Say Goodnight To The Lemonshark
Once upon a time we were still in love, sipping Singapore slings in the El Paso International Airport bar. You had on a gold foil headband and big hoop earrings. You were in the middle of your Egyptian princess phase. I loved you like Giza.
At the time, I had just ordered the lemon shark. "Medium rare," I said, "with extra dill sauce." "Goodnight, little lemon shark," you said. Then we continued discussing Kenya's patas monkey, the fastest monkey in the world. You'd read all about it in an airline magazine you were quite fond of. Then you became pensive, fidgeting with your headband, those big blue eyes wandering.
"Where should we tie the knot?" you asked.
"Why not Santa Fe?"
So we drank to Santa Fe. We dreamt of jogging in cowboy boots, patio heat lamps the size of spaceships, and a rapidly improving public school system. Just as I ordered my second Singapore sling, though, that's when the man waving the old cowboy revolver came in demanding we drink all the liquor behind the bar before sunrise or else.
The first thing you did was casually show me your gold-plated Egyptian daggers.
"Should I?" you asked me.
I loved that about you.
If I had to choose my favorite part about you it was waking up together. That perfect yellow stab of sunlight that crept through a loose shutter slat, igniting like an iridescent spear across your naked back, knowing that you'd smile if you saw how gently I kissed in-between your glowing shoulder blades without ever waking you.
We were different then. Lots of impulsive, irrational behavior dappled by soft focused stretches of tranquility. I still wonder about us.
The first time we met I reeked of tequila and Percocet. It was a honkey tonk bar just outside San Diego, except that it was "Casino Nite" so all the cowboys and cowgirls shuffled around in rented tuxedos and cocktail dresses. I went right up to you, squinting in the localized sunburst of your shimmering scales because you were in the middle of your mermaid phase. Do you remember what I said?
"I want to be different from the rest of these hombres."
That made you laugh and snort at the same time. And because this was before your late-twenties cautionary malaise really took hold, you found this goofy, yet bold approach rather sexy, and disarming, and you pulled me under a nearby craps table. "Get the fuck out from under there!" all the drunk cowboys demanded. And so we found a dark cove of palm trees outside and continued inspection of one another's anatomy in a clump of cool ivy, your jade colored tail fin stroking my shaved head.
If someone asked you about all of this, you would probably dispute it, say I was not a very "grounded individual." That's too bad. You were the most beautiful mermaid I ever saw. And I've seen my share. Eleven to be exact. Most of them blonde like you.
Being an experienced drinker I began eyeing the bar's liquor capacity, shelves of magnificent green glass almost to the ceiling. I was calculating my wildest intake possibilities. You were eating cocktail peanuts, thinking they might soak up some of the alcohol. That's because you hated to lose control. Not to mention the liver damage. Outside the big bay windows flocks of 727's and DC 10's faded away uselessly into a blood red sunset. They were no help to us now. They were going to places like Mexico City, Lima, and Los Angeles. Radiant pink clouds scudded low across the flat Texan horizon.
It was still the light cocktail hour crowd. A couple of stewardesses, a teenage couple, a table stocked with well-tailored lawyers, and a gaggle of spring-breakers on the high stools lining the counter. Just above them on the wall I spotted a few good bottles of eighteen-year old single malt. I would start with those, I thought. Next to them, on the wall mounted TV was a program about whales and their natural enemies. They were showing grainy old film footage of bloodthirsty Samoans. They were sharpening rusty harpoons aboard sinister looking mahogany yachts with gaudy brass trim.
As I questioned the authenticity of the documentary's research you grabbed hold of my hand and said something.
This is what you said to me: "Let's get the fuck out of here, baby."
"Like escape?" I said.
Just then one of the lawyers decided he'd had just about enough and decided to charge our assailant in a flash of daring pin stripes. His lawyer friend grinned at us as if to say "Watch my buddy here kick some ass and take some names, ok?" which I was just about to do before you grabbed my wrist and dragged me into an EMPLOYEES ONLY closet because you had a very strong grip, not to mention a very strong sense of when to make an exit.
"Good thinking!" I congratulated you once inside.
"Thanks," you said, "but you really should thank the lawyer. After all it was his distraction."
"Oh, right . . . the lawyer."
"You think he'll be alright?"
"I don't know," I said. "Maybe he knows karate. Or judo."
"You think so?"
"He was brave, though, wasn't he?"
"Yes he was," I said, somewhat jealous.
There was that one time, of course. That one time I saved your life.
It was two years prior to our impromptu wedding plans, which eventually fell through, when you leapt over the guardrail in La Jolla in order to see the passing sea lions. You lost your footing and began sliding off the wet-rock precipice and into some craggy lagoon below. In a state of real panic, I grabbed hold of your camera strap because you were at the tail end of your Japanese tourist phase, and I yanked you back up in mid-fall. You cried a little, and I told you to be more careful and that I loved you, and I think at this point along with a handful of other moments you knew that I meant it.
You've been through eight different phases that I know of. They are as follows:
Austrian bikini model
During your palm tree phase you used to stand very stiff in the corner of the bedroom like a little girl and talk through your teeth. "I'm a tree," you'd say, trying not to move your lips. "Doooon't cut me dooooowwwn." Then I'd lick your roots and kiss all the way up your trunk to a pale knot of smooth coconut husk.
That always upset you because according to your research palm trees did not make love. Then I pointed out that they didn't exactly talk either.
You were upset a lot during your palm tree phase.
The employee closet or whatever it was was huge. A dark humidity enveloped us almost instantly. It felt like summer deep in the Amazon, or at least how I imagined summer to be deep in the Amazon. At least we were safe. We couldn't help but think of all those poor suckers we left behind. "All that liquor," you said. "Someone's going to die of alcohol poisoning," I said. Then, having nowhere else to go we blindly made our way through endless coats and mops, black and thick like deep jungle brush. The heat was unbearable. After awhile I had to take off my shirt because it was so hot. You ditched your golden headband, and took the lead, hacking wildly at the cotton and wool foliage with your gold-plated daggers. I was right behind you, dreaming of Singapore slings beneath extra-terrestrial sized heat lamps in the long cool autumn evenings of tomorrow's Santa Fe. I could feel your sports bra beneath your tunic, which was damp with sweat. Then our eyes adjusted. I began to make out basic shapes and colors. You said you felt something drift past your leg. I told you to relax, but then I felt something drift past my own leg. I told you not to worry, even though, secretly, I had found a clothes hanger and had fashioned it into a short spear, which I felt fairly comfortable with as an effective killing device. But after awhile nothing attacked us, and we discovered light, a dim orange outline of what looked to be a door.
"Should we open it?" you asked.
I readied my makeshift spear.
"Open it," I said.
About the author:
Trevor J. Houser was born in 1974 in Portland, Oregon. His stories have appeared in Rosebud and The Big Ugly Review. He was a marketer in a New York publishing house, a private investigator in San Francisco, and a gas-runner in Mexico. He is the author of the darkly comic novel, PLAN YELLOW, and currently lives in Buenos Aires where he is at work on his next book.