Qualified Entry: Fiction Category
By: Murray Edwards
A fortnight ago, Evette, The Breaker of Hearts, called at three in the morning, waking me from a mellifluous sleep – she hates it when I say “mellifluous” – to say she was done with me because I was a certifiable nutcase. I told Evette the word “nutcase” should only apply to people like the idiot who sits behind the basketball goal on TV, wearing a rainbow-colored wig and waving a sign that says “John 3:16,” or the fruitcake who had a crush on Jodie Foster and decided to impress her by shooting President Reagan.
Granted, I may do a few things that could seem a little quirky, but nothing that would warrant The Breaker of Hearts commanding me to jump off the Sunshine Bridge into the Mississippi River. I had to Google its height to determine whether she preferred I’d drown immediately or be swept away by the current and eaten by scaly reptiles. It turns out the Sunshine Bridge stands 170 feet tall, which means, most likely, I’d splat instead of splash.
And why did she choose an obscure bridge in Louisiana instead of one that’s famous like the Brooklyn Bridge, the Golden Gate, or even the Bridge over the River Kwai? The only reason I could think of is that she knew I’d visited Louisiana once, with my sister, Winnie. We’d become intensely interested in hurricanes and decided to study a category-five storm first-hand. We met these offshore-rig workers at a hurricane-watch party in the cocktail lounge of the Lake Charles Holiday Inn. When the sheriff’s office closed the bar, the roughnecks invited us to their room to continue partying. If The Breaker of Hearts thought I was a certifiable nutcase, she should have met those guys.
As luck would have it, the storm abruptly turned and missed Louisiana; but at least my mind was distracted for two solid days, which helped me deal with being unceremoniously dumped earlier in the month by Stephanie, The Seductress of Men. She wore six-inch-tall platform shoes with see-through plastic heels that were hollow and had a tiny lid on top where she could pour in water. If we went clubbing, Stephanie added a couple of small goldfish so when she walked around, everyone could see the little creatures swimming around in the heels. It made her look like a twenty-dollar ***** [crude word for lady of the night], but I never said that to her face. I’m not sure what she did with the fish afterwards, but knowing The Seductress of Men, she flushed them down the toilet, as she did to me, metaphorically speaking.
Back to Evette and me. We first met at the downtown post office after I developed an intense interest in commemorative postage and stopped in to purchase some masculine-looking stamps; some that didn’t have Disney cartoon characters, intertwined hearts, or Judy Garland on them.
The Breaker of Hearts was working special services that afternoon. She smiled as I approached the counter. “How may I help you?”
“Do you have any manly stamps?”
“Manly? Well, we have flags. Those are manly.”
I said, “Nothing against flags, but I find them a bit clichéd. I mean, everyone sends letters with flag stamps.”
“Is there anything in particular you have in mind?
“Maybe something with instruments of war, like nuclear submarines, battleships, or intercontinental bombers.”
“Sorry,” she said, “but I’ll pass along your suggestions to the regional supervisor.”
“Well, how about a stamp with a picture of Theodore Roosevelt or Ernest Hemingway? Those were manly men.”
“Nope, nor do we have one of Sean Connery.”
“OK, how about North American mammals, like grizzly bears, moose, or elk, but nothing small like squirrels or cotton-tailed rabbits?”
“No, we don’t have any of those,” she answered, “but we do have stamps with pictures of vintage cars with huge tail fins.”
Now, I’m no psychologist, but I thought the way the little minx emphasized the words huge tail fins was a slight jab at my masculinity – as if my request for manly-looking stamps resulted from complicated issues I had with my mother, may her holy soul rest in peace.
So, to prove I was completely secure in my manhood, I decided to ask Evette out to dinner. After quite a bit of persuasion on my part, she finally agreed to the date. At the conclusion of a wonderful evening, I questioned The Breaker of Hearts if her huge tail fins comment was a veiled reference to the size of my manhood. She raised her eyebrows and said, “No, silly. I was talking about vintage cars, for crying out loud.”
