That Gladrag Razzmatazz
a short story by Bob Arter

He always wanted; she, never.

Jack LeCouer the male, the Gladrag mailman, lusting after every woman ever posted, loved them all, but though she caught and kept that potent notion, Jill his lady let it linger, languish, leak from out their lives. That bedtime boogie mattered less, and finally not at all. A burst at the beginning, yes, a joyous blast of gypsy jive and it was only ancient mystery.

“Luscious,” he’d entreat her, dying daily for her passion, nightly for the nectar that she hoarded. And think, Plump nectarine, but bitterly? not ever. Banned from bed, Jack slept in fair weather on the roof of their All-Elektrik Kountry Kottage in the eucalyptus forest two miles south of Gladrag, taking to his tub when came the rains.

She found passion plenty in her fiddle, sang it poptunes nightly, diapered burped tucked neatly ‘neath her chin, Jill by the iron stove she stoked with splitwood, fodder chopped herself, and so she shed her groin desire, that bright belly twitcher, axed it in the wide dirt span ‘twixt house and barn.

She’d felled a dying tree one day for mercy and found succor, chopped it down and chopped it up, was left so lacking for the bed, that warring place, that Shiloh, she began to drop them weekly. All day long in canvas gloves, up the ax and down the tree. Hacking, whacking, busting up, she dreamt the violins she’d make of the remnants, carved Strads from eucalyptus limbs, sanded varnished finished off a dozen in an hour, roomsful of fiddlesticks.

And sang:

Swing the ax and play the fiddle,
Gingerbelly roots for tea,
Whack my drumming paradiddle,
Jam for you, one lump for me!

And burst into the back door, shiny-glad with effort, happy in her heart, pleased enough to pause while passing him at his morose crossword and muss his hair and muss his head and peck his stupid fucking skull.

Fuckless skull, he’d have styled it, wondering again where the bird had flown. They’d known happy passion in the days when Jill had jarred that red-hot razzmatazz, been his jalapeno joneypie and double-boilered all her down to-earth desire in an early fecund season. No child occurred; now he wondered of the loving, did we leave it in the latex? By any measure, Jack became a man undone by she the one he wanted more than all the rest.

The rest? Why, there was Cookie Carmel at the Pie Oh My bakery; a sugarvision in her apron habit. She did him in donuts thirteen times each morning, sifting the flower in her legs before ever she rose to heat the kitchen: Cookie would have, could have, if she’d only found a way to let him see.

There were the sisters, Victrola and Crayola Fancy, curtain-peeking past their gingham swatches, straight into the street they crossed him in their hairs and hearts each day, secret whispered as he wandered lonesome through the town aboard his pointless postal mission, or so he thought the daily journey.

Dipsy Tallow straightforward called him out from the open upper door of La Candela, hollered Jackie, how they hanging, Sweet Daddy, come on over here and dip your wick, it’s lonely when you’re so damned cold in bed, I just know you know it too.

Her he never answered; the butcher woman was a different story.

“Hi, Minx,” he’d say, head stuck through her open door, junk mail in his jeans. “What’s good today?”

And Minx Malone would look up every time from the carcass she was cracking into bagsize parcels, look up with solemn level lips but dancing gray eyes, eyes that waltzed with his across the little distance. And “Jack,” she’d sing, “I’ve chops today, one-two-three, seven-bone roast, two-three, how have you been, two-three?”

And Jack would smile and mosey into bloody comfort, lacking grace to dance but all the happy willingness he needed. And say, “I’m middling, Minx, I guess I’m doing fine.”

And they’d fall into conversation, and in this way grew close.

It hadn’t always been so easy. When Jack first looked on Minx, he’d thought her well above his station, up the track and up the hill with the smarter set. And she may just have been the tonier of the two, for he’d never given modern mores much consideration, dressed himself in what came handy, sunsoft jeans Jill left bodiless on the bed for him and the sort of flannel shirt that’s seen syrup duty in Vermont, seasons of it, waterproof boots from Bean.

She’d put him at ease, though he never caught her at it. Minx could get a man into an overstuffed chair before any other woman in town could get her pants on; she merely had the knack. It wasn’t from the finishing schools Papa never sent her to, nor was it learned at Mama’s knee: that old biddy drove Papa to strong drink on a nightly basis.

