The Comeback Tour
When Lindy’s husband was fifty-three he decided he wanted braces. “Explore. Dream. Discover,” he said. Lindy admired his forward thinking, even though the supposedly invisible braces were totally visible--plastic guarding his mouth, and since he was executive chef in the only restaurant in town with a Michelin star, he was always taking the contraption out to taste test, then losing it, then having to return to the orthodontist to buy another one. They’d just finished paying off the five thousand dollars to straighten their daughter’s teeth at Loving Care, where patients slipped on headphones to “ease the tooth’s journey.” Ocean waves or Indian sitar, your choice. After six months of the plastic armor and the ocean waves, her husband left her for the orthodontist.
Which was too much exploring, dreaming and discovering, at least for Lindy.
Lindy thought of herself as forward thinking, too, not so much in an explore, dream, discover way, more in a ditch digging, plow horse kind of way, but definitely someone who still knew how to have fun. Examples of her fun side: 1) she drank eight ounces of strong French Roast with two percent in the morning before she switched to decaf and non-fat for the rest of the day, 2) she drank four ounces of red wine after five pm, and 3) she had a long hot bath every weekend. She could be chill, as they say.
“It’s not magic,” she had always told her children. “You can have whatever you want if you just work hard enough.” But now, though she’d never slacked off, never, this divorce thing had happened. A setback. In fact, one could say that she was losing everything she’d worked for—her husband and the nuclear family that went with him, her house, and the gourmet dining. But the point is, Lindy thought, the point is that it doesn’t matter what the point is, you just have to dust yourself off and keep on keeping on. As her dad always said, “No quitters allowed!”
In August, they sold the house and most of their furniture. Her son had spent his summer as a tennis instructor, then went back to college, but in September she and her seventeen-year-old daughter moved out of the suburbs into a small two-bedroom rental in Santa Cruz. Her ex moved to San Francisco into a canary yellow and rose pink Victorian on Nob Hill with his beloved orthodontist. Lindy bought a used Hyundai and furniture from Goodwill. She spent weekends fixing the furniture up, made pillows for the couch, washed the slipcovers, sanded and stained the coffee table. She found it satisfying--the sewing machine needle’s onward march, the deep pleasure of the straight line, or her furious conflict with the chipped brown paint on the coffee table—the way it yielded to her scraper in long, rubbery strips.
She thought she might be allergic to that stain though, because her face began to sting and burn around the edges, as if it were framed in nettles. Also her eyes felt like there was grit in them, pretty much all the time. But she figured she’d ignore it, and it would go away.
Without her husband’s ridiculously elaborate meals to come home to, she had more time to concentrate on her job as the County Director of Manpower—‘we raise productivity!’ She got home at nine or ten PM, ate something, a defrosted bagel maybe, but mostly TV dinners, in front of the television. Frozen dinners! So tidy and compact, the satisfying peel of the tinfoil and then the steam rising, the creamed chicken and broccoli sharing the same comforting consistency and salty tang as the cherry crumble. A friend of hers suggested she try yoga, so she brought a yoga mat into work to do relaxation exercises during her lunch hour, but she usually forgot and just worked straight through. Sometimes she worked so late, she slept on her yoga mat under the desk, got up, took a little sponge bath in the Ladies, and just started working.
She was on her feet again. Really. Of course, it didn’t help that her daughter, Kayla, didn’t seem to want to be part of the solution. First, Kayla refused to change schools, and rode her bike seven miles back into the suburbs every morning. Bent furiously over her yellow beach cruiser, her books in a wicker picnic basket bungeed to the back, Kayla looked a little like the wicked witch in The Wizard of Oz. Except ridiculously pretty, with blond hair wisping out of a careless bun and those perfect teeth, which Lindy avoided looking at.
