Morgana feels as if someone is watching her as she walks her way around the Lake back home. From time to time, she turns around slowly, pretending to look into the water at the geese and ducks, and then sweeping her gaze up to the sky, all so that she could appear nonchalant while throwing a furtive glance at the path behind her. She thinks for a moment that she sees the Rubber Man, but no…it’s just another strung-out person draped over one of the lakeside benches, laughing up at the clouds.
Up the hill she treks, feeling her muscles digesting the fat that seems to be making itself just a tad more scarce. Almost enjoying the burn, she focuses on the trial run of her Boney Stalker BBQ Sauce which is the pretext for her lunch tomorrow with Percival.
At the top of the hill, she’s huffing and puffing but catches her breath walking the two blocks of level ground before reaching her apartment building. She begins her slow plod up the stairs of her apartment building, and had it been lighter in the stairwell, she might have noticed, through the open metals risers, a barefoot, disheveled man with long blond and gray hair wearing a battered wet suit and a French beret crouched between the staircase and the wall. He might be crazy but he’s smart enough to avert his eyes instead of looking through the open risers at the eyes of people who are climbing the groaning metal steps. He knows that the light glinting off his eyes will command the attention of anyone climbing the steps. He also knows that the police would be called should he be caught trespassing. Although Morgana smells his rank odor, she doesn’t think anything of it. She assumes that it’s the stench from the food waste recycling bin wafting in from the building’s garage.
Her footsteps create a metallic echo which always adds to her uneasiness in the stairwell. The light gray walls look neat and clean and the entire space is fairly well lit, not particularly claustrophobic or creepy. Even so, she has to make an effort to not imagine horrors lurking in the shadows, behind closed doors, under the steps. Holding her imagination in check is almost a full time job.
“Whistling past the graveyard” is her default coping mechanism to prevent the onset of a fight or flight response. Of all the emotions, she hates fear the most because it’s the one that robs her of everything she holds sacred: her free will, her composure, and her dignity. She always has to remind herself that just because she’s paranoid doesn’t mean that someone’s NOT out to get her! To distract herself, she begins to vocalize a drum beat to accompany her footsteps, and by the time she reaches her landing, she’s still huffing and puffing a “boom-chicka-chicka-boom” beat that seems to have propelled her up the stairs and dispelled her fears at the same time.
Careful not to make any noise, the Rubber Man maneuvers a crablike sidle out from the small space under the stairs and throws his head back, catching much more than a glimpse of Morgana pausing on the landing, doing a little dance and shaking her jiggling ass while she sings “boom-chicka-chicka-boom” before she exits the stairwell. The fire door clicks shut, but the image of her jiggling ass burns itself into his mind’s eye. Oh, yeah! All that meat and no potatoes! He hopes he’ll see her in the morning, but meanwhile, this isn’t a bad place to sleep. He’s got a filthy gray blanket with him and with any luck, it will camouflage him enough to fade into the shadowy gray walls of the stairwell.
She closes her apartment door behind her. Again, she thinks of Jack no longer at home and wonders how long she’ll sense his presence there. There’s no good way to feel about this, she thinks. All the positive spins in the world just aren’t going to get it. Someone you’ve spent your whole adult with permeates your consciousness in ways you can’t even begin to understand. For better or for worse. Does that mean you just take what you get or does it mean that you get to choose how you feel about it? Either way, your headspace probably doesn’t care. It will accommodate anything that winds up there. Wouldn’t it be nice if she could somehow just delete the whole Jack experience from her memory? Maybe she doesn’t really want to do that, but it sure would make things more manageable if she could just put it somewhere else. Huh! That’s got some possibilities!
She kicks off her shoes. Screw it, she thinks. I’ve got things to do, places to go and people to meet. At this moment, she can’t do much about anything major in her life but she can make BBQ sauce.
Before making the BBQ sauce, though, she retrieves her notebook from the roll top desk in the living room, tears off a blank sheet of paper and writes “Jack” in large letters with a thick black marker. She folds the paper many times, wraps it into a beautiful little sky blue silk handkerchief her Aunt Phylene had given her many years ago that she always loved but had no practical use for. She nestles it into a pretty miniature candy tin that she saved from Christmas. She kisses the tin and puts it onto the highest shelf of her closet that she can reach standing on a chair.
She closes the closet door, resettles the chair next to the wall, and lies down on the Berber carpet. She closes her eyes and relaxes her body, taking deep breaths, holding them, and slowly releasing each one. She visualizes any negativity loosening its grip on her heart, bubbling up to her lungs. Each bubble bursts, surrendering its malaise to her exhalations.
Peaceful and feeling rested and restored, she gets up, and changes out of the nice outfit that served her so well today. Ugh, she still has the problem of what to wear for her date for tomorrow, but since she can’t show up empty-handed—no matter what she’s wearing—she’d better tend first to that BBQ sauce sooner rather than later. She puts on her old faithful brown stretch pants with a baggy yellow sweat shirt that’s played host to just about every insult a working kitchen can dish out.
