Category: Short Stories


Mean Deaf Barrista

Performed in front of a live audience at Rick Shapiro’s Spoken Word Night, Cafe Muse, Los Angeles, 2011

redrafted 4/27/2011/11/4 2011

Mean Deaf Barrista has finished making a latte with extra foam and as the poofy haired lady in the maroon suit says thank you, he gives her a dirty look, tracing her steps out the door with his mouth in a scowl.

“Stop it. Bad.” I tell him. He cracks up slightly to himself, snorts in his throat, then hands me my drink with a cocky wobble: green tea soy latte, no foam, no syrup. He rolls his eyes at my frilly silly girl drink.

“Shut up,” I say.

The door opens behind us and he cocks his head sideways at a boy about 23 going out – “Is that your boyfriend?” I ask.

“No,” he says, “too fat.”

“God,” I say.

“My father is rich. He just bought a house in Laguna Beach.”

“So what?” I say. 

“My father is so rich, I buy myself diamonds.” He wiggles his middle finger at me and makes a fake diamond bracelet swirl around his wrist. Then diamonds flow over his hair like diamond shampoo being rinsed down the drain, like a Diamond Barbie, with pull out diamond hair. But he wears no diamonds- not on his fingers, around his thin wrist or in his short hair.

“Tell someone who cares.”

“Fuck you” He mouths, wiggling the diamond on his middle finger.

 Get over yourself,” I mouth.

I do it like this, without saying the words: hand in palm, then hand over my own head. I point and ride: he does not know sign language, so saying it right doesn’t matter. He refuses to learn American Sign Language – he thinks it’s dumb. And, he won’t speak to anyone deaf. That’s what he told me. Mean Deaf Barrista has his own set of principles, completely incomprehensible to the hearing or the deaf. He understands me just fine when I say “Get. Over. Your. Self.” I am a nice person, usually striving to be of service, but I think it may be in Mean Deaf Barrista’s best interests to let a little air out of his elephant man’s sized head. It doesn’t take. He snarls at me, snorts, makes a fake double chin, shakes it off and smiles into the mist of the next latte as I fall utterly out of his head and as he falls into a reverie of his own greatness, he sets to ignoring me so long I feel stupid standing there and leave.

Mean Deaf Barrista is a complex box of wet and dry worms, sniggling and moving, raunchy and emotional, aggravating yet compelling, a cacaphony of sound effects and gestures always causing conflict in the Starbucks. I keep walking in on him having fights with his fellow workers: his arms fly in the air accusatorily, his hands madly gesturing his defense, he is ever righteous and always wronged in a world of injustice and its unjust inhabitants who are blind to the trials of his deafness. He is bitter with resenting the inability of others to comprehend the contorted sounds that argue his case and though he articulates as clearly he can, he is awash and alone in a sea of the hearing and deaf, with nary a soul to hear him. He writes notes when he has to. He has nice handwriting. Mostly Capitals. His traumatized fellow workers confide in me as I step to the ordering podium. Something has always just happened: Mean Deaf Barrista a kind of tornado, with me as his chaser: the cow’s in the tree, and I have to talk it down. He is exiting through the swinging door to go get more cup lids.

Enter in the same swing Tattooed, Nose Ringing, Black Haired Barrista Girl, who is tough by any standards, now wiping a tear from her eye- another victim of Mean Deaf Barrista’s rampages. 

“He hates me” she says, shaking her head, rolling her eyes up, trying valiantly to let it go. 

“He doesn’t hate you.”

“He ACTS like he hates me.”

“He acts like he hates everybody. That means he likes you.”

“He’s always making faces at me.”

“He just uses his face alot- that’s how the deaf talk. It helps them understand and convey subtler delineations of meaning. It’s like tone. Hearing people don’t use their faces that way. You’re just not used to it. It’s not personal.” 

Usually the big words with psychological overtones calm the ruffled victims. But Tattooed, Nose Ringing, Black Haired Barrista Girl is unsure after a fresh attack by a Ninja Master brandishing his gestures and snorts like shiny sharp swords. She disappears in the back as she swings through the door, and here he comes on the way in. They shoulder by each other, not seeing.

“Nice! I like your work,” I say, when he reappears at the register.

“What?” He sneers.

“Stop being rude to people. I’m sick of defending you. Even the customers are complaining!”

“What?”

“What are you, deaf?” He laughs and covers his mouth, which he has shaped into an O. “Stop asking what. You’re being rude. I’m sick of cleaning up after you.”

He wobbles his head sideways like a Pakistani and laughs to himself, which is his way of laughing with me. It has taken me months- over a year- to decipher the language of his hostility. If he pours it over you like a caramel grid on a swirl of whipped cream, he is making his art for you- frothing it and coaxing it into a friendly shape. It is pretty and fluffy and whipped and feels good in the throat, even if it’s too hot. That’s the friendly fire, a sign of love. If he’s moody or busy and has customers, he makes you order fast and he waves you away with his hand, and you’re the fool who stays too long at the fair. The drink is always perfect, because Mean Deaf Barrista is a Master of the Beverage. If no one is there but he is not in a mood to talk about diamonds or how rich his father is, or if he has no energy to insult you, he says, as soon as you open your mouth, “Don’t.” Just, “Don’t.” Or “Stop.” Before you even speak, he says “Stop.” Like he is the Boss of you. And he is.

Mean Deaf Barrista is a pain in the ass of the highest order, and he so has the advantage in this politically incorrect world that you have no choice but to submit to his demands.The weight of the scales is on his side. He can say “what?” to you but if you say “what?” to him, you’re an asshole, which you probably are, at least in this matter at hand. When you stand before Mean Deaf Barrista, the abrupt exposure of your assholedom is imminent and inevitable. To illustrate this inevitability of your obvious idiocy, his eyes are constantly rolling around in his head. They make me dizzy, dizzy with dreams of diamonds. He’s a poser who’s an exposer. A mirror who shows your two faces. 

