a gift: a stray kitten who’d appeared at his door in Durango, and whom Yates said he couldn’t possibly keep. He’d give her the name Kerouac, and presented the calico ball of fuzz to Max and Mimi, complete with collar and tag. They’d been pleased, and had put the kitten in a large box for the time being.

 

The voice that then surprised Mimi and twitched her body like a single muscle, a voice muttering something about leading those people down the path of iniquity and referring to the Junctionites, belonged to Michael Norris Hanratty who had come out of nowhere and now stood six inches from her like an apparition.

“Jesus Christ you scared the living shit out of me.” Indeed he had, for if she had had her wits about her, Mimi O’Rourke would never have used such language with this particular man, though it was her habitual use of the language. Her hand went to her heart and “Oh” was all she could think of adding.

He apologized to her, placing a hand on her shoulder and then quickly taking it off as if aware of having crossed the bounds of the relationship. In a tone she found puzzling, and not knowing whether or not he was being sarcastic, he mentioned it was “Quite an operation.” She defended herself outright. “It’s going to be hugely successful,” she said, staring hard at the little white buildings bustling with activity. Her own little white buildings.

Then Hanratty told her that it was beautiful in a lonesome kind of way and that she’d described it well. Mimi figured, “He’s trying to bridge the gap now. He’s trying to bridge the gap of all the years, the distance, the relationship, and he’s trying to do it by being agreeable and pleasant. But  it won’t work; and he already knows it won’t work.” She would try diversion.

“Look,” she pointed in the direction of the old gas pumps. “Lloyd LaBosco has begun what looks like a lecture to the good folks of La Sal Junction” And indeed he had. His mug of Irish whiskey was raised in some kind of festive salute. Then he passed the mug around to the folks who looked at each other for reassurance, obviously questioning the nature of whatever was going on. Each person took a tiny sip and passed it on, complicitly. I wonder what he’s up to,” Mimi said, fully absorbed by the drama. She waved at Lloyd and motioned him over. Giving what appeared to be one last set of instructions to his group, he bounded over to Mimi and Hanratty.

“Lloyd LaBosco, I would like you to meet Michael Hanratty, a former professor of mine. Michael –” and she hesitated with this one not knowing what to call him really — “Lloyd LaBosco, chef and owner of Farfalle, where I worked in Telluride. What pack of lies were you feeding those people?”

“Oh just having a little fun with the local population,” said Lloyd shaking the professor’s hand. “I simply told them that you, Miss O’Rourke, would consider it an insult if they didn’t drink a toast with Irish whiskey to the success of the place. And that everyone else had, from the very same mug.” Lloyd was shifting from foot to foot as he said this, a victim of nine cups of high-octane fuel not yet dampened by the booze. “Obviously, they think highly of you because they don’t strike me as drinkiers. Do you see them as drinkers, Mr. — Hanratty?”

Hanratty said, the shadow of a smile forming on his lips, that he didn’t see them as drinkers at all. That they struck him more as iced tea drinkers.

“Spoken like restauranteur!” answered Lloyd as if saying “Bingo” in another language. Hanratty looked confused. “Iced-tea drinkers are a whole class of people” Mimi explained. “They are usually from Texas or the South, but they don’t have to be. They drink gallons of iced tea all night long and they never drink alcohol. Restauranteurs love people who drink alcohol, and therefore can do without the iced tea drinkers. Or ITD’s.”

The Junctionites must have moved on to round two at this point, with Angel Sheets leading the way. “Excuse me,” said Lloyd rubbing his hands together, “I have some whisky pouring to do,” and he set out towards them again, calling at them, gesticulating. Mimi laughed and noticed Max now on his way over with both cat and dog on separate leashes. They were tugging him along, the cat obviously having learned this from Nero who was doing his best to choke himself. “They needed a little walk,” he said as he approached. Mimi made the introductions again and suggested they head on over to the café for a spell. “How long a walk did they need?” she asked Max, who replied, “a very short walk. Just enough to break the monotony of the trailer. Which is where they’re going right now.” The animals, sensing his meaning, tugged toward the great open desert, away from the trailer.

Mimi, no longer nervous about the professor, was content to hang out in the wind a little longer. “Max is my partner. And he’s, well, he’s my spouse-type person,” she told him. “Have I ever written to you about him?”

Hanratty answered that it had been a long time since she’d written him.

“Right,” she said. “Not since the book deal. Not since I fired off that angry letter months and months ago. Seems I don’t have the will to write anymore, not in that way.

In the tones of the mentor he told her that this might be a good sign.

“Meaning what,” she replied, “that my life is fulfilling enough now not to have to be documented? Or that I’ve found someone else to live with and talk to?”

He said that she knew the answer to her own questions, and that he was happy she’d caught this dream, trapped it lie a butterfly in a net into being hers.

