Ah, the Lake! It’s always there, waiting for her. The hike and bike trail that surrounds this shimmering expanse of liquid sky is a 3½ mile loop of kaleidoscopic experiences.
Morgana navigates her way through the ebb and flow of people surging around and past each other. In addition to being the nicest place to walk anywhere around here, it’s also the hub of so many different neighborhoods, each with its own flavors, smells, sounds, illusions, and regrets.
She exits the path and dodges the street traffic on her way to Bucky’s Supermarket. Passing the donut shop, she inhales that buttery essence wafting from the cozy cottage kitchen of the loving grandmother she never had. She ignores the urge to go in and buy herself a crispy buttermilk donut; instead, as she enters Bucky’s, she remembers to pull her stomach in, stand up straight and square her shoulders. Practicing a regal countenance with her head held high, she locates the lemon juice and selects a giant bottle of the store brand, which is on sale for a just a little more than the cost of a small bottle of the name brand.
She avoids the shortest checkout line because of the screaming toddler in the clutches of a melt-down cycle whose oblivious mother is rifling through a folder of coupons. She assesses the wait time in the other four lines and gravitates towards the one that just might have the longest wait. Her mind never stops imagining scenarios. Yes, if she had to be trapped in an elevator with random individuals, she’d choose the people in this line instead of all the others. If she were to analyze her decision, she herself wouldn’t be all that surprised that she always chooses the line based on the absence of scowls, agitation, anger or sadness on the faces of those in the queue.
In the check-out line, still in regal countenance mode, she finds herself flirting with the guy in front of her, a handsome, distinguished-looking man wearing a suit and tie. Pictures of muscled men in thongs on a beach do nothing for her, but a nice, pleasant-looking guy in a nice suit? Fuhgeddaboutit!
He smiles at her when she puts her lemon juice on the conveyor belt.
“Making lemonade, by any chance?”
“Ha! No, actually, I’m getting this for my boss! I’m on a medical emergency mission—he needs it for a skin rash. It stops the itching instantly.”
“Is that so? I had no idea!” he says, as they both do their best to cast an inconspicuous eye on the other.
“Uh huh!” she says, “It’s true! In fact, my next article will be on the benefits of lemon juice—it’s good for everything, and if it’s not, at least it does no harm—just don’t squirt it in your eyes!”
“So you write for a newspaper or a magazine?”
“Yes—I write ‘The Advice Lady’ column for The Pregonero—you know, that free weekly newspaper that winds up all over the streets?” she says with a little giggle.
“Well, I’m intrigued….I promise you that I will start picking up The Pregonero for the express purpose of reading ‘The Advice Lady.’ I can’t wait to unlock the mysteries of lemon juice. By the way, my name is Percival Evander.” He extends his hand to Morgana. Her eyes sparkling, she modulates her voice as she replies, “It’s so nice to make your acquaintance, Percival. My name is Morgana Traczyk.”
Morgana instantly reflects on how formal she sounds, and then feels stupid using his first name in the same breath! Oh, why not mix the formal and the familiar? The dissonance seems to create a happy little tension which just might be keeping their conversation going.
Percival’s deli sandwich and bottle of sparkling water make rocking, jerky motions on the moving conveyor belt.
“That’s an unusual last name! Is it Eastern European?”
“It’s Polish! It means ‘sawyer,’ you know, someone who saws wood.”
Morgana knows that it also means a fallen tree that is underneath the surface of a river—a hidden menace that has sunk many a boat. She decides not to mention this to Percival, who at this moment seems to be floating HER boat!
Percival’s order is being rung up by a non-verbal, large, pasty-skinned person with rainbow-dyed haired and a few face piercings. He stops talking to Morgana while swiping his credit card. As the bagger packs up his deli sandwich and bottle of Perrier, Percival turns back to Morgana and says, “Morgana, I have a feeling I will be seeing you again!” Before she can respond, he thanks the checker and the bagger. Oh, a man in a suit, who’s good-looking and courteous! The smiling elderly gentleman with the twinkling eyes whose name tag reads “Ping,” bows while he hands him his bag. Once again, Percival turns to Morgana, and says as he is walking away, “And sooner, rather than later—I hope!” He gives her an unexpected but friendly, non-lecherous wink, and is gone.
Her regal countenance seems to flag just a bit as she concludes her business at Bucky’s. She picks up her bagged bottle of lemon juice and sticks the change in her back pocket.
She pictures Percival sitting somewhere pleasant, eating his deli sandwich in a non-horse-like fashion, with his pinkies in the air, not talking with his mouth full, nor dripping greasy sauce onto his impeccable suit and tie, as he takes silent, non-gulping sips of sparking water. And although sparkling water does contain the very smallest of gas bubbles, she cannot, for the life of her, imagine Percival ever emitting anything as base as a belch.
Today is turning out to the very best day! And, thanks to Charlie’s generous insistence, she walks out of the store seven bucks and change to the good.
Back at the Lake, she consciously avoids the skateboarders, bicyclists, and sketchy-looking dogs on long leashes, keeping to the extreme right of the path.
“Oh, sweet Jesus! There’s that old battle axe, Sister Jane!” thinks Morgana. She throws a quick glance around her, just to convince herself that she didn’t say that out loud. But why worry? Everyone’s still in their own bubble of self-absorption. Besides, even if she were talking to herself, people would assume either that she’s just one more person in the throes of a delusional disorder or that she’s using a wireless earpiece—and those would be only the very few who would even notice or care. Sometimes she thinks she’s the only one paying attention. The good thing is that no one heard her…probably; the bad thing is that it’s definitely too late to avoid Sister Jane.
“Hello, I’m Sister Jane, your Sister in Christ!” she says in her sweetest voice. “Would you happen to have 75 cents?” she asks in the same lilting, gracious tone as one might say, for instance, “Would you care for a canapé or perhaps a vol‑au‑vent?”