In the beginning of October, Kayla told her mother she wasn’t going to college, she was going to The Stone Turtle Cooking School in Maine. Lindy tried to be supportive, but she also noted that Kayla had chosen her father’s profession and that the school was as far away as she could get and remain in the continental U.S. Kayla quit yearbook and soccer and obtained a part time job as a caterer. She became an obsessive watcher of that cooking channel. It was hard not to think she was doing it for spite. Every time Lindy walked into the house the television assaulted her with culinary words--rough cut, mis en place, fine dice, harmony of flavors. It was unbearable. There was also something about how still she sat, Kayla, on the couch, her mouth hanging just slightly open, inviting flies, her long, spidery arms sagging at her sides, but eyes secretly alert, watching Lindy’s every move. It made Lindy want to yell, What? What?
What Kayla complained about constantly was that there was nothing to eat in the house. Lindy told her to microwave the frozen food she stocked up on, which was convenient and lasted forever.
One day near the end of October, Kayla harassed Lindy into grocery shopping. They bickered over what to buy. Lindy was sure all those fresh vegetables would rot and go to waste. Kayla followed Lindy down the frozen food aisle, reading aloud the sodium content of the dinners she put in the cart. They were on line at the checkout, when Kayla gave her a look straight out of a horror movie. “What is that?” Kayla hissed. She turned her back to Lindy and stared at the tabloid rack.
“What is what?” Lindy read one of the headlines out loud: “Chicken Pox Vaccine Transforms Child Into A Monster”?
Kayla snuck another look at her, then grabbed the tabloid and opened it in front of her face. “In your eye, Jesus, in your eye.”
Lindy put her finger behind her glasses, swiped, and came away with something nasty.
“The pus looked like a maggot in your eye,” Kayla said behind the tabloid. “I threw up a little in my mouth when I saw it.”
So Lindy made a doctor’s appointment. But instead of her regular doctor, Joyce, who she’d been seeing since Kayla was born, a pale, skinny, dark-haired woman dressed all in black under her white lab coat shouldered open the examination room door where Lindy sat on the table organizing her purse. Lindy pressed her knees together and held her purse over the gap in the open gown. “Is Joyce okay?” Lindy asked.
The doctor started sneezing violently, one-two-three-four-five. Then she sighed, wiped her nose with a tissue, said in a smoker’s voice, “Joyce has gone down to part-time. I’m Doctor Renier--Joyce and I will be sharing the practice.” She sneezed again, then reached out her knobby wrist to grab more tissues. Lindy leaned way back. “Don’t worry, it’s allergies. They’ve been acting up since I moved here from Buffalo. California is attacking me.”
“Good for Joyce!” Lindy said.
Dr. Renier paced about with the clipboard, sniffing. “I see you’ve indicated here that you don’t want your prescription for birth control renewed. Are you still menstruating?” she said.
Lindy kept her purse over her chest. “Yes—“
“What’s worse?” The doctor blew her nose. “Premenstrual depression or perimenopausal rage, good question, right?”
Lindy reminded herself--Polite, but focused. “I’m here because I think I am having some kind of reaction. Maybe a food allergy. Do you think I could have developed an allergy to frozen dinners?”
“What kind of birth control are you planning to use?”
Lindy stared at the large diagram of a breast on the wall. “Luckily, I don’t have to use it anymore. My husband and I separated over the summer.”
“I just got divorced, too. That’s why I moved out here. Welcome to the pain that keeps on giving, am I right?”
“I see it as an adventure.”
“You see divorce as an adventure? Are you on-line dating? I tried that, and let me tell you, I’d rather get a cavity filled sans Novocain, you know what I mean? But if that’s your choice, you’ll need to practice safe sex.”
“No, I’m not—I don’t have time to date. But who cares? When you think of it, sex is pretty boring. Just one thing, then another.”
“Are you on anti-depressants?”
“No. Gosh no. My problem is that my eyes are infected, and my face burns all the time.”
Dr. Renier came closer, peered into her eyes with a penlight, asked her to look this way and that, pressed around the lids with her long, witchy fingers. She turned away a couple of times to sneeze. Then she wrote something on the clipboard. “You have blepharitis. Your tears are thick and sluggish, prone to block the ducts and cause infection.” She looked up. “Are you of Ashkenazi Jewish descent?” she asked.
