I would write around the central fact of our contemporary human lives if I could, but anything I begin spirals back into
a deadly virus. No one I know has died – or been sick with this plague. No one I know knows anyone who has died or been sick. Yet, we are flooded with statistics; with sewing diagrams; with war ration menus; with saccharine encouragement to feel hope (as though feeling hopeless was faintly disloyal to the species);with ways to amuse ourselves as we live the horror of having to be alone in our homes – or not alone.
We are not flooded with the reality of the Unspeakable – the reality that we are in this mess in America because insatiable vampires have drained the economic lifeblood from our country, our medical system, our food distribution – our people. Do I need to give you examples? Do I need to name the blood-suckers? Remember the bumper sticker: If you’re not outraged, you’re not paying attention. If you don’t know the names of the leeches, you are not paying attention. And that is an outrage.
Each week, I invite you to take part in this website. I give you a chance to reach other people. I offer a way to exit victimhood. Each week, 2, 1, 0 of you respond. Change that.
Here is one of Breakthrough’s regulars Marianne Nielsen. She invites you into a world in which you have never been, and to which you may well want to return again and again.
Behind the bar, Moe held up first one bottle then another and sniffed the contents. It was spring and spring was time for a new banana cocktail. Rum, of course, banana liqueur, maybe a touch of Cointreau… He sipped the mix. Not bad, but missing something important. He eyed the Crème de Menthe. No. In fact, hell, no.
Esmeralda slid onto the bar stool in front of him. He repressed a sigh. It was usually not a good thing when Esmeralda wanted his attention at 10 am on a Sunday before the bar opened.
He put down a bottle of peach snaps (it was another ‘hell no’ anyway). “Yes?” he said.
Esmeralda leaned forward on her elbows. “How do you feel about some free publicity?”
Moe narrowed his eyes. Large red alarm bells rang, metaphorically of course, in his mind. “And the catch is?” he said.
“Probably meeting more of my family than you care to.”
Moe carefully poured a small dash of Chambord in the glass and then a larger dash of heavy cream. Mmmm. Better. But not quite perfect. He put down the glass. Maybe a few chocolate shavings on top? It might do well on the dessert menu. Maybe call them ‘Banana Delights’?
He said, “I like your Uncle Walter.”
“This isn’t Uncle Walter. He’s on a long term assignment in Washington, anyway.”
Moe sipped again. “Well, your cousin with the 23 snakelets was pretty nice, though we wouldn’t have found # 22 and #23 for a while if Gwen hadn’t caught that mouse in the storeroom.”
Esmeralda rolled her eyes. “You’d think Cathy would put nametags on them, or have a roll call after they go out.”
He sipped the drink again. A splash of orange juice maybe? It would go nice with the chocolate but no, it might curdle the cream.
Esmeralda huffed out a breath. “Moe, I need your undivided attention.”
“Hmm?” he said.
Esmeralda slapped the bar.
Moe slopped his drink and focused on her “What!?” he said.
Esmeralda narrowed her eyes. “Magda, my second cousin twice removed, wants to use the bar for a photo shoot. She thinks it would a perfect spot to appeal to all the extra-humans who might want to buy her product.”
Moe winced. “She’s not selling anything, you know, embarrassing, is she?”
Esmeralda sighed. “No, it’s not toilet paper, diaper rash ointment, feminine hygiene products, or Viagra.”
“What about hair remover?” Moe said.
“Nothing that would offend a were-wolf.” Esmeralda said.
Moe sipped again and thought about it. Well, why not? Things had been a bit slow lately; a little free PR wouldn’t hurt.
“Ok,” he said. “Why not?”
“Well, there’s a few reasons why not.” Esmeralda said, reluctantly.
“Oh, like what?” Moe said, eyebrows raised.
“Well, she’s pretty touchy about her ancestry and if someone says the wrong thing, it could get nasty.”
“Hey,” Moe said, “We’ve had trolls, gnomes, were-spiders, demons, angels, PIs, and even regular humans here and they all have a good time. They all know how to behave.”
Esmeralda traced her finger through a small puddle on the bar. “I know they do, but, she, well, has a way of taking things the wrong way.”
Esmeralda shrugged. “You know, like, if someone wears snakeskin boots.”
Moe said, “I find that pretty offensive myself.”
“Yeah sure, me, too.” Esmeralda said, “But if someone, say, pulls out a mirror, she takes it really personally.”