Some part of what we are, she never said, is ours alone.

They all saw it, of course, in the little town of Gladrag. The brilliantined young men were merely envious, for Minx was a prize, a bluejay for the proper cat and every cat came prowling. She pecked a few herself but finally sent them all away, just-in-time beaux for balls she wanted some of, popcorn mates at the new horror picture, boys to take to dinner when she couldn’t face another cut of meat.

For Jack she waited, time in hand so sweet so patient, mildly marking days. And always had a welcome ready when he ducked inside her door.

There was talk. “The man has a wife,” Cookie might declare to Dipsy, handing over fresh-baked crullers, their sweet aroma swearing to her sanity, her kitchen’s. “Does she feel he needs another?”

“I’d say she feels exactly that,” Dipsy might reply, cackles concealing a black and bitter heart, “but it’s what he feels that gets her started.” And hand over exact change, cross to the door. And step and two and turn: “If you get my drift.”

They smoked it over humidors and lathered it before the razor. In every shop in town they tried it on and learned its inseam, weighed it for the postage and returned it overdue: Did a man require two wives? And was Jack LeCouer that man? And if Jill was the first, Crayola asked Victrola, who ought to be the other?

Who among us, Miss Vicki answered, is chopped liver?

Minx, who had chopped a few herself, might have had a word to offer. But she held her tongue, and sliced it paper-thin.

~

Captain Cash kept his head and counted out the bills, the sorry few they hadn’t repossessed before locking his nasty ass away. He knew nothing of the butcher woman or any other soul in the border states of Minnebraska and Kansouri, knew nothing of the world at large across all the lousy years he’d measured out in some nameless concrete cage in Iron County.

“Git ‘em all, Cash,” the fatman gaoler hoarsely whispered past his sullen grin, nickel teeth and nickel cigar. “You’ll spend every one and be back here afore dinner, now how’s that sound, boy?”

Thirty-two, Cash summed. He raised his lids in one last leaden salute, drooped his gunslinger mustache and, taking two steps before the cheap prison-given suit took one, serged out the door and out the gate and never did look back.

He crossed the state line at half past three and finally saw the sky, the open air, his spacious cell. He almost wondered once again if it had been worth the drill, killing Dink and Dee and Doolittle for the screwing they’d all given him after they’d hit that racetrack in the Downs, nearly wondered out of habit, for this had become a piece of his routine and a con without a routine’s just another lonely man. But today, after doing eight-and-a-third of the twenty-five, he finally gave it a rest.

Of course it had.

He stripped the pack of ciggies he’d liberated from a ninety-year-old in a public park and lit himself up to smoke and find his bearings. They lay southwest, he decided after a look at a highway sign: This Way To Where You’re Headed.

The Captain’s weirdly Christian name was Pentecost Jubilee, a mother’s nightmare since conceiving him drunk and her last attempt to persuade the Lord and the Law to forgive him his peccadilloes. It never really took hold and before he was fourteen Pent had a yellow sheet as long as his cock, which was his one impressive asset and a dead father’s only gift.

The state cops were out and about and several had a word or two with him, knew what he was by the cut of his cloth and stopped to provide a little fresh discouragement.

“You want to watch your step in this state, Sonny Charles,” one said, tipping up his campaign hat and handing back the library card Cash had taken from the old man between breaking his back and snatching the smokes. “I’ve warned you fairly now, so when we throw your ass back in for looking at the little girls’ panties, don’t y’all come cryin’ to me.”

An easy nod and Cash went on and on and drifted down the country road. Hunger pressed him and he smacked a Little Leaguer for a chocolate bar. Lust likewise burned bright and certain, so he thought to stop and flog his ox but first he wanted miles.

Dusk found the badman in a eucalyptus lane wherein he heard on brisk October air the solid chunk of ax to tree and the clear sweet woman’s voice:

Hoist them high, my laddies, here’s another for your trouble,
I’ll just finish hanging didies and I’ll fly there on the double…

So sang Jill to the Violin Tree she was whacking on today, metal fang biting deep into its woody flesh. Cash behind a potted palm beholding now this vision; food there was and more: after doing the eight-and-a-third with no better company than his hand, she was Woman One. He’d never taken to the prettyboys, and pumped away his passion on the weight bench, wiry now as Western Union. Here he saw a Better Thing.