“Yes,” Lindy, said. “What does that—“
“Because you appear to have rosacea, too. A swelling of the blood vessels in the face that causes redness and a burning sensation. Blepharitis and rosacia often present together. I’m not going to lie to you, it’s not curable, but it’s manageable, like most things, am I right?”
“But I’m only half Jewish,” Lindy said.
“Well, let me think about this. Were you batmitzvahed?”
“That was a joke. You still have the genes. I’m not going to lie to you, this is almost definitely going to get worse.”
Lindy pushed away the image of her aunt and grandmother with their red bulbous clown noses and weeping eyes. “Oh, well,” she said.
“Common triggers are stress, caffeine, red wine and hot baths. You’ll have to give up all that.”
“Whatever, right?” Lindy smiled.
“I find that aggressive.” The doctor blew her nose hard.
“That. That ‘whatever’. That’s aggressive. All this ‘hang ten’ and this ‘chilling out’ is just a defense mechanism.”
Lindy looked down at the purse she still held against her chest. She said carefully, “But don’t you think maybe wearing black and being sarcastic is a defense mechanism, too? Don’t you think we all need something to protect ourselves? Otherwise, how would we get through the day?”
The doctor gave her a crooked smile. “Good question. I like a woman who recognizes her neuroses.” She sneezed.
After the appointment, Lindy went to the pharmacy to pick up the prescriptions, then back to work and stayed until eleven PM. As she climbed the stairs to her apartment she saw the blue glow of the television through the window, thought, Cooking Channel, and steeled herself, but when she opened the door she heard Michael Jackson singing Billy Jean. There was a prince sitting on the couch with her daughter, who was dressed in a tiny black flapper dress. They were holding hands. The prince wore a golden crown at a rakish angle, an unbuttoned gold brocade jacket, black tights and black pointy velvet shoes.
Halloween. Of course, she knew it was the Halloween season, she wasn’t that out of it, she’d noticed all the decorations around the office, she just hadn’t put together that this was the exact particular night. “Happy Halloween!” Lindy said and stood behind them.
There he was on TV, The King of Pop before he’d finished construction of his mask—still darkish, with a realish nose, moonwalking. “I love him,” Lindy said.
“He’s a freak,” Kayla said, and Lindy thought she might have mumbled, “just like you” but she couldn’t be sure.
“And who might this be?” Lindy asked politely.
Kayla mumbled, “This is” somebody or other.
Lindy couldn’t even catch the name. It sounded like curling iron.
Prince Curling Iron turned and grinned. He had golden brown hair, big green eyes, long lashes. And did everyone in the world have perfect, shining teeth these days? No wonder her ex-husband and ex-orthodontist were living high off the hog.
“Are you a friend from school?” she asked, smiling back.
He said he went to the local community college, but that he and Kayla worked for the same caterer. He wanted to be a chef, too.
“An older man!” Lindy said gaily.
Kayla gave her a quick, poisonous glance, maybe checking to see if she had pus in her eye, then went back to the television.
Lindy stood behind them. The Thriller dance sequence came on. Dressed all in red, those Cleopatra eyes, that single curl on his forehead, so elegant in his transformation into whatever it was he was turning into. No one could move like him. “I had a Thriller party when I was in college,” Lindy said.
“Memories,” the prince said.
Lindy kept standing there, kind of bopping and mumbling along, “There ain’t no second chance against the thing with forty eyes, girl,” until Kayla turned around and looked at her. Then Lindy said, “Not too snuggly now,” trying to be funny but set limits at the same time. Kayla shivered her head and shoulders like someone had walked over her grave. Lindy wondered if she were throwing up a little in her mouth again. “Curfew is midnight, even if you’re home,” she said.
Lindy kept checking back in every ten minutes or so, pretending to get a glass of water or opening and closing the refrigerator.
“There’s nothing in there,” Kayla announced sharply, “Nothing that’s not frozen solid.”
The next day was Saturday, but instead of taking a hot bath, Lindy scrubbed out her eyes with baby shampoo, held a warm washcloth to them for ten minutes, rubbed the anti-biotic ointment on them, then covered her face in a clear film, drank decaf coffee and went to the office to get ahead on paperwork. She focused on her tasks, despite the headache from lack of caffeine. She tried to ignore her burning face, because the prescription said it could take up to five weeks to work.
