By Attila Zønn
“Fill me with optimism,” Lorie said. “Make me laugh. I want to forget my worries and start all over again. You can do that. I know you can.”
We sat in our weekly armchairs in the fiction section. I had a latte, she clutched a pumpkin spice coffee with both hands. I read my story about the old man who thought he was Elvis incognito, living in a trailer park, terrified to leave his home on the 16th of August for fear of being recognized, but he must, because his cat, Phil, an orange tabby, demands it. Phil is hungry and tells the old man to grow some balls, and go out and get his food.
Lorie laughed through all of it. It was my first complete story. I saw that I had failed to convey that the old man was delusional. I made a note of that.
She smiled large at me and watched me with renewed interest over her coffee cup as she took a sip.
“Wouldn’t that be wild though,” she said. “If Elvis Presley was still alive, living somewhere.”
“He’s dead,” I said.
“I know but what if he wasn’t and one day he popped up again.”
“Even if he wanted to, he can’t now.”
“If he faked his death he’ll have to face the consequences.”
“During his funeral, crowds gathered and two girls were struck and killed by a car.”
“Oh,” she said. “That’s terrible.”
“But Elvis has left the building of life,” I said.
She laughed at that.
“What do you have?” I said.
“Oh, I didn’t bring anything.”
That annoyed me. The purpose of our Tuesday night get-together in the fiction section was so we could help each other with our work and grow as writers, but this was the third date in succession that she hadn’t brought anything for me to critique.
“Are you writing?” I said.
“Of course. I just wasn’t comfortable bringing anything I had.”
“It doesn’t have to be perfect. You’ll never get perfect. If you’re stuck wondering where to go, I can help. You helped me here.”
“How did I help you?”
“You misinterpreted my story. And now I see where I went wrong. It wasn’t supposed to be funny, but you laughed.”
“It was funny. A talking cat? The whole scenario was funny. That woman who keeps trying to get in his life by showing up at his door with cookies and cakes? That was so good how you did that.”
I shrugged. “Maybe. But . . .”
She frowned. “I’m just struggling with some issues in my life right now,” she said. “I look forward to this time here, with you. It’s an escape and a respite from my worries and we get along great, don’t we?”
I nodded. “Yeah, I look forward to this too.” I sat back and sipped my latte.
“Say,” she said and slapped me on the knee. “Why don’t you come to my place Friday evening? My husband’s on the night shift. I’ll have all my papers there and you can give me what I need—I mean, you can give me some insight.”
Lorie had two young daughters but they would be in bed by the time I arrived. “Eight is good,” she said. So at 7:55, I presented myself at her door. She was sitting by a large bow window and eagerly left her chair to open the door for me. She smiled when she opened the door and whispered, “We have to be quiet. I just put the kids down—I mean, to bed.”
She was made up; dressed in red plaid pyjama pants and a black halter top that exposed her waist and lower back. The toes on her bare feet had red nail polish.
“Let’s go to the basement,” she whispered. “I’ve got everything set up down there.”
Everything set up down there didn’t mean she had her work ready to view, the coffee on and a cozy couch for reading.
A brick fireplace was ablaze in the corner, and a shaggy white rug with two oversized red tie-dye pillows lay on the floor in front of it. There were two stemmed wine glasses on a glass-topped coffee table.
Lorie sat on the couch with one leg crooked under the other and patted the space beside her. I sat down.
“I had a dream last night,” she said. “Or maybe it was a nightmare—a pleasant nightmare. A man with a goatee was chasing me.”
Hmm. I had a goatee.
“It was weird,” she said. “I wasn’t afraid. I wanted him to catch me. But I kept running. You know that feeling? When you were a kid and suddenly somebody chased you up the stairs and your heart is pumping; your adrenaline is pumping? You know that feeling?”
“That’s probably what a gazelle feels when it’s being chased by a cheetah,” she said. “Well, that’s what I felt as this man with a goatee chased me.”
“Had you seen him before?” I said. “How did you know he had a goatee if he was chasing you? Did you look back?”
She thought a moment. “No, I could see him in my mind,” she said. “But I wanted him to catch me. I was afraid, but I wanted him to catch me, and he did. He grabbed me from behind, his arms tight across my breasts. He kissed my neck, then tore my heart out.”
I didn’t know what to say here. “I guess you woke up at that moment,” was all I could think of.
“Right away,” she said. “I enjoyed the kiss on the neck. It was kind. I thought it would be rough, bristly because of the goatee, but it was soft and pleasant and I felt like I could snuggle in his goatee forever—but he tore my heart out.”
“Where was he chasing you?” She leaned back, straightened the crooked leg and lay both legs across my lap. “It was in a basement. It was a long basement, a never-ending basement.” She laughed. “Kind of like when Fred Flintstone is running through his house and it’s so long. But as I’m running, I’m running into the darkness. I wasn’t afraid, I was just unsure, but it was where I wanted to be.” She pressed her legs down on my lap and wiggled her toes.
“Yeah, I have strange dreams too,” I said. “They might mean something or they might mean nothing. I’ve got a book on interpreting dreams. I’ll lend it to you if you want to know what your dream meant.”
“I know what my dream meant,” she said and rubbed a toe up and down my arm.
“You know what I really miss?” she said. “Getting my feet massaged. My youngest used to do it. I never asked her. One day she just started massaging my feet, getting her little fingers in between my toes. Oh, it was heaven. But she won’t do it anymore. Would you?”
“Would I what?”
“Massage my toes.”
Massaging a woman’s toes is an intimate thing. I’ve always thought so. I hesitated.
“Come on,” she said and gave me a shove on my arm. “It’s only a foot massage. It’ll relax me. You do me and I’ll do you. Then we can get down . . . to . . . reading my stuff.”
Copyright©Attila Zønn 2022