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THE SILENT TYPE
The Silent Type
It must have been the stiff breeze coming in off the lake that blew open the blinds and shot that piercing sunbeam into the crack beneath my eyelid. It startled me awake. I was lying in bed,but I should have been up writing my speech. I was due to tell the Rotarians of Metairie why I deserved a fourth term as their mayor. I jumped into the shower and started crafting bullet points. Renaldo said the same ole stump wasn't good enough. I needed to polish up that turd, make it gleam like shinola on my best dress boots. So from the shower I headed straight to the laptop and tried to wax eloquent.
The thought of rubber chicken at the Holiday Inn and pressing the flesh with those sweaty palmed middle managers wasn't overly inspiring and I found my mind drawn back to the view from my window. I stared down the long street that led to my third story townhouse. Near the end of visibility sat the storefront where I'd last seen her. I wondered if she was happy, if her hair was still red, if she still had those thick soft lips, the eyes that had never escaped my mind.
It had been fifteen years since I'd seen her, eighteen since we'd first met. She was married then, soon to be divorced, or so I thought. She seemed out of place in that topless joint, sitting at the end of the bar nursing a whiskey and coke, staring off into the distance between pulls on her Virgina Slim. Renaldo had dragged me down there at the end of our union meeting. Even then he was good at telling me what to do, when I needed to take a break, when I needed to hustle.
"Check out the redhead over there," he'd whispered in my ear, nudging me with his elbow. "She looks like the silent type," he mumbled, "hasn't said a word to anybody since we've been in here." He knew I liked my women that way. Honestly, they'd have to be that way to be with me, I run my mouth a mile a minute.
But I couldn't help but notice that big fat diamond on her ring finger. She kept messing with it, rolling it around like she was about to take it off. I nodded at that when Renaldo nudged me the second time.
"Dude, you never know 'til you ask, maybe she just keeps it on to scare people off, she looks like she needs some company."
"Why's a classy chick like that gonna wanna hang with a guy that stinks like fish," I shot back. "Hell, I can barely stand myself." We'd just come back from three days on the trawler in the gulf, and I hadn't had the benefit of a shower or a change of clothes.
"Dude, if you like what you see, you gotta go for it, let her decide if you're good enough," he said, poking me in the shoulder with his index finger. That wasn't the first time he knew what I wanted better than I did. I stood up off the bar stool and headed in her direction.
That's when her Travolta wannabe husband showed up. Fully decked out in his bright purple leisure suit and six inch platform shoes, shirt unbuttoned past the middle of his hairy chest and more gold bouncing off his midsection than Mark Spitz at the Olympics. Before I could reach her he'd grabbed her by the arm and announced loud enough for the whole joint to hear that she was leaving.
I decked him without giving myself time to think why that might not be a good idea. She seemed to like it, grabbing my arm and pulling me towards the door. Renaldo threw his keys at me and yelled he'd find a ride. Travolta started to chase us, but he didn't get out the door before Renaldo decked him again.
When we got to the car she told me her name was Clara. It seemed out of place at the time, Clara seemed like a little old lady. In her satin evening gown, feather boa and high heels she didn't look the part. Renaldo was right, she was the silent type. I did nearly all the talking, basically having to pull her story out of her. Travolta was rich but abusive. He was mobbed up, fronting in construction, building mini-mansions on Pontchartrain for his comrades and keeping her in style. But she wasn't happy. She grew up the daughter of two academics, history profs that liked the idea of money but didn't like the way Travolta made it.
So she couldn't run to them when he started hitting. She'd burned all the bridges way back. She had a history Phd. but she couldn't use it. She knew American History best but there were parts of it she couldn't talk about. She froze up when she had to talk about slavery. So she sat at home and dreaded when he would return.
When I asked her where we should go, she just shrugged her shoulders and started to cry.I'd had a job cooking at a logging camp in Oregon and a friend that had a cabin in the woods where I thought we could flop 'til we figured out what was next. She nodded when I asked if that would work, so we drove as far as we could in my old beater. It died in the middle of I-80 somewhere in Wyoming, we left it there and caught a ride into Cheyenne.
The loggers at my old job looked at Clara like an alien had just stepped off a flying saucer. I'm sure they'd never seen a woman in high heels and satin there before. But they gave me my old job back and put her to work driving trucks. And that worked for about three months. But then one day she came back to the cabin face white as a sheet. Said she had to leave. When I asked why, all she would say was it was best. I figured Travolta and his goons had found us out. She started throwing her stuff into a plastic garbage bag. I tried to get her to let me go with her, but she wouldn't hear it. "We'll meet again, Bobby,I'm sure of it…but right now this is what's best."