One day I come in and stand in line, waiting for my turn to say my drink, which is usually free when he’s at the register, but this day they are making him stock the cup lids before standing at his station.

“What do you want?” He asks as he stacks up the lids.

“Green tea soy latte, no syrup, no foam,” I mouth like a silent screamer, over emphasizing the shape of the O in no foam.

“I know!” He throws his arm at me, and it almost falls off.

“Well why did you ask?”

“What SIZE?”

“Venti, you ass.”

If he knows my drink, why doesn’t he know my size?

“Stop,” he says, and holds up a white venti lid like a red traffic light. “Just stop. I don’t want to hear it today.”

“What’s wrong?”

“Problems with my TV show.”

“TV show?!”

“I have a TV show. I’m going to be rich. I’m the star.”

Mean Deaf Barrista suddenly has a TV show.

“What kind of show?”

“Fashion, what else?”

“Fashion? You’re into fashion?”

He Vanna-motions to his skinny denimed ass, saying, “These jeans are one thousand dollars. One thousand three hundred seventy five dollars for this pair of jeans.” He does this number with fingers, and with some sort of noise coming from his mouth that resembles barking. The over stimulation is deafening. I make gestures that mean “step down, man, I am overcome,” before saying:  

“1,375 dollars? Jesus. Why?”

“Because I only wear the best. I’m a fashionista.”

“A what?”

“A FASHIONISTA.” 

He yells this at me like the idiot I am but it comes out Vah-gi-neezda and I can’t quite get it. People who think he just called me some semblance of a vagina-ista turn around as if he used the c word. I get it now. 

“I get my jeans for 12 bucks at Costco,” I offer, – you know, suggesting an alternative, and he throws his hand at the end of his arm so hard at me it almost falls off again. It’s a fast, outright gay gesture that verges on violence, accusing the world: the world is guilty, I have had enough. The world is an asshole, the gesture says. Mean Deaf Barrista’s eyes are desperate: WE HAVE NO FASHION SENSE!, they implore. WE ARE ALL GOING DOWN! 

My Mean Deaf Barrista is now Mean Deaf Barrista Fashionista TV Starista. 

The world is spinning so fast, all of our eyeballs are rolling. The bottom of the ride is dropping out as we go faster and faster, but I am sticking to the side because we can still count on gravity, even when the deaf refuse to learn their own damn language, even when jeans cost a k and a half, even when all of the eyeballs of all of the world’s inhabitants are rolling. I can’t keep up with it, or him. If he has a TV show, why is he making green tea soy lattes at my neighborhood Starbucks? If MDB has a TV show, where is my TV show? Is this barrista thing a front for his real life? Is he a rich, diamond wearing hit man for the local coffee mafia? Who IS my Mean Deaf Barrista? 

It’s an extra tall, foamy mystery, with vanilla syrup, extra hot, and though it all makes me dizzy, it feels good going down, so I keep coming back. I am stuck in the downward spiral of Starbuck’s; I go down daily, hypnotized by the swirling life of my barrista.

Staring blankly at the overhead chalk drawing of wintery cups with whipped cream tops, my reverie on the mystery is broken only by the mellifluous sound of Mean Deaf Barrista’s voice as he barks and waves me away with his arm, “Go on now. I’m working here. NEXT!”

"Don't Love Me Anymore. Why is your hand on the floor?"

6/14/11

Poverty Bitch

A Prose piece for Male Voice by Sea Glassman. It was performed in front of a live audience at Cafe Muse during Rick Shapiro’s Spoken Word Night, Spring 2011.

Poverty is that bitch in the red velvet dress down to her ankles,

gold lame` scarf and under her vibrant smile? black and missing

teeth; she smiles that winning almost toothless grin – her other

teeth perfect and white – and somehow she undoes all of your

thoughts of what belongs to you. She is sheepish and shy while

undoing your zipper, and she slips you the hand while conversing

about Literature, the Arts. Her fingers are dirty, and her nails

chipped – not all of them. When she sings she can belt out a tune

like a diva – her raspy voice a tattooed barmaid seducing the

song, her long spindly fingers hold a thin cigarette, and she acts

like she knows you, even on the street, fresh from the bed, in

front of people you want to impress and don’t want to know that

you know her. And I love her, I love her.

This love affair, I’ll admit, has gone on for so long, she’s the only

one, the only one I see. I look around for others and – it’s not

that she’s jealous – she’d let me go if I wanted, but somehow, that

voice and the way she holds her cigarette, the way her eyes dance

a dangerous flame going up – I want her – I want her – I admit

it. She’s a bitch and she loves me, but she’s all I’ve got.

At night in the deep of her arms she pulls me close and tells me

lies, but she makes them sound like the truth. Her lipstick is so

red, so red that it makes the words pink going out: they taste like

cotton candy in my mouth, and they make me sick but I keep on

eating. It’s the only food she has, and I‘m hungry. I am so hungry

I forgot how to eat, but Poverty – Poverty won’t touch me, – oh,

she rubs my feet, and over her shoulder she tells me how

someday -she‘ll get to the rest of me,- when she has some time –

she’s busy right now, click, she clicks through her whore colored

lipstick, then whips out her cell phone to talk to some guy but in

the morning she’s gone. Who knows for how long.

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Poverty Bitch, most current.rtf 6/14/11 6:02 PM

My pillows are stained with whore colored lips. No quarters for

the laundry.

