Go to content Go to navigation Go to search

Table of Contents

George’s, it says – Tea & Peppers – something Pretty Special – a Taste –

George’s, it says, in red and yellow letters in a curve across the big front window. Shoes Repaired. A worktable behind a counter’s mounded high with shoes of every shape and color. On a stool before it Frankie in a bulky green fleece pullover, dark hair washed and brushed and tied back, cheeks shadowed with soft black stubble. “Just a, just a second,” he’s saying, a blue and brown running shoe in one hand, a square-toed black Oxford in the other. “Gordon,” he says. “How’s this?” Strings and woodwinds cycle through a somberly repetitive phrase from the clock radio on the worktable by the pile of shoes. The old man in a pale green chamois shirt standing next to him takes the shoes in his hands and looks them over, tilting them this way, that. Nodding. “You’re starting to get the hang of this,” he says. The wall behind the worktable’s lined with wooden shelves partitioned into regular cubbyholes each just large enough for a pair of shoes. Running his hand along a shelf, tap-tapping, stopping to slip both shoes inside an empty slot.

“Okay,” says Frankie, turning back to the counter.

“The hell, Frankie,” says Jo.

“Yeah,” says Frankie, “been a weird few weeks, I guess.”

“Anyone like some tea?” says Gordon. Jo shakes her head without looking away from Frankie, who says, “No, thanks.”

“Something herbal?” says Ysabel, unzipping her parka.

“I’ll put a kettle on,” says Gordon, ducking through a curtained doorway. Two voices high and rich soar from the clock radio, di-ek eni awik kher ka-ek, shesepi su ankhi yemef. “So,” says Frankie, standing, leaning his elbows on the counter. “There’s this guy. He’s coming for you.”

“Who,” says Jo.

“One of the ones who grabbed me that time, for that crazy, thing? At the mall?”

“For the Duke,” says Jo.

“Which of them,” says Ysabel.

“He had,” says Frankie, “long black hair? And,” gesturing toward his face, “a patch now, like a pirate. And he was always wearing, it wasn’t like a kilt, it was like a skirt?”

“The Mooncalfe,” says Ysabel.

“And like he never wears shoes?”

“How did you,” says Jo, and then, “I told you to stay away from this shit.”

“He grabbed me,” says Frankie. “Again. Right out of Timmo’s fucking car. He had a sword.”

“What were you doing in Timmo’s,” Jo starts to say.

“He’s after you. He grabbed me to talk about you. He took me – you know that abandoned Burger King? On Burnside, right downtown? He, I guess he lives there? Anyway.” His hands scrubbing themselves, grimy thumbnail scraping at a patch of grime. “I wasn’t gonna. I mean it was, it couldn’t have been more than a couple of days, but it was more than a week?” Fingertips rubbing an old scrape along his knuckles. “It was weird.” His hands spring apart, clench into fists, one of them beats the countertop. “He had to get you before somebody else could, but when we left it was too late? It had already happened? It was like, after Hallowe’en, and it honestly I swear it was only a couple of days. And I wasn’t gonna tell him a motherfucking thing, but,” and he looks away.

“Frankie,” says Jo.

“I told him about Billy, Jo. That’s what, he liked that. He was gonna, he is gonna come after you somehow with Billy. I’m sorry.”

“He already did,” says Jo.

“I’m so fucking sorry – ” Frankie looks up, blinking. “He already,” he says. “Shit.” Pounding the counter again. “I called,” he says. “I swear I called and called.”

“I got a new phone,” says Jo, as Ysabel says, “She got a new phone.”

“I even called where it was you worked and the guy there, whatsisname, told me you weren’t working there and I told him to tell you how to find me because it was important,” his hands come up, fingers splayed, to weigh that word in the air there between them, “and he said, you know, he’d do what he could, but.” Frankie shrugs, shakes his head, slumps away, looking toward the back of the little shop. “That’s when Gordon said he had people who could get a message to you, any time, anywhere. At least,” and he sits up, and he sighs, “at least I can do this much,” reaching into the pockets of his khaki pants as a stentorous fanfare unfolds itself from the clock radio. He drops with a rustle and a clatter some wadded-up bills, some coins, a couple of quarters, a dime, some pennies. He smoothes out the banknotes, a couple of tens, a five, a couple of ones. “Here,” he says, pushing it across the counter at Jo.

