Chapter 5, Part A

This is a train


The 5 Point Cafe is located right in the heart of Seattle at a five-way intersection threaded with a pretty major arterial and three or four other offshoots, one of which slips right by the 5 Point: Home of Charlene, who makes a perfect vodka martini, a beautiful Reuben sandwich and exquisite potato salad. The silver-tipped wooden matches; the tortoise shell as large as a size fifteen tire that hangs above one of the booths.... One guy who has been going to the 5 Point every day for lunch since 1958 buys everyone in the place a meal each time his divorce papers come through. Once in ‘62, once in ‘69, and then a third time in ‘88 he strolled in and passed out libations for all.

The restaurant side of the 5 Point is as light as the bar side is dark. The only advantage of sitting in the light being the notorious Thunder Omelet filled with mushrooms, green peppers, sausage, tomatoes, ham, after-dinner mints, zucchini, chocolate-covered espresso beans, cheese, a few Chesterfield Kings; probably anything you ask for could be made to fit into the architecturally advanced breakfast delight. The coffee is questionable if you drink coffee for a living, but after a few mugs when the conversation has kicked into who’s been jilting whom, the static that it builds up around the lining of your stomach suddenly aims straight for the jugular only to veer off at the last second and go shooting up to the back of your head and slaps the exact same spot that flushes after four jalapeno peppers. Legislation has been in the works for a few years to declare it a controlled substance, and forensic specialists have been called over from Vienna and Bonn to determine the exact chemical configuration of the substance, but as of this writing, no new evidence has actually been documented or sent through the proper channels.

Ahhh, the oyster shooters, the bolted-down insect candles on all of the booth tables, and a restroom where you have to pee on the floor...what more could you ask?

Vic found himself in this very Mecca back by the rusting fan with his back to the wall, something he remembered from reading the ten commandments of Malcolm X. None of the regulars were around yet, but he was too busy catching his breath to want to deal with company anyway. Charlene kept bringing him Bloody Mary after Bloody Mary and a stray thought entered his mind that he might switch to red beers, but he discarded the thought as he was discarding all thoughts and fixed his gaze through the front window pane and focused on the mansion on top of the hill in the distance, which wasn’t a mansion at all, but a rather stately-looking old manor house of a public school some eighty years old that wasn’t a public school at all anymore, but had recently been converted into rather spaciously elegant condominiums. The only time he ever really appreciated the artifice was at night when the string of lights outlining the facade reminded him of Harrods at Christmastime. He thought of where he might spend Christmas, and decided, what the hell, the 5 Point is just as good as any other place. He tried thinking if it made any other sense than just sheer poetic sense to want to spend Christmas in Jerusalem where he wouldn’t know anyone, save Mary Magdalene, who’d probably have plans of her own anyway.

He reached for his glass and brought it to his lips as he noticed someone sitting in the booth nearest the front window. Someone he hadn’t notice enter the cafe. He couldn’t make out who it was because of the surrounding glare. All he could see was someone feverishly writing. He tried making what he could out of the silhouette, which didn’t really help because any chance of there being an Adam’s apple was obscured by tresses and a lowered head. He tried not to concentrate so much on the mystery of the person and waited until the head raised up to check the clock on the wall and then continued writing as quickly as she had paused to look at the clock.

In the fraction of time she looked up, he was able to discern that she was approachable but not necessarily friendly, busy but not necessarily obsessed, pretty but not necessarily beautiful, strong but not necessarily tough, and clean but not necessarily bathed. His thoughts raced as his mind made a sketchy portrait of her life for him. Whether she had faith or doubt; if she walked right past the rocks in the garden or if she stopped to turn them over to see what lived underneath; if she had let herself be educated by an institution of if she had educated herself; whether she knew much about wiring a car stereo; spoon above the fork; or that Upper Volta was now known as Burkina Faso.