I call and leave messages – I call all the time, but she’s out, or

she’s screening, she has an appointment – it’s only a friend. So I

wait and pass time – I watch some TV – she’ll come round again

– I know it. She always does. And just when it gets so bad – when

I am so lonely I feel like I’ll die, here. she. comes. Here comes

Poverty whistling a tune, and she throws me some dough, just

enough, and she winks, click – just a little, just enough, and I feel

so lucky, I go out and buy me a wee little token of Poverty’s

affection, something to hang on the car mirror, maybe those

fuzzy pink dice. A bobblehead of Poverty, nodding approval. And

when I see her next I’ll take her by the hand and thank her for

not forgetting me – she’s all I have. I take the token home and I

put it on my windowsill.

I think of Poverty when she’s not there – she’s always there but

she’s never there: when she’s out or with others, or smoking in

bathrooms, or on the phone with one of her friends. Only friends.

Then we’re at a party and she’s in a mood, – she slips out for a

smoke, slits her eyes going by – I was trying to ignore her, but

sometimes she’ll grab me and make me feel strong, like I could

do without her, she’ll kiss me like a drunken bear and then push

me away and I’m out on my own. Woozy and swollen and

stumped.

And I don’t want her anymore – I’m sick of her – see ? I’ve had it

with her. I’m through. I follow and grab her skinny dry wrists

and she pushes me into the street and I go – I flip her off and tell

her your ass is too skinny! Now in the light of the street before

dusk, she’s scrawny and drawn, and not the least bit attractive –

her teeth are loose and falling out, her foot massages suck – she’s

a prude and she’s greedy, I tell her – I don’t like the token -it’s

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Poverty Bitch, most current.rtf 6/14/11 6:02 PM

cheap and it’s flimsy – it’s damn badly made, it swings like a

monkey from my mirror, a monkey on my back, cheap, like her

shoes, which don’t match your red velvet dress! They’re the

wrong color!

This backs her up to the concrete street wall. She draws a straight

line with her eyes from my feet to my hair and opens her mouth

to a scowl shaped like a red bent wheel and rolls it at me – a

string of cuss words and a thousand black ships sailing out a red

cave to war, blue flags unfurling behind, and she flicks her

cigarette butt at me, click!, while it burns and she laughs at her

own cruelty, – she has outdone herself this time! Then she walks

down the stair case, that haggy old bitch, – she looked young in

the dark – I’m a fool – and she picks up the phone like I ceased

to exist and she talks, and I walk.

I walk away. I am done with her. She bores me. I admit it – I

loved her. I loved her so much I wanted to bleed for her. I wanted

her hand to reach through my chest and pull out my heart. I

wanted her all to myself all the time, I wanted to live with her,

live inside her, I wanted to be in her blood.

But there’s no liquid there, in those skinny veins – and she

doesn’t eat so I can’t take her out. She’d throw up the dinner.

Bulimic bitch. I’d call at the door of the bathroom, “Poverty!

Poverty! Are you in there? Are you okay? Are you coming out?!”

Here she comes, wiping her mouth with the back of her twiggy

thin wrist. Her hands, though the fingers are long and attractive

– dry as ten bones in a graveyard. She is mean, through and

through.

So why did I love her, why was I devoted, why did I want her

and need her and beg her, again and again, to keep me, to keep

me ? Why did I follow her, come back again and again, hoping

she’d notice me, she’d pay me attention, that I’d be the one that

she’d keep?

That bitch didn’t even read the paper-she knew nothing of

current affairs – politicians and blow jobs, tsunamis in Asia,

earthquakes in India, the colors of the grass, splendid riches of

the world, waterfalls, windmills and grief, the ups and downs of

the stock exchange, song of the wind, blue of the sky, feel of the

air in the Spring, the cats and dogs to roll in the grass, to feed

and to stroke, the babies with fat rolls of flesh, toothless smiles of

pure love – she was selfish, is all. There was no one. But her. Just

Poverty. A one woman show. No room for anyone else. Nothing

in the refridgerator, because she forgot to pick up the milk, she

forgot to pick up the bread. That should have been the first clue.

But we’re through now, see? Through.

Poverty Bitch

Poverty Bitch. A Prose piece for Male Voice by Sea Glassman
Poverty is that bitch in the red velvet dress down to her ankles, gold lame` scarf and under her vibrant smile are black and missing teeth; she smiles that winning almost toothless grin – her other teeth perfect and white – and somehow she undoes all your thoughts of what belongs to you. She is sheepish and shy while undoing your zipper, and she slips you the hand while conversing about Literature, the Arts. Her fingernails are dirty, and her nails are chipped – not all of them. When she sings she can belt out a tune like a diva – her raspy voice a tattooed barmaid seducing the song, her long fingers holding a long cigarette, and she acts like she knows you, even on the street, fresh from the bed, in front of people you want to impress and don’t want to know that you know her. And I love her, I love her.
This love affair, I’ll admit, has gone on for so long, she’s the only one, the only one I see. I look around for others and – it’s not that she’s possessive -she’d let me go if I wanted, but somehow, that voice and the way she holds her cigarette, the way her eyes dance with a dangerous flame going up – I want her – I want her – I admit. She’s a bitch and she loves me, but she’s all I’ve got.
At night in the deep of her arms she pulls me close and tells me lies, but she makes them sound like the truth. Her lipstick is so red, so red that it makes the words pink, so they taste like candy in my mouth, and they make me sick but I keep on eating. It’s the only food she has, and I‘m hungry. I am so hungry I forgot how to eat, but Poverty -Poverty won’t touch me, – she rubs my feet, and tells me how someday she‘ll get to the rest of me, when she has time – she’s busy right now, she says through her red lipstick, over her shoulder, then whips out her cell phone to talk to some guy and in the morning she’s gone, but my pillows are stained. No quarters for the laundry.
I call and leave messages – I call all the time, but she’s out, or she’s screening, she has an appointment – it’s only a friend. So I wait and pass time – I watch some TV – she’ll come around again – I know it. She always does. And just when it gets so bad – when I’m so lonely I feel like I’ll die, Poverty comes around whistling a tune, and she throws me some money and winks – just a little, just enough, and I feel so lucky, I go out and buy me some token of Poverty’s affection, something to hang on the car mirror maybe – and when I see her next I’ll take her by the hand and thank her for not forgetting me – she’s all I have. I take the token home and I put it on my windowsill . I think of Poverty when she’s not there – she’s always there but she’s never there, when she’s out or with others, or smoking in bathrooms, or on the phone with one of her friends. Only friends.
Then we’re at a party and she’s in a mood, – she slips out for a smoke, and slits her eyes at me while going by – I was trying to ignore her, but sometimes she’ll grab me and make me feel strong, like I could do without her, she’ll kiss me like a drunken bear and then push me away and I’m out on my own. Woozy and swollen and stumped.
And I don’t want her anymore – I’m sick of her – through, you see ? I’ve had it with her. I don’t want her any more. I follow and grab her skinny dry wrists and she pushes me into the street and I go – I flip her off and tell her her ass is too skinny ! Now in the light of the street she’s scrawny and drawn, and not the least bit attractive – her teeth are loose and falling out, her foot massages stink – she’s a prude and she’s greedy, I tell her – I don’t like the token -it’s cheap and it’s flimsy – it’s damn badly made, it swings like a monkey from my mirror, a monkey on my back, cheap, like her shoes , which don’t match her red velvet dress! They’re the wrong color! This backs her up to the concrete street wall. She draws a straight line with her eyes from my feet to my hair and opens her mouth to a scowl shaped like a red bent wheel and rolls it at me -a string of cuss words and a thousand ships sailing out of a red cave to war with blue flags unfurling behind, and she flicks her cigarette butt at me while it burns and she laughs at her own cruelty, – she has outdone herself this time! Then she walks down the stair case, that haggy old bitch, – she looked young in the dark – I’m a fool – and she picks up the phone like I ceased to exist and she talks and I walk.

