Revolution. Reformation. Massive perspectival overhaul. They cause is more desperate on an empty stomach.
Straw-sucking from a _____ beneath the eyes of the usual Tapatio woman.
She leans over the counter looking judgmental about the cloud cover in the floor-to-ceiling windows. There is a sarcastic little sneer built into the corners of her mouth that is distinctly un-Troutdalean. But he has tailed this woman and knows she lives alone on the third of a five-floor walk-up just inside the southern border. Like the pulled records of all registered Troutdaleans hers is relentlessly clean; franchise owner registered with the C of C, spotless credit history, no priors, little college, extra-currics in high school; a trail of solid, uneventful citizenry here and elsewhere. Jogs before work, drinks only occasionally, attends a non-denominational twice a month. Bi-lingual and plays it to commercial advantage with the registered seasonal workers hopscotching the kingdom borders when crop yields demand it. She’ll even drive west on SE Stark and cross the border into Gresham to eat some traditional Peruvian with others who largely share her place of birth. When she does so the little sneer loosens into occasional stretches of wide relieved smiling. The only possible angle on such a woman would be her lack of an obvious partner. Not only is this rare in The Kingdom but widely considered to be a status in need of improvement.
And it’s not like she doesn’t have the goods on that front. Bright-faced and youthful in the taut eyes and aforementioned mouth zones to contrast with the roundness of her cheeks and lips to an advanced sexual advantage. Toss in the dual-language facility and it made no sense this woman didn’t have her pick of fellow Troutdalean entrepreneurs in like physical shape, income bracket, and philosophical equanimity. Six years in The Kingdom it was a wonder she had neither a partner nor a beau to paddle the Sandy or run that rehabilitated greyhound of hers with.
The entire profile might not be so intriguing, so possibly useful in this dawn/feeling out period of the cover’s new tack, if not for that anomalous little sneer. Six years in the wind-tunnel regularity of The OK Corral should have smoothed the accumulated wrinkle into cross-hatch by now, or at least trained a little of the complicit dart and sparkle out of her black-brown eyes by now. Yes, Rawlings, this woman was just slightly different enough to be the one. Go ahead and talk to her.
“Hey um, those tamales were saltier than usual. Pretty good.”
The echo of his voice has yanked Rawlings toward the lard-tanned ceiling to watch the moron below talk to someone besides Tiger. The woman, Teresa Huanatoca is her name, Teresa replies with a single, long, deliberate blink.
“The asparagus… much better.”
The little ebony claws of her eyelashes lower, threaten to slash downward again. He looks away and sucks on the _______.
“But you couldn’t help
Rawlings has only ever shouted at Troutdaleans or grumbled as the library’s Prisonhouse Penitent Pauling. His words come out in stabbing little experiments while Teresa Huanatoca’s sneer deepens down to devilish. She is incongruous to the point of mocking, completely out of whack with that generous spirit of the Peruvian restaurant. She wipes down the counter and shoots the towel over the back of a deep fryer into the trough of the sink. When she fixes Rawlings with her eyes he looks away to suck on the _____.
Rawlings understands he is now inhabiting what is traditionally considered to be the stance of the unpracticed courter. His body is at an angle to the counter her elbow is the sculpted extension of. His apologetic, down-searching eyes flee from her bottomless whites. This, yes, this thoroughly unlikely Troutdalean has him flailing the upper restaurant air for a duct or light fixture to grab hold of. He hadn’t thought to talk to her as Prisonhouse Penitent Pauling or his loony-bomb alter-ego of the proselytizing truck bed. He hadn’t even considered her to be attractive. Yes, unquestionably so. This woman, this unabstract, fleshsome Troutdalean woman had blown any pretense he had of a dropping a cover high into the trade-drafts of Tapatio Franchise 47’s lardened sky. You are this post-concussed Rawlings. You stumble into duty without a cover and allow the slightest of unlikely women to have you flustered. Suspended like this, firmly held in thrall by the guillotine of those lashes you, you Rawlings, are the likely and she is the executioner. Teresa Huanatoca inhales long and deliberate. Rawlings goes cold. When she blinks he shudders. When she sighs he nearly faints. He puts a hand on the counter to steady himself. His head is pounding and his stomach is in a blender. He cannot think what likely statement might anchor him. He hears himself snickering toward the floor. Drool has collected at the corner of his mouth. Before he speaks a third and dizziest of all Rawlings appears in the grease smeared backboard to the woman’s deep fryer.