Morgana minces a small onion and four cloves of garlic. She empties the little bottle of Boney Stalker Scotch into her big, black cast iron frying pan, and simmers the onion and garlic until they are translucent. Then she throws in ½ teaspoon ground black pepper, ½ teaspoon of salt, 2 cups of ketchup, ½ cup of tomato paste, ½ cup of apple cider vinegar, ½ cup packed brown sugar, ½ teaspoon hot pepper sauce, 1 tablespoon of hickory smoke crystals, and ½ cup of steak sauce. She gives it a good stir, using a small wire whisk to break up the tomato paste. She brings it back up to a boil and then lets it simmer for twenty minutes.
While it’s simmering, she turns on the radio and dances around the kitchen to some infectious Zydeco music while she cleans up and washes her utensils, cutting board, small bowls, and the dishes left from this morning. Just as she’s putting the last clean bowl away, that cheap-ass, rotgut Boney Stalker catalytically converts itself and that whole mess of ingredients into something that smells so good that it almost brings Morgana to tears.
She holds onto the sink while she’s transported back in time to when she was a child of eight or nine on a road trip with her parents and her three older sisters. All four girls fit rather snugly in the back seat and had been getting fidgety for what seemed like a long time now. Just as the sun was setting, it became apparent that there was nothing more on that two-lane highway except miles leading to more miles of nowhere else to go. They were all so hungry and all of a sudden, a road-side dive all lit up with flood lights swarming with flying bugs appeared like an answer to a prayer that no one thought to say, an unexpected gift. They came to a quick gravelly stop in the crunchy parking lot, the kind of stop that announces, “We’re here to eat something serious, goddammit!”
The smell of hot burning tires temporarily masked the smell of hot burning barbecue. She remembers sitting outside at a splintery picnic table slick with grease, eating off of paper plates so thin that they did little more than keep the splinters out of the food. Morgana remembers eating more potato salad and baked beans just so she could have a reason to eat more of that incredible barbecue sauce.
The kitchen timer dings her back to reality. She shuts the stove off and slides the frying pan to a cool burner. She stirs the sauce to release some of the heat and loosens the clumps along the bottom and the sides of the pan with a short, flat-edged pancake turner. She ladles the sauce into the blender and purees the whole thing.
She takes a bowl of left-over brown rice out of the fridge. She opens up a can of kidney beans, drains and rinses them. She mixes the beans and the rice together and fills up a small bowl for herself. She covers the whole thing with a lot more barbecue sauce than is advisable. Once again, she’s back at that greasy table at the road side dive. Damn, she thinks, this IS a true witch’s brew!
She could easily go back for seconds, but thinks of Percival and remembers that she’s got to get some kind of outfit together. She fills up three glass jars with the rest of the sauce, sticks them in the fridge, washes out the frying pan, and leaves it on the still-warm burner to dry.
Avoiding her image in the mirror, she finds some new-looking blue jeans that she grew out of two years ago and, just for jollies, she tries them on…a little tight going over the hips, and a little tough getting that zipper closed, but…they fit! Finally, she dares to step in front of the mirror. What hath God wrought! True, they fit her like sausage casing, but they don’t look that bad! The pants are too tight to wear with a short jacket, sweater or blouse, and it would be a shame to have to forego wearing the jeans for want of a proper top. She tries on different things with the jeans but doesn’t find anything she’s comfortable with. An hour later, she’s starting to try on for the second time all the things she’s already rejected.
Ah, but fortune smiles on Morgana once again! It suddenly occurs to her that she has a bag of Gerri’s castoffs stuffed into their storage space that she was supposed to take to the Salvation Army months ago. Her apartment is right next to the storage space for their floor—it couldn’t be more convenient! Lo and behold, she finds a wonderful, vintage 90s rayon button-up, woven, long-sleeved Guatemalan shirt with a relatively subdued pattern of blue, purple and light green. Geez, that Gerri has some good taste! Morgana does not know where she gets it from. Neither she nor Jack has much fashion sense, but come to think of it, her son, Travis, is also a pretty sharp dresser.
She drags the giant bag back to her apartment and into her bedroom. The shirt is long and roomy enough to cover what she’d like to conceal, but not so long and baggy as to look sloppy or dowdy. And good thing it’s not too over-the-top—no no pun intended, she thinks. It would be just her luck to get accused of cultural misappropriation! She concludes that it looks great with the jeans!
Morgana is toying with the idea of spending the night in her tenem as Rain at The Spa, but she’s too excited about seeing Percival tomorrow to entertain a steamy interlude with her Mystery Man. She’s also somewhat apprehensive about going there and not finding him.
She wonders if she would have ever forked over $30,000 to The Our Little Secret Travel Agency had she met Percival just a few days before. Probably not.
Maybe it would be good to take a nice, hot bath, put on her PJs, and to hit the hay early. Settling down for some sweet dreams sounded pretty close to happiness at this juncture.
Later, lying in bed and drifting off to a restful night’s sleep, she sees herself wearing her new old jeans, skipping along the Lake path with Percival.
And she’s happy!
Photo Credit: pinterest.com (http://www.localeats.com/Restaurant_Detail/Dothan/BBQ-Shack)
Music Credit: David Dundas – Jeans on + lyrics, youtube.com
To Be Continued in Chapter 20