I walk away. I am done with her. She bores me. I admit it – I loved her. I loved her so much I wanted to bleed for her. I wanted her hand to reach through my chest and pull out my heart. I wanted her all to myself all the time, I wanted to live with her, live inside her, I wanted to be in her blood.
But there’s no liquid in those skinny veins – and she doesn’t eat so I can’t take her out. She’d throw up the dinner. I’d call at the door of the bathroom, “ Poverty ! Poverty! Are you in there? When are you coming out?! ” Here she comes, wiping her mouth with the back of her wrist. Her hands, though the fingers were long and attractive – dry as ten bones in a graveyard. She was mean, through and through.

So why did I love her, why was I devoted, why did I want her and need her and follow her and beg her, again and again, to keep me, to keep me ? Why did I come back again and again, hoping she’d notice me, that I’d be the one that she’d keep?
That bitch didn’t even read the paper-she knew nothing of current affairs – the earthquake in India, the riches of the world , the colors of the grass, the ups and downs of the stock exchange, the song of the wind, the blue of the sky , the feel of the air in the Spring, the cats and dogs to feed and stroke, the babies with fat rolls of flesh and toothless smiles of pure love – she was selfish, is all. There was no one but her. Just Poverty. A one woman show. No room for anyone else. Nothing in the refridgerator, because she forgot to pick up the milk, she forgot to pick up the bread. That should have been the first clue.

But we’re through now, see? Through.

Mrs. Norbert’s Last Day

Mrs. Norbert was terribly, horribly, awfully lonely. This did not quell her consternation that, after sixty years of indentured servitude to her employer, the old geezer refused to croak. Despite her subtle and desperate urgings to malevolent and fallen angels (these she knew by name), and the constant deluge of below the breath incantations and attempts on his life both real and imagined, the moustachioed unicyclist would not give up the ghost.

Yes, of course, she had gone the unoriginal route of poison in his five o’clock bourbon. His constitution was boarish. She had brilliantly staged her own violent tripping over the base of a ladder he had called upon her to hold while he replaced a broken shingle on the roof, sending the ladder into a side to side rocking like a small boat on a pond, but he had somehow righted himself, mid-air. His balance was exemplary. Up in the sky he merely muttered, derisively, “Cow.” Mrs. Norbert stubbed her toe to bleeding, probably fractured. And though her rage was high, she knew she’d have to wait to try to kill him again, or her intentions would be suspect and future plans would have to be aborted. Mr. Altuscher thought her most clumsy.

At the six month mark after the ladder debacle came the height of an internally stoked rage that fanned the fire of her hatred for an additional two months till it peaked in an attempt to off Mr. A once and for all, this time for good. It was preceded by one of those periodic silences which occurred between them once every three or four months for a period of ten to thirty days. The account follows thusly:

At the stroke of midnight on the 29th day of  the second month of her apparent invisibility, her passion stole away with her level head. After his evening cognac, after he retired for the night, after no outward provocation whatsoever but the melodic chiming of the clock bell, Mrs. Norbert ran into the overgrown back pasture, -which she refused to mow despite his daily harassing, – grabbed the rusty ax from its home in the rotten stump, and hastily slipped into the boudoir where Mr. Altuscher slept soundly. The hallway chimes sang a dainty song of murder within their clock case as she stepped to the bedside and raised the axe over her head in an exaggerated Lizzie Bordenesque pose. “Mrs. Norbert raised her axe, gave her master forty wacks,” she muttered madly. The seering flame of her hatred speedily spread from the inner chambers of her red hot heart into her burning fingertips, making her clutch the shuddering axe end tighter. Mrs. Norbert opened her mouth in the silent cinematic shape of a grotesque scream. For a second, she was frozen there. The chimes ended and silence stopped Time. Mrs. Norbert stared at the victim-to-be one last time.