“This is all your money, isn’t it,” she says.

“I’m doing okay now,” he says. “I owe you fifty bucks. Now it’s, now it’s twenty-two and change. Please, Jo. You can take it. I’ll get you the rest.”

She slowly collects the bills, folds them together, scoops the coins off the counter into her hand. “You gonna go home now?” she says, and he shakes his head. “This is like,” he says, “this is like a step up, you know? Over the last few weeks. I got a place to sleep, and shower, I got some clothes, and I’m, I’m working for all this, you know?” Looking back at the mound of shoes on the worktable. “And I’m not seeing Timmo. He can’t get at me here.” Turning back to Jo and Ysabel. “Gordon rolls pretty fucking deep. You wouldn’t know it but I bet it’s almost as deep as you got, these days.”

“Deeper, I’m sure,” says Ysabel, as Jo leans over the counter toward Frankie, who lurches back, then, shaking his head a little leans in toward her. She kisses him, lightly, and then shaking her head when he tries to kiss her back she straightens, steps back from the counter. “Thank you,” she says.

“How did you end up here?” says Ysabel. “The Mooncalfe wouldn’t have left you with a rabbit, I’m sure.”

“He didn’t?” says Frankie. “He, I mean he, traded me. To Linesse? I mean, not to Linesse, to her, like her boss, for, for this – ”

“For Billy,” says Ysabel.

“I guess?” says Frankie. “Yeah.”

“Linesse,” says Ysabel. “You’re sure?”

“Tall woman? Grey hair? She lives in this abandoned car by this abandoned gas station way the fuck out in the middle of nowhere by the airport.” Looking back at the curtained doorway, suddenly quiet, “I guess her and Gordon used to have a thing? Anyway. She left me here.”

“We should go,” says Ysabel to Jo.

“What about your tea?” says Frankie.

“He didn’t go to make tea,” says Ysabel. Jo’s hefting her duffel bag, the narrow box awkward in the little shop. “Sure he did,” says Frankie, as Ysabel’s saying, “He didn’t want to overhear business that doesn’t concern him.”

“Well you don’t have to,” says Frankie, as they turn toward the door, the window with its curve of letters. “You’ll come back, right? Any time. I mean twenty-two bucks, right?”

The bell rings as Jo opens the door. “Keep it,” she says.

A cramped kitchen, the sink and refrigerator and a bit of wood-topped counter beneath a window blank and black, a couple of gleaming ovens set in the wall beside them, a butcher’s block in the middle with a couple of gas burners set in the top. Jessie in a loose white men’s dress shirt and grey yoga pants slices a couple of red peppers into long thin strips, her blond hair pulled back in a knot held by a couple of red chopsticks. On the burner beside her chopped onions simmer in a cast-iron pan. One of the two doors swings open suddenly and a girl all knees and elbows bops into the kitchen to the beat of whatever’s playing through pink headphones printed with a mouthless cartoon cat. Jessie stops slicing the pepper to watch the girl dance around the butcher’s block in her cropped white tank top, her underwear festooned with rainbow-colored ponies. The girl opens the refrigerator, bends over, long straight dark hair swaying, Jessie staring over her shoulder expressionless at those ponies bouncing back and forth. “Son of a bitch,” says the Duke, limping through the other swinging door, “son of a goat-fucking bitch.” Tightening the belt of his striped robe of purples and browns and golds. The girl backs out of the fridge, knocks it shut with her hip, a tall purple and blue can in her hand. Four Loko, it says on the side. She presses up against the Duke, hiking up on her toes to kiss his cheek, takes a deep swig from the can, arm up, vamping and bopping back out the door through which she’d come. “Smells great, babe,” says the Duke.

Jessie starts slicing the pepper again. “Housewives,” she says, “had this trick: they’d take an onion just before their husbands got home from work and chop it and start it frying in some butter or just chuck the whole thing into a hot oven. Let it make the kitchen smell like she’d been cooking all day just for him, not lying around on the chaise eating bon-bons. Then she could tart up some canned tomato soup with a splash of sherry and some chives or something. Some Mrs. Dash. Like he’d know any better.” She scoops up the pepper strips and dumps them into the pan with the onions.

