Girard growled, but he refused to tug. “Not this morning, Zsa Zsa,” he grumbled. “I’ve got my novel on my mind. Only thirty days till deadline, and still no plot reveals itself. And then there’s to mention that jerk of an editor, ABC, who insists that I not quit the effort. Lot of nerve he has. Old man can’t pen a tale that includes conflict, action and adventure to save his soul, and yet he expects –“
“Woof!” said Zsa Zsa, and then she dumped her body upside down on the multi-colored, ersatz-Aztec throw rug.
“Oh, forget it, girl. This morning I’m just not in the mood.”
“Errrr,” said Zsa Zsa.
“Don’t get all conflict-oriented with me today. Maybe later. Maybe an idea will combine with the desert air and sink through the pores of my crinkled skin as I walk the line of Calle de Cacto. Who knows? I might even buy a winning lotto ticket down at The Microwave Deli this morning. One possibility seems as likely as another. And just what the hell are you staring at?”
Zsa Zsa clacked her way across the tile floor and curled her body in front of the ash-free fireplace. “I know better than to pursue a hopeless topic when Girard’s in one of his moods,” she barked.
Girard looked back at Zsa Zsa and tried to muster a smile — which effort caused his facial muscles to ache — before he opened the door and began his daily fitness walk.
The horizon line bled blue along the serrated mountaintops. “Ah, the mountains, my mountains, soon I shall join those mountaintops as together we reach toward a Heaven that I know cannot exist!” cried Girard Chambre into the wind. “ABC, you son of a bitch! I reserve my right to quit! ‘Nuff said?”
But inside his gentle, romantic heart lived a poetic beat enhanced by quite a few adverbs. Girard Chambre realized this much and more regarding his nature, although he never dared to say so to anyone who loved him, not even to Zsa Zsa.
“As Jean Paul Sartre implied,” thought Girard, “I must go on. I must reach for the mountaintops and stop at The Microwave Deli.”
And just then, as the cliche would have it, the story’s conflict, action and adventure began to take hold.
At first, no more than a mewling whimper echoed through the breeze. Girard shook his head as if to clear his Eustachian tubes. But the whimper soon expanded into the volume of a Halloween howl. “Aaaoooh!”
Girard quickened his pace. The sun was rising, orange and full as an autumn moon, the horizon now painted in shades of desert green and red.
“OOhhhhnleee!” said the wind. “OOhhhhnleee werds!”
Since shaking his head back and forth wasn’t doing any good, Girard next began to squint, as if to bring the tumbleweeds and coyotes back into focus. “Yes, a coyote,” said Girard to no one in particular, because no one in particular ever joined him on one of his fitness walks. “Yes, the Aaaooohing must be the voice of a coyote. Damn!” Girard pronounced coyote in the Mexican manner, ‘Coi Oh Tay’. “I should have brought Zsa Zsa with me. Now what am I to do? I can’t really pray, because I agree with Cornell Woolrich’s famous philosophy, ‘First you live and then you die,’ and I’m no longer capable of outrunning desert beasts. But maybe I should give that one a try.”
So, Girard Chambre began to run, as fast as his sneakered feet would permit, away from the mysterious howl. Of course, as in all these tales of near disaster, he listened to his labored breath, his calf muscles cramped, his heart banged against his rib cage, and still the howling continued.
As if all this conflict, action and adventure weren’t sufficient to hold a reader’s attention, the surrounding cacti next began to shoot their spines into the air, and not in all directions. Numerous needles sank their sharp points into the tender flesh of Girard Chambre’s authorial arse, and his howl joined the desert’s own.
A neon sign saved the day. “The Microwave Deli,” read the blurred, blinking, dusty letters. “Buy your lotto tickets here,” read smaller letters underneath.
“Give me two Super Bongos,” said Girard to the clerk. Of course, the clerk’s face was pale, moist and pocked, the result of a painful adolescence mixed with desert loneliness and a marked lack of sex appeal.
“Shoot,” said the clerk. “Looks as if they got to you today. Tough luck. Want I should help you pull them outta yer backside?”
“Let’s just leave my backside out of this conversation,” said Girard.
“Ya know, old man, the cacti in these here parts don’t attack a man unless he finds himself in a foul mood. So maybe you should lighten up. After all, they’re only words.”
“What did you just say?” said Girard.
“Nuthin much,” said the clerk. A spray of spittle struck Girard’s cheek. “Just what the author of this story told me I should say to you.”
“Maybe you ought to give me one of those microwaveable breakfast platters while you’re at it,” said Girard. “And one of those chewy, leather dog bones.”
“Right ch’are,” said the pale and pocked clerk.
Girard listened to the dingle jingle of the tiny bell above the jamb as he opened the deli’s door and left. The sun had fully risen. A few mud-stained Chevy pickup trucks from the 1960s sat slanted in the parking lot. Heavy-jowled men, dressed in denim overalls and chewing on toothpicks, pointed at Girard’s backside and laughed.
The light of day had chased the howl away. The cacti sat cacti-like where they belonged. Girard decided that it all must have been a dream; he realized this conjecture represented the worst cliche of all, but in many ways he considered all of life one big cliche. So what the hey.
Zsa Zsa opened the door for her master. “Come on in, you old grump,” she growled. “Is your mood improved? Did your Super Bongo ticket win?”
Girard answered by tearing open the blister wrap that protected the chewy, leather bone he’d bought. “Come on, girl,” he said. “Pop is home.”
After playing the game for maybe twenty minutes, Girard, his arse still too sore for sitting down, popped the breakfast burrito into the microwave oven. Before tossing the empty package into the waste basket, he photographed it for later inclusion on his web site.
“Yum,” he said. And then he laid his body down, tummy side first, on the ersatz-Aztec throw rug, and he went to sleep.
The insistent zing of the doorbell woke him. Startled, Girard turned around too fast for comfort and landed on his derriere. “Yowww!” he yelled.
“You Pee Esh,” said the muffled voice from the other side of the front door.
“Who? What?” said Girard.
“You Pee Esh. Puckige,” said the voice.
Holding one hand close to his rear end, Girard yanked open the door with his other one.
She was pretty. No, she was gorgeous. Better than that, she was sexy and sultry enough to inspire Girard to say, “Okay, I’ll believe in Heaven if you’ll come in.”
“Thanks, Mister, but I’m on duty. UPS. I have a package addressed to Mr. Girard Chambre. Would you be Mr. Chambre? If you’ll pardon me for saying so, you’re quite a hunk!”
“Yeh . . . yeh . . . yesss, I’m Mister . . . er . . . uh . . . you can call me Girard.”
“Oh, I get that all the time. Really can’t quite understand it. Maybe it’s my uniform. My boss insists that because I work a desert route I should wear the bikini version of a UPS outfit. Tee hee!”
“Sure you won’t join me for lunch. Microwaveable chicken with pineapple, and you know what pineapple does to a man,” said Girard.
“Wish I could, handsome. Maybe some other time. Here’s my telephone number.” From the elastic waistband of her UPS panties she drew out a slip of paper and giggled as she handed it to Girard.
After adjusting his khaki slacks so as to calm down, Girard carried the package into the kitchen. With great care he slit each taped edge, opened the box and pulled out first the card. “After all, they’re only words. One word follows the one before.” read the first sentence. The card was signed, “ABC.”
And that’s when the howling began again. But this time it wasn’t a coyote’s voice, nor was it the voice of the desert’s wind. The howling came from deep within the heart and lungs of a poet named Girard Chambre.
“The plot has revealed itself to me. My novel shall be a tale of revenge,” whispered Girard.