Door slams, I’m walking. Loss a kind of insanity. Lee left out a glass of lime juice. Still sitting on the counter by the sink. I can’t wash it.
Last week, my husband Lee squeezed a bowl full of limes from off our tree. Said they were about to rot. Said freeze the juice for future margaritas. Futures. But I left out the juice, overslept, he drove off to New Mexico with no goodbye. 80 percent of catastrophes are weather-related.
But let’s not confuse facts with statistics. Here’s an alternative to the facts:
I drive to Santa Cruz to search for Lee.
I find him smoking out with his college bros.
I confront him with the facts.
He says he loves me.
I say it’s not enough.
He begs to drive home with me.
I throw everything, his bong, writing papers, screenplay drafts, worn-in Levis, avocado green Karmann Ghia, his affair and Queen Charlotta, all of it, I toss them into the Pacific.
I move to Italy and marry a dashing ex-pat jeweler named James.
Or maybe Lee’s in Mexico. Definitely an affair. He took the high road. Who is irrelevant. Or one day he’ll walk into my punk rock club, Elevator, while that night’s band is warming up and we’ll have a scene and call it quits.
I sipped the lime juice right when I woke up. Fizzy. Fermented. I failed miserably. Whatever. Another jet plane, another con trail.
In the Grinder, no one says a word, they all know. Roxy, feisty barista with large Mexican jewelry, foams me up my usual and I’m out of there before I get caught in those endless returns.
Another sip of my latte hold in the only hand I have left after the accident, looking for a place to sit. Outside I can see the ranch where my California pioneer ancestor James Blood was an apricot grower on fertile land here in Carpinteria, California. My grandfather farmed the same land until he died. Along the foothilss, above The Grinder’s sign. Blue silhouettes and stalks of trees. Hey there’s Queen Charlotta. She’s fingering a napkin out front. Sit by her. Best not to be alone at the moment.
Charlotta’s balancing the weekly newspaper, a cup of coffee, a cigarette and lighter in one hand, while she picks a rock out of the bottom of her flip-flop. Four inches of brown roots grown into flyaway dyed blonde. Her crowning scalp, tilting up. Hello girl with the face. Strange.
“Hey,” I say.
“Hey Olive, my pumpkin chicken noodle, boss extroidinairre. What’s up?” Queen Charlotta says, English accent lilting.
“It’s my birthday,” I say.
“You look like shit,” she says.
“Thanks. Just found out you’re engaged to Jan,” I say.
“Oh. Insanity, right?” she says.
“Totally. Jan and I go way back. You know we dated in high school?” I say.
“No,” she says.
“A million years ago,” I say.
I stare into dissolving milk foam and look up. She’s wearing a pink cardigan sweater over a tank top, jeans. Pink cardigan. Pink cardigan that I found in the trunk of the Lee’s Ghia two weeks ago, forgot about. Maroon lipstick stain on inside of collar. Wondered whose sweater. Left it there and forgot. Let’s see how this one plays out, just for fun.
“You’ve heard the latest with me, right?” I ask.
“No,” she says.
“Lee’s gone,” I say.
“What do you mean gone,” she says.
“Missing. Got a call from the sheriffs this morning. He never got back from New Mexico. Found a car, no body. Out in the California desert,” I say.
“Shit,” and her face says it all. Even her blush pales. “I mean, you must be totally disturbed–”
“Some prick cop from Needles told me at four this morning. Lee called from a pay phone at one last night, said he’d be back by this morning.” Tears. Easy to get lost in it. “Charlotte. It’s like– they. They. They don’t just disappear. People. They don’t just poof. You know?”
“That’s fucking insane– He– I just talked to him. And. And I dreamt about him last night. Lee. I woke up and–” Staring off into space. She fingers the buttons on her pink sweater. Pink sweater, fucking pink cutsie-tootsy sweater with little fucking pearlite buttons.
“How long have you and he been-” My elbow knocks over my latte. Dive under table to grab fallen cup. Take a last swig as I stand, hurl the cup at Charlotte’s head. She ducks, cup misses, rolls into gutter. I collapse into a chair. “You left that sweater in the trunk. What a fucking–”
“Olive- He was just giving me a ride home from work-” she says.
“Don’t even. No. Don’t. Not today,” I yell.
“He told me you knew. That things were open between you,” she says.
“They were. Are,” I say.
“Is he dead?” she asks.
“Don’t know,” I say.
Hey over there. I know that skinny guy walking up the street. Six years later and nothing changes. Not really. Jan wears huge retro sunglasses pushed back on his head, a button-up white linen shirt, green shark skin slacks. Dark circles under eyes, so skinny its like he’s losing himself behind ribs. Or could be heroin. Skinnier than last time I saw him, even.
Charlotte smiles. “Hey Jan.”
But he ignores her, wraps me into a hug and says, “Hey stranger. So good to see you.”
“You, too.” I close my eyes.
“How are you holding up?” he asks.
I look up at him, on the verge of bawling,“Okay?”
“I want to hear all about it. But, hey, on a happier note I’ve got some news, too. I just got engaged.”
“To who?” We’re staring intensely now.
“Her?” I look over. She’s smiling. Does he know about her and Lee? “How long.” I can’t stand it.
“Together? Just a month. Engaged two days ago,” he says.
“And how long have you been back?” I ask.
“A month,” he says.
“Shit,” I whisper.
And in one breath we lose our shit. Right there. On Linden Ave. Make a scene that gristles through the local rumor mill for weeks. I tear out landscaping. I yell. Jump the fountain. Stop cars. Screams. Charlotte’s crying and Jan is bellowing at her to shut up. And there. That’s me. That’s my girl.
Screaming, eyes closed, I see my amputated arm floating. No, dancing. Salsa moves across the floor with Lee. Missing husband, stolen arm. What’s that one song about being lost and loving it? Birds navigate the earth by reading electric currents.
Open eyes. Insults. Incantations. Apologies. Threats spill out so loudly I dull the sound of Raymond playing mariachi rifts on his trumpet at the barber shop up the street. Flailing body, cursing like a sailor.