“I got people,” says the Duke, “there are restaurants,” as Jessie’s saying, “I like to cook,” and the Duke shrugs and leaning on the butcher’s block steps close to her, an arm settling about her waist as she stirs peppers and onions together. “So what is it you’re cooking?” he says.

“Chakchouka,” says Jessie. “It’s North African.” She reaches for a big yellow can that says Cento San Marzano.

“I got that thing with Song Wu in about an hour.”

“It’ll be ready in fifteen, twenty minutes,” says Jessie, clamping a can opener on the can. “You’ll eat it in five, tops.” Opening the can with savage twists of the key. “Does she have to stay here?”

“What, who, Lauren?” Stepping back from Jesse. “She can’t go to Seattle, babe. Jasmine’s not about to move here. What am I supposed to do, kick her out to the curb?”

“She could put on some clothes,” says Jessie, slopping tomatoes from the can onto the peppers and onions.

“You’re one to talk,” says the Duke. “Usually.”

“I get paid to do that,” says Jessie. “By you. Is she getting paid?”

“Okay,” says the Duke, “see, I know for a fact that this is deflection, and whatever it is hasn’t got a blasted thing to do with Lauren because the very idea is fucking ludicrous and we both recognize that fact, so maybe you put down the spatula and take a deep breath and tell me what’s the fucking problem.”

Jessie puts the spatula down, picks up a little yellow bottle with an iguana on the label, shakes out droplets of sauce over the tomatoes and peppers and onions. “Get me some eggs,” she says. “Bottom shelf.” And as the Duke turns and opens the fridge she says, “Who fucked the goat this time?”

“What?” he says. “Oh. Roland. The Chariot. Shows up unannounced, picks a fight with Gaveston, bulls his way up here. Has the cheek to demand I tell him everything I know about that attack on the Princess, where it happened, what I know, has the gall, the fucking gall,” shaking his head, “to use the Queen’s name. Comes this close,” holding up forefinger and thumb pinched together, “to accusing me outright of masterminding this thing I nearly popped him for. The Chariot, I wouldn’t call him subtle or sophisticated, not really in the job description, but this, this is taking density to a whole new cake. Jessie. Hey. Jessie.” She’s scooping little pockets in the simmering tomatoes and peppers and cracking an egg into each and she doesn’t look up at the Duke as she does so. “Whatever happens,” he says, “with me and the Gallowglas, I’m gonna be King come the turning of the year. Ysabel’s gonna be Queen. And her and me, you know, we ain’t exactly what you would call compatible. Now, you and me,” and Jessie looks up at that, the last egg uncracked in her hand, “you and me, we’ve got something, ups and downs, it’s, I think it’s pretty special.” She turns away, cracks open that last egg, lets it drop in the pan. “Maybe right now you’re in a place, you’d rather be with a girl than a guy, which is fine, I can definitely appreciate that, and nothing’s different because of that. Not a thing has to change. Whatever happens, the next month or so, the Princess likes you. A lot. She’s still gonna like you when she’s Queen.”

Jessie’s picked up a pot lid and now she looks at the Duke and, shaking her head slowly, blowing out a fluttery little laugh, she says, “Take my wife. Please.”

He turns away, rubbing his forehead. “I’m just saying,” he says. “Play your cards right.”

“There are no goddamn cards, Leo,” she says. “That’s the problem. Nobody else is playing.” She twists a knob, lowering the flame. “They have to poach for like ten minutes. Go put on a shirt or whatever it is you’re gonna do for Wu Song.”

“The Five-Oh?” says Gloria. “With the beef.”

“She’ll have the vegetable patty,” says Orlando.

“The hell I will,” says Gloria. “Five-Oh. Beef.”

“That is disgusting.”

“I’ll let you buy me dinner,” she says, “but you can’t tell me what I’m gonna eat.”

“She’ll have the vegetable patty,” says Orlando. He tugs a napkin from the neat stack under a burger-shaped paperweight. “I will also have the vegetable patty.”

“Sir,” says the burly guy behind the counter, his hairy forearms dark with blurred tattoos. “She doesn’t want it. I’m not about to make for her a burger she doesn’t want.”