And so go she did, got a ride from the camp down to Eugene and from there I don't know where she went. Meanwhile I kept cooking til I had enough money for a car and a couple of months rent. Then I headed back towards New Orleans, hoping I could find her and knowing working the boats was much more suited to me than frying bacon.
Working the boats was something I was good at. With my gift of gab I hustled my way into buying a boat, then three, and before I was thirty I owned a fleet of them. When they started talking about putting limits on how many fish we could take out of the gulf, I used that gift of gab to talk our congressman into voting against it. That's when they told me I should get into politics.
I found myself running for mayor of Metairie. We rented a storefront to run my campaign. That's where I was when Clara showed up again. My campaign manager told me there was some contractor that wanted to meet me and make a donation. I thought nothing of it until he walked in. It was Travolta. My heart skipped a beat as I went to shake his hand. "Mr Zimmerman, nice to me you, heard lotsa good things 'bout you," he smiled broadly and stuck his hand out. I grabbed his hand and sighed in relief , as apparently he didn't recognize me. But then I heard a second pair of footsteps approach in what sounded like heels. As she entered my office my heart nearly left my throat- it was Clara.
She'd cut her hair and dyed it jet black, but I'd have recognized those eyes anywhere. She quickly shook her head "no'' while she was still behind Travolta. "I left a little something with your secretary for the campaign, Mr. Zimmerman, but I need ta bend your ear on this proposed change to Metairie's building code that's gonna cause me and anybody else buildin' houses here a big problem."
"Sure..have a seat," I said , hoping my voice didn't sound as jittery as I felt. Clara and I stared at each other while Travolta went into a spiel about how the housing code was going to shut him down. I didn't hear any of it. Five minutes later he finished and I managed to get out "Well, I'll look into it, we definitely don't wanna stop new construction." He then turned to Clara and said, "Oh, forgive me, this here is my wife Clara, she's da brains behind this operation."
Clara smiled weakly, "Nice to meet you," she mumbled, as did I in return. And then they were gone as quickly as they had come.
I sat in silence for some time. A few tears welled up and I quickly brushed them away. I tried to console myself saying that she was still alive and looked like she was healthy. But I really didn't believe it could be good with her.
My secretary walked in , "That guy left this envelope, there's five hundred bucks in here. You want I should put it in the safe with the rest of the donations?" she asked.
"Yeah," was all I could manage.
She shuffled some other papers in the envelope. " It looks like he put some papers in here too, looks like copies of the Building Code with some handwritten notes on it, do you wanta see that?"
"Nah, " I blurted, I was in no mood for Travolta's code issues. "Just stick it in the Donations file and I'll look at it later."
And that's where it stayed for fifteen years, buried deep in the basement of that storefront office. I never got around to reading Travolta's notes on the building code. I guess he found bigger fish to fry because after I won he never darkened my door again. Life moved on. I sold the boats after I won the Mayor's race. Two years after that I fell in love and got married. A couple of kids came along a few years later. I started losing my hair and growing a middle age paunch.
I never forgot about Clara, but between my boats and the campaign I never found time to do anything about trying to reconnect. I hoped she was o.k. But what could I do, I had my own life now, I had to keep on keepin' on.
Then my landlord at the storefront told me she needed me to clean out the basement. I guess I could have hired somebody to go through all those boxes, but in politics you don't always know who you can trust. I did it myself.
I know sounds boring, but actually I kinda liked it at first. It brought back some good memories , thank you cards, and pics of me smashing palms with the locals. But it stopped being fun when I opened a dingy box and found a crumpled envelope with a copy of the Metairie Building Code and some handwritten notes on it. It was Travolta's notes to me from that office visit 15 years ago. They were barely legible .I got a laugh about how he butchered the language pleading for sympathy about the burden this or that was putting on him.
Then I noticed there were two pages stuck together at the back of it.. One was the last page of the Code. The second was all handwritten, but not in the scrawl of the pages before it. It was in Clara's hand, with her looping letters and hearts where there should have been dots over the i's.It was a short note: "He's yours- Please do what you can to get him out of this mess!"
And at the bottom right hand corner of the page she had copied a 3x5 photo of a little boy, with curly brown hair, just like mine and a nose that could have only come from me.
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