“You make it all sound so self-willed, so forceful and so explicable, which, in a sense it is, I guess. But most of it really wasn’t forced at all. The thing was in my head for a long time,” she sank easily back into the day-dreaming feeing. “It lived there, in the seat of my brain like a vision with a life of its own. I felt like a part of it from the first time I saw it, like it was mine, my destiny. And the vision itself made itself real, I really believe that. I didn’t force anything; the obsession, if you want to call it that, or the fixation, made me feel good. And free. Things just happened to make this work for me: how could I argue with that? You made a call at just the right time about a book deal. I got enough money out of that and Anna, for goodness’ sake, got a husband. Max’s destiny worked its way into mine. Our animals get along. The only thing I forced was myself. I forced myself to allow myself to daydream. But that’s certainly not what you meant. You think I came up with this plan for my destiny and I made it happen. From the outside, it may look like that; but from the inside, it doesn’t feel anything like that at all.”

He told her that to the observer it appeared shed taken her destiny by the horns. That she’d molded her life into a vision that suited her.

“How do you know the whole thing was not already molded? All I can tell you is how it felt and feels. Certain arguments are based on feelings and experiences, especially when you’re not seriously academic and you’re with a serious academic. The argument for mystical experiences, for instance. You can no more deny the validity of my feelings and experiences than I could deny the validity of a good argument”

He answered that they weren’t talking about seeing god but about the idea of destiny.

“No, it’s nothing so grandiose or I’d be in trouble arguing with you. We’re talking about MY feeling of harmony and purpose in life. That’s pretty close to seeing god. Why are we arguing about this anyway? You said you were happy for me. Why do we need argue about it? Does it make it more real?” Mimi, unused to having him here in from to her and in the flesh, felt the rush of hand-to-hand combat and it was clear to her why they were arguing. To re-establish contact. Even if she would never win an argument with this man unless she did precisely what she’d done. Brought in her own personal feelings.

He answered in the affirmative, that it did make it more real.  He said something about not seeing her for a long time and about having gotten letters for ten years. He said he’d miss those letters and really couldn’t say whether he’d miss her, almost a stranger in person. He said that it was more an epistolary relationship and that as such, he had no right to expect it to go on forever; but that he would miss that part of her, at least.

“Well,” answered Mimi, who blushed but nevertheless kept her tone no-nonsense, “There might be a time when destiny and my head collide and things come crashing down. Or when destiny isn’t all that fresh or that perfect. Then I’ll be writing letters again. Will you be there to answer them, or is that unfair to ask?”

He’d actually cracked a smile when he said he might, unless, of course, he himself was in the throes of fresh and perfect destiny. Then, he said, he might not.

“Fair enough,” said Mimi, who figured that the gist of the argument had been resolved: people must be allowed their happiness when it comes to them. They must be set free. Her ex-mentor Michael Norris Hanratty, who was every bit as attractive as she’d remembered him in an intellectual sort of way, had of course already determined this and resigned himself to the new relationship or lack thereof. Even now, after all this time, Mimi still couldn’t figure out why this man had singled her out among the ranks of the students. She’d been his assistant and researched for him; they’d become friends. The idea that she’d in fact singled him out struck her as presumptuous but not necessarily untrue. But his intellectual capacity had scared her, because she, through accountably bright and with the grades to prove it, had had to rely more on originality of ideas than on mental proficiency. Now she asked herself, had she started this thing with the letters or had he? She would have to read those letters again and find out: and for the first time since the book deal, she worried for her privacy, for her naïvety, for her prose — poor as it might be, after all.

As Hanratty stood by an old fence post gripping the barbed wire in a more fragile way and surveying the desert and the café, Mimi remembered her college days with a pang in her heart. So many years, and now here he was, back-dropped by the reddish soil and the blue sky, in old jeans and sandals, and a v-neck tee shirt, and all in all, Mimi thought, beautiful but not really there.

“How’s your life,” she asked him, as an adult and polite friend.

Pleasantly, he said it was good, closing the subject with the finality of the response. His kids were great, he added, Kit and Juliette.

“And how are your students?” she asked, the question inevitable.

He called them conservative, almost intelligent, and pretty. And added that they dressed well.

“Oh god,” said Mimi, “How depressing. But then if they were poor dressers, it would be even worse. Good taste certainly sugar coats the pill.”

With a sadness, he admitted to some extent it did, and then lifted his hand remembering that he had something for her.  She followed him to his rental car where, after digging around, he pulled out the uncorrected proof of her book. He held it out to her. “There you go, Mimi. Your letters, bound for publication.”

Reaching for it gingerly, she felt her whole body weaken in an emotional onslaught — the thrill, the pride, the fear of failure, the fear of criticism, the fear of fear. A fatter book than she’d expected. She flipped through it delicately, staring at the pictures and at the page numbers. The illustrations delighted her, and she fleetingly prayed that she could live up to them. They had even printed the biography she had come up with:

“Mimi Ogden O’Rourke, only child and army brat, grew up all over the place. Her French mother made her attend mass every Sunday. Her atheist father spent Sundays in his workroom fiddling with gadgets. After failing to become someone in the big city, she moved to Telluride, Colorado where she has been a jack of some trades and master of none. Her dreams came true with the publication of this, her first, book, which allowed her to purchase and renovate an old café, a roadside attraction located in the southeast corner of the state of Utah. There, she serves vegetarian burgers in the hopes of educating the meat-eating masses. Her family includes tile-maker Max Lee Perdue, black lab Nero and extra large orange cat Dale Evans.”

