Ashley strolled by the maître de’s lectern as though she was in a garden instead of the Manhattan restaurant that had just earned its third Michelin star. Carlo, the waiter assigned to their table, arched his eyebrows at the teenager, sighed over his some private thoughts and bit his lip until she passed.
“Darling,” her mother said, standing up. “How was the flight? Tell me all about Geneva. You’re forty minutes late. Did the car service delay you?”
“Mama.” Ashley tossed her black messenger bag on a chair, air-kissed her mother and flopped into the adjoining seat. “Tiresome, tiresome and Customs is so tedious.”
“Home for the holidays,” her mother said in a voice that trilled like a pigeon’s coo. “There’s something so — I don’t know — deliciously Bing Crosby-like about Christmas. Was school…?
“Also tedious,” she sighed. “Daddy?”
Her mother snapped, “Don’t be awkward. He’s moved out. Phoenix or someplace where he can regain his testosterone.”
“Oh!” Ashley brightened. “I want to tell you I’m getting married! This wonderful fellow at the école, Mohammed al-Fasi. He’s Moroccan.”
“Ashley,” her mother said, inhaling sharply, “what the hell are you talking about?”
“Is that a rhetorical question or are you hard of hearing?”
“Are you out of your goddamned mind? You’re sixteen years old! I was 18 the first time I married, and only because I was carrying you.”
“Lucinda,” the girl pointedly emphasized her mother’s name, “we don’t plan to breed children. There are people now — surrogates — who do that for you if you feel some atavistic urge. Mohammed’s richer than Daddy, and marriage will give him a green card to become an American. You can call our arrangement a humanitarian gesture instead of you having to write checks to starving people in Darfur.”
Carlo approached their table and struggled to keep from touching the teen’s mountain of tousled blonde hair. She and her mother, both devoid of any physical flaws, were like twins separated by twenty years. To Lucinda, he asked, “Something from the bar?”
The older woman shuddered, still digesting her daughter’s words. “Vodka gimlet, rocks, Grey Goose. Make it a double."
“Two,” Ashley said. Carlo opened his mouth to request age identification when the girl continued, “Don’t even say it. My father has a 15 percent interest in this joint.” She gave Carlo her tiger smile.
“I can just see it,” Lucinda snarled, “you marching down the aisle in a burqa with Spandex and sequins.
“Ah, remind me to invite you and Daddy — if you can find his address.”
“Are you insane?” she asked, too loudly. Heads turned at neighboring tables, hearing heresy in their dining sanctuary. “Your Mohammed will be collecting extra wives like camels.”
Ashley said, “Don’t forget your grandpa was a Mormon. He fled to Mexico with a wagon full of wives and the Army hot on his heels.”
Their voices rose, enunciating each syllable as though snapping off bread sticks.
“Your father and I simply won’t have this! We’ll drag you back to school in America!”
“I am in America, so live with it, Mother Dear. I divorce thee, I divorce thee, I divorce thee. That’s how they do it in Rabat.”
Carlo hovered nearby and began shaking as their voices rose and patrons stared. A kaleidoscope of memories crossed his face.— of Europe, death, slanderous accusations, and more recent events.
“Stop it!” he shouted at Ashley. “If you were my child I would turn you over my knee and spank you.” Glaring at Lucinda, he said, “If you were my wife I would lock you in the bedroom. You are both rich, stupid people, ungrateful for what you have. And, you make my ears burn, my eyes weep salty tears!”
Ashley spoke first. “Watch it, you immigrant. Next thing you know you’ll be serving food at a homeless shelter.”
Carlo’s back arched. “I would gladly go where I am appreciated, and I appreciate the few things that I have.”
Patrons erupted in applause simultaneously. “We’ve got you covered, Carlo,” a man with a deep tan shouted. “Go for the goal, Carlo,” called a woman with silvered hair. “Kick them out.”
Lucinda rose as though lifted by invisible strings from some heavenly institution. “Come, Ashley. We’ll go where we’re appreciated.”
The two paraded across the dining room floor the way saints might demonstrate their faith by walking on water. Lucinda turned at the door and screamed, “And don’t you forget it!”
At that moment, a woman in bluejeans and a black coat pushed Lucinda aside and elbowed past Ashley. Lucinda huffed with a “Well, I never…,” but fell silent as she saw the woman raise a small silver pistol.
The woman’s first shot shattered a crystal wall sconce. In a voice pitched high with tension, she cried, “Carlo, you emptied my bank account.” The second shot drilled a planter. “You abused my niece! She killed herself!” Her third shot punctured the menu Carlo was holding to his chest for protection. “And, you left the freezer door wide open.”
“There, you bastard,” she said as he fell forward. “I got the last word in!” Then, she turned the gun to her temple and fired a final shot.
Silence fell over the room before Ashley wailed, “Mommy, take me home.” Her last word was drawn out in the howl of a wounded animal.
“My baby,” Lucinda whispered wrapping her arms around her daughter. “What kind of world are we living in?”
# # #
Bio: Walt Giersbach’s fiction has appeared in Bewildering Stories, Big Pulp, Corner Club Press, Every Day Fiction, Gumshoe Review, OG Short Fiction, Over My Dead Body, Pif Magazine, Pill Hill Press, r.kv.r.y, Short Fiction World, The World of Myth, and a score of other publications. Two volumes of short stories, Cruising the Green of Second Avenue, are available at Barnes & Noble and other online booksellers.
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