Miscellaneous Mental Musings of an Emerging Artist
At the request of my friend Susan, who works a late shift at a hotel and who a few months ago crocheted me a wonderful scarf, I am posting this week’s story as close to 12:01 am on Friday morning as possible.
This week’s words were snapdragon, matchbook, tobogganing, acquiescence, and opulent.
First five words suggested to me will be used in next week’s Friday Fiction.
ETA: Next five words selected. Thanks, and boy, you’re not making this next one easy.
Names and Numbers and Numbers of Names
by Bilal Dardai
She consistently forgets the new girl’s name. Louise knows this is bad form; part of being hostess, after all, is having a clear and sharp memory of the staff, the regular patrons, the collegiate Asian fellows who work valet at nights to put themselves through law school. She has no reason to actively forget the new girl’s name, but forget it she nonetheless does, every time, as if when it enters her ear it immediately takes a wrong turn in her brain, becoming lost forever in the dark, unmapped areas.
“Check out Dr. Rot,” the new girl says to Louise, stopping briefly by the podium. Louise steals a glance over her left shoulder.
The new girl has not actually referred to him as “Dr. Rot.” This is more mischief on the part of Louise’s ears, performing minor cosmetic procedures on the innocent name of Dr. Andrew Ott. His name is Ott, she had said Ott, but there now in her mind she sees him dressed in his sable cloak, Dr. Rot, bane of the Justice League, master of decay, cackling his madness on a throne of skulls and demanding the world’s acquiescence.
“We should do something for him,” the new girl adds, right before her darting “G’night!” deftly extricates her from the collective pronoun. She stiff-arms the revolving door and lets it eject her into the warm spring air. Louise sees her striding down the sidewalk towards the train, fumbling in her handbag to retrieve the cigarette and smoke as much of it as possible before she reaches the platform.
The new girl’s name is Dawn.
It definitely begins with a “D.”
Louise looks back at Dr. Ott. Simple, crinkly Dr. Ott, no threat to the world, hunched at his usual table, the table he waits for patiently if it happens to be occupied when he arrives. His hair a wispy, whitening blond, leaning like stalks of wheat trampled by a runaway thresher. The bowtie, the elbow patches, the nose, gracious, that nose, with its slope so profound it could only have been drawn by an expert draftsman. Louise thinks of his glasses, wonders how many pairs in his life have gone tobogganing straight off of that nose.
It has been a half hour since he’s arrived. His reservation is for two. His hand keeps brushing against the breast pocket of his coat. He looks past Louise on her left side, towards the door, and then past her left side towards the bar, which is when Louise remembers.
A slow night. A Tuesday, most likely. Outside the door, the world dancing uncertainly with hesitant rain. He’d come in that evening for a cocktail only, presumably after a long day of practicing whatever medicine he practiced. Louise had always suspected podiatry but was gradually convincing herself of ear, nose, and throat.
There was Dr. Ott on the bar stool, sipping a neat amber alcohol from a highball glass.
There was Ramon, yes, it would have been Ramon, behind the bar.
There was that woman.
The woman with the faux emerald around her neck. The woman in a dress that suggested the sultry understudy of tomorrow evening’s jazz vocalist. The woman with her eyes violet and willful like snapdragons refusing to bloom. The woman who had stood from her original seat and slid into the one next to Dr. Ott with the ease of experience.
That woman had occupied over an hour of his conversation, laughing robustly at what seemed like the proper moments, leaning in here, resting her fingertips on Dr. Ott’s wrist there.
Louise steals another glance at his table now, watches him flag down the waiter and ask to pay for his drink. His hand brushes against his breast pocket again, then passes back. His fingers dig into the pocket, pull out something small and square, drop it on the table as if something recently bled of life.
Had it been any of her business, Louise might have warned him. She had seen it coming from miles away, from distances only visible through the spyglass at the top of the crow’s nest, and here it had now arrived; slimy, scaly, draped in kelp. The leviathan of Dr. Ott’s loneliness, rearing its head from the waters, roaring its proudly broken trumpet.
Louise knew that woman well, if not that woman specifically. Louise had watched that woman drape over Dr. Ott and she had instantly recalled Barbara.
Barbara, walking in late after evenings flitting about nonprofit fundraisers in opulent ballrooms, summoning bubbles into her personality that never managed to survive the trip home. Barbara, who had gradually lost all facility for hiding her regret of Louise. Barbara who broke what hearts she could just to feel the rush of such power. Barbara who later in life had remarried to a man who had no use for her, except to feel his own rush of power when he cheated on her.
Dr. Ott stands, marches to the coat check, tips well for its safe storage. He manages a smile at Louise through the mask of his hurt and then walks out the door into the past tense.
Louise walks over to his table, curious of the discarded totem. It is a matchbook, one of the restaurant’s, taken from the small glass decanter at the bar. She picks it up and opens it, sees written on the inside cover a name.
Beneath that a phone number. She carries it back to the podium, considering Angela, considering the possibility Dr. Ott had felt flickering in his breast pocket for hours and days.
She could call, she thinks.
Louise could go home in a few hours and call this phone number, wait for this Angela to answer. Louise could admonish and shame; she could speak in great detail of a crestfallen face, of the pathos of half-eaten dinner rolls. Louise could unleash a barrage of righteous indignation at this Angela, make her the proxy for every Angela, every Barbara, who had ever tormented a Dr. Ott. Louise could make her sorry and then deny her apology. Louise could be every bit the villainous fiend that Dr. Ott would not be, could not be, misconceptions of his name notwithstanding.
Louise could do that.
The revolving door swings again and he walks back in. He steps up to Louise and clears his throat.
“I forgot something,” he says. “At the table.”
He looks over, sees the busser finishing up her tasks, frowns with disappointment. Louise feels her hand drawn up by invisible marionette strings, offering the matchbook back to him.
His smile is small and knowing as he retrieves it and places it back within his breast pocket. He nods, thinks twice about spoken words, exits yet again. Louise considers what she thinks she knows about Dr. Ott, what she knew of Barbara, what she thinks she knows of Angela, what she thinks she knows about the human heart. She considers what she knows ever, at all, at any moment.
The new girl’s name is Hannah.