Lindy came home to an empty house. She stood there for a minute, blinking to ungum her eyes, listening, but there was nothing to hear. Then she decided the whole place needed a good, brisk cleaning, so she beat up the kitchen floor with the broom and then started right to work on the couch, pounding those cushions. When she pulled one of them up she found something.
It was a small, glass blown pipe, for marijuana. Milky glass with green and gold filament wound inside it. She held it in her palm. Weirdly, it still felt warm, like a little heating pad.
She put the cushion back and sat down. She couldn’t help thinking that purely objectively the pipe was pretty. It looked like a vase for one flower, like for a daffodil. When she was in college, they smoked out of homely, squat brown clay or wooden pipes or even a couple times an apple and tinfoil. Not that she had smoked a lot, just occasionally, on weekends. Lindy tried to remember the last time she’d been high. Maybe at that Thriller party, it must have been the late eighties, her last year of college. She and her girlfriends had danced the Thriller dance for hours, laughing and laughing.
Sitting on the couch, Lindy shrugged a little, Thriller-style, to make herself smile. They had been drinking a ridiculously sweet cocktail called an Orgasm that night, with Bailey’s and amaretto and cream. They had been dressed as zombies, ripped things, sort of like Madonna, Cindy Lauper zombies. And lots of make-up, she remembered, their hair jelled up. That had been a fun time, campy. Everything light and silly and ironic, whenever she wasn’t studying. She had always liked the smell of pot.
Lindy raised the pipe up. The bowl just held some burnt residue. She sniffed. A cloud of green dust rose out of the bowl. Then, like a giant powder puff, she felt it fluff onto her face. Something shot up into her nose, like a super-sized portion of wasabi. Her eyes watered. She began sneezing uncontrollably. Heat radiated across her cheeks and forehead, then into her mouth. Her tongue felt numb, as if she’d eaten Szechuan pepper, then the heat went down her throat, pulsing into her chest and out through her arms. Her fingers tingled.
Lindy stumbled into the bathroom and looked in the mirror. Her entire face was covered in a fine, sparkling green dust, green like leaf green, Jolly Green Giant, Peter Pan green, but also with what looked like specks of gold, like green and gold powdered sugar over her nose, mouth and chin. A little sob came up her throat, but she pushed it back down. Focus, she told herself. She turned the faucet on and splashed water on her face, over and over. Like sixteen times, lime green water swirling in the drain. Her mouth tasted funny. She touched her tongue to the inside of her cheek, and swore she tasted amaretto. She gargled with mouthwash three times. She was breathing heavily, squeezing and unsqueezing her eyes. She felt dizzy.
She heard Kayla come into the house. Lindy picked up the pipe from the bathroom vanity. She cleared her throat, checked herself in the mirror and went into the kitchen. Kayla was standing at the counter, eating little puff pastry leftovers from her catering. “Surprise,” Kayla said. “No food again.”
Lindy held out the pipe on her palm. “What was in this?” she asked.
Kayla sneered. “I’m guessing weed.”
“Where did you buy it, the pot?”
“Oh my god, of course you assume that. And it’s called weed, btw. Point is, there’s no food.” She pulled open the refrigerator. “There’s nothing here. I can’t live on day old appetizers. You’re starving me to death on purpose, aren’t you? It’s your way of saying—abracadabra, disappear!” She waved her hands in Lindy’s face.
“Microwave something. And don’t change the subject. I’m not going to lose it, I just want to know, what was in this pipe? I found it in the couch. There was something very green, some substance I’ve never seen before. What is it?”