However, at the height of this axe wielding moment, an untimely and precious little pig snort erupted from under Mr. Altuscher’s bicycle moustache, popping up over his little goatee, stopping her in her tracks. Something about the pathetic eruption struck Mrs. Norbert as indelibly funny. In his sleep, the little bowtie of fur stood straight up from beneath his full and quivering lower lip, which was half covered by his upper teeth – all elephant tusk ivory imported from Africa, – while at the same time Mr. Altuscher’s right brow seemed to spasmodically calculate a particularly difficult algoryhthm by going up as his left eyebrow convulsed dispeptically down. It was all she could do to keep from dropping the axe on the bed and heaving herself onto him in comradely hysterics.

Damn it to hell, her nocturnal designs were no good. Despite his irrascibility during the day, he was irresistably adorable while he slept. Little puppy snorts and lip shivers and pretend kisses played upon the pretty purple concertina of his surprisingly girlie lips. By moonlight, an illusory shadow of dreamy innocence overrode his daily obnoxious disinclination toward every living thing. By night as she gazed upon him in his bed, she forgot his diurnal troddings on her prize begonias. She should have known better than to attempt a night time coup. He recalled nothing of these visits, for his soul abandoned its body completely as he ventured forth in Dream Land. Sometimes he’d peddle his unicycle with fervor under the quilt, muttering at the teenaged hoodlums who followed in his one wheeled wake.

In the midst of this internal reverie, with her axe quivering on high, Mr. Altuscher then issued forth a teeny weeny eructation that instantly offset the enormity of his grotesquely humungous belly, and Mrs. Norbert’s rage fizzled and grew into the beginnings of a laugh which overtook her. The axe dropped onto the bed, bounced once, flipped over and proclaimed itself dead in Mr. A’s stead. Quickly, she snatched it up and tucked it under her arm and over her apron, chuckling madly with her wrist shoved up her nose and her index finger extended to stop her hysteria from sneezing him awake. She waddled and sprinted into the hallway from the orange moon light in the half lit bedroom, ducking and biting the crease between her hand and forearm. All that lovely rage built up over eight long months fizzled in the moonlight.

It was no use. Everytime her hatred reached its utmost crescendo, something would crack and she would find him tolerable, even amusing. Once a couple years back, as she dimly recounted her accomplishment of talking the green grocer down from two dollars on a huge sack of potatoes (they had too many eyes, she’d said, all of them watching her), Mr. A. had slapped her on the back so hard in a fit of chummy pride that she choked on her tea-time biscuit and his panic forced him to administer a hasty Heimlich manuevoer with a bit too much upward heave. Mrs. Norbert’s right breast popped out of its hassock. They shared a look of horrible shock. Mr. A’s right eyebrow convulsed. The left pressed down. His lower lip fur curled up. He turned boiled beet red. Mrs. Norbert came to, turned away, shoved her breast back into her blouse and had an unusual thought, a first. Perhaps he was trying to kill her.

At dinner that night he did not eat the potatoes au gratin she had prepared with cream, but left the perfectly browned square untouched upon his plate – his way of saying he was completely disinterested in her breasts.

She waited, fuming, and countered his slight the following week (she waited nine days to be exact) by rigging a large trunk to tumble down on him from the top of the attic steps when he pulled on the rope to the secret door in the ceiling, but at the fateful moment of the predetermined day when he pulled on the rope and the steps unfurled, nothing happened. The trunk’s metal corners got caught on the rotting wood of the attic floor and the heavy trunk did not plunge down on him as planned. He walked up the folding steps, pushed the trunk back and muttered about Mrs. Norbert’s forgetfulness. God had blessed him with the unique talent of being hard to kill.

She was bloodied but undaunted. Time went by.

***

It was a Friday. This would be her last day. She’d quit. She’d quit for good, rather than kill him. She was out on the porch, sipping her morning’s tea and contemplating the timing of her second cigarette out of view of the master. She thought of their morning’s breakfast chat.


“My teacup handle smells of tabak,” he’d said.
“Stick it up your rump, sir,” she’d retorted in a whisper as she poured the Earl of Grey. Dash of cream.
“One if you please.”

Sugar, one,  level. I know sir, it’s been sixty two years, sir. I caught on at month two, when I was twelve, when my mum died and you pulled me from school to keep as your servant. This she said silently to herself.

“ Hmm?” he mused over his paper. “Stick what?”
“Stick of butter on your crumpet, sir?”
“Not a whit. You know how I feel about fat.” He said this absentmindedly, gazing at her waist.
“ It’s my last day, sir, my last day.”
“Your last day for the thousandth time.”
Forget the trunk, I’ll throw him down the stairs, she thought, roller skates at the top. Down he’d go, thumpidy, thumpidy, thump.

***

Now in the morning sun she sat on the stoop away from him but with him as the three daily dreaded boys appeared over the hill that led to the front of the house. A new one – a blond – was with them today, wonder who? The heat shimmered off the pavement and the three paused at the top of the hill, adolescent sheriffs at high noon. The red headed one – Pfeiffer, was it? was getting tall. How old were they? She had forgotten how to determine age. Maybe nine, or fourteen. Children these days were hard to figure. Their attention spans jerky and zippy. Talk fast to keep them interested, do strange things to give them something to talk about later, or else you’re detestable, or worse, invisible. She had a moment to herself before they landed in front of her on their usual passage through.


Today was Thursday. Tuesday next would be the day. Do it on Tuesday. Give me the weekend to plan a never before plan. Monday to settle it, Tuesday to do it, Wednesday to make the arrangements, weeping to Mr. Petersen at Weschler’s, Thursday to do the laundry or it’d get backed up, and Friday the funeral could be, or Saturday, just in time for her day off, Sunday. She’d inherit the house. Black dress with the lavender flounce. Stockings.


“Nor butt, nor breasts!” the black haired one blurted as they sauntered down the hill, stopping at the intersection where the stone and grass path joined the sidewalk, bounded by the white picket fence in front of 337 Elmhurst, coffin of elm in a hearse, the house would soon be hers.
“Nor butt, nor boobs!” Blackie exclaimed again, nervous that his taunt had fallen flat.