“Need a pair of hairy hands, my darling?” he sang out as he showed himself, and Jill started and let slip the ax and watched in horror as he took the flat side in the forehead. Cash staggered to and fro, lurching about as had his dear old dad when stupid drunk.

“Oh, my!” Jill collected him in her chopper arms and tossed him on her shoulder fireman-style and lugged him off to the house. Cash hung there, changed and blinking fast, and for the first time in his sorry life he failed to see and seize advantage: a woman and a house!

~

You might say, cynical, that things happen all at once in stories like this, but why do you suppose such tales get told? In any case, Jack chose that dusky day to lay down his mailbag and sit with Miz Malone at dinner, in the rooms she kept behind her shop.

She’ll never know I’m gone, he thought, concerning Jill. If she ain’t chopping down a tree it’s sure she’s sawing on that fiddle.

Minx was medium as women run, a middle-heighted lady on a sturdy frame. On this evening she’d disguised herself petite, using engineering skills to rig slight structures on her clean foundation, all apparent slenderness and winsome wonder at this bravo bossanova hero she finally was dinnering.

And “Oh, these wretched ribs,” she cried, full content in her table’s excellence and what was he to say but truth? for all of it was fine. She fished her creel of compliments in this familiar way and bagged her limit but no more; Minx was not a rapacious woman.

There was alcohol with dinner and a little after—but wine was not the way of it and cognac not the cause. Neither was a fool, and both knew when they sat at table they would later lie in bed.

The bed itself was wondrous, an enormous thing a man had made for Minx at her direction, and been paid for in the coin of pleasure. It required leap or stepstool, mattress slabs piled high with comforters, but the greatest comfort in the heap was Minx; she saw to that.

The butcher woman cradled Jack’s carcass with some expertise, offered up her rib and cheek and loin and lovely breasts. She tied herself inside his arms and drew so cushy-close both gasped at sudden otherbody pleasure, at delight delicious bedtime raptures in that lively linen tangle.

And Jack was lost in her, wrapped tight in thighs and pinioned blithe, rocking rhythms of Parisian jazz, Stephane Grappelli slipped so hot so slick a stick across his maple ax that never did Jack hear the instrument, merely felt the fresh and ancient ocean surge of Minx’s hips, her perfect pelvis. He plunged into the rhythmic swells that rose to meet him, dove down deep and bold till both had lost their reason and their seeing and their minds—until they drifted in sheer feel.

They were sated, and then off they sailed again.

~

“I’ll take your best,” says Jill to Dan Sedan, and presses money wads into his greasy palm. He gapes at fortune, shoves her toward the Coupe De Ville he daily buffs, bright symbol of his Gladrag Repo Roundup.

“Underbody coating?” he inquires, handing over keys. She flushes, shakes her head, glossy hair unpinned undone, slides in behind the wheel and drives away without her change. Fair enough, thinks Dan, I’ll keep it.

She next is seen at Larry’s Liquor Lockup, picking up a box of Bud, a case of Wild Turkey, ice. Not so mad a purchase, but it’s ten p.m., an hour Jill is seldom seen in town. At the counter like an afterthought she adds a banjo box of El Presidentes and a gross of whopper condoms to the hooch and asks all nonchalant, “How much?”

Larry blinks and says the number, takes her paper money, bags the goods. And asks, “How you gonna carry all that, Jill? Want me to deliver it tomorrow?”

“Coupe de Ville,” she crows, “V-8, here and now.” And scratching, Larry lugs the goodies carward, whistles lengthy low and shakes his head. “Danny’s Caddy, ain’t she?” But Jill is in and Jill is down the road.

And heading out of town she thinks a sudden second thought and yanks around the big pearlescent cruiser, motors up the only drag, hammers on the brake in front of Malone’s Meatery, out and up the stair and sees the sign there: Done For The Day.

She lifts a fist to knock, but the door glides open silently and there stands Minx, berobed, bemused, befuddled. “Hello, Jill,” says she, “hello the night. What brings you out? The moon?”