“Okay, Mom, first of all, did it ever occur to you for one second that you bought that couch at the Goodwill? I told you not to do that. It was probably owned by a stoner, or a dealer or even a drug lord whose going to come looking for the cash he stashed inside it. Or, maybe it was Dad’s pipe. He’s going through some pathetic midlife thing, right? Now, can we get back to the main point? If you want to continue life as a cyborg, go right ahead, but I’m still an actual like, real human being, so why don’t you just leave me grocery money each week on the counter. You don’t even have to see me, and I’ll buy my own food and do my own cooking, and I’ll graduate and be gone before you know it and then you can do your night of the living dead thing 24/7. Deal?”
“Your father does not smoke pot. And he’s never even sat on that couch.”
“Stop obsessing about that stupid pipe. Focus! And stop calling it pot, it’s weed okay, weed!” Kayla grabbed the pipe out of Lindy’s hand and threw it out the open window.
The broom was right next to Lindy so she hit Kayla over the head with it, the nylon brush part of course, not the handle, which wasn’t satisfying at all, but still Kayla got dust all over her face.
Before Lindy could apologize, Kayla starting screaming, “I hate you so fucking much” and winging the puff pastry rounds at Lindy, pelting her on the face and chest, her blouse and face smearing with cream cheese and bright pink bits of lox. It stunk of salmon, too, a smell Lindy couldn’t stand.
“I give up,” Lindy screamed. She ran into her room and slammed the door. She was gasping, and felt flushed. She wondered if she were having her first hot flash. She heard the front door slam. She wrestled her disgusting smelling shirt over her head instead of unbuttoning it and threw it on the floor. A glob of salmon and cream cheese dropped out of her hair.
She just started sprouting tears. Involuntarily, like a medical condition. Like a sprinkler, soaking her. She wiped her eyes. Her tears were green flecked with gold, which just made her cry more. She pulled her purse off her dresser, dug into it and pulled out all her cash—sixty dollars. She crumpled the bills into an envelope, wrote grocery money on the front, ran out to the kitchen just in pants and bra and smacked the envelope on the counter. Then she ran back into her room.
Standing in the middle of her bedroom, she suddenly felt more exhausted than she’d ever remembered feeling in her life. She climbed into her bed with her pants on, which she never did, still leaking tears, but she figured that was good, washing her eyes clean. She curled up and closed her eyes, even though she never took naps. She could have sworn the tears that leaked into her mouth tasted like amaretto. Then, Lindy slipped down into a creamy, dreamless sleep.
When she awoke, she felt rested. Calm. No wonder, it was Sunday morning, nine am—she had slept eighteen hours. Lindy smelled something baking and went into the kitchen. There was a grocery bag on the counter. Kayla was pulling blueberry muffins out of the oven. Without comment, Kayla put a muffin on a plate on the table, along with the butter dish and a knife. Then she started scrubbing the tin in the sink.
Lindy sat down. The muffin steamed when she broke open its pale yellow middle. Kayla had glazed the top with something lemony. The lemon tang and the blueberry’s sweetness waltzed around her mouth. “I’m sorry I hit you with the broom,” she said. “I was freaked out because, I know this will sound strange, but by mistake I inhaled something that must have been inside the pipe, this neon green dust. It got inside my mouth and eyes.”
Kayla stopped scrubbing. “Are you serious? Jesus, Mom, who knows what was in there?”
“So it really wasn’t yours or Prince Curling Iron’s?”
“Why are you calling him that? I told you his name is Cameron.”
“And I’m like the only teenager in Santa Cruz that doesn’t smoke weed. I hate that feeling, like I’m in a spacesuit. I just want to deal with reality.” Kayla dried her hands. “Anyway, you need to go to the doctor’s, like, now. Immediately. Why didn’t you tell me, I never would have thrown away the stupid pipe. We should try and find it so they can analyze it or whatever.”
“I feel fine now.”
“You always say that, Mom. We’re going to go look for it.”
“Okay,” Lindy said.
Still eating her muffin, Lindy followed Kayla out of the apartment and around the back where they’d never been. There was a high, rotting wooden fence, with only about four feet between it and the building. The whole space was taken up with brambles and bushes.
“There’s no way we can get in there,” Lindy said. “But check this out, rosemary!” Lindy broke off a stem. “How would you describe that smell?” Lindy asked. “It’s like the smell of a German fairytale.” She handed it to Kayla. “And here’s bay leaves. God, smell that, it’s almost like cinnamon, but not.”