This was half true, but not all true. She had breasts, but no butt.


“Yeah. Where’s your butt, Norbutt? ” This was Pfeiffer, the red headed one. He’ll be the death of me, she thought as he lifted the latch of the white picket fence and carefully stepped in.
Mrs. Norbert, this being a squeezing point for her, was caught off guard. Whenever she was caught between a truth and the need for its defense, she was rendered impossibly dumb, or managed to say something that made no sense whatsoever. The truth was she was top-heavy, a sail boat with all sail and no boat. Her legs were skinny strands of string and her bottom was doll-size. She was shaped like a balloon about to burst. Truth pithed her brain like a laboratory frog.

Once, when Mr. Altuscher asked her why there was a blood stain on his sheet, she said “I’ll have to ask my father,” then hurried out of the dining room, unable to tell Mr. A. that she herself had bloodied the sheet when he’d left town for the week and she’d slept in his bed. She had washed the sheet three times- twice by hand, but the edges of the round spot were still slightly visible. She had no thought that he would ever be at eye level with the spot, unexpected and one of the last she would ever make, and after the three washings, she’d felt satisfied that it was barely visible.

What were you doing crawling under the covers and inspecting the godforsaken sheets? she wanted to say, but instead said “I’ll have to ask my father ” and ran from the room as if on a mission to do so. That was thirty years ago, and the incident was the first of many wherein Mr. Altuscher was caught engaging in precarious or questionable positions in order to catch the evidence of Mrs. Norbert having done something she oughtn’t to have been doing while he was elsewhere and unable to cast his fervent and disapproving eye.


Mr . Elroyd Manchester, Mrs. Norbert’s father who had predeceased his wife by six years, was a distinguished man though a plumber all his life. He’d been dead for decades and there was no asking him anything. He had served as a volunteer fireman in the carnival colored pier town of Tenby, Wales and when she was six, in happier times, he had taught her to slide down the fire pole. Despite this childhood perk, when the truth was spoken, her brain turned to slush and her tongue corroborated nonsense limericks.


“Gone deef, Mrs. Norbert?” Pfeiffer inquired.

This was an odd bit of concerned respect mingled with rude conjecture which belied the boy’s interest in her, but she couldn’t get her tongue to trip out a retort. This particular big butted offense, upon which the black and now red headed boy had tripped and landed squarely, was a long time holding place of grief for Mrs. Norbert. To compensate for the fear that her lower self was turning altogether invisible while her upper body increased, Mrs. Norbert grew a middle to throw the attention off both the bottom and the top. She grew it and grew it. Her middle was impressive. She looked like the snake in The Little Prince who ate the hat, or the elephant, she couldn’t remember which.


‘There’s lots in between! “ Said the black haired boy, Jones, who was scrawny and plastered with sweat.
“ I ate an elephant,” said Mrs. Norbert, surprising herself. That made sense. She set her cup down on the stoop menacingly, and reached sneakily for the bodily hiding place of her fags, turning back towards the window. She just now remembered that Mr. A. had gone to the Garden Show with that slutty Lily Hennessey, the Mobile Librarian. Her candied beau with the pencil moustache and cowboy bolero was the traveling lingerie salesman who appeared at Mrs. Norbert’s door like clockwork every other month and tried in vain to sell her fringey brassieres. Despite Mr. A.’s frequent troddings and trippings on Mrs. Norbert’s prize begonias and over her prize roses, suddenly Mr. A. yearned to learn the wonders of flora and fauna.
“I’ll say,” said Jones awkwardly.
“Who’s the new boy?” She ventured.
“Say it, Ackeynack,” demanded Pfeiffer.
“ Fuh fuh Fred Ah ah uh – Abernathy,” he offered, surprised he’d gotten it out so easily.
“ Alright, Freddy. Now you boys get along,” she suggested, and took a cigarette out of the pack tucked under her left bra strap.
“ Can we have one?” asked the black headed one.
“ None of your business! ” bleated Mrs. Norbert, belatedly.
“ Aw come on, Mrs. No Butt, give us a smokeydoke,” said Pfieffer, rubbing his nose freckles hard, then scratching them. They stuck and wouldn’t move.
“Give us a chokey smoke! ” said Jones. The blond looked on, mute.
“How ‘bout some lemonade?” she suggested, eyeing him suspiciously. Maybe he could help her tie Mr. A. up with rope and put him in the trunk of his Marathon Cab. Maybe she could try out the arsenic dosages on the little monsters’ lemonades. No one would miss them.
“Or some biscuits?” suggested Pffieffer.
She was famous for her biscuits.
“Why do you still call them biscuits?” Mr. A. niggled, “ You’ve lived here for 66 years. They’re cookies.”
“Biscuits is what I call ‘em. You eat ‘em, anyways.”


She hoarded her Welshness and coveted certain words to annoy him. ‘Boot’ for trunk. ‘Fag’ for cigarette. ‘Pram’ for stroller. It took a bit of effort, but was worth the sheer aggravation it caused him, a small triumph, when she casually mentioned any of the above. Biscuits.


“I can bake some up right now, while you wait.”


She turned over the three smokes to the boys, who by turns rolled up their pant legs, hiked up their shorts, wiped their noses on the backs of their hands and made the requisite serious and manly preparations to smoke before setting themselves on the stoop.


“Give it here,” said Pfeiffer, the one in charge, motioning to the match box.
“Children aren’t allowed to play with matches, “ said Mrs. Norbert. She swung her chubby arm away, the melted bicep swinging. She faked a throw and as they all jumped for it, she kept the matchbox in her hand. “I’ll light them for you.”


