Chapter One: The Sugar Packet Tower of Awesome

Chapter One: The Sugar Packet Tower of Awesome

The reek of coconut oil, octogenarian golfer feet and carbon paper wafted to Lena’s nose and conspired to break her lead stomach. The feet and coconut oil belonged to the esteemed Mr. Lawson, who, after a cartless–a point of which he made sure to inform Lena as he flexed a flaccid muscle in his left arm and eased himself onto the massage table–18 holes at the Black Diamond’s notorious all-hill course, was in desperate need of a foot rub at the Calming Waves Spa, her first employ of the day. Lena’s subsequent lateness to The Parlor Grille, her second employ, the source of carbon paper in the reek cocktail and the resultant dramatics from her hyperbole and histrionics-prone boss, Piero, too, was owed to the overworked piggies of Mr. Lawson and the all-hill Black Diamond golf course. Lena stifled the gag reflex long enough to scribble the neon-dry-erase-penned-specials on her waiter’s pad.

At 4:36PM on the dot, the crack of a rolled-up newspaper to her ass and the unmistakable smell of multiple blue-ribbon apple sauce, Nat Shermans and Chanel woke Lena from her olfactory and neon-dry-erase-penned-special hypnosis.

– You smell like feet.
– It’s the notepad. Want your usual?
– Make it a margarita. I’m celebrating.
– Celebrating?
– You know it. And a Bud back.
– And a Bud back. Got it.

The old woman walked towards the dining room.

– Watch your –
– Step. I know, dear. I know. And you do smell like feet.

• • •

The old woman’s tongue jutted out in concentration; her hand shook. She placed another sugar packet on top of her four-story tower of Equal, Splenda and Raw. The tower collapsed. Packets of yellow, pink and brown spread across the table.

– Well, goddammit.

Lena cleared room for the margarita, on the rocks, no salt. The pensive, “professional” photos of the light opera company micro-celebrities framed in dusty Drug-Mart oak stared at her.

– Never higher than four.
– Sorry, Tess.
– It’s these fucking Raw packets. The corners don’t bend right. The granules are too big.

Tess took a sip of the margarita.

– But this? This makes up for it. Sublime. Nectar of the gods. Sit with me, dear.
– Can’t. He’s on the warpath this wee-

Before the “k” was out of her mouth, Lena’s hand stung from the crack of Tess’s perfectly-rolled newspaper.

– Ow.
Bop. You need to stop massaging feet. Jesus.
– Tess-
– It’s enough to make a preacher swear. And you need to sit down. I’ll keep my good eye out for the little prick. Humor an old woman for a minute.
– I can’t –

Tess tapped the newspaper to the table. Lena sat. Tess returned the newspaper to the table and smiled.

– Did that kill ya?

Tess reached into her pocket and pulled out a piece of string tied end to end. She ran her fingers through the string, practiced and perfect; first position.

– How’s that little girl of yours?
– You know Ava.
– She didn’t find the gifts yet, did she?
– Not this week.

Her fingers wrapped in Opening A, Tess gripped the margarita glass and downed a gulp of the god-nectar.

– Mm. Did you try the cat carrier trick?
– Santa’s cat carrier?
– That’s the one.
– Ava’ll think Santa brought her a kitty.
– Maybe Ava’d like a kitty. They make wonderful companions.
– She’d make it fight dinosaurs. What are you celebrating?
– Oh, take your pick. Drink up. It’s a good day. Go on.

Lena put the beer bottle to her mouth and gulped two suds before the squeak of pleather shoes and the unmistakble miasma of bleu cheese, tzatziki and an over-application of Kouros made her jump.

– Tell your boyfriend either he eat or he get the hell out. Fourth time! Fourth time today he asked after you. And because you’re late. Late again! Hello, beautiful lady. You look so–what’s the word?
– Vibrant, the word is vibrant. And stop getting those fucking Sugar in the Raw packets. The corners don’t bend right. Dear, you didn’t tell me about –
– I don’t have –

The man in the sheriff’s outfit next to the bakery counter looked right at Lena and tapped the envelope against his palm.

– Fourth time!

• • •

Lena threw the torn envelope on the counter and joined the assembly of the barely-survived plastic dinosaurs, those missing rainbow-hued appendages, their white-painted teeth peeling to reveal cavities of blue and pink, in their vigil over the inanimate corpses of their three-inch tall comrades that swirled and splashed as Claire jammed a toilet plunger into the kitchen sink.

– Tar pits again. There’s a T-Rex somewhere in the pipes. Did a head count; one was missing.
– Oh. She asleep?
– Baby Kong sleeps.
– Can you watch her tomorrow?

– Thought you had the day off.

– He had other ideas.

Lena reached under the sink. She pushed the tupperware containing Grandpa’s ashes to the side and pulled the bucket and pipe wrench from the darkened depths of the back corner.

– How long do you have?

Lena looked at the envelope in Claire’s hands. Lena dunked the bucket into the tar pits. A whoosh of water swept the fallen into the bucket. She picked them out: arms missing, tails missing; sopping wet. She added them to the gathered vigil on the counter.

– Can you watch her tomorrow?
– Lena, how long do you have?
– 30 days.
– That sonuvabitch. That Enya-ass sonuvabitch. I can’t–Ava, I mean how –
– Can you watch her tomorrow?
– Thought you had the day off.
– He changed his mind.

Lena opened the door and threw the water across the driveway. It splashed against her mud brown Impala and puddled in the broken asphalt.

– I’d love to, you know that. But Ben and I made plans. Finally going to go see that show, the one he’s been talking about, the one with the flying monkeys. Big pyrotechnics. He wants to see how they do it. I’d love –
– It’s ok. I’ll figure something out.

Lena scooped up another bucketful, the last remants of the fallen dinosaur brigade floating in a circle. She picked them out. Triceratops looked on. She launched the contents of the bucket. The water hit the salt on the driver-side door. Salt tears streaked down.

– You know you can come stay with us, right? I mean, you don’t have to ask or anything. You’re always welcome with us. I’m, I’m not saying don’t fight, but –

Lena pushed the bucket under the U in the pipes. She clamped on the pipe wrench and turned. It squeaked and squealed.

– We’ll be fine.
– We could fix you up a room, you know, to get you back on your feet. It’d be great. Roomies again. And Ben adores Ava.

The water splooshed into the bucket. A tail, yellow and blue, protruded from the opening. Lena grabbed it. She pulled. She tugged. It gave way, the armless T-Rex revealed. Coffee grounds followed. She put the pipe back in and gave it several good twists. Solid.

– It used to have arms. Lena-
– They’ll show up somewhere. Thanks for watching her, C.
– Are you sure you’re ok?

Lena scrubbed the last bits of coffee from T-Rex. She dropped the armless combatant in front of Triceratops. Triceratops glared at his nemesis, his victory undone. The battle was lost, the war far from over.

– Are you ok?
– We’ll be fine.

To be continued.