Spring 2006

 

 

 


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beer and peppermint
Matthew Spillum

You sit under the café’s awning, getting a respite from Hawaii’s seeming ever-present sun. Sushi so fresh it had probably been swimming that morning goes down easy with first one beer, then two and three. Hey, you’re on vacation, you think, no need to worry. A just reward for months of hard work, and here you are, February in Hawaii. The chatter at other tables blends with afternoon traffic, and you watch people on the beach chase shadows across the sand.

The need for more company brings another beer. You play at reading the paper, which gives you the perfect angle to watch the women who pass by. Palm frond shadows crisscross tanned thighs, giving them all tiger stripes. You could sit here all day, until the streetlights take over for the sun and bikinis are swapped for club wear. Sit here and prop your sandals up on the other chair, chatting with your beer. You could be happy doing that, or the beer could. Either way, you’re on vacation.

The breeze folds the newspaper towards you. That crazy-making middle-type wrinkle that fights every attempt to correct it. Time and again, you try to shake it straight. Time and again, it rumples back, mocking you, like the bemused glances from around the patio. You finally give in, carefully folding it on the tabletop, feeling a curious shame in the uncool defeat. Your beer sparkles in the sunlight, a hint of delight at your frustration in the amber twinkle, echoed in the hint of twittering from the nearby tables. The breeze picks up your new-folded paper from the table, flapping it into your face. A rubber toy shark tumbles to the ground from the table next to yours, bouncing near your feet as you flail at the paper rustling against your face. The toy’s owner begins squalling, joining the crackle of newsprint and…was that your name? The paper under control, you ponder the promising future in opera that awaits this child if he keeps that throat in condition. What did I do to deserve this, you think as you bend down to retrieve the toy for the toddler.

Your hands come away with nothing as another hand beats you to the shark, and the squealing ceases as quickly as it has begun. “Here you go, little one.” The voice gives you a start, your head banging into the tabletop. “Damn!” you cry, slowly unfurling from beneath the table.

“Oh! Are you okay?” Lisa whirls to you, sending your beer into your lap. You scoot your chair to escape the cascade, but the back leg catches on a sidewalk crack, and you teeter backwards, one hand still holding the nascent lump on your head. For what seems an eternity, you balance, all breath stopped as you try to catch the fall and go forward. The breeze has other ideas, and you feel its slow push settling into you, sending you past the fulcrum.

The sidewalk meets you, cruelly finding the same point that the table had. “Fuck!” you scream, holding your head as Lisa kneels near you. Your breath sucks in fast at a new pain.

“I am so sorry!” she says, “Are you alright?”

A small circle of people gathers around you as you gasp out, “My foot, you’re on my foot!”

She recoils and the pressure instantly lifts from your toes, leaving you just the growing knot on your head to concern yourself with. “Shit, I’m sorry! Here, let me help you up!”

You bat at her hand, maybe more abruptly than you’d like. “I think you’ve done plenty,” you snap. “Can someone get me some fucking ice?” As you rise to your feet, you take measure of the bump. It feels like a golf ball has been surgically implanted there. “I’m fine, really, everyone, just go back to eating or whatever.” The murmurs of concern turn to badly concealed chuckles as the circle of onlookers leave you to your overturned chair and puddle of beer.

The toddler stares at you with tear-glazed eyes, fingers curling around the rubber shark in his mouth. “Ouchie,” he states flatly, pointing at you. You nod slowly at the drooling sage, turning your gaze to Lisa. Good to know someone is in your corner, you think.

“Let me get you another beer, at least. I’m really sorry, I was just trying to say hi when the kid dropped that thing.” She looks genuinely concerned as she pulls your chair from the ground. The waitress arrives with a bag of ice, and before you have a chance to weigh in, Lisa has ordered you a beer. “There,” she says, mopping up the remains of your previous cold one, “good as new!” Your head throbs its silent, angry rebuttal.

“Good as new…hmmm, yeah, I don’t know about that.” Too much edge, you think, wincing; it isn’t really her fault, is it? Over her shoulder, you see the toddler staring at you, idly chewing on his rubber shark as his teary eyes dry. “I’m sorry, that was rude,” you say. “Look, it’s good to see you. What are you doing here? I mean, what are the odds? I’m here on vacation, and I run into you, of all people.”

She sighs. “Yeah, I suppose that it is a surprise. You wouldn’t know about where we were vacationing…”

“But we always wanted to come to Hawaii,” you finish, watching the permutations of we flicker across her face.

“Exactly,” she says, more gracefully than you could have managed. “Hey,” she embraces you, “it was really nice to run into you.” You feel her familiar arms find the grooves they wore in you. They still fit. She steps back, her hands sliding to your shoulders. “You still use that peppermint soap, don’t you? I can smell it on you, you know? The two things that always remind me of you. Beer and peppermint.” You wince again, holding your head. “Put some ice on that, it’s gonna leave a bump.”

Hands trail off your arms, then release. You notice the child in his high chair still staring at you. You watch her walk away, into the tiger-striped shade. The child pauses, holding the shark out to you, a glistening offering of comfort. “Ouchie…ouchie head,” he says, nodding as if at his own wisdom. You nod too, smelling the drying beer as it mingles with the Dr. Bronner’s Peppermint from your hair.

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