Kayla held the rosemary and the ripped leaf in her fist. Her face twisted all around. “Sorry, ” she said.
“But you still have to go to the doctor. Now.”
Kayla’s care, even if a little rough, made Lindy’s eyes fill with tears again, and she turned away because she knew Kayla would hate her tears, especially if they were green.
Lindy went to urgent care. When the receptionist said, “Reason for visit?” Lindy didn’t know what to say: “I might have possibly taken the wrong medication.”
The receptionist looked up. “Do you have the medication you took with you?” “No, it got thrown away.” Lindy filled out the forms, waited a long time, paging through magazines. She surreptitiously ripped out a rosemary lamb recipe for her daughter, covering the ripping sound with a cough, though she never shoplifted, never. Finally, they called her name, and she went into the exam room and waited, staring at another diagram of another giant breast.
When the doctor came in, it startled her a little, how good-looking he was. Tall, black-haired with streaks of white around his ears, maybe Indian, another person with an absurdly shiny smile. “So, you may have taken the wrong medication?” He had a gentle voice and an aftershave that smelled like bay leaves.
“It’s a little complicated.” She explained to him as simply as she could.
“I see. You snorted marijuana.”
“Not on purpose. I’m not like that. Really.”
“Do you have the pipe?”
“No, I threw it away. Well, actually my daughter threw it away. It’s complicated.”
“Did you experience any symptoms afterward?”
“I felt a little dizzy and emotional. I had a strange taste in my mouth. But all that could have been anxiety, I guess.”
He checked her throat and eyes, blood pressure and pulse. “You seem fine. If you inhaled a small amount of marijuana, it shouldn’t hurt you.”
“There’s just one more complication. It was bright green. The pot, or weed, I mean.”
He looked interested. “How green was it?”
“Fascinating. I believe there is a strain of marijuana actually called Bright Green. It’s purported to be lime green, crystal-coated and tastes like bananas.”
“This tasted more like amaretto.”
“Sometimes marijuana is laced with almond extract.”
“You know a lot about this pot stuff.” Lindy smiled.
He smiled back. “Just an intellectual interest. I prescribe medical marijuana,” he said. “For the relief of pain,” he added.
He got busy with her form. “Now, you’ve written here that you have acute cases of both rosacea and blepharitis.”
“Yes, because I’m one of the chosen people.”
He pressed beneath her eyes, shone a light in. When he ran the slightly scratchy pads of his fingers lightly over her face, she closed her eyes.
“I see no sign of blepharitis or rosacea at all. Your eyes are absolutely clear, tear ducts not blocked. Your skin looks remarkably healthy—it has the elasticity of a thirty year old.”
She realized her skin didn’t burn. Nor her eyes. She blinked. She touched her face. “That’s so weird.”
“Sometimes these things are cyclical, they flare up, go away mysteriously. Maybe you just took good care of it.”
“Maybe the pot cured me.” Lindy laughed nervously. “Weed.”
“Do you smoke marijuana regularly?” he asked.
“Oh, no, never. The last time I smoked pot was at a Michael Jackson Thriller party in the eighties.”
“I love Thriller!” he said.
“It’s close to midnight!” He shuffled forward a little, shuffled back.
“And something evil’s lurking in the dark!” he sang. He jerked his handsome head to his shoulder.
“Under the moonlight,” Lindy jerked her head back at him. “You see a sight that almost stops your heart.” They smiled at each other.
“I’m actually having a Thriller party,” Lindy said suddenly. “A big one. Next weekend. Next Saturday night at nine in fact. You should come, you can bring your wife.”
“No wife,” he said, “Do I need a costume?”
After the appointment, Lindy went to work, but at five she received a call. “Dinner will be served at seven pm,” her daughter said gruffly.
“Oh, sweetie, I have a lot of work,” Lindy said.
“Hello? It’s Sunday. Don’t be late.” Kayla hung up.