Nervous as a cat near water, or in her case a cat near a canary, she could hardly bring herself to scan the prose but forced herself to take some random glimpses. Anna Ortiz Kidd could not believe that during all of this her friend had not re-read her letters, about to be published. Mimi, intending to, felt suspicious about it and put it off for so long, she managed in the long run to evade the task altogether. Sydney, worried that she might regret this decision, pressed her as well. “Have I written anything to be ashamed of?” she’d asked him. “Not that I can see, Mimi,” he’d answered, “but then I’m not you. What if some insignificant incident turns out to be something you can’t bear to see in print in perpetuity?”

“I’ll have to take that chance,” was her answer. And now, faced with this earlier chance taken, she was slowly coming to terms with her having to read those letters. Or did she? Yes, she did. What if, on her publicity tour, she were quizzed or something? What if she sounded stupid when confronted with the reference of some four-year old detail? She stopped on page 34: “…of cabin fever The words never really meant anything to me before today, when now as it snows and blows and it’s too windy to ski and to wintry to skate and my foot taps on its own and my mind feels like it’s going in ten thousand directions, I have to say I understand the meaning of the words. Because I have a low-grade cabin fever, one that is bound to last a while, make me uncomfortable, and make me want to sleep. It terms of remedies I have to questions that old saying, “Starve a fever, feed a cold…” She had gone on to explore the metaphor (which it wasn’t), the various meanings of starvation (there were no variations implied), the variations of cold (self-explanatory), the added implication of cabin fever. Then, at the end of that letter, had made what was supposed to be a comic distinction between an old wives’ tale, meant, in fact, to be taken  literally — and a cliché, meant to be interpreted. In other words, she forced an interpretation where no interpretation was possible, and on purpose.

Mimi smiled and felt the curious disbelief of someone reading her own prose. How had she done it, she wondered. Just… gotten to this point? She remembered having been influenced at some point by the writing style of her fairly new friend Anna Ortiz Kidd, who’d shown her a short story she’d written entitled “To Be Or Not To Buzz.” Hanratty had noted the style change and had asked her whether she’d been reading Gertrude Stein. Not hardly likely.

Not one to hold back the tears, she felt them dripping down her cheeks and tried to swallow the lump in her throat. “Oh my,” she said, “I’ve got to go show Max!” And clutching the book to her chest, leaving the professor to himself, she ran off, screaming over her shoulder, “Come in and have a burger! I won’t forgive you if you don’t even try one –”

Later, Mimi felt such vindication at the sight of Professor Michael Norris Hanratty heading for the bathroom. “All are equal in the hands of psyllium” might have been her motto. She could translate it into Latin and have plaques made for the bathrooms. Psyllium per aequalia. All equal under psyllium.

 

When dusk had fallen on that first day of business, Max turned on the big turquoise sign perched above the cafe by simply flipping a switch he had kept hidden from Mimi. The large sign’s shape was pure fifties angular and it woke up the air and sky all around it, beckoning, in its solitary but effective way to those passing by, as well as to all the tipsy locals still at the party, who oohed and ahhed and applauded the final touch, the icing on the cake. Mimi, never having dared to hope the old thing would work, stood there for ten minutes staring and grinning at the blinking yellow lights, the arrow pointing to the words “La Sal Jct.” This  nostalgic vision of beautify charmed her and filled her with the most delicious melancholy she could imagine.

Later on, she told Max it was the best present she’d ever gotten. Her suggestion of making love underneath it did not go unheeded, either. That night, well into the wee hours, when nothing could be heard or seen outdoors, they crept outside and under the still blinking sign made love standing, with Mimi pinned to the side of the building like a beautiful bug whose heart was beating as its wings might have been. She screamed with pleasure and felt the cool night air caress her; and Max, no less consumed by their midnight love, held her tightly and with all his might. Even he, not one to make much noise in intimate situations, groaned with pleasure and sighed a loud and fulfilled sigh. The minute his pants were back up, a caboose-length semi happened to roar by and shook the earth as it passed.

“I feel the earth. Move. Under my feet,” Mimi said from the depths of her satisfaction. “I feel the sky come tumbl-ing, a-tumbli-ing down.”

 

A month later, however, as they lay in bed at midday siesta, the proverbial earth shook for gloomier reasons. Max, naked except for his white boxers, lay with his back to Mimi, one leg draped outside the sheet. His eyes were not  merely closed, they were pressed shut forcibly. Mimi was sitting upright in a muscle man’s undershirt picking at her toenails nervously. “Max,” she said, “We have to talk about this issue.” Flipping over as if waiting for the signal to do so, he then pointed his finger at her. “You have to talk about it.”

“Well it’s not like you’re not responsible at all, you know.”

“You wanted it, and you got it.”

“What are you talking about?” She was indignant. “I didn’t want it!”

“Anna’s pregnant and you decided you wanted to be, too. Women make it happen and then they lay it at a man’s feet and that’s that. Can you honestly tell me you weren’t jealous of Anna?”

“No I cannot. But that doesn’t mean I deliberately set myself up to get pregnant! You think I’d do that to you?” Hearing the stridency in her own hysteric voice, she lowered it. “That psychic said I’d be fertile right now, but I thought she was putting me on.”