He felt reasonably secure in his assumptions, but treasured the fact that his guts knew enough to realize more. His mind swam between what he was actually going to do with the day and how to neatly dovetail it all with this intriguing silhouette surrounded with glare.

He looked up to find himself looking into her face complete. Neither of them knew what to do as they both realized they had caught each other unawares. He let his eyebrows slowly raise the corners of his lips as his head bobbed slightly, letting her know that she had won. She flashed a similar response, lowered her head again and continued writing.

Vic, used to hitchhiking and meeting others immediately with little concern for the politics of invading someone else’s personal space, could think of no reason to waste any time so he got up and walked over to the booth where she was still busy writing and leaned over to speak to her as she raised her head, knowing it was him.

"Can you take me back home or should I just go to hell?"

"I could take you home. I could also drag you through hell." She reassured him.

"Well, as long as it’s on your way..." He added.

"Okay, okay, in a little while. I’ve got to finish this." She snapped.

"You writing a letter?" He mumbled as he sat down in her booth.

"I still have an argument to settle." She volunteered. "There’s nothing worse than trying to convince someone that you’re not worth impressing."

"Sounds like a familiar story." He agreed.

"I mean, isn’t there anything to be said for just common courtesy anymore? This guy I met only a few days ago has been treating me like Helen of Troy, which is all very well and good, but, I mean, you know how long behavior like that is gong to last and what it’s going to end up like."

"Ah, maybe the guy’s just a little struck."

"Yeah, I know. But they always want to go straight for the arm around the shoulder. They bypass the holding hands and the phone call just before you go to bed and, I don’t know, what’s the sense of first building a pedestal and then building a ladder, you know?"

"Yeah, I know."

He reached inside his black full-length leather jacket with a couple of the buttons dabbed with yellow painted smiley faces, took out his cigarettes and waited for his jacket to stop squeaking before he asked her if she’d like one. She said yes and started to reach for it as she did a double take glancing at his face. He took out his silver Zippo, popped it open, lit her cigarette, then his own, closed the lighter and perched it on top of the cigarette pack he’d placed between them on the table.

Charlene came over to the booth and set down a BLT, lightly toasted with a dash of English mustard and a speck of horseradish and a cup of coffee that Estrelica had also had time to order before he had noticed she had entered the cafe.

"Have you changed tables then?" Charlene asked him.

"Uh, yes, I have." He muttered quickly, checking Estrelica’s eyes to see if he had imposed in the grand scheme of things. Her eyes met his briefly as she returned to her writing.

"Would you like another drink?" Charlene asked him as he went back to his old booth to grab his rucksack and bring it to Estrelica’s booth.

"Uh, yes, I’d also like a cup of coffee, please."

"Okay. Would you like anything else, hon?" Charlene asked Estrelica.

"Actually, yes. Have you got any bananas about this big?" Estrelica asked as she held her hands a foot apart, didn’t bother waiting for Charlene’s reply and continued writing.

"Sorry, hon, no bananas today, but I might be able to find an apple or two in the back," Charlene played along.

"Okay, I’ll have an apple." Estrelica decided.

"Just one apple?" Charlene inquired looking at Vic.

"No thanks," he gulped.

Charlene turned back to the bar and began walking away as Estrelica piped up. "And a napkin please, Charlene." Charlene raised a hand and fiddled her fingers as she walked behind the bar and into the kitchen.

"Did you know that they rap in Beirut?" Vic inquired.

"Rap music?" Estrelica answered.

"Yeah, I’ve got a friend who’s working on a kibbutz right now, the only kibbutz on the Mediterranean Sea, and he was saying that they do indeed rap in Beirut."

"I guess it’s a pretty good floorshow when you’re dodging bullets," she shot back trying not to lose her concentration on her writing.

"Yeah, but I don’t know....Something about-"

"--Do you have any money on you?" She interrupted.

"I’m afraid to look, why?"

