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a screwed-up Twist of Paper

A screwed-up twist of paper on the scarred wooden table before him, yellowed in a pool of streetlight from the tall wide windows. He contemplates it a moment, tilting his head this way and that, long black glossy hair slithering over a shoulder as he leans a little to one side, and then with both hands carefully carefully begins to pick it open, this corner, that fold, gently smoothing it bit by bit against the wood, careful of the spots of old grease here and there, wiping his fingertips from time to time on the thick white napkin to one side. Burger Chef, it says over and over again in pink letters under a stylized orange chef’s hat. Super Shef, repeated again and again. Unfolding the last bit with a crinkle he takes up an edge of it and with a sweep of his hand turns it over. Scrawled letters in purple crayon say BILLY.

He sits back in the high wooden booth with a gentle smile, lifts a glass of water in a little salute to the wrapper and takes a sip. He scratches his cheek by a black eyepatch, tugging at the skin, and there is a glimpse of something wet and ruined underneath. “Excuse me,” says a woman, and letting the eyepatch flap back into place Orlando looks up at her with his one good eye.

She’s quite fat, in a black high-waisted gown and black and white striped arm socks, and her jet black hair’s threaded with white ribbons and silvery spangles and gathered in two great hanks over either shoulder. Her bangs cut short and dyed a virulent pink. “You are,” she says, “striking, and I just wanted, to tell you that. Because men aren’t often told, that they are beautiful, and I think it would be a better world, if they knew, they were.” Her eyes painted black behind thick black cat’s eye glasses. Orlando leans back, looking past her, about, at a table over by the bar, three or four people dressed all in black, white collars here and cuffs there, black net gloves, a black top hat, leaning together, laughing together, looking away from him too quickly. He looks back up at her, quite still, not smiling at all, and she swallows as she meets his eye. “Please,” he says. “Sit down.”

“Gloria,” she says, as she squeezes into the booth across from him. “You can call me Gloria. Gloria Monday.”

“And I,” says Orlando, “am the Mooncalfe. Why are you here?”

“Oh, the show? Bellamy Bach?” Her black and white striped hands rubbing over and over each other. “She’s just, she’s just fantastic – ”

“No,” says Orlando, “why are you at my table?” He looks over at the table by the bar again, and they all look away again, too quickly. “They dared you to come over here, didn’t they. You didn’t think I’d ask you to sit down.”

“I,” she says, “I didn’t – ”

“You want the world to be a better place,” he says.

“Well,” she says, “yes. Who wouldn’t.”

“Better for whom?” he says. “You may find it better that men know you think they are beautiful, but perhaps beautiful men would rather be left alone. Don’t get up.” She sits back in the booth. “You’re here now,” he says. “You might as well stay a moment. I forced my enemy to do a terrible thing tonight.” He folds the crinkled wrapper carefully in half, and half again.

“Your enemy,” says Gloria Monday.

“She is in great pain, now,” says Orlando, and “She?” she says, and he looks at her with his one dark eye, and her black-painted lips snap shut. “She does not know who has done this thing to her. She does not know whom to trust, whom she can depend on. She will lash out. She will do many more terrible things to the people about her in the days to come. Her world is not a better place tonight. But mine is. If you are still here,” he says, as he tucks the folded wrapper away in the pocket of his loose white shirt, “in half an hour’s time, if you have not gone upstairs to the show with your, friends,” and at that she looks over her shoulder quickly at the table by the bar and then back to him, “then,” he says, “I will take you by the hand and lead you to a place where we will not be disturbed. Where you will not be heard. And I promise you this will be the best, last night of your life.” He lifts his glass of water and she watches him drink it down. “When the big hand is on the three, then?” he says, setting it back on the table between them.

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M.E. Traylor    27 July 2011    #

Oh. Damn.

Counseling, Orlando. Counseling.

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