Indeed a pizza hangs on the horizon, dripping mozzarella moonshine on the dusty downtown avenue of eyes—for sleepless, all watched Jack walk in, and no one saw him leave. Enter Jill in crazy Caddy, showdown in the night with Minx that gray-eyed calmwise puss. The Fancy sisters place their bets; Cookie and the Tallow woman peer from out the windows of their commerce homesteads; up and down the street lungs quiet nicely for the listening.

And “Beef!” Jill bawls at Minx.

“Right now?” Minx asks, retreating. And thinks, I smell sex, and not my own. What’s in this night?

“I need steaks,” sings Jill, “I’ll want a dozen, easy.”

“And I’m closed,” Minx murmurs, “but come in, come in and let me see. And where’s the hurry, dear?” Jill is through the door and all the world’s in anguish, wishing mightily for the nightly news.

Seconds saunter past, a minute, three, and Jill is out the door again, laden down in bloody bargains. In the car and off she roars for bed, and back of her Minx stands in doorway hipshot, arms akimbo, thinking her unpublished thoughts.

~

In his dotage, Tom Hanks would tell the other barflies of the role that got away: he’d have given all his Oscars to be cast as cop in the movie made from this story, but instead Ed Harris got the nod, and even kept his name.

It was Ed the Cop who, cruising Treedotcom Park, found one Sonny Charles, backbroke, weakly wiggling his wrinkled busted fishbody, ninety years old every day of the week.

But Sonny could always talk, and to Ed he told the tale of the dark, mustachioed little weasel who had broken him for cigarettes, liberated Lucky Strikes and left him there to perish.

“Thought he’d done me dead,” wheezed Sonny while the paramedics inflated the bodybubble to immobilize him, wishing they could do something similar to his mouth. “The son of a bitch thought he’d kilt me, yassir.”

“Five-five,” Ed repeated, “one-thirty. Droopy mustache, baggy blue serge. Black hair, prison-short. Eyes?”

“Squinty,” Sonny offered as they gurneyed him into the machine and sirened off to some stainless steel ER.

Leaving Ed nothing to do but walk to his cruiser, thumb the radio handset to life, and tell his story to all the world that lay in breathless electromagnetic anticipation. All is calm. All is bright.

~

Cash in the tub, soaking up the fiddlewoman’s purifying waters and blackening them with a life of sin and ignorance, leaves rings of sooty evil with a nonchalance born in the company of caged and desperate men. And shell-shocked still, struggling now to comprehend the day.

She sure can play that thing, he barely thinks, and isn’t near the half of it. Jill had tossed him on the bed and puffed his pillows as awareness grew between them. Something in the little wretch appealed. The ax had paralyzed his talkalot; so he listened with apparent interest as she exhumed in longtime buried words her tragedy, how she’d teenage once thought Jack her lifetime love, O what a fool she’d been, however could she love him? Yet how leave?

And Cash just stared as though intelligent, as if her story fascinated, bore him down to dig her baby tears. In truth, he fathomed little of it; nonetheless in altered consciousness he felt he knew her human sorrow. And so it seemed to her he listened, heard her as no other ever had, so wept she now and even loved this hangdog mongrel.

And she’d not finished off her tree that day, so all the strident urges surged within her, wanting, wanting. Finally she sought solace in her violin, and stunned herself when out jumped Little Wing in little ways that Jimi never thought of. Encouraged by the bulge that grew in Cash’s pants, she flung away all caution and played him Idouard Lalo’s Symphonie Espagnole, hot as her britches in the first movement, sweetly seductive in the fourth.

And then Jill’s clothes were history and devil take the underwear. His strapping summer sausage, aging in autumn, rose and stiffened perky, and no thought muddled up her mind as she straddled that ugly blue-eyed killer and impaled herself on him, all her hot sweet-and-sour juices slipping dripping as she gasped and moaned forgotten lyrics of the body. Cash was stricken dumb and just as well; for had he said a word he’d likely ruined all but as it was she forward leaned without the slightest grace, ground pubic bone on pubic bone and pleasure squeezed between. Her nipples finger-tweaked until he palmed her ass and pulled her aft and often down and up until there came the one great shudder, minutes long and then the leap as first she came along and once again as he caught up, erupted into her the greatest geyser of his life, his life and one unimagined other’s.