"Because I don’t think I grabbed the five dollars I had on my desk on my way out this morning and my car needs gas something fierce."

"I might have enough for a few miles," he assured her.

"A few miles? You really do fly light."

She wrote half-heartedly, taking bites of her sandwich, and began to notice him raising his cigarette to his lips at the same times she lifted her sandwich to her mouth. Charlene came back with a cup of coffee for Vic and informed Estrelica that no apples were to be found. She brushed it off and smiled as she looked at Vic, wondering how having to deal with both a cigarette and a cup of coffee would alter his game plan of mimicking her movements. He set his fag in the ashtray and wrapped one hand around the mug and set his other fingers just over the rim, playing with the heat that rose, like a spider doing calisthenics. Her eyes searched the rafters, the few other patrons and the television above the bar looking for inspiration.

"Well, what would you say to this guy?" She asked.

"Well, do you want to forfeit or keep playing?" He replied.

"I want to go put some gas in my car." She confirmed.

"Then just tell him to sell his jeans, stop spinning webs and buy a trophy."

"Hold it. How do you spell trophy?....You ready to go?" she muttered putting her things in her bag, eating the last bite of her sandwich, draining the dregs of her coffee and grabbing her car keys. He nodded as he downed the rest of his coffee and reached in his pants for a tip he couldn’t afford, but left anyway.

She went up to the cash register and told him she’d pay for his coffee if he’d pay for the gas. Charlene rang up her bill and fished her change out of the till as she mumbled under her breath. "You know what they say...."

"About the dead always knowing the time of day?" Estrelica dovetailed.

"Don’t say I never warned you." Charlene whispered, dropping a few coins in Estrelica’s hand.

"That’s okay; don’t say I never wanted." Estrelica beamed as she headed out the door.

Estrelica’s car, a shy blue 1969 Volkswagen Beetle, had tried its best to do something about its posture before it had nodded off directly in front of the 5 Point. It had been through as many hands as a turtleneck sweater, realized the extent of its abuse and humbly obeyed Estrelica as best as it could, fearing how many days it had left on the road. Estrelica opened her door, got in and opened Vic’s door and apologized for the fact that there was no passenger seat and explained that Vic would have to squat on the floorboards. Vic tried squatting, then just decided to sit Indian-style leaning his back carefully hoping it would find an agreeable angle to ease his muscles. By the time Estrelica had the car started, Vic still hadn’t found the ultimate comfortable position but had already adapted to it as he was more concerned with how his new height reminded him of riding in his parents car when he was a tot, watching the rhythm of the streetlights and the traffic lights stream past because his sight lines included little else.

"Okay, first we have to get some gas...." Estrelica mentioned absently as she scoured the skyline for a service station. There was a gas station only a few blocks across the street from the 5 Point, but with all of the one way streets, Estrelica had to follow what ended up being the pattern of a swastika just to get over to the pumps.

"Okay, let’s see what we have," Estrelica said pulling up to the pumps and turning off her engine. "How much do you have?" she asked getting out of her seat as she opened her door.

"Uh...less than I thought," he reluctantly answered.

"Okay, start looking around on the floor; there should be a few coins around here somewhere."

"All I’m getting are pennies. Oh, wait; a dime. I found us a dime." Vic spouted. After a few more minutes of searching Vic tallied up $1.03.

"We have a dollar three." Vic reported.

"Is that enough?", Estrelica asked.

"It’ll have to be."

"Okay." Estrelica took the handful of change and went over to give it to the attendant, then grabbed a nozzle and started poking it into her car and pumping it with gas, jumped back in her car, and off they spun.

"So, where is home?", Estrelica asked as she scanned the horizon and stretched her arm into the back seat to find a tape to play.

"Just down by the bay, near the railroad tracks. Do you know how to get to the marina, the one that’s down by the boat repair shop?" Vic asked.

"I think I remember." She replied.


Estrelica & Vic, Chapter 5, Part B

This is a train