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.

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