Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Ok, are you both ready to throw back a couple?” Hazel kicked the door closed with the heel of her right foot. It was all she could do to carry the paper bag.

“Let me help you with that.” Hank started toward Hazel.

“I have it, but stay away from that. That’s Angelique’s stuff. She wouldn’t want anyone to be messing with it. Besides it don’t need to be messed with by anyone who doesn’t know anything about it.”

Billy Ray stepped back and turned toward the kitchen area. “What is all that? I think I seen something like that in a movie once. It all reminded me of on of my cousins. Everyone in the family was afraid of her. My kin folks said she was different. That she had the gifts.” Billy Ray took the sack from Hazel and placed it on the kitchen table. The second drawer he opened, he found a bottle opener inside. The first bottle he handed to Hazel then he opened two more for himself and Hank.

“Who is Angelique?” Hank asked as fermented gases escaped in a whisper. Billy Ray shook his head and didn’t say anything.

“My roommate. She works down at Jackson Square. She goes on late in the afternoon and works late.”

“Is she an artist or something?”

“Like me. She waits tables and on the week end she freelances at other clubs.” She offered nothing further and no one asked. “She will probably be in later. Or maybe not. She keeps pretty much to herself.”

The first round was quick and Billy Ray did the honors again with the bottle opener. Soon that round was history. Even as everyone’s eyes adjusted to the disappearing sun, it was getting dark. Hazel took a box of strike anywhere kitchen matches and lit several candles throughout the room. The yellow glow softened the mood and finally everyone began to relax.

“Let’s move to the sitting area. These kitchen chairs are wearing my butt out.” Billy Ray got up and fell into one of the armchairs. The arms were covered with crocheted lace. It reminded him of his grandmother’s house. He wished he was there now instead of this strange city with nothing that he was used to.

“Come on.” Hank pulled Hazel’s chair back and picked up the damp paper sack. He didn’t figure the beer was going to have time to get hot. He stuck the bottle opener in his shirt pocket and ambled over beside Billy Ray and just fell into the other arm chair. Hazel shot him a disapproving look. She pushed an ottoman next to one of the windows facing the street and gently sat down. Pulling her knees to her chin her silhouette resembled a kitten staring out the window. The reflections of the neon light from the bar downstairs illuminated her soft outline as she perched on the foot stool.

“Look, we are going to have to be getting along. We have probably caused you enough grief as it is. We were only trying to help, but it seems that we may have done more damage than good.” Hank looked at Billy Ray. Billy Ray had dozed off. He never could drink much. Beer would put him to sleep in a heart beat. “Billy Ray, you are going to have to wake up.”

“Don’t bother him. He is alright. I certainly don’t have any plans. Throw him that pillow and blanket from that bed over there. I am not sure Angelique is going to be back tonight. Where are you going to go anyway. I am kind of spooked. Hell, you’re a stranger but I don’t know what else to do. One of you can sleep on the couch the other can make a pallet in the floor.” Hank walked over handed the pillow and quilt to Billy Ray.

“Here man, cover up with this. It ain’t going to get cold but you will have it. You can have the couch” Billy Ray stood up. He took the quilt and pillow.

“I can’t stretch out on the couch. I think I will put down here on this rug. I am worn out. It will feel good.” He kicked his boot offs and stretched out on his back. Almost instantly his deep regular breathing indicated that he was out like a light.

Hank turned one of the chairs to face Hazel. He handed her another beer. The warm evening made them extra refreshing. She was smoking a cigarette and still staring our the window. Turning toward Hank she took the bottle and then turned back toward the window without saying a word. He leaned back in his chair and just waited for several minutes before he said anything again. All he could see was her outline, totally void of features.

“You’re right. I am a stranger but I think you may be stranger.” He felt his attempt at light humor had fallen short of its target. Her only response was another turn of her head in his direction. She picked up a fresh cigarette and put in between her lips. After a few minutes, she struck a match. The tip of the cigarette glowed like a tiny beacon as she sat motionless. Hank waited and stared. He felt certain the time would come when she would talk if she wanted to.

At first it was hardly noticeable. A tiny up and down movement of the coal of fire. A few minutes went by. The ash had grown to over and inch and the cigarette had not moved again until now. Quickly it began to shake up and down. Hank was not certain his eyes were focusing properly. The ash broke loose and fell to the floor. The movement continued but not a word was spoken. In a swift motion, Hazel brought one of here hands to her face and just as quickly put it back down. The glowing beacon traveled another inch or so. Another swipe of the hand and she dropped the cigarette into her empty beer bottle. Both hands smeared both cheeks. She turned toward Hank. Her eyes were moist and her chin was taunt and quivering.

“I feel like I want to tell somebody.” Hazel dipped her head and inhaled three short stuttering breaths.