“What psychic?” Max did not hide his frustration. He looked at her as if she were speaking Chinese.

“The tarot reader I saw in Moab a while ago when I went shopping. She I’d be extremely fertile and that if I had the little girl that you would turn out to be a better father than you expected.”

“Right, Mimi,” he lashed at her more vehemently than she had ever seen him or heard him do. “As if I’m supposed to say, ‘We’ll then, let’s go ahead and have her, now that I know that — based on the haphazard display of some card turned over by some lunatic stranger — I’ll be a good father.’ What else did the psychic tell you – that I’d settle down and start acting like an adult? That I’d get some wing-tips and an argyle cardigan, drive to the city for work and become a respected member of the community.”

“No. She didn’t say anything like that. She just said if I didn’t have this child it would be a long time before I had another chance.”

“Oh PERFECT!” Max was nearly foaming at a mouth that never foamed. “That’s even better. Now the pressure’s on, isn’t it? If I don’t agree to your having this baby, then I’m depriving you of your child-bearing needs, and the diabolical biological clock ticks away. I hate this. You can’t pressure me like this.”

“I’m not pressuring you, Max. I should have never mentioned the tarot reader.”

“Yeah, you should have never made it up.”

Mimi felt her face get hot. “You don’t actually think,” she said quietly, “That I would make something like that up. What is with you men, thinking that women are there to trick you into getting married and having kids. Well, there’s no trick here, man. I’m pregnant and we’re talking about it. Except that there doesn’t seem to be anything to talk about now. I would like to point out one thing, however.” Pulling at her bangs, she looked down at the bed. “Telling a women she can control her urges to have children is like telling a fifteen-year old boy he can control the dozen or so erections he has every day. Think about it, Max. Now in terms of this unfortunate occurrence, I’ll make arrangements myself and we won’t  have to talk about it ever again.”

Mimi got out of the tiny bed and pulled on a  loose skirt and another tee-shirt. She let herself out and began a walk down the road to the post office, in sandals and dark glasses. Two animals reluctantly followed, as if condemned to their duties as pets. You don’t have to come,” she said to them with gloomy irritation. “Stay home. Stay.” Relieved, the animals stopped in their tracks but obligingly watched her as she slumped toward La Sal Junction.

“Of course,” she started speaking to herself, crying a bit. “It’s my fault for getting pregnant, for wanting a child, for being a women, and for making him feel guilty. Now I’m just like all the other women whose only purpose in life is to trap men into creating families. So, I’ll get rid of it. In Colorado, of course,” Mimi had never really thought of having children until she had reached the age of thirty-one and a half. Then, all of a sudden, she’d felt her body longing for this change, for being with child, suckling it and tending to it. Every so often these feelings, virus-like in intensity and duration, would return. They didn’t necessarily go with the larger package of the house, the picket fence and the station wagon; in fact, such projections were truly hideous to Mimi, limiting, and frightening. And she would never have given herself completely to a man who talked family, thought family and acted family. But then, she had never actually considered actually having a baby, either.

The tarot reader had asked many questions about Max for some strange reason. Was he an artisan of some kind? (He must not let this go.) Did he meditate? (He should continue this practice.) Did he speak of his love? (He really did love her a lot.) During the reading, Mimi stared rudely at the reader’s finger nails, claws approaching three-quarters of an inch in length and painted the color of eggplants. Her hands, white as white could be, were slender and empty of jewelry except for a hematite ring on the little finger of her left hand. Luckily, it appeared as if Mimi were doing nothing more than watching the cards being turned, which was done deftly, as if with years if not lifetimes of practice.

She had asked the woman, a frail looking middle-aged Floridian wearing large pink-colored sunglasses, about her finances. “Nothing to worry about, on several fronts,” she’d answered. “Does this make sense to you? Much success, but not without work,” she added. Mimi, asked if she had any final questions, asked the psychic if there was any special advice for her. The prompt reply came as follows:

“The confusion card, the seven of swords, has come up twice for you. It would be best to quiet the mind with meditation. There is much nervous energy that you would do well to control. This comes only through communion with what is still, silent and true.” Mimi had heard this advice plenty of times before, not only from others, but from that still squeaky inner voice of her own. Then the curtain fire had happened, which had pitted her against the act of meditation — rather conveniently. She paid the reader $45, feeling it had,  nonetheless, been worth it.

Now, having distilled her reading for Max into something ridiculously implicating, she wished she’d never gone. Filling her lungs with the dry desert air, she thought to herself that this weather, if nothing else, would wring the tears from her and dry her out completely. Dry out not only her tear ducts but her eyes themselves. It was hot. On her head, on her shoulders, on her back, on the bottoms of her feet. As she trudged down the solitary strip of black, its heat radiated up creating the illusion of a waving road, a true desert-scape.

It was eight miles to La Sal and Mimi didn’t mind the idea. Someone would pick her up at some point and someone would drive her home. She just wanted to walk aimlessly toward nothing in the mind-blanking, foot-throbbing heat.

