e. v. noechel
Excerpt from Sanitized
"I'm leaving," I yell toward the back of the house, not really expecting an answer. I don't get one or I just can't hear it over the wails of my two year-old half sisters, or maybe she can't hear me over the T.V. selling breakfast cereal at full volume or my step brothers fighting in the kitchen or my step sister singing some cheesy radio love song in my room. I try again, "Bye, mom. I'm leaving. I'll be back tonight or tomorrow or something." The screaming continues unbroken, so I close the door, which thankfully muffles the noise inside. I look at my watch. Seven forty-six. Louis should be off work soon, so I start toward the Circle K. It's not a long walk to the K, located conveniently close to my mom's house, but then again, I guess that's why they call it a convenience store.
When I step up onto the curb, Louis sees me through the glass and starts waving like a loon. I walk inside. Bright oranges and reds flicker off the counters under the florescent lights while I wait for Louis to finish with a customer.
"Doral 100's." The customer guy says, pointing in the general direction of the cigarettes. "That your truck outside?" he asks when Louis turns around to grab a carton.
"No. Somebody left that there Tuesday." He doesn't look out the window because he can't find the one hundreds and besides, he knows what it looks like outside. Nothing really changes out there. Customer guy slips an American flag lighter into the pocket of his shiny baseball jacket and winks at me. I point at the security camera and he returns the lighter to the counter.
"I got a brother-in-law could fix that up for you." He says when Louis turns around. "Get rid of the rust, tweak the engine. Won't cost you much."
"Not my truck. Towing it tomorrow." Louis mumbles, turning a page of the magazine spread out on the counter in front of him. I can't tell which one it is, but I see a lot of slick peach tones so I figure it's a Penthouse. "Anything else?" Behind the guy I wink at Louis and make like I'm lighting a cigarette. "Lighter, maybe?"
"Ah, sure." The guy slaps a twenty on the counter and I pretend to be filling out a lottery ticket when he turns around. The door beeps and he's gone. "Hey, Louis. How are things in the magical land of minimum wage?"
"Uneventful. No one's shoplifted anything worth stopping them for, and I managed to get through The Sun, Glamour, Road and Track, and half a Hustler, so I'd say it's been a good day." He jumps off his perch behind the register, "Want a Slush Puppy?"
"Of course," I respond instantly. Slush Puppies are the beverage of the gods and luckily the Slush Puppy machine is one of the few things in the store beyond the security camera's viewing range. The machine hums pleasantly, spinning ice into slush with the sound of a white noise miracle. I watch Louis dispense a green slushy for me and a half red, half green one for himself. He hands me the green one and stirs his own, turning it a toxic looking shade of brown. It's really not as bad as it looks, but I never could develop a taste for them. I guess you have to be Louis to understand the subtle nuances of Bahama Mama and Lemon Lime.
"Anything else?" He asks, gesturing toward the display of assorted crackers and cookies, also located beyond the realm of the security camera.
"Sure...umm...those orange peanut butter crackers, I guess." He throws them my way, "Thanks."
"Don't thank me. Thank the generous Mr. K." He settles down on the floor and I join him, "So, what's up at your mom's house?" His words are garbled by the straw in his mouth and he chews on the end of it between slurps leaving jagged marks shaped like his molars.
"Not much." I answer through a mouthful of cracker, "Mom and Larry are over there getting ready to go out, Kate and Tiffany are still screaming, Trey and T.J. are fighting over who gets to sleep in my room, and Dixie's doing something just precious, I'm sure. I suggest staying at least a hundred yards away at all costs."
"Sounds fun. You sure you don't want to go back? Maybe Lawrence could rope us into baby sitting." He leans back against the Slushpuppy machine. It vibrates his voice when he talks.
"Oh god no. Not tonight. She's wearing sequins. They won't be back till four. No way I'm listening to Dixie preach from Seventeen till then."
"There's an interesting article this month on what kind of lip gloss boys really like. She might be able to give you some tips."
I wipe the dust from the floor off my hands and shift my weight so only one side of me is being frozen by the tile. "Don't you ever sweep in here?"
