Lunch with Cocaine Stain–4
Fear, cold and substantial, sloshed through my bone marrow and a smile as limp as licorice spread over my face as the waiter placed the food in front of me. Everyone dug in. I took a few sips of my soup but could only choke down a couple of spoonfuls because the soup’s alien texture slipped down my throat in thick lumps that made me think of green cow snot, so I gave up. I turned to the duck salad but it felt like I was eating raw intestines and Gortex. I ran my fork through the salad pushing the green peppers under the lettuce, the arugula I layered over the sprouts. Sudden visions of Hiroshima and a documentary I saw on the Discovery Channel of Ed Gein’s kitchen flashed through my mind. Pools of sweat popped out on my forehead and beveled my upper lip. I chugged back a full glass of wine and tried to shake the horrible images. Then I noticed my family staring at me with their jaws hanging slack, their forks and knives hovering over their food. Everything was poised, a spring trap.
“What is it?” I said my blood turning cold. I fingered the half bag of coke in my pocket and a cool wave of comfort tickled my spine.
The ice cubes snapped, crackled and popped in Jack’s cup and I let a loud, incoherent “Blurgghll!” as I jumped in my seat.
The table next to ours turned and stared.
I wiped my forehead, waiting.
”Are you okay?” my mother asked finally. “You don’t look so good.”
”Yeah, yeah. I’m fine,” I said waving my hand. “Really. I got this ingrown toenail and the sucker is really biting into my skin.” To break the cold wall of silence I ordered two more glasses of Pernod and used the interruption as a way to slid away from the table telling everyone I needed to clean up a little, back in a sec. I wove my way through the tables of people primped up in their Sunday best towards the restroom, which was empty thank fuck, and squinting against the bright white marble walls and the florescent lighting I slammed my way into a bathroom stall and broke up three huge lines.
And on three:
“You look better,” my mom said.
“Yeah, much better,” Frank threw in as he sat back and tossed his napkin on the table, huffing.
“Yeah, I feel better, I just needed to splash some water on my face, that’s all. The pain was horrible, but my toe is fine now. I bit that little hangnail bastard right off. And man, this damn heat isn’t helping either.”
”Its not the heat,” Frank said pointing a thumb out the window.
”What is that supposed to mean Frank?”
”That it isn’t the weather that is your problem.”
”Yes it is. I’m hot. And I got this damn hangnail.”
”No, you…what are you saying?”
”That I’m hot and feeling a little off.”
”Stop it boys,” my mother said. But I was enervated with confrontational coke energy and I turned to my mother and said, “No, no, no. Not this time. This isn’t going to stop until Frank tells me di-rect-ly what the fuck he means. So what is it, Frank? What do you want to say to me, Frankie? Big guy. You want to give me another pearl of wisdom? Another quote from some fossil from our past? Something about ‘If you can’t stand the heat then….”
”It’s you I can’t stand,” he said slamming his hand on the table. “Just look at you. You look like shit. Your clothes are not tailored and you in no way match. The ass of your pants is almost worn through for heaven’s sake–-”
“That’s it Frank? My fashion offends you?”
“–-and that horrible excuse of a scent you’re wearing practically ruined my meal; you smell like a damn bum. And your eyes! Jesus Christ, what were you doing last night? Where you with…Pauley?”
“And what if I was, Frank?”
From the table next to me I heard the forks and knives clinking on bone china and I shot a look over my shoulder that told them, in no uncertain terms, to fuck right off. I snapped my head back to look at Frank, raising an eyebrow.
”Oh, I dunno. Nothing really I guess, ya know, nothing like a coked up blue head for a friend,” he paused for a breath, squared his cufflinks then added, “It’s only one-thirty in the afternoon and you’ve already slammed back what? Five or six drinks.”
”And you haven’t done anything, anything, on the Faber account in months. And that was an easy gig. Jesus. Just tell the truth–you haven’t done a damn thing to help us out. You’re just out to help yourself.”
“Oh, so that is what this is all about, is it? Getting credit for the Faber account? Go ahead, then, Frank, take all the credit. What do I care?”
“Exactly, what do you care about?”
“What does that matter, Frank? You just want all of the credit…”
”Well, as the saying goes: ‘Giving credit where credit is due is….’”
“Oh Jesus, Frank. Go to hell.”
Frank spun in his seat and faced my father, “This is stupid; a waste of our time. Enough of this trying to be nice crap. Just give it to him.”
Silence fell over the table. I looked at my mother but she was gazing out the window and fanning herself. My father was drinking his Perrier. Jack beeped and zapped.
“What? Give me what?” I said looking around the table.
After a long hard minute my father reached into his grey Lagerfield sports coat and pulled out an envelope which he slid across the table towards me. It had my name on it, embossed in gold.
I stared at the envelope knowing full well what was inside. I snatched the envelope off off the table. This was it–the reason why we were here. Running my fingers over the surface I wondered if this was the way it works when we die? If there was this long hard silence followed by a big burst of laughter from somewhere off to the side and then some form, some God-thing or whatever, appears and slides an envelope in our direction with our name embossed on it, apologizing for having made such a monumental decision for us?
“Yes! Level thirty-six,” Jack said his voice flat and non-committal. Everyone turned to look at him, but Jack didn’t even raise his head to find out what is going on. I couldn’t believe that everyone had forgotten me and this situation so quickly. Jack just kept on playing. Beep, beep. Zap, zap.
The table next to ours erupted in a torrent of laughter and it cut through my nerves like an iceberg from an Alaskan glacier. I floated the seas alone, charted unknown waters.
“It was a tough decision son, but listen, it had to be done.”
“Open it,” Frank hissed while admiring his cuff links.
I ripped open one corner of the envelope but something held me back. I didn’t want this. Not here, not in front of Frank–I couldn’t hand over such a simple victory.
”You know what, guys?” I said standing to leave. “I’ll get back to you.”
As I walked away Frank threw a victorious wink my way, “Naturally.”