 

 

 

 

 

 


Leave a comment

PART TWO – Chapter 11 – Home on the range

 

Mimi and Max were just about to put the final coat of paint on the exterior of the La Sal Junction Café on a certain breezy Saturday in April when an eagle flew overhead and stopped them in their tracks. Its wings, prehistoric in spread, hardly moved while it glided above, high above, superior to other beings and their tiny lives on the close-cropped landscape.

The two mortals beneath, dressed in jeans and painting shirts, stood with their heads tilted back, mouths open and paint brushes dangling, unable to move while such a creature circled over them. From its casual state of soaring — and without warning — the eagle swooped down to a spot not more than a hundred yards from the café and snagged a small animal, probably a pack rat, gripping it in its claws greedily and without mercy, and then headed back to its nest flapping powerfully. Events like this interrupted and filled the spring days for this pair of lovers who had made the move to the desert during the first week of April, the beginning of off-season back in the wilds of snow country.

In the last few months, much had happened. The book deal had gone through, Mimi had gotten her advance of $17,500, and “Letters to a Handsome Mentor” would be published in September. There was nothing they could to about the title. It was mortifying, but the professor’s name would not be used.
Max, with his inheritance, decided after much deliberation to move his trailer to La Sal Junction for the two of them to live in, and to buy one of the warehouses from Mimi — another $7,500 for her down payment on the land — so that he could begin making his own tiles, glazing them, and doing custom projects. The old trailer now sat comfortably and handsomely on a little knoll fifty feet from the café — right on the old air strip, as a matter of fact — its two occupants playing house as happy as clams. They were having sex again (it seemed appropriate when they moved into the trailer), running every morning, and fighting only intermittently on issues directly related to the renovating of the café.
In fact, the only dissonant chord in an otherwise harmonious drama were the two animals, Nero the black lab and Dale Evans the big orange cat, who would not be around each other without raised hair, stiff legs, and a lot fo squaring off. Dale Evans spent her days guarding what she presumed was her trailer, hissing at Nero every time he tried to get to this food that was kept inside in order to force the two of them to resolve their differences. Nero, scared to death of Dale Evans; claws that had already swiped him across the nose on numerous occasions, tried to eat as seldom as possible and spent the good part of his days outside. It would take time, but Mimi and Max were both convinced that their pets would end up the best of friends.

The café had been brought back to its original white with red trim, and all that remained on the exterior renovation was the final coat of white on the three buildings. which they would spray with a rented rig Max had somehow refurbished the turquoise sign atop the café — that read La Sal Jct Café — and it looked almost new. Even the little bubble lights on the yellow arrow pointing to the “La Sal Jct Café” worked perfectly for the first time in probably thirty years. Mimi, unaware that the lights could ever work again, would have herself a thrill when opening day arrived and Max flipped the secret switch to turn the sign on. He looked forward to this day.

But much remained by way of renovation. The café itself would have new black and white linoleum floors and a formica bar. They could salvage the stools if they replaced the vinyl. Mimi wanted booths, three or four, built for couples or families, and she wanted to keep all fifteen stools, the old kind, along the bar for the truckers whom she was sure would be arriving in great numbers. “Where else do you think they’re going to eat, Max, Dove Creek for god’s sake? Give me a break. And it’s a long ways between Monticello and Moab. Even in Moab, there’s not that much to eat. Unless of course you like your hamburgers flat, greasy and chewy. Or perhaps the salad bar and donuts at the super market. Nope: they’ll stop once they discover real food again,” She was a s sure of this as she was of the dryness of the landscape , the bigness of the sky. “But the coffee’s got to be good.”

Max had his doubts The traffic was there alright: big semis flew by, rumbling the earth below them and eroding the black ribbon of highway like a natural and continual phenomenon. Sometimes, these trucks were the only signs of other human life Max and Mimi would see all day; and the tracers would either honk or lift of that single index finer off the wheel, the friendly slate amongst co-conspirators on the road of life. Sometimes, standing out on her land, with nothing but Max and the dog and cat, the wind howling, some tumbleweed and a few clouds, Mimi felt the truckers, intermittent pieces of the landscape, were as much a part of her plan as the café itself. She didn’t know why.

Max didn’t have this feeling; he just prayed that for Mimi’s sake and the survival of her investment, that people would come.

The vinyl and the linoleum would be red in the café. Mimi would do the sign in the window in white, its design matching the one on the turquoise sign. As for the kitchen itself, the old commercial gas range was salvageable; the refrigerator was dead; the countertops needed re-tiling, and the cupboards needed hosing out and painting. Max, caught up in Mimi’s overwhelming enthusiasm  promised her that they could have it all done by June 1st, which he still thought was reasonable. “But after that, you’re on you own,” he’d told her, already getting anxious about getting his own business built and functional. No small feat for Max.

As June 1 approached, one small miracle had occurred. s much as they had hated each other for over a month, Nero and Dale Evans had come to adore each other. They fanned over each other, in fact, and could be found together in various animal tableaux during every waking hour of the day. She curled up with him; he nuzzled her; they placed around out of the doors together; they ate meals at the same hour. Sometimes. as Nero lay there, at rest, Dale Evans would come over to his mid section and perch there, two paws on his stomach and her legs on the floor. Evidently in heaven, just to be near him.