"Where's your replacement so we can get the hell out of here? I want to go find Henry."
Louis looks at his watch, "Howie's usually here by now. I don't know that the hold up is. Oh wait. Yes I do." He points to the parking lot beyond the glass where Howie is repeatedly slamming the door to his minivan. Each time the door bounces back open. The seatbelt is hanging out the door, flapping wildly with each slam, but Howie can't see it because he's carrying too much crap. This makes Louis shake is head and sigh loudly. "You know, when the Three Stooges do that kind of thing, it doesn't seem quite so...sad."
"Should we help him?" I ask, but by then Howie's either figured it out or beaten the seatbelt flat because he's headed our way. We get up, ditching what's left of our Slush Puppies behind the condiment bins. Louis collects his backpack and greets Howie, "How's it going?"
"Hi Lewis." Howie responds as always, seating himself behind the counter with his make it big in real estate kit in tow. He opens one of the books and scribbles something in it.
"It's Louis, Howie, Louis. Our names rhyme." He tries again to correct Howie, but the man can't close a goddamn door. How's he going to remember a silent S?
I've always liked the lights draped through the trees at the Maison de la Terre. Waiting in line, I squint my eyes and the $1.99 Christmas lights explode into stars, like the bastard sons of supernovas tethered to the earth by their camouflaged green wires. I watch them glimmer from under the dark red canopy where we wait in line with the reservationed men and women in their sparkles and fine linens, out for anniversary dinners and impressing clients. I catch the stare of a woman in a red Nancy Reagan dress. She gives us a disapproving look with a little purse of her lips and we burst into laughter. The couple behind us takes a few steps backward.
"Holy shit, Imogene. Isn't that your mom?" Louis points behind me, but I don't turn around.
"Hey Louis, isn't that the Dalai Lama?" I point back over his shoulder.
He shakes his finger for emphasis. "No, really, over there."
He sighs and scrunches his nose at me. "She's wearing a beige silk dress with a diamond shaped thing of sequins between her very ample breasts."
"Oh my god."
He shakes his head in mock disappointment. "Where are genetics when you need them?"
"They're fake, Louis." I try to duck behind the guy talking on his cell phone, but he paces when he talks and I'm exposed again.
"She had surgery?"
"No, she keeps them in a box next to the Water Pik." I inch toward a large bundle of curtain. "Get over here. I don't need Larry bitching at me for making him pay for a baby-sitter."
He suddenly freezes and talks through his teeth like we're in some kind of spy movie and he's afraid of tripping the motion detectors. "I think she saw me. Should I wave?"
"Come on, " He says, lunging at me. He drags me by the elbow through the crowd, weaseling his way through the doors, only pissing off a few people by grabbing fistfuls of their fur coats to move them aside. It's too hot to be wearing that shit anyway. The smell of thyme and chervil swarms around us, blending with the bevy of voices surrounding the gleaming marble bar. I tense at the sound of our names behind us.
"Louis! Imogene!" But it's just Carter, maneuvering through the small euro-style tables to wrap an arm around each of us. "Let's see--that's blackberry crepes for you, right Miss Moxley? He smiles with gleaming teeth and directs us to a table near the barrista's station. "And I have something special for you, Louis."
"You always do." Louis winks at Carter and makes a meowing sound. Carter laughs, but you can tell he's a little grossed out, too.
I roll my eyes, "You know, Louis, there's something unattractive about a guy who hits on his friends' parents."
"I meant something from the kitchen." Carter's voice flattens in parental disapproval, but we both know he's kidding. Louis does this to everyone.
"Thanks, Carter," I say as he seats us at a table set with napkins folded into geese which we both recognize as Henry's handiwork, "Where's that kid of yours?"
"Oh, I can never keep up with Henry," Carter laughs and rests a fingertip on his lip while he thinks, "He wandered off about an hour ago with his violin. You can probably find him faster than I can. Oh wait," he says, halfway to the kitchen before he can get the next sentence out, "You have to see what arrived today."
Louis and I shrug at each other in curious anticipation as Carter runs back to the kitchen. While he's gone, Stan arrives with two icy glasses of water complete with bendy straws. They're kind of his idea of being nurturing.
