Jessica Everett reminded me of Mama Fratelli from the Goonies. Wild, unkempt, disheveled hair. A permanent frown on an aging face. She dragged and scuffed her feet across the carpet in red open heel slippers; as if her upper body weight was too much to carry. She wore a white translucent night shirt beneath a tattered and frayed pink bathrobe, which she tied off loose at the waist, and she reeked of seafood and alcohol.
Not a pleasant combination.
The woman wheeled in a silver cart, covered in food and condiments, and came to stand at the table with her hands stuffed deep inside the bathrobe pockets, as though she was waiting for the next chore to be asked of her. When no one spoke a word, she cleared her throat and opened her eyes wide; staring at her husband.
Joseph smiled and rubbed his hands together in giddy excitement.
The smell was an assault on my senses and I turned away from the odor. I couldn’t keep my thoughts to myself, “Wow, that’s strong.”
She was at my side in half a heartbeat.
Other than the standard, minor, physical altercations through some junior high and high school bullying, including, but not limited to: being shoved into the cold steel of a locker, tripped in the corridor and sprawled out across the tiles, the books knocked from the hands and kicked across the floor, or a chair pulled out from under me, I’ve only been struck in the face three times and each one hurt like the dickens. The first was an encounter at a high school dance while Motley Crew’s, Home Sweet Home played loud in the background.
I was in between relationships and someone didn’t like one of my replies to a question. I got slapped.
The second was at a Jack and Jill party where I was caught smoking a cigarette (after claiming to have quit) while enjoying a drink with friends and family, and the itching urge for nicotine coerced me to join the other smokers outside. Upon being caught taking a drag, I was slapped.
Both times, as a result of the impact, my glasses sailed from my face and traveled through open air; spinning round and round like a helicopter blade.
At the high school dance, it was instant panic. My glasses landed among the slow dancing teens, who had gathered at the center of the room, hugging and walking in a circle on the darkened floor and I had to scramble and shoo the crowd away to find the glasses among the flashing lights and moving feet.
More embarrassing than anything.
At the party, with what I call the Cigarette Incident, many years later, my spectacles landed on a stone walkway, just off the porch, and were luckily easy enough to locate right away.
Jessica hit me with the back of her hand across my cheek, and the force of the knuckles on bare flesh sucked the breath from my lungs. My skin turned crimson and half my face slowly doubled in size. Lights exploded under my eyelids and I fell from the chair on to the carpet in a crumpled heap.
My neck cracked and popped when I landed on the floor, my eye socket swelled up, and a bright red vein escaped my iris and spread across the white in thin bloody streaks.
Despite the overwhelming burn and stinging pain, I fought the dizzy and disorientation and frantically sought out my glasses. The reaction to locate them being purely instinctual. I never felt them leave my face, but I knew they were gone. I scrambled across the floor on all fours, moving my hands across the open space, glancing side to side, under the table and across it’s surface and made my way to the corners of the room and when the panic settled in, Joseph placed his hand on my shoulder.
“I have them right here.”
I ripped them from his fingers and tested the frames to ensure the glass was still intact and the plastic wasn’t cracked. Once determining they were undamaged, I adjusted them back on my face and shot my attention to the doors, and the obvious escape from my little slice of Hell.
I couldn’t look Jessica in the eye.
Instead of leaving and following my nagging inner voice which was guiding me to the car, I returned to the table, sat slow in my chair and whispered, “What was that for?”
Jessica walked to the cart and turned her back to me. Keeping her attention on the food, and while preparing her husband’s plate, she replied, “You don’t do that. You don’t come in here and insult the hand that feeds you.”
“Would it help if I said I’m sorry.”
“It might. You should try it.” Joseph interrupted and tented his fingers.
“OK, I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to sound insulting. Will you accept my apology?” I could feel my heart thumping at the center of my cheek. Everything hurt from the chest up.
She whipped around and smiled. “I do accept. Now, do you want some butter to dip the meat in?”
“Yes. That would be great. Thank you, ma’am.”
Holy shit. What did I get myself into?
One lobster was placed on my plate by metal tongs and a small dish of butter was set beside. Joseph was half way through his first one before I even cracked open mine. Butter dripped from his chin and seafood crumbs rained down on the table and across his lap. I stared at him with my one good eye and tried to remain calm as he devoured his food. Slurping and burping with each sip of his beverage.