“Besides, those things are totally foul,” says Gloria to Orlando. “Genetically modified industrial soy paste that’s been soaked in additives and preservatives.” He’s folding the napkin and again, closing it between palms pressed together. “Place like this,” she says, “the beef’s a much better choice.”

“Grass-fed, hormone-free,” says the burly guy. “We source it ourselves and hand-form the patties. What’ll it be?”

Orlando twists one hand against the other and holds up a crisply folded twenty. “I will have the totally foul vegetable patty. She will have,” and he sighs, and hands the bill to the burly guy, “whatever she wants.”

“Just a veggie burger? You want anything else on that?”

Orlando says, “Ketchup,” then, “Keep it,” as the burly guy starts to make change.

“I totally get the thing? The vegetarian thing?” says Gloria as they step back from the food cart, white-wrapped sandwiches in hand. Dead leaves crunch on the brick sidewalk beneath her thick-soled black boots, his bare feet. A line of food carts cheek by jowl down the block in the wanly dying afternoon light, and little knots of people here and there peering at signs and menu boards that say Sabria’s Arabic and Philly Cheesesteaks, La Jarochita, Bulkogi Fusion and Smokin’ Pig, Real Taste of India. People sitting on benches here and there, waiting for food, poking at clear plastic boxes and cardboard boxes with white plastic forks, peeling foil from wraps and slices of pizza. Orlando in his long blue skirt and a shapeless grey jacket sits abruptly on one of the benches by a sandwich board that says Dabtong Thupka, and a heavyset man in a tweed jacket stands suddenly at the other end of the bench, a paper cup of soup in one hand, chopsticks in the other, and shaking his head walks quickly away. “I was a vegetarian sophomore year,” says Gloria, sitting herself next to Orlando. “Vegan, actually, mostly. Except I could never stand soy milk, in my coffee?” Her hair done up in its two great hanks again over either shoulder, her lips once more painted carefully black, a long black coat with clear glass buttons over her black high-waisted gown. “I gained like ten pounds? Which, and I started reading about factory farming, and processed food, and exactly what is in those things,” pointing to his burger. Her hands in those black and white striped arm socks. “So even though I mean the guy had like a heart attack, or something, I have always,” and looking at her own burger she chews her lip around a laugh, “been about the excess, so I went total Atkins? Meat only, and lettuce sandwiches, and I lost like five pounds?” She takes a big bite. “But I missed bread,” she says, and swallows. “I missed the carbonara which, my dad makes it, with pancetta from the City Market? Up on Twenty-first?” She looks up then, at the lights coming on in the food carts, work lamps and heat lamps and strings of Christmas lights, at the deepening shadows blue and purple from the buildings that tower behind them. “It’s really Friday, isn’t it,” she says. “I was gone. I was gone from the world for two whole days, just – ” She shakes her head. She takes another bite of her burger.

“That is disgusting,” says Orlando.

“This?” says Gloria.

“Blood, and death.”

“Have a taste,” she says, holding her hand up, fingertips smeared and shining. He draws back. “I’ve tasted blood,” he says.

“It isn’t blood,” she says. “You vampire. It’s pineapple juice and teriyaki sauce and meat juice and it’s very, very good. Okay.” Another big tearing bite of burger, chewing, swallowing, smacking her lips. Leaning close. “A taste.” And she kisses him, and shuddering he opens his mouth on hers and his hands come up to her shoulders and hold there for a moment as he kisses her back before suddenly pushing them both apart. He stands abruptly. Without looking he arcs his wadded white wrapper into the garbage can on the other side of the bench. “Come,” he says, taking her free hand.

“What,” she says, “where are we,” as he pulls her to her feet, “going?”

“The future,” he says.

Table of Contents

Act 2 Scene 2: Akhnaten and Nefertiti,” written by Philip Glass, copyright holder unknown. Not Dying Today,” written by Tori Amos, copyright holder unknown. Hamburgers provided by Brunch Box, quenching PDX’s thirst for burgers since 2009.

M.E. Traylor    31 July 2011    #

“There are no goddamn cards, Leo,” she says. “That’s the problem. Nobody else is playing.”


Hilarious scene with Orlando and Gloria. I like the commentary on GMO/factory farming/vegan/meat-eating.

  Textile Help