Max and Mimi, former cat and dog lover respectively, had done their own little dance around the animals. Max Lee Perdue, once holding cats above all others, and seeing his cat now subservient to a giant black beast, had to give Napoleon credit for putting up with it. He grew to love the bounding, wagging canine and his tenderness with the cat. Mimi, obviously more closely allied to canine nature than to feline, saw in this cat, however, an outgoingness she had not encountered before and taught the cat how to retrieve tiny paper balls, which it did with quiet urgency, dropping them at Mimi’s fee for the next toss.

One day, while Mimi was fixing peanut butter and tomato pizza for lunch (something a meat-eating friend had taught her to do), she looked out into the front yard area to see Dale Evans standing upon Nero’s back as he trotted about, much like the men who ride horses by standing on them in circus acts. The animals, heavily involved in the concentration of such a feat, seemed nevertheless to be enjoying themselves. This domestic circus act sent Max and Mimi into riotous fits of laughter every time they saw it, usually from the kitchen window. Their stomachs would hurt. And they would reward their animals with tuna juice for the cat and an extra-large biscuit for the dog. Dale and Nero inhaled the treats as though it were all in a day’s work.

 

Spring in the desert, in the flatlands but not far from the snow-dusted La Sal mountains and the sandstone cliffs so much a part of Utah, played  on the sensibilities of those used to weather patterns being just so — spring bearing a hint of summer, summer holding a hint of fall, and so forth. Teasing one day, a warm and arid wind would blow through and that first layer of dust would form on one’s teeth, and it would be time to wear tee-shirts and shorts and hats with big brims; and then the next day the same warm wind would be cut with cold spots, much like the cold spots in an otherwise warm ocean, and winter’s echo would persist. Then it would rain, a spring downpour, and the earth, shocked by the feel of the pelting water instead of absorbing the life-giving substance, would let it flood the landscape and collect in rivulets and large pools. On these days, it was good to eat comfort foods like rice pudding, and macaroni and cheese, and tuna sandwiches (which Mimi still ate on occasion).
With rain, sadness overwhelmed Max; but Mimi loved it, the smell of it, walking in it, and even seeing it flood. Mimi liked to feel small and speck-like in the greater landscape of nature; it emphasized her place in the universe. Max preferred to sleep on rainy days, and to dream long and involved dreams, which lately had covered topics from tiling an underground tunnel to robbing a bank of not money but raspberries. On such a rainy day taking a breather from either painting, scraping, or cleaning, Max had his first so-called lucid dream.

The dream began with a woman whose face was shrouded, beckoning to him with hands that had become birds. Somehow he realized that these hands could not be real and he awakened inside the dream — without actually waking from sleep – and had the ultimate revelation; that he could do whatever he wanted in the dream. He then flew over to the woman, releasing her hands, which flew away revealing tiny and delicate human hands in their place, and lifted up the veil. Underneath was a beautiful woman who spoke to him n gibberish — which he understood — and he responded in gibberish. Taking her hand in his, he pulled her up and they flew up, far away from the Earth into the atmosphere, looking down the whole time. Max awake from Sleep feeling as good as he had ever felt in his life. No, better.

Mimi was jealous that he had flown and had spoken intimate gibberish to a strange woman.

“How do you know it was intimate gibberish and not ‘Would you like to go for a quick spin into the sky?'” he’d inquired.

“That’s intimate enough,” she’d answered.

Perhaps the nicest thing about living at La Sal Junction, Utah in the spring or any other time was the lack of TV. No news networks, no MTV, no shopping channel, no sports. In the evenings, after a leisurely stroll around the property, they would read or experiment with recipes for the café. Max Lee, though not entirely vegetarian, was happy eating Mimi’s food and contributed more actual recipes and ideas than she herself did. Of course, the meatless loaf recipe, and his chili recipe. Then, one afternoon, stuck with a fresh and overabundant pot of Anasazi beans, he created a vegetarian burger made from the ground bans, walnuts and a secret blend of spices, a bit of tomato paste and just a touch of tabasco.

The night he invented the “Burgamax,” Mimi had been giving Nero a bath outside. Dale Evans, curious but still a cat, and seated herself approximately twenty feet away and stared at the spectacle of a grown dog being demeaned in water. It didn’t look as though he minded it too much; in fact, he had the appearance of a water dog being reunited with personal but elemental pleasure. Without explanation to anyone, the cat strolled over and stepped into the water knee-deep, looking around, until, as if shocked by her own actions, she lay down.

“Burgers!” Max screamed through one of the windows he was sliding open. He’d learned to scream from Mimi, who was unabashed, especially in the more intimate acts. And here in the desert, you could scream all you wanted.  “I think I have created the bean burger to end all bean burgers! Mimi, get your skinny butt in here!”

Mimi, who had convinced Max that they ought to advertise their “burgers” extensively, and by name instead of content, came inside, followed closely by a wet dog and equally wet cat, and nibbled on the surprisingly well-formed burger. Nibbling some more, she gave her taste buds a chance to find the flavor. It was marvelously chewy and had just the slightest kick. “MMMMM,” she said, nodding her head with her mouth still chewing. “Mmmmm.”

