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?”
“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.”