Despite our cautious beginning, Evette seemed to be as attracted to me as I was to her. She thought I was handsome and didn’t find my extreme attention to detail all that peculiar. “I like a man who’s free-spirited and quirky,” she said, “and isn’t a slave to what others think.”
Even though we were totally different – like vinegar and oil – we blended well as a couple. Evette bonded with my sister, and for a while, everything went swimmingly.
Our problems first surfaced about a month ago, when I developed an intense interest in archaic words and ancient customs. After checking out several books on the subject from the library, I began sprinkling old-fashioned words into my conversation -“henceforth,” “flummoxed,” “rapscallion,” and “mellifluous.” It wasn’t a political statement of any sort – I just thought it shameful the English language had become so coarse and full of boring words.
Over a late dinner at Red Lobster, I described to Evette the ancient custom of an aristocrat’s family hiring professional mourners for the deceased’s funeral as a way to demonstrate to the town folk how important their loved one was. I said, “It happened back in the Bible days or maybe when Shakespeare wrote all those screenplays, I forget which.” At any rate, I announced my plan to hire a couple of mourners who would throw themselves over my coffin and weep convincingly. I figured it would add color and levity to an otherwise somber occasion.
She said, “Winston, for a man as smart and charming as you, that has to be the dumbest idea I’ve ever heard. You’re not terminally ill or even sick. Plus, you’d have to pay for the mourners in advance and wouldn’t even know if they showed up for your funeral, because you’ll be dead.”
My answer was that I’d talked it over with Winnie, and we concluded that when you’re dead, your spirit sees everything that’s going on. It would be as if you’re one of those security systems in Wal-Mart where there’s maybe a dozen hidden cameras rotating coverage onto a VCR, so you always know what’s going on, including whether the professional mourners showed up.
She asked, “Ok, what would you do if the mourners didn’t show up? Dress up in a white sheet and yell, ‘Boo!’?”
I said I’d just contract with a reputable company with an established track record, and besides, Winnie would ask for a refund if they didn’t honor the agreement.
Then, the argument shifted from hiring professional mourners to her criticizing my vocabulary. “It’s just so goofy,” she whined. “Like just now when you said Shakespeare wrote a ‘screenplay.’ ‘Screenplays’ are scripts for Hollywood movies. How can you not know that? And ‘coffin.’ Nobody is buried in a ‘coffin’ anymore. Winston, the word is ‘casket.’”
I countered, “Well, if Shakespeare didn’t write screenplays, how come Romeo and Juliet and Hamlet were movies?”
Evette called me a complete **** [crude word for male genitalia] and said movies weren’t invented until about 300 years after Shakespeare wrote his plays and sonnets. And yes, Evette actually used the word ****. The woman is an absolute scalawag.
I said, “Henceforth, I shall continue using the word screenplay until they put me in my coffin.” And that’s when The Breaker of Hearts arose from the table, threw down her napkin, and stormed out of Red Lobster, completely unprovoked.
I followed Evette from the restaurant to her car, and as she drove toward the parking-lot exit, I plopped facedown, right in front of her car. As she jammed on her brakes, I yelled, “I’d rather be flattened road-kill than face life without you.”
She leaned out her window and asked, “What kind of road-kill, Winston? Flattened possum? Flattened raccoon? Flattened kitty-cat?”
Upon reflection, The Breaker of Hearts was mocking my intense interest in obscure details, but I didn’t realize it at the time. Innocently, I answered, “Whichever you prefer, as long as it brings you happiness.”
She fired back, “What would bring me happiness is to find a guy who could order dinner at Red Lobster without asking the waitress if they served organic porridge or roasted tubers.” She said I was full of **** [crude word for excrement], then slammed her car into reverse and blasted out of the other parking-lot exit.