Lindy went back to her excel spreadsheet, but the glare from the window was on her screen. She went over to the window to pull down the blinds. She stared at the golden, low-angled light. It was full of water somehow, tiny drops. She looked through the fine mist up into the blue sky. In fact, everything looked so bright and sparkly that she wondered if the blepharitis had been acting like a scrim. Then, for no good reason, Lindy packed the canvas bag she used for a briefcase, put on her sweater and left work, right then, at five.
When she got into the house it smelled so familiarly of garlic and onion simmering in butter that she had to stop in the doorway and make her face very still so she wouldn’t start crying. Then she walked into the kitchen. Her daughter and Prince Curling Iron stood side by side chopping vegetables at the counter, both in sweatshirts and jeans. He turned and smiled at her and said, “She’s here.” Kayla didn’t smile but she went to the fridge and gently lifted out a martini glass. “It’s a pomegranate Cosmo,” she said. “Ladies your age drink them.”
Lindy put her bag down and took off her sweater. She sat at the kitchen table and leaned her head up against the wall. She sipped the sweet, ruby red cocktail. The window was open, and she swore she could almost smell the brine from the ocean coming in on the soft breeze. She could almost hear the seals barking. There were bunches of rosemary and bay leaves in juice glasses on the counter, and she could smell those too. “Can I help?” she asked, taking another sip.
“Sure,” the prince said at the same time her daughter said “No.” The two of them looked at each other and laughed. Lindy laughed, too. Then Kayla brought over some celery to cut. “Fine dice,” she ordered, and Lindy didn’t even wince.
The prince said, “How was your day, Ms. Lindy?”
“Fine. How was both of yours?” It was satisfying to cut the celery, the crunching sound, the growing pile. She popped a few bits into her mouth and they burst, watery and thready, in her mouth.
Kayla complained about the uselessness of school. Then the prince told a story that he thought was really funny, about how when they were catering there was a nasty woman sending food back to the kitchen, so one of the servers spit in her food. He and Kayla were laughing, and Lindy could have said, That’s mean and unsanitary and unethical and unprofessional and you could lose your job, but instead she just said, “Gross,” and sipped her drink.
That drink went right to her head. She was a little giggly through dinner, a chicken potpie. When she asked for seconds, she said to Kayla, “You already have your own style of cooking. Comfort food, not continental, like your dad’s.”
And Kayla dished her up a big dripping slice and got all enthusiastic. “I’m really into earthy food. You know, hearty, updated old school, but nutritious, too.”
“A real food revolution,” the prince said.
Lindy told them about how Kayla’s dad wouldn’t even let her in the kitchen when he was cooking, and then she tried to describe the exact colors of the marijuana in the pipe and then she finished the last of her drink and told them about the Thriller party.
“Oh, no,” Kayla groaned, at the same time that the prince said, “And we’ll cater it.”
“I’ll pay you!” Lindy said.
“Excellent,” he said.
Kayla rolled her eyes. “The comeback tour,” she said, but she smiled a little.
That very night Lindy went on the web, downloaded some photos of Michael Jackson doing Thriller and made an E-vite that played the song. She sent it to the whole Manpower email alias. The next day at work she forwarded the email to her three good friends, adding a P.S. that she was sorry she had been so out of touch. The she forwarded it to some more random people. Her ex called to discuss finances and Lindy even invited him, plus the orthodontist. At four pm she left work to search for a costume.
During that week preceding the party, Lindy, Kayla and the prince consulted each night at dinner. Lindy got her nails painted Bright Electric Neon Lime Green. She purchased a life-sized cut out of Michael Jackson. She couldn’t find one from Thriller, but this one had on ripped eighties jeans, sneakers and a black leather jacket. Then she printed out color photos of Michael from different periods, except the way he looked right before he died, and taped them around the living room. Each night before she went to bed, Lindy watched YouTube and practiced The Thriller dance.
