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More Fiction by:
Francine Witte P- 1
Francine Witte P- 2
RON SINGER P-3
Robert Roth P-4
Robert Roth P-5
Thaddeus Rutkowski P-6
Joseph Farley P-7
Martin H. Levinson P-8
Patricia Carragon P-9
Patricia Carragon P-10
Ronald Whiteurs P-12
Susan Weiman P-13
Erik Ipsen P-14
Two Reubens – (a tag team story)
by Arthur Lasky & Erik Ipsen
Finding the Has Bean Café was easy. It stood alone amid acres of weeds on the edge of New Orleans 9th Ward, the freak survivor of the Industrial Canal’s rupture during Katrina. The two rust-encrusted Datsuns out front and plastic picnic table topped with Hellmann’s mayo jar (label still affixed) of snapdragons offered scant encouragement. But the menu intrigued me, especially the house specialty, a vegan reuben. But, we had not come to eat, not primarily anyway. “I wonder what fuckin’ vegans do for pastrami,” growled my sister’s sole surviving progeny, 17-year-old Scarlett as we swung onto stools clad in avocado-green vinyl at the counter. Before us stood a waitress wearing a Hawaiian shirt big enough for a bus, but not quite commodious enough for her.
“First thing I gotta tell yha is that all’s we got today is the reuben. So we can skip the menu bullshit. Chef Ringa’s just had it with makin’ anything else, except toast a course, without butter a course. You whan toast?”
“Two reubens will be fine,” I said ignoring Scarlett’s querulous “huh?”
As we waited, transfixed by dozens of desiccated insects dangling above the counter on long spirals of yellowed tape, I tried again to lay the groundwork for this meeting with a stranger who had summoned Scarlett, by text of all things, from a distance of 16 years. That’s how long it had been since she’d vanished from a world that once seemed unable to spin without her. But then came the accident and the criminal charges of negligence, followed months later by the acquittal, but by then nobody in her world cared or even remembered. She had become a living lacuna.
“When she was only 22, Scarlett, the Times-Picayune hailed her as god’s own gift to American poetry, the next Plath or even St. Vincent Mil…”
I was cut off by our waitress.
“Mind if I ask somethin? What the hell are you doin’ here?”
“We’re supposed to meet someone.”
“We were told she was the owner.”
“Oh, owner I know. Regina? Never heard of it. We call her Ringa. Not to worry, she’ll be out with your sandwiches shortly.”
Seconds later the kitchen door swung open pushed by a painfully thin, purple-haired, multiply pierced woman. She advanced bearing on outstretched arms coated in shriveled tattoos a tray with two perfect reubens that Scarlett smashed to the floor with a downward sweep of both fists, shouting, “Thanks a lot, MOM! Remind me to leave you a tip, you bitch, for all you’ve never done for me.”
Stunned, Ringa shrieked and raised her arms to shield herself as I stepped into the gap between the two of them, waving Scarlett back with a furious gesture as I turned towards the waitress steaming our way, bellowing: “Beat it! Go find a luau or something, this is a family reunion.”
By that point Regina appeared to have recognized me as her brother and made the small leap of logic to tag her assailant as her own daughter. “Scarlett, my beautiful little baby, I missed you so m…”, she croaked in her once crystalline voice. “Fuck you, you shrunken old frog. Miss me? Don’t say you missed me. You killed Clark and Monica, then ran out on me before I was even two.” With that Scarlett dropped back into her chair, sobbing, and Regina turned her attention to me.
“Hello, Rick. Longtime no see. How’ve you been?”
Enraged by her matter-of-factness I thought about beating her to death or subjecting the family’s fallen poet to an hour-long rant about abandoning 23-month old Scarlett to my care after a DWI that left her other two children dead. As for questions, I had plenty for her like how she could summon Scarlett after so many years with just a freakin’ text? Why did she leave, the way that she left? Why no communication? What, and it better be good, do you want from this poor girl who shouldn’t give you the time of day? And why in the name of god aren’t you showing any emotion?
Instead, I settled on, “Hello, Gina.”
But she had already moved a step closer to Scarlett, saying: “Sweetheart, I need you to understand, you have always been with me — always, in my soul, in my heart.”
“What lovely poetic words, to hear from my one-time mother the sensitive artist; I’m sorry ‘artiste’; you’re a great artiste … a fuckin’ lousy human being, but who cares about that.”
“Scarlett, I have suffered too. I struggled; I even thought about suicide, but my inner muse wouldn’t let me. I’ve grown, Scarlett. I’ve returned to writing. My work’s back in the American Poetry Review, the Kenyon Review, and my name is on the lips of the right people, once again.”
“So, what do you want a fuckin’ parade? Maybe I should build a statue, I don’t know if I can pile shit that high, though.”
“No, my sweet baby, no. Don’t be bitter, my success is your success. I want you to share my happiness. The Times is sending someone down to do an article and photo-spread on me. I’m told their mulling ‘Return to Transcendence’ for the title, a reference for my blank-verse opus ‘Transcending nothing but ALL’, which won the Akron Prize years ago and a Pulitzer six or was it seven months later.”
Scarlett, remained silent but I could read my girl’s face broadcasting a mixture of dumb disbelief and rage.
“I want you to be there with me, for the pictures, for the interview,” my sister continued. ‘It will be sublimely splendiferous.”
Color ran from Scarlett’s face, as she staggered forward and hurled her arms around me, and held on tight, sobbing into my shoulder. And in those moments, she transformed. The baby I had cared for, the hurt and angry little girl I had raised, became the strong young woman I had always prayed for. She stepped out of the hug, red-eyed and wild-haired, voice shaking yet controlled.
“I came because I had to know, had to be sure. Now I know all I need to… want to know. Thanks for lunch, and thank you for the invitation. Come on, Uncle Ricky let’s go home… Mom, lose my number.”
*** End ***