The three heads, Jones the black corkscrewed, the straw colored head of the scrawny and stuttering Abernathy, and Pfeiffer’s red frizz mop leaned in to her with their cigarettes poking out of their o shaped mouths. Mrs. Norbert imagined dousing them with gasoline and setting them on fire, but their faces were momentarily sweet and eager and trusting, and the red gasoline can was in the garage under boxes of Mr. A.’s old tweed suits. All three closed in at once on the narrow flame, puffing ferociously. Maybe she’d spare the little buggers. Three bugeyed fish in a bowl.


Easy now, you’ll blow it out, she thought.


“ I’ll make those cookies,” she said, getting up while the three now sat down on her top stair and puffed and sucked and by turns took the cigarettes out of their mouths to look at the burning ends and ponder, pursing their lips and frowning and spitting as if they were professionals tasting the quality of this year’s tobacco crop.
“Nah thanks, No Butt,” said Pfieffer, getting up and pushing his hips forward. “ We got practice. S’ thursday. Friday’s the Big Game. That’s tomorrow.”
“ Well, good luck, then. “
“Thanks for the butts, No Butt.”
“What time’s the game?” she surprised herself for the second time by asking. She’d never had an interest in their games. What game was it? Tiddlywinks? Rugby? Checkers? Cricket? She was good at that as a tyke. The new boy had acne.
“3:30. Fuller Field,” Pfeiffer answered.


This was almost a conversation. Usually he’d flip her the finger after he’d gotten his fag and leapt over the gate, but this time, he did a cartwheel through the now open gate with the burning cigarette in his mouth.
“Bring your pom poms, Miss Naughty Butt! But, oh, I see they’re ATTACHED!

He sprang up, clutching his chest with both hands- a lithe Olympic girlchild on a springy mat, then gave her the finger – a benevolent fairy passing dust. Then he shouted like a truck driver pulling his big horn “We play HARD ball, No Butt- HARD BALL! No BUTTS aBUTT it! ” and hiked up the little package beneath the fly of his shorts in her direction, bowing reverentially, whirling his hand in front of his tiny (she could only guess) apparatus, and turned away, hopping down the street on one leg. Fourteen, she thought, or twelve. Getting little pricklies down below. She’d forgotten to call Dr. Hoffmeier about her X-rays. He was a crack. They were off to school though the morning bell had rung.

***

She would set the trap for Mr. A. then run down to the game, a perfect alibi. She would make cookies- biscuits- butter shortbread, his favorite- why not his last meal? Then serve them warm from the oven in the fancy living room under the antique glass chandelier of which he was so proud and which would soon be hers, and while he was humming and yumming with glee, while the buttered crumbs were still getting caught in his bicycle moustache, she would hit him over the head with his new snow shovel, never touched from last year’s stock, half price, twice or thrice. Or better yet – snip the electrical wire that held the shaking antique chandelier to the ceiling just enough so that when he sat down on the loveseat with his big belly underneath as usual and vibrated the entire room with his landing, the wire would snap and Crash. The End.


He was always stealing her shortbreads. She’d tell him one plate only. This would guarantee that he’d get up from the couch in the living room with the first plate and steal the second from the kitchen, bringing it back to the couch under the chandelier where a second small earthquake would unravel the chandelier onto his moustachioed head. He lacked originality and it wouldn’t occur to him to eat them in the kitchen. He would go back to where she had placed him like a dog who liked his favorite spot.


She would be gone by then, having run to the game with another plate of shortbread. The boys would see her there as would the entire town, and she would be rid of him and rich. She would be rich and rid of him, a perfect combination, though the money hardly mattered. The creamy Victorian aka 337 Elmhurst, the tools in the shed, the money in the can on the top shelf between the candied pears, all hers. And no him. The Grim Reaper would seize and cease him. The chandelier would embrace him like a deathly Christmas tree.


She would sing at his funeral – Rock of Ages. The black dress, mid-calf, lavender flounce at the breast. Pfeiffer would accompany her down the aisle to view the body in the matching lavender satin lined coffin she would pick out, weeping in the wake room at Weschler’s Funerial. The red headed Pfieffer would deliver her to the coffin, take a step back in a gentlemanly fashion, do a backwards cartwheel, grab a smoking fag from the cripplied mitt of Mrs. Weschler, the undertaker’s wife crouched in the third row smoking under a pew, and give Mr. A. the final finger on Mrs. Norbert’s behalf. Then, sprinkling his pixie dust of nonchalance and razzmatazz, he’d grab his little, undernourished, overanxious crotch- the packet with its prickly hairs down below, and shout “SO LONG SUCKER!” All in honor of his eternal devotion to Mrs. Norbert. Prickly hairs down below she had never seen.

***

She had met Mr. Norbert at the butcher a couple of months before he was shipped out to Germany and they married on a whim the afternoon before his ship sailed that night, never consummating the marriage. She had continued to work for Mr. A. while writing to Mr. Norbert, until she got word that her beloved, a year into his service and on his way home for a conjugal visit to finally deflower his wife, (he had written to the President with their story), was killed when his small plane flying out of a French field over ran the runway and sped through a patch of trees to a neighboring farm, where just at the point of lift off, it collided with a Spanish Italian cow named Senorita Santa Maria Olivetti and crashed nose down, killing both the pilot and Mr. Norbert.

This last detail was included in the letter the French farmer wrote in his broken English when, after the plane exploded and the flames died down, he climbed weeping from the loss of his favorite cow into the fallen plane’s burnt out cockpit and retrieved a photo of Mrs. Norbert from the co-pilot’s breast pocket. The back of it said “Love Eternal from Gladys to Mr. Norbert, my Fred.” The farmer, being a Frenchman, was touched, and while he loved his cow, he also loved a good love story, and so did his best to honor the deaths of both of their loved ones.