Rawlings slumps against the counter and reaches for a napkin dispenser. He dabs one corner of his mouth and then the other before he starts to swoon. The room pulls away from him. The three Rawlings are thrown into a blender. He looks around wildly and desperately reaches for his _____ before crumbling to the floor. Teresa Huanatoca blinks once. She then leans to watch the overturned ______ waterfall over the counter and splash against the back of Rawlings’ head. The fluttering napkin feathers down to settle on his chest.
“You know damn well how long, burracho.”
Rawlings comes to in swirling blue-black darkness.
A loud breathy shooshing surrounds him. It is summer at Cannon Beach. She must have buried him in the sand once he fell asleep. Her little joke. The tide will roll further and further inland until his tows go cold. In a minute or two the water will enter the labyrinthine sand hillock and aqueduct complex she has surrounded him with. Trickling and sloshing sounds spread inward toward his head from every side and collect into one large central channel on an incline. Water collects behind a thin sand barrier until it bursts. his chin. Usually, the initial tow cold will have brought him to and he is prepared to put on a little show when the water cascades down the ladder leading into the drowning arena collaring his head. As he spits and sputters his best horrified panic she will stand behind and above him, backlit by dusk sun, a corona behind her shadowed face, and joke about “leaving you to the crabs this time” or extort some pledge or service from him. He will wait to the very last second to relent and, say, agree to making the drive south to Depoe Bay for crabcakes at Moe’s before hooking through the slow meander home through the Tillamook National Rain Forest. She will look far more convincingly sadistic after she has dug him free than before. He will wonder over this only briefly before distracting into the admittedly sex-ritual end of the thing. Once when he would not agree to oysters in Astoria she had jogged off just as the channel gate had begun to crack. As the water slowly crept up his neck and she melted into the dusk-molten horizon he was forced to cycle through feelings of wry bemusement, growing incredulity and fury, gathering horror, terror mixed with abject hope, desperate hope (given voice in what would later be described as “pretty girlish wailing there, Rawlings”), equanimity towards death, a bitter cynicism vis a vis the overarching absurdity of his situation and, by inference, all human endeavor, the failure of the preceding to console him in the slightest way, foul-mouthed vindictive fury, and, finally, the suspicion he had always badly misunderstood and underestimated the unfathomable woman who, as the water began to tickle his lower lip, could be “drowning (herself) now for all (he) cared!” Her little snortling guffaw from behind had scared him so badly he bucked involuntarily and freed his knees from their heavy wet bondage. As the little engineered city around him crumbled and flooded over and Rawlings coughed and sputtered, all she had said was “Tssk, aw man, Rawlings, look what you’ve done. It was my finest creation yet.”
And sometimes the tow warning doesn’t work and he wakes under an endless shroud of murky water all around and clogging his burning lungs. He does not know where he is or what has happened to him. There is no tow warning or the reminder of the silhouetted woman above squeezing her spasming mouth. He cannot move his arms or legs and is increasingly certain no one but him would be foolish enough to be in the vicinity of such an idiotic and in all likelihood fatal venue. He is just beginning to give up on himself and feeling philosophical about his imminent silty-salty death when her fingernails start ripping into his thighs and knees allowing him to burst up out of the water into the stunning blues and wispy whites of another Oregon summer sky to remember he is in Florence or Seaside or Newport and a long fan of dirty blonde hair is about to be thrown over the pulsingly warm expanse of shoulder bisected by a thin red strap then tucked behind a small round left ear with a thin cur’s notch missing at one o’ clock revealing the hatefully wonderful very real consolation of her red and tear-streaked dearly freckled face. If a child does not run paddingly and laughingly closeby or a seagull does not lower by on the patrol-eyed squawk he will forget himself and explode from the sand to pin the evil, giggling woman to the ground and straddle her with his hands collaring the second striation of her impossibly dry and warm neck. She will remove the sunglasses he has forgotten he is wearing and say “Aw, poor Rawlings. Poor, poor old Rawlings.”