Morgana pulls a dollar from her back pocket, only to realize that it’s a five dollar bill! Before she can substitute the “Abe” for a “George,” Sister Jane’s eyes light up as if a good Las Vegas yank on the crank of a one-armed bandit had produced three (“chakunk, chakunk, chakunk”) big, beautiful, golden Liberty Bells. Ding, ding, ding, ding, ding, ding, ding, ding, ding…
Foiled again! Morgana reaches the reluctant conclusion that she and her five dollar bill must part company—either that or Sister Jane will surely raise holy hell—but first, she decides to extract some value from her generous donation before it leaves her possession. It quickly occurs to her to ask Sister Jane about another denizen of the Lake shore she probably knows.
“Do you know who the Rubber Man is, Sister Jane?”
“No, but I do know that I sure could use that five dollars!”
Calling her bluff, Morgana answers, “Sorry, but I’m looking to give this to someone who can tell me something about the Rubber Man. So, bye! Have a nice day!”
You never know what’s going to work with Sister Jane, but if anything does, it would definitely be a five dollar bill. Morgana sticks the bill back into her pocket, just to up the emotional ante. Even though, in her mind, she’s already given the five dollars to Sister Jane, she recalls Will Rogers’ famous quote: “The quickest way to double your money is to fold it in half and put it back in your wallet.” Ha!
“Wait!” cries Sister Jane, upset but not upset enough to get on her feet. “I know the Rubber Man! Come back and give me that five dollars! Right now!”
Morgana turns around and faces Sister Jane. “OK, so what do you know?”
“He’s a crazy bum…bum…bum…Bumble bee? Did YOU say ‘bumble bee?’” She laughs, knowing that she sounds a little nutty.
“No, YOU said ‘bumble bee,’” says Morgana, feeling like this five dollar deal isn’t going to work out anytime soon.
“Oh, that’s right! YOU said ‘bumble bee,’” says Sister Jane, indulging Morgana with a crazy but sweet smile.
“OK, so the Rubber Man is a crazy bum—I already know that. I can’t give you five dollars for what I already know! What else?”
“Well, he’s a creep, is what he is! He swims in the Lake in the middle of the night like he’s a whale or an octopus, pus…pus…pus…Pussy? ? Did YOU say ‘pussy?’” Now she’s becoming agitated, and so is Morgana.
“No, YOU said ‘pussy,’” says Morgana.
“Oh, that’s right! YOU said ‘pussy,’” says Sister Jane, indulging Morgana with another crazy but sweet smile.
Morgana remembers the best advice she ever got from a fortune cookie: “Never stand and argue with a fool because a passerby will not know who’s who.”
“OK, Sister Jane! If you want that five dollars, tell me right now why you said that the Rubber Man is creepy!”
Sister Jane’s face contorts through several tics, and when it smooths out again, she continues explaining.
“When we good folk are sleeping in the middle of the night, he crawls on up outta the lake and scares the hell out of us. I wish he’d just steal from us good folk instead of scaring the hell out of us AND stealing from us! Sometimes I wake up and he’s standing over me in that black rubber suit of his, dripping that nasty shit lake water all over me, laughing like he’s happy to be let out of hell, laughing like it’s funny that I’m scared shitless, laughing at me because I’m crazy, too!”
Sister Jane is good and worked up now. Morgana thinks she’s even forgotten about the five dollars.
“Does he ever hurt anyone?”
“No, he but he steals everything—our food, our shoes, our money, our drinks, our medicine. He even stole a dead dog once! And did I mention that he’s so creepy?”
“When’s the last time you saw him?”
“Just this morning!”
“Really???” Morgana is amazed that this guy has eluded the police for all this time, but yet Sister Jane saw him just this morning! Huh! Imagine that!
If gullibility were a tangible asset, Morgana would be a rich woman. Remembering not to believe everything she thinks, Morgana checks her own sanity, reminding herself that Sister Jane is probably not the most credible informant in the world.
All of a sudden, Morgana remembers that she’s still on the clock at The Pregonero and feels guilty for getting paid to waste their time talking with Sister Jane. She digs the five dollar bill back out of her pocket and hands it over to Sister Jane, who grabs the bill in shocked delight, presses it to her lips, throws her hands up in the air, and laughing dementedly, she scrambles up the hill on all fours to the edge of the park. Morgana loses sight of her as Sister Jane stands erect on her two feet, darts out into traffic and runs down the street, narrowly missing cars and colliding with pedestrians.
“Damn!” thinks Morgana. For a skinny minute there, she thought she was onto something. To think that she was actually going to call the police to tell them that the Rubber Man had returned to his old haunts! Jerinda’s case was still open and any lead would be given consideration, but as soon as the police would learn that Sister Jane was the source of this information, they’d think Morgana was as batty as she is.
“Well, I’m five bucks to the bad but at least I’ve still got Charlie’s lemon juice,” muses Morgana, while she strides briskly along the walking path back to The Pregonero.
Back in regal countenance mode, she struts past a thicket of trees choked with vines, bushes and small clutches of Styrofoam, cellophane, and other fast-food refuse.
Inside the thicket, sitting cross-legged on the urine-soaked dirt, a skinny, blond, barefoot man wearing a black rubber wet suit looks up from the raw, stinking fish he’s been gnawing on and watches a chubby woman all dressed in blue with a jiggling ass bounce on by.
Oh, yeah! He’s interested!
To Be Continued in Chapter 15: Tangled Up in Tango
Art Credit: http://fakemillion.com/shop/creature-from-the-black-lagoon-million-dollar-bill/
Music Credit: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GD-m2zSKmWo
“Creep,” by Radio Head (Subtitulado en Español)