Around midnight, I phoned The Breaker of Hearts’ apartment, hoping she’d settled down enough to accept an olive branch. When she didn’t answer, I left a message on her machine, saying I planned to take poison “just like in Romeo and Juliet, the screenplay Shakespeare wrote.”
I actually saw Romeo and Juliet with Claire, The Bewitching Temptress, whom I was dating at the time. Toward the end of the movie, when Romeo swallowed the poison, which is my favorite part, The Bewitching Temptress reached over and squeezed my hand. I told her I didn’t care to hold hands at the movies, that I preferred to concentrate on the plot. Claire got all honked-off and said I was cold and distant and about as romantic as an eggplant. I thought comparing someone to an unpopular vegetable was unkind, although highly characteristic of a temptress.
After thinking over my suicide message for a few minutes, I decided it was a shade too Shakespearean, so I phoned Evette again and left her another voicemail, saying I was rescinding the first threat.
And so, at three in the morning, The Breaker of Hearts phoned, waking me from a mellifluous sleep, and told me to go jump off a bridge.
It seemed so natural to ask which bridge she wanted me to jump from.
“It doesn’t matter,” she said. “It’s just an expression, for heaven’s sake, like ‘get lost’ or ‘go jump in the lake.’”
“Do you mean a draw bridge, a suspension bridge, or a causeway?”
She said, “OK, Winston, you win. How about the Sunshine Bridge? I read about it in some travel magazine.”
“What river or body of water does the Sunshine Bridge span?”
“I don’t know, it’s in the South somewhere.”
When I asked The Breaker of Hearts if she knew the height of the bridge and how fast the current ran underneath, she called me a certifiable nutcase and hung up.
~ ~ ~
Wondering what to do with my life post-Evette, I phoned Winnie, who has suffered through her own share of relationship problems. Her last boyfriend believed the Lord commanded him to ride a donkey across the United States while holding a “Jesus Saves” sign. Three months later, he’d traveled as far as Arkansas, camping out in roadside parks along the way. As he slept one night, someone stole his donkey and the “Jesus Saves” sign. Fortunately, the stupid ******* [crude word for illegitimate child] saved enough money for a bus ticket back home.
I briefed Winnie on the situation with The Breaker of Hearts. She said I needed to pick myself up by my bootstraps and jump back into life’s boxing ring. I told her she was mixing clichéd metaphors and could do better. She answered, “Well, then, just remember that every dark cloud has a silver lining.”
Like me, my sister has intense interests, so she asked if I was still focused on commemorative postage or whether I’d moved on to something else. I said I’d been studying ancient customs and archaic expressions and wanted to upgrade the quality of my speech patterns, but Evette didn’t like me saying “thee” and “come hither.”
“Winston, if you ask me, that relationship is toast.” Winnie mentioned the possibility of introducing me to Ophelia, who’d just moved into the apartment next door to hers. “Actually, her real name is Tiffany, but she’s having it legally changed to Ophelia because it’s more renaissance-sounding.” She said Tiffany/Ophelia had an intense interest in medieval
reenactments and traveled almost every weekend to participate in some sort of faire or festival. “She’s tall, very attractive, and has all these authentic-looking, hand-made costumes. Plus, I think she knows how to say all that thee-and-thou stuff.”
“Well, Tiffany/Ophelia certainly sounds interesting, but I still have feelings for Evette.”
“Maybe she’d take your mind off Evette. Divert your attention, like Moses did with the Red Sea. You know, that whole raised-walking-stick thing.”
I told my sister that Moses parted, not diverted, the Red Sea, and with the possible exception of “that relationship is toast,” she was having a bad-metaphor day. “But, you’re probably right about meeting someone new. Maybe you could introduce me to this Tiffany/Ophelia person sometime.”
“As a matter of fact, our apartment complex is having a pool party tomorrow night. You could come as my guest and I’ll introduce you.”
“Does Tiffany/Ophelia have any strange tendencies or interests? I don’t want to get hooked up again with someone weird like Evette.”