The remains of Senorita Santa Maria Olivetti and Mr. Fred Norbert were buried next to each other in the French farmer’s lavender field with the Pilot, Dr. Bruno Paladino, because the army couldn’t get there in time to stop them from rotting and stinking. They never sent the bodies home. To prove their deaths to the military and be reimbursed for his expenses before he buried them for eternity behind the cow shed, the farmer took a photo of all three laying side by side: pilot, co-pilot, and cow, and sent it with a letter of explanation to the English War Counsel and the families of the bereaved, inviting them to visit the graves at any time. The farmer keeps fresh flowers on the graves to this very day. Thus her career as Mrs. Norbert ended, but not anticipating the No Butt clause, she kept the name because it was shorter to write than Manchester by three letters.

***

At the game on Friday afternoon- it was really early evening -, Pfeiffer hit the ball so soundly, so smack dab right on, that the bat cracked with a sound that split the world in half, or so it seemed to Mrs. Norbert, because though it was traveling at the speed of light, she saw – for one tiny flash of a second – that the ball was headed straight at her head, which she turned. There was another crack, this time from inside her skull, followed by a whirring noise as the baseball loosened the large cluster of blood inflamed grapes that was the faulty vein formation in her head and the subject of her unclaimed X-ray – the cluster which had caused her occasional seizures throughout her entire life. Somehow Mr. A. had only caught her having one as they had become more frequent of late, and he never spoke of it again, though he had wiped her mouth with a cool wet cloth that night.

Sometimes she’d find him outside her door in the dark, pretending to read the paper by the hall light. Dr. Hoffmeier had told her to remove it long ago before it grew, but she didn’t want anyone tampering with her head, least of all a quack doctor. Beady little eyes. Blue.

The Pfeiffer boy, indeed, had been her downfall. It would have been a home run. The grape cluster, upon receiving its impact from the baseball – a personal vendetta between ball and grapes, sent an instant message to Mrs. Norbert’s brain that said, “ Let’s just call it a day, shall we?”

Mrs. Norbert, for the third time in the last twenty four hours, was surprised. The timing was unexpected. She had to get back to the kitchen and clean up. She wondered if Mr. A. had eaten the second round of shortbreads and jarred the chandelier onto his own head, meeting his crystal-y demise. The whirring sound turned into celestial music – O mouthed sopranos where she preferred the mellower alto- as the bleachers shook with people pouring over to Mrs. Norbert’s fallen body. She had simply toppled forward over the bleacher below her and was no-butt to the wind. Her heavy top was nearly invisible beneath the bleachers, her feet were waggling in the air.
They struggled to right her, and she saw as she floated from above, as the parents and friends of Treadle Middle School baseball team manhandled her body and attempted to pull her upright against the top heavy weight of her upper body, that the whole Design was utterly hilarious, – totally ridiculous, and yet, there was a certain perfection to it all. An unquestionable sort of roundness.


Mr. A. was in the kitchen, looking for more shortbread after having left the couch in the living room. He had eaten all the shortbread on the plate in the living room under the chandelier, which missed him as it fell just as he got up from under it to go to the kitchen. He fixed the faulty wire, stood on the ladder, attached the chandelier, and ate the second plate of shortbread. That immortal monster, that magical escaper from the Grimmest Reaper, that slippery phantom of life had done it again.


Mrs. Norbert saw him from above as she suddenly flew from the baseball field through the front wall of the house to the kitchen, where she hovered between the high beams. After he ate the last shortbread at the counter, warm and buttery from the white and scallop edged plate, he did something, did Mr. A, that was very very strange indeed. He picked up her apron from where it lay draped on the knob of the drawer and lifted it to his face. He smelled the front of it. Then he smelled the place that wrapped around under Mrs. Norbert’s armpits. Then he laid the fabric against his face and sighed like a thumbsucking school girl. Then he smelled the part that was her lap, and buried his face into it as if he were washing his face.


Mrs. Norbert floated above the ceiling fan, looking down disgustedly between the slightly moving slats. There was a knock at the door, and she could see Pfeiffer standing there – see him right through the door, though she was down the hall in the kitchen, and he was teary eyed and blotchy faced, wiping his sweaty, grubby hands on his reddened eyes, then on his pants, then across his nose, rubbing his freckles off while still they stayed stuck to his face. It would be summer soon, and she would miss the blueberries in the back. Mr. A. didn’t know the pancake recipe, so who would make them for him?


Due to some scheduling problems, the funeral would have to be Sunday, her day off . The undertaker’s son, Clarence Weschler, played short stop. Pfeiffer delivered the news, crying, then closed his grubby mitt around the door and shut it one last time. Jones the black headed and the new boy with the stutter and the straw colored hair, Abernathy, stood silent and grief stricken behind him. They had lost the game.


Mr. A. sank to the floor, sniveling, then crawled to the kitchen. His lower lip quivered and pumped, and little snorts shot in and out of his untrimmed nasal hairs.Mrs. Norbert waivered above him like a 3-D cartoon snipped from the Sunday Paper, being shaken out between two hands. What she saw surprised her for the fourth time in twenty four hours.
“For God’s sake, he loves me, the brute.”
For suddenly, Mr. A began to bellow paroxysms of grief like a moose in the wilderness, a moose who had just fallen over, his feet all caught in a metal trap, as top heavy as she at the moment of her death.
“Gladys, nooooooooooooooo! Gladys, noooooooooooo!”
His voice rose like heat off the coils of their old stove, the one she had asked him to replace a thousand times. He’d refused, of course.
“ Stop that this instant !” Mrs. Norbert screeched. “It’s disgusting ! Stop it! Stop it right now! ”
“Gladys, noooooo! Noooooo! Gladys, noooooooo!, ” he continued, repeating this mantra again and again and again and again until after dark, when he sprawled out full length upon the floor with the apron clutched between his hands, his feet moving as if he were riding his unicycle, and muttering as if he were reading a bedtime story to himself, one with a sad but inevitable ending.

Written by Sea R. Glassman