Worried that she would never be able to create the perfect burger — which was to be the backbone of her lunch or even dinner business — Mimi had been driving Max crazy with it, talking endlessly about what nuts to use, what spices, which binder,. Paralyzed by fears of failure, she finally asked Max for his opinion on the proper ingredients. “I’d have to experiment with it,” he told her, being a doer more than a talker, at which point he began testing burger combos very methodically one after the other. With or without peanuts, with or without garlic, molasses, flax seed, sunflower seeds. With or without paprika. He had tried a lentil/bean burger and stale-bread burger. None had been nearly as good as this one, and Mimi agreed one hundred percent.

Get out the condiments,” she said to him, “We’re giving it the ultimate test. “And let’s have a beer with this burger, too.” On a bun with onions and pickles and ketchup and mustard, the Burgamax held its own. “Delicious” was the one word that correctly summed up the last-testers’ reactions to it. , and they were thrilled — Mimi because she had her burger and Max because Mimi had her burger. “Burgasazi” was the name Max had come up with originally in honor of the dappled bean from which it would be made. But Mimi disagreed. “Too esoteric” she proclaimed. “How about Burgamax, after the man who invented it? It also makes it sound like a fast food chain, which is good.” Marketing, she told him, was everything. “Burgamax,” she repeated. I love it.” Mimi O. O’Rourke was having more fun getting this café going than she ever dreamed possible — in spite of all the cleaning and renovation, and in spite of all the fighting over the cleaning and renovation.

She was nearly done with the menu, a diner-like and laminated thing in black, white and pink with a fifties script and a little picture of a woman smiling and holding u a pie in one hand in the top right corner. “welcome to the La Sal Jct. Café” it would say at the top, and, “It has bean our pleasure to serve you” at the bottom. There would be a Sandwich section, a Burgers section, a Chili section, and, of course Side Orders and Specialties. Desserts would be listed, as would other daily specials on a black board above the counter. The trickiest part would be the beverage section. Mimi had no intention of serving Coke or 7-up or diet drinks to any of the patrons, even though she knew they would be clamoring for it. Instead, she would serve a natural cola, seltzer with fruit syrup in it a, and fresh carrot juice shots. Her coffee, she suspected, would make up for the lack of ordinary drinks, for it would be double strength and freshly ground a couple of times day.

Truckers would be doing no hard drugs if they stopped by the La Sal Junction Café for coffee; in fact, she hoped they wouldn’t be doing downers just to get some sleep. Unfortunately, Mimi thought, that coca-leaf tea was no longer available through the health food stores; but it had been several years now since they had been forced to let it go. This might have been a good natural stimulant — and a good trump card — for weary drivers everywhere. It could have been her little secret. Now, coffee and bean burgers would have to do.

In the little town of La Sal Junction just eight miles toward Colorado, Mimi and Max had leased separate post office boxes. Sheer luck had given her number 22 (a favorite number, along with 222) while Max ha received 47. Together, these numbers added up to 69, a source of perpetual amusement for Max and Mimi who were still intimate with this particular number. It was on their trips to the post office, zip code 84530, that they met their neighbors and chatted with them.

Sally Varner Vicks, the postmistress, had been the most overtly curious about their endeavors, pressing them about their plans, their renovations, and yes, their religion, presumably for the purpose of passing on this information to every one of the folks of La Sal Junction. “We’re Buddhists,” Mimi had unabashedly told Sally regarding religion. “Which is why we don’t kill flies and we don’t serve meat. Right Max?”

Max, annoyed by this habit of Mimi’s to draw him into her arguments, felt there was no better time to put his foot down. Looking at Sally as much as looking away from Mimi, he answered, “Mimi thinks of herself as a Buddhist; and while I have no problem with that, I feel myself to be more of an  agnostic.” With this comment, he succeeded in alienating both Mimi and Sally, which is what he had hoped to do, in one fell swoop. Sally, thinking Buddhism was strange, then felt that at least, in comparison, Mimi was religious; whereas Max, an agnostic or whatever he called it, was without a god altogether. From then on, the folks were more distant with Max. And Max, by temperament distant from folks, was relieved. Mimi, however, played up the Buddhism thing, and in the land of Mormons, was considered as exotic as an onion bulb in a field of blooming poppies. Especially with the vegetarian business.

“How can you live without the protein in meat?” Sally Varner Vicks — whom Mimi had dubbed V.V. — wanted to know.

“When was the last time you heard of someone getting sick from lack of protein, V.V.?” It’s unheard of. We get too much protein in the country anyway.”

“I like my links in the morning,” she answered, almost guiltily, at which point Mimi felt she had made some progress.

Not everyone in La Sal Junction was Mormon, of course, but the fact is the laws in the state of Utah reflect this most widespread religion pervasively. Max and Mimi hauled their beer and wine in from Colorado and drank at home mostly. They were at home, mostly. They felt their concession to the desert, to Utah, and Mormonism consisted mainly in keeping Sunday a day of rest. On Sunday, Max and Mimi shut down their quiet lives even more fully. They decided not to play music, and not to work with their hands except to cook dinner. No erotic pleasures or oral vices were allowed. Instead, the day was spent reading and taking walks and taking it all in. Talk was infrequent.