Jessica dropped the steaming pot on the edge of the table so we could help ourselves, and then returned to the kitchen without another word.
Half way through my first, Joseph was ripping open his second helping, gobbling it down as fast as the meat was exposed.
I have to admit. The taste was beautiful. The melted butter was a festival of flavors and I was whisked away to one of my favorite restaurants along the coast.
Moments later, my attacker returned to the table with a hand made apple pie, and she placed it at the table’s center.
She cut herself a large slice, and returned to the kitchen.
I wouldn’t see her again that night.
Joseph leaned back in his chair after the third helping and with a smile of contentment he exhaled hard. The old man tapped his full belly with his fingers, wiped the corners of his mouth, and sipped on a mug of tea as I finished up my first lobster.
I like lobster, in small doses. I’m more of a salmon guy or baked haddock. Lobster has always been touch and go for me. Perhaps it’s the texture that only allows me to get through one. I was eyeballing the pie though and excited to try a slice.
Joseph relaxed and leaned forward. “You and I need to make a deal. I give you permission to talk to me whenever you desire whenever you need me, but if you do, it has to be by my rules and not yours. You have to do whatever I say. If you can agree to this, then I believe I can help you.”
“What are the rules?”
“The first of the rules is admitting to yourself that shit happens and sometimes life’s a bitch. You have to admit to the existence of forces that are beyond your control and because you have no control, emotions and logic become most important. You have to admit that even though the pieces may be few and scattered, they must be picked up and carried, regardless. You have to admit that running from your problems is only going to make things worse.”
“That’s the first set of rules.”
“What’s the second?”
“You’ll get those at our next visit. One set of rules at a time. Can we make this arrangement?”
“I believe so. I’d hate to violate any rules?”
“Say the words out loud.”
At that moment I took Joseph’s oath, and spoke the words out loud. I admitted to myself I can’t hate, that which I can’t control. My emotions stemming from my situation, were of the upmost importance. I required a discovery of logic to somehow supplement what I was feeling. I had to admit there were external forces beyond my understanding.
Once I spoke the words and took the oath, a radio activated from a table in the room’s corner and a weather alert blared through the speakers. “This is a test of the emergency broadcast alert system. A strong storm is tracking through the following counties. Seventy mile an hour winds inland, nickle sized hail, and possible tornadoes. Widespread power outages are possible…” and each of the counties in danger were listed accordingly.
Joseph tightened up in his seat, “We don’t have a lot of time. Do you have any questions before we begin?”
“Yes. Just curious. How do you know Officer Clark? Does he work for you?”
“Who?” Joe scrunched up his face.
“Officer Clark? The one who gave me the card?”
Oh, man. He’s losing his mind.
“This card,” I reached into my pocket and withdrew the paper with Joseph’s information and felt my stomach drop as it was devoid of any writing. In my grasp, I held a blank, white empty card.
Joseph looked to the window and uttered, “You need to follow your dreams, but you need to understand them first. It’s the beginning of a beautiful relationship, you and I. The storm is upon us. It’s finally here. I’ve been waiting for this for far too long.”
The wind howled and twined around the building outside, and the walls shook around us. I glanced to the beams overhead and listened to the timbers creaking and groaning and caught Joseph smiling at me from the corner of my swollen eye.
“I don’t get it. What have you been waiting for, Joseph? Help me understand.”
“The beginning. The start of a brand new start. We’ll get through it. But before we get this thing going, you need to duck.”
“What?” The wind screamed outside the structure. I was slowly losing my hearing.
I hit the floor with a thud as each of the windows broke and the power of the wind sent the shrapnel into the open room. Shards of glass rained around us and Joseph sat casually at the center of the table and ignored the chaos erupting around him. He reached into the pot and pulled out a fourth lobster while the wind and rain entered and swirled around inside the church-like building, and I was back down on the floor on all fours protecting my head from the jagged debris.
“When next we meet we’ll be in the eye of the storm, my new friend,” he dipped some claw meat into the dish of butter, “But in the meantime, before that happens, you need to WAKE UP!”
I tore open my eyes and found myself parked in my family’s driveway. The engine hummed low, the radio was silent, and everything hurt from the chest to the top of my head. Shelby sat beside me staring out the window and to get my bearings, and verify my state of mind, I checked my face and eye in the rear view mirror and then reached for my insurance information in the glove box.
The eight of diamonds was nowhere to be found.
I must have fallen asleep the moment I arrived.
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