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.