Such days gave the two of them a chance to savor the solitude and the beauty of this windy and rocky landscape; and it was on such a day that Mimi, in yet another attempt at meditating, felt she actually connected to the silence within — not an easy task for one whose inner voices chattered and hummed and cleared their throats all day long and sometimes well into the night. Mimi O’Rourke, used to having five thoughts at once and furthermore accompanied by intermittent riffs of rhythms and blues, had simply let herself go. Let her shoulders go limp, her mind go blank, her face relax, and her breathing slow down. It became easy just to sit, and her mind effortlessly focused and slipped away at once. Without fear or anxiety, completeness was hers, however briefly.

Meditation was cut short by the sound of the blender, which confused Mimi, as they did not use machines on Sunday, Reluctant to leave her moment behind, she nevertheless unfolded herself and hurried toward the uncomfortable noise. The blender, tipped over and set on “chop” was vibrating across the counter on its own. Only because Dale Evans and Nero sat obediently five feet from where Mimi stood did she realize that the cat must have jumped down off the kitchen window ledge, a forbidden spot, and unknowingly set the blender off by landing on one of the buttons. Nero had apparently joined Dale for moral support, and to make her appear less guilty. “Dale Evans,” said Mimi with accusation in her tone and volume, “You know that we don’t run machines on Sunday,”

“Nooooooow,” was the cat’s loud response. Nero ventured to wag just the tip of his tail.

What Mimi did not see was that Dale Evans had knocked over a candle, which had fallen into a curtain close by, which had in turn begun to smolder. Mimi lit candles on Sundays as vigils to their day of rest. By the time she noticed the curious smell, her back was turned toward the animals both curtains were on fire. With her heart in her mouth, she froze for what seemed an eternity.

After no more than a few seconds, she began to thaw and opened her mouth, which screamed in slow motion. “Maaaaaax. Fiiiiiire!” She saw herself in this instant as if she were looking in from outside the trailer, hands on her face and framed by two blazing curtains. A woman trapped in a burning kitchen. The colors struck her as beautiful and profound — the yellow and orange of the flames against the black and white of the curtains.

In fact, the beautiful flames were certainly not big enough or hot enough to warrant such alarmist behavior. She could have taken a dish rag and swatted them out. She could have used the hose Max had rigged to the kitchen sink for the purpose of watering plants to hose it out. But she had frozen instead, seemingly immune to the action-provoking adrenaline coursing through her body.

Max, who had been sitting on a stump outside, whittling on a piece of pinion pine with a very sharp knife, showed up just in time to see the flames die out on their own. Mimi’s face held no explanation; it was as if she were in a trance, stuck in a moment without being able to break free. And then there they stood, he staring at the two-inch burnt remains of the black and white curtains, and she with her arms wrapped around him and staring into her own soul, her eyes pressed into his chest. The animals, lying down where they previously stood, did not dare move. Their eyes were closed but they were not asleep. Max, rocking Mimi, kissed her hair and reached over to open a window; and the breeze that blew in broke the spell and the smell of the fire. That had been an odd Sunday. And had left Mimi ambivalent about the whole notion of meditating.

“It leaves you unprepared for fires,” she told Max some weeks later after he’d noticed she’d stopped even her practice of progressive relaxation. “Completely unprepared.”

After Mimi stopped meditating, Max started. Two people meditating in one house seemed too much, but now he felt he could get away with it. And as it turned out, Max Lee was the one with the gift for silencing the mind, and his practice of morning meditation became more frequent  until he ultimately made a habit of it. It made him feel good, and strong and peaceful; and strangely enough it changed the course of his dreams, dreams that he began to jot down less and assimilate more. Max Lee, used to dreaming about women of all kinds began to dream about men more and dream about Mimi more. Equilibrium replaced fixation, and in his waking life, he roamed about and worked and plotted with vigor and happiness. Mimi, naturally, was jealous of this spiritual advancement, but found it in her heart to be happy for her companion. “It doesn’t seem to leave you unprepared,” she noted.

Sunday was the only day Max didn’t meditate, since he needed a day of rest, and since he wanted to observe the day in the same way Mimi did. On Sunday, though silent and physically apart, Max and Mimi were united in their rituals and observances. he appreciated the candles she lit and took special care to keep them away from loose fabrics, curtains in particular. Max Lee Perdue, frankly, was as good a companion as anyone could hope for. Even Mimi, not one to count her blessings each day, dared not admit to her luck on this one. She was more one to create little conflicts in order to assure that sailing would not be too smooth. Or to test the waters. Max, who did not mind little conflicts, participated accordingly.

One morning in mid-May, Mimi reached all the way into Post Office Box 22 and pulled out a letter from Anna, smiling as she noted the gold-flecked stationery and the fountain pen ink used. They had not had a phone installed yet, reluctant to succumb, and resigning themselves only to installing one in the café once it opened. They weren’t sure about a work phone for Max yet, either.

The aesthetic and pleasing  looking letter was postmarked Los Angeles, which surprised Mimi, though only mildly. She ripped open the letter right then and there, as she did with all interesting-looking letters, and shuffled slowly out of the building, head bowed, using her feet as a blind woman would use a cane to wend her way forward.