Weirdly, instead of singing Thriller all day at work, Lindy kept humming Rain Drops Keep Falling On My Head, and thinking of that scene in Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid which she saw when she was a little girl, when Paul Newman and Katherine what’s her name ride a bike together. Just two friends riding through the countryside, clowning together, sunlight and dandelion fluff and apple eating. Sometimes Lindy mumble-sang on three descending notes, “’Nothin’s worryin’ me’”
Kayla and the prince started prepping for the Thriller party around five on Saturday afternoon. First, Kayla told Lindy the appetizers were all 80’s inspired, but she kept ordering her out of the kitchen because she wanted it to be a surprise, so Lindy went to take a long bath and get dressed.
“Surprise,” Lindy said when she popped out of her bedroom an hour later. She had on matching red faux leather pants and jacket. She’d spent a long time doing her Cleopatra eyes, and her hair was jelled up into a perfect eighties do, with one greased corkscrew on her forehead.
“Wow,” Kayla said.
The prince laughed, but in a nice way. “Cinderella has arrived for the ball.” He kissed her hand.
There was still an hour until the party started. Lindy decided to pour herself a drink from the pitcher she’d prepared. Kayla pretended to gag and even the prince winced when she told them it was called an Orgasm.
By nine Kayla and the prince had the trays ready to go. Lindy relaxed on the couch, sipping her orgasm. At nine-thirty no one had arrived. “Fashionably late,” Lindy called into the kitchen. Kayla brought out a tasting plate for Lindy. On it, two popcorn shrimp, two Buffalo wings, some ruffled potato chips with sour cream onion dip, and a little pot of chocolate fondue with skewered mini-marshmallows. Kayla watched while Lindy tasted everything.
At ten pm Kayla said, “How many people RSVP’d?”
“Two of my friends wrote that they couldn’t come, and one said she’d try. I didn’t hear from anyone else, but there was no RSVP, anyway,” Lindy said.
Kayla looked dangerous. “Why didn’t you ask people to RSVP? Why?”
“Let’s just see who shows up. I invited this doctor--”
Kayla rolled her eyes. “You know who killed Michael Jackson, right?”
“Did you ever see Butch Cassidy and The Sundance Kid?” Lindy asked.
“Sure,” the prince said. “The one where the two dudes are totally surrounded but refuse to give up and then they die. That’s a downer.”
Kayla and the prince put the popcorn shrimp in the oven on warm and the dip in the fridge and covered the sterno for the fondue.
At ten-thirty the phone rang. Kayla picked it up.
--“That’s okay, Dad, I didn’t even know you were invited.”
--“Dad, stop apologizing, no one wanted you to come, anyway.”
--“I’m just saying.”
Kayla dropped the phone onto the coffee table and stalked into the kitchen.
Lindy followed her. “Kayla, that wasn’t very—“ The doorbell rang. Lindy widened her Cleopatra eyes.
The prince called, “The doctor’s here.”
Lindy shrugged one shoulder for courage, and walked into the living room.
The doctor was perched on the arm of the couch, holding an orgasm. The other doctor, Dr. Renier, the one who replaced Joyce. The one who looked like a twig in a black turtleneck.
“Hi,” Lindy said. “You’re not in a costume.”
The doctor held up her right hand in a white glove. “This party’s over, am I right? Or did it never get started? Who’s more pathetic, you or me, good question, right?”
“Excuse me,” Lindy said. She went to the bathroom and stared at herself in the vanity mirror.
“Mom?” Kayla hovered in the door of the bathroom, her face like an old woman’s, so white and pinched and full of worry. “You don’t look that—“
“I was just checking to make sure. I do look different, don’t I?” Lindy said. “I love how I look.”
“You do?” Kayla said.
Lindy talked to the Kayla in the mirror. “Sweetie, don’t worry so much. I’d almost advise you to explore, dream, discover, except that it would make me throw up a little in my mouth.”
“I can deal with reality,” Kayla said.
They heard the volume of the music rise. They will possess you unless you change that number on your dial. They heard the prince call, “Ms. Lindy, the doctor wants to learn the dance.”
Lindy shimmied her head and shoulders. She beckoned to Kayla with wiggly fingers and bright electric neon green nails. “Reality’s too hard. You need a little magic. You’ll see.”
The Chicago Quarterly Review, Volume 14, 2012