Moe frowned. “That’s kind of weird.”
“Well, her family’s had some bad luck with people carrying mirrors, and you see…” Esmeralda seemed to struggle for words. “She’s um, not a full snake goddess. Sort of half, if you see what I mean.” She made vague motions around her head.
“You mean she’s got the face of a snake?” Moe said. “That must be tough among humans.”
“No!” Esmeralda said. “She, uh has snake eyes and, um, hair.”
Moe blinked and a look of understanding dawned over his face. “Uh-uh, no way. Not here!” he said. “I’m not having a Medusa with an attitude take over my bar!”
“Yeah but,” Esmeralda said, “the ad is going to be shown during the Phoenix NASCAR race. It could bring in a lot of the visitors travelling through, and you have to admit it’s been slow since the Valkyries took that 6-month sabbatical to study horseback ken-do in Japan.”
“Huh,” Moe said. “Who’d a thought that 49% of our extra-human customers were coming in to stare at 12 6-feet tall, well-built blondes? With swords.”
Esmeralda gave him a dirty look. “I think it would be safe if we did an invitation-only evening with a very select guest list.”
“No herpaphobes?” Moe said.
“Yeah, and no over-enthusiastic Greek heroes, were-wolves, or zoo-keepers.”
Moe nodded his head slowly. “Maybe. What’s she selling anyway?”
“She’s the development specialist for Raybans.”
“Ok, that’s not so bad.” Moe said, “But two conditions: 1) she keeps the sunglasses on, and 2) she braids her hair.”
Esmeralda winced, but nodded.
Esmeralda sent out the invitations to their carefully chosen regulars. Peter got the night off, and had orders to stay in the garden under the lilac bushes. His feline curiosity was uncontrollable when it came to new things, especially new things that dangled or slithered.
The vans with the photo crew arrived in the early afternoon. They proceeded to piss off everyone, especially Moe, when they rearranged the tables, brought in bizarre-looking cocktail glasses, and put pale green tablecloths, napkins and bowls of orange chrysanthemums on the tables.
“What kind of joint does she think this is?” Moe said to Esmeralda. “That isn’t going to attract the right kind of crowd.”
“I’ll talk with her.” Esmeralda said and went out to the trailer taking up half the parking spots on the block. She came back shortly thereafter, but the décor didn’t change. She shrugged apologetically at Moe
Magda Yussey emerged at 4.00 pm. She had on a pink turban, a fox-fur coat, pink stilettos, and deep dark Raybans.
Esmeralda introduced her to Moe, then led her back to Moe’s office. There was a short burst of raised voices that must have been more on point than before, and Magda slither-stalked back into the bar. She hissed a few instructions and the tablecloths and chrysanthemums were removed. The tables stayed rearranged and the strange glassware stayed on the bar. Moe shrugged.
Magda took off her fox fur stole, but kept on the turban and sunglasses.
Bridget whispered to Esmeralda, “Is that coat real?” There was horror in her voice.
Esmeralda shook her head. “No, just a million-dollar fake. Her girlfriend’s a kitsune. She knows better.”
Bridget looked taken aback. “How could she have a girlfriend? Wouldn’t she, you know, petrify her?”
“Well, she is pretty scary.” Esmeralda said. Bridget gave her a dirty look.
“Ok, ok.” Esmeralda said. “Tatsuma’s a fox spirit. She can protect herself, no worries. She has six tails.”
“Wow.” Bridget said. “That’s a lot of magic.”
Esmeralda nodded. The camera crew had finally found their idea of the perfect location and lighting to film the scene. Magda and the male actor rehearsed: they walked into the bar, the male actor pulled down his sunglasses and looked around disparagingly. He said “what a dump” to Magda, who replied, “I like dumps.” He shrugged and they moved further into the bar.
They did it again for real about six more times. Moe watched and stewed each time he heard the word “dump.”
The small, round female director finally said. “Cut. That’s a go. Next scene.”
The male actor who Magda addressed as Chuck, consulted his I-pad. Magda shook her head. She said, “We sit at the bar and talk while sipping cocktails. The crowd noise drowns out our lines. You take off your sunglasses and put them down. I whisper in your ear, we get up, and you forget them on the bar.”
“Oh right.” The actor said and sat on a barstool.
Moe put two cocktails in front of them. One was the new banana cocktail. Neither were in the fancy glasses.