"And how are my favorite visitors?" Stan, Carter's very long-time boyfriend, sets the glasses in front of us. "You haven't been here in a while. What have you been doing?"
"Just the usual stuff," Louis says, taking the straw in his mouth. "Primarily, we're trying to be a horrible influence on Henry, but if he keeps running off like this...who knows what he could be doing. Good god, he might be studying."
"I'd like to think he's incorrigible, but if you can't help us find him, Stan, well...I just don't know." I put down my fork and feign an expression of disappointment.
"I'll tell Ron to hurry with your food then. That's all we need is for Henry to get an education." He stops as we all turn to watch Carter push the kitchen doors open with one hand, while on the other balances an elaborately decorated cake. As he approaches, I make out pink and lavender icing roses on the top and the word "Henry" written in green in the center. Carter deposits it on the table, repressing a laugh.
"Another one?" Louis pulls it toward himself for closer inspection. "Has anybody ever eaten one? Are they tainted?"
"Not as far as I know, on either count," Carter says, warily, "care to be the first to try?"
"I think I'll pass. There's something creepy about the old BCL."
The BCL or Birthday Cake Lady as Henry has dubbed her, is actually a middle aged woman who lives down the street from Maison de Terre. When Henry started working at the restaurant, birthday cakes with his name on them began showing up in odd places--under the hosts' stand, in the dish room, on the back window ledge. It soon became something of a game to all of us, spotting her here and there around the restaurant as she deposited her cakes, hoping to attract Henry's attention. When that didn't work, she began delivering them personally, which makes Henry hide in the deep freezer, reading the printing on the back of the frozen peas until she leaves. Stan says it shouldn't bother Henry so much, seeing as she used to do the same thing to Jack, the head of valet parking, and the worst thing that she did to him was to stand by his booth for eight and a half hours talking about biscuit mix. Louis finds it tremendously funny, and mostly I do too, but sometimes I get a little sad when I see her walking into the restaurant in her freshly pressed floral dresses and sensible shoes, carrying a cake in her hands. I mean, I can understand. Henry's a sexy boy, but there's a limit.
Our food arrives and I suddenly become aware of how hungry I am. Stan places an immense bowl of soup in front of Louis and for me, two crisp, light brown crepes oozing fat blackberries and sugary juice onto the black china plate dotted with pale cream. I fill my mouth and feel a trickle of purple juice run down my chin. Louis reaches across the table and rubs it off with his index finger. He cleans it on the tip of his tongue and smiles.
"Tasty. Want some soup? I'll pick out all the meat."
"Ick, no. It'll still have little microscopic pieces of carcass in it."
"Whatever you want." He says, and empties the spoon into his mouth. I become intent on consuming my crepes, and silence emerges between us. After a while, I stop hearing Louis spoon clanking rhythmically against his bowl and my fork stops mid-air.
"Stop looking at me like that. It's creepy."
"Come with me to the stock room."
"Louis, we can't do that here, Carter thinks Henry and I have this thing going..."
"...this exclusive thing, Louis."
"Henry doesn't mind."
"Carter and Stan might not be quite as understanding as you and Henry."
"Well, then we either need to leave, or you need to stop doing that."
"That." He says, grabbing the hand searching for another drop of juice on my plate.
"Oh. Sorry." I pick up my fork, but there's not much left anyway, so I just push the syrup around. "Hey is my mom still here?"
Louis sits up straight to look over my head at the other tables. His eyes jump from one place to another till they fix suddenly, a little to my left. "Yeah. By the plaster naked people. Larry's eating the foie gras and she's got...cornish hen? I can't really tell."
"Can we get out of here without them seeing us?"
"I'm surprised they aren't seeing us right now."
"Who's facing us?"
We finish eating, sneak out the back under the pretense of saying goodbye to Henry's parents, and wander off in the direction of Louis' place. We walk through the streets downtown, our path lit by the neon in bar windows and the marquis of the theater. I watch the damp sidewalk pass below my boots while he pulls me along, talking about how cool it would be if we had a car so we could get out of this town.