“No, she seems perfectly normal to me.”
“OK,” I said, “count me in.”
“Just wear something nice and consider talking about something other than category-five hurricanes and commemorative stamps.”
“A lot of women find hurricanes and stamps to be fascinating conversation topics, Winnie. Remember our trip to Louisiana to study hurricanes? And besides that, The Breaker of Hearts found stamps pretty-darn interesting.”
“That’s because she worked at the post office, Winston. I’m just saying that Tiffany/Ophelia may not find either subject all that fascinating. Since you’re into ancient customs these days, why don’t you talk about something medieval?”
~ ~ ~
In preparation for meeting Tiffany/Ophelia, I read all about the Abbots Bromley Horn Dance, one of England’s oldest traditions dating back 800 years or so. Twelve guys, six of them carrying reindeer antlers, dance around the village of Abbotts Bromley to music provided by a man playing an accordion and a boy playing a triangle. No one remembers the purpose of the dance or what it symbolizes; it’s just that they’ve carried on the tradition for nearly a thousand years.
When I arrived at the apartment complex, Winnie and her next-door neighbor were poolside, among a group of about ten other people. Standing beside the punch bowl, my sister introduced me to Tiffany/Ophelia, as attractive as Winnie had advertised. After shaking hands, I immediately sought clarification on the proper name to call her.
“Why don’t you call me Tiffany for now,” she said. “Later, if we hit it off, you may call me Ophelia.”
That sounded a little strange. Why would I need to call her one name in the introductory phase of a relationship, then something else “if we hit it off?” What if we didn’t hit it off? Would I forever be relegated to calling her Tiffany, while her inner circle of friends called her Ophelia? And who, exactly, would make the determination of whether the relationship had hit it off? Would it be her unilateral decision, or would I have some input?
“So, Tiffany, my sister tells me you’re very interested in medieval reenactments.”
“Yes, my lord, I am,” she said, smiling and dipping into a mini-curtsey. “Do you know anything about the medieval period?”
“In a way, I suppose. Lately, I’ve been studying archaic words and ancient customs, trying to ginger-up my otherwise boring language.”
“Well, spice up my language, I meant. You know, Shakespeare constantly added new words and definitions when he wrote all those screenplays.”
Tiffany/Ophelia smiled. “I like a man who’s not afraid to take linguistic risks. Most men are so, well, hoi polloi.”
Winnie interjected, “Winston is anything but hoi polloi. He puts his pants on one leg at a time.”
I said, “You’ll have to excuse Winnie. She’s been stuck in cliché hell all this week.”
Tiffany/Ophelia nodded in agreement. “So, what ancient customs interest you most?”
“Well, most recently, I’ve been investigating the Abbots Bromley Horn Dance in England. I find it quite fascinating.”
“You’re joking.” “No, why would I joke about something that serious?”
“Well, Abbots Bromley just happens to be one of my favorite ancient rituals. A
friend and I toured the festival together, several years ago,” said Tiffany/Ophelia. “It’s in September, you know. Have you been?”
“Actually, September’s the prime season for hurricanes, and I rarely venture too far away from the coast, in case a category five develops.”
At my mention of hurricanes, Winnie rolled her eyes at me and shook her head as if to say, I told you to talk about something besides stamps or hurricanes.
“You’re interested in hurricanes? I’ve always found them fascinating,” said Tiffany/Ophelia. “Were you there for Katrina?”
“Of course. Also Hurricanes Ivan, Dennis, and Ike.”
“That’s impressive. We seem to have a lot in common.”
“We certainly do, Tiffany. And, I’ve always thought attending a renaissance faire would be the perfect way to spend a weekend. Assuming, of course, I had someone to escort.”
“Winston, henceforth, call me Ophelia.”
Concentrating on making my voice as mellifluous as possible, I answered, “Of course, my lady,” and bowed slightly to The Beautiful Enchantress.