Magda’s eyebrows went up behind her glasses. “What’s this?” she said.
“Taste them.” Moe said.
The male actor sipped his warily and looked surprised. “This is good.” He said.
Moe narrowed his eyes but decided not to be insulted. “I call it a ‘Banana Fruit Salad Sling.’ The actor took several rather large sips. The crowd of regulars began to raise their hands to ask to try one. Moe looked at them and said “later.” They grumbled but went back to their free beer and wine.
Magda eyed her glass. It wasn’t bright pinky-orange like the actor’s; rather it was a translucent grey with a lime twist. She took a cautious sip. “Whoa.” She said. “This is yummy.”
Moe looked smug. “It’s Esmeralda’s favorite, a vodka Mouse-tini.”
“Ok.” Magda said, and looked at the director. “Make two more and we’ll feature them in the ad.”
Esmeralda said. “Even the mouse-tini?”
Magda waved her hand. “They’ll think it’s a Vlad Putin, a Dirty White Russian.”
The director got everyone back into their places. Chuck gulped down his drink before Moe cleaned off the bar for the take.
The scene needed four takes, and Chuck polished off each drink before starting again. Moe was beginning to suspect he was blowing his lines on purpose. He motioned Esmeralda to join him as the crew and actors discussed some fine point of camera angle. He pointed his chin at Chuck. “I’m getting worried about him.” He said. “He’s starting to sway a bit and if he pisses off the star…” he shrugged.
Esmeralda nodded, “Yeah. Let’s hope this take is the last one.”
Moe added selzer water to the Sling and cut way back on the respective portions. It didn’t look quite right, but Chuck probably was in no shape to notice.
As he sat down, Chuck slipped part way off the barstool. “Oopsy.” He said, but straightened himself out. Then with another “oopsy,” he dropped the sunglasses on the floor instead of the bar. He grabbed for his drink in a manner not at all suave and sophisticated. He took a swallow, looked at the drink, then at Moe, and said “Hey!”
Magda got stiller and stiller with each oopsy. Her line of sight was on Chuck and nothing but Chuck.
“Oh-oh,” said Esmeralda. A rattler couldn’t be more fixed on a mouse than Magda was on Chuck.
Moe put another mouse-tini in front of Magda. She ignored it. Moe sighed. He should have known better–on a lot of levels.
He dug under the bar, grabbed his favorite fix-it tool and hopped over the bar landing behind Magda. Just as she was reaching up for the arm of her glasses, he slapped a piece of duct tape over each of her temples. The sunglasses were now taped firmly to her skin.
“What the hell!?” she hissed and tried to dislodge the tape. It pulled her skin hard, and she yelped.
Moe got between her and the stunned looking Chuck. “Would you rather I’d spun your stool to face the mirror over the bar?” he said. “This way your make-up artist gets a big tip and I don’t have a new Medusa statue on our patio.”
Magda hissed at him, and at Chuck. She looked at Esmeralda who lifted her hands in a ‘what can I say’ gesture and said, “ I warned you.”
Magda huffed, started to speak, then deflated. “Ok, fine.” She said. “I need a moment to myself. I will be in my trailer.” Se swept out of the bar.
The director took the diluted Sling away from Check who had been too confused to drink it. He said “Hey” and grabbed for it. She handed it to Moe. “Ginger-ale from now on,” she said and then added in a low voice, “And I want one of those after we finish shooting.”
The rest of the shoot went fine. Gwen concocted an anti-Banana Fruit Salad Sling that sobered Chuck up in two swallows. Esmeralda helped Magda get the tape off, and two takes later, they were done. The crew packed up the props, they all had a celebratory drink with the regulars, the director had her Sling which she pronounced “to die for.” Um-hmm, Moe thought. And Chuck ambled out of the bar as if he had never been one glare away from being set in concrete–though in fairness, Moe thought, he was probably as clueless as he acted. Magda gave Moe her hand and didn’t quite apologize. The make-up covered the red welts left from the duct tape. Moe waved his hand at her temple. “I am sorry about that,” he said, “but I couldn’t think of anything less drastic.”
She gave a nod and a faint smile. “I appreciate your restraint,” she said. “Not everyone in my family has been so lucky.”
Moe blushed under his beard and mustache. “How about I give you the recipe for that Banana Fruit Salad Sling in apology?” He said.
She patted his arm. “You know better than that, Moe dear. Make mine mouse, and all is forgiven.”
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