They spoke no word then, merely whooped the oxygen and sprawled like dogs in summer’s heat, recovering.

At last she said, “Tell me what you want.” And Cash had rote recited whiskey, car, cigars; she’d added beef to keep him going, thought a little late of condoms. And threw on clothes and left him there and double-timed to Gladrag for the goods. No thought, no thought at all.

Here came she through the door again, heard him sloshing there and glanced from habit at her ax and fiddle, left them there and poured a tumbler of whiskey for him then grinning madly one for her as well, derelicting clothing in her crazy heat and haste.

And sang:

Coming with your Turkey, darling,
Climbing up your barber pole,
Sliding slipping heat your Harley
Hunk inside me, rock and roll!
Bouncing bedwise, devil take me,
Slipping sticky sound effects,
Keep it coming, don’t forsake me,
Lovely rocking rolling sex!

Then she found him in the tub, and tossing him a cigar, Jill lit him up again.

~

“Jill?” Jack queried, blinking rapid.

“She herself,” said Minx, “but you needn’t hunt for cover, dear, she wasn’t after you.”

He stared, uncomprehending, while she told him of the steaks the booze the Cadillac. She’d seen the condoms clear enough, but held them in reserve; the lad was clearly boggled. So she shucked her pansied housecoat and arranged her limbs around him, wrapping him in her in him until at last he found her sweet confusion, rising to her woman’s honeyed touch.

A passing screech abruptly jerked them from their pleasure; sirens in the road—alarm! Minx flew bare-assed to a window, comelier than she knew, in time to see a caravan of cops go by; Jack joined her.

“Who’s the badman?” both murmured, and then Jack melted, seeing her in merely moonlight clad, and kissed her, long and purposeful. A loving smile upturned at last her somber lips and lit her cat-gray eyes. When he responded, Minx found a ready handle and towed him back to bed.

Outside, Ed Harris led the law through Gladrag, burning down the road to find his awful outlaw. The infantry trotted on behind, soldier boys on loan from Camp Handjob down the road, there for Zero Defects, barely buttoned up. The cops had talked to Dan Sedan and Liquor Larry: someone needed wheels and drink. As townfolk gaped they barreled by, for all roads led to Jill LeCouer.

And people pounding after them at this new primetime feature--anxious for the chase ran Cookie, Dipsy, Vicki and Crayola, every blooming Gladrag soul until only Jack the Happy Mailman lingered there beside his beguiling butcher lady.

~

And Jill? She’s lying with her Pentecost, eliciting the first giggle of his wasted life. They play with rubbers, looking for one big enough to seal him up, as though the first time’s free, as though his fish were not within her. She wishes she’d bought lemon-flavored, starred and striped and ribbed and rocked but these’ll surely do.

They won’t do much. His gush a rush inside her, swimming strong in towering fallopian seas toward some lost floating lifetime. As though the first time’s free.

She fills their glasses, slightly stunned by alcohol and liberty, tangles him and drinks him for a kiss. Cash is likewise dazzled, can’t remember who he used to be or where it happened, how he came in here or came in her but God, he truly prays, it’s good to be alive, a happy man.

He knows nothing now of prison, murder, mayhem for malevolence or massacre for money. Call him consecrated if you like, or merely hammered in the head; he’s as good a man as you are, maybe better. He plays with Jill in innocence, all smiles as now she dips her head to lick his sweet meat lollipop.

And giggles, trying to make it fit her mouth and even though her lips would wrap a knackwurst, nothing doing; her Pent’s a little man but large of organ. She laps him like a cat and backward lolls his head—he gives it all to sweet sensation, tension tingling in his balls.

And what might she be thinking? What of Jack, her wayward mate? Is this revenge?

In plaintalk, she’s forgotten him entire. This ugly outlaw-man, her sweetest babe, has fizzled all her logic, lain her waste. If truly we are one for one, she found her matching soul the moment she’d revised his brain, and became exactly his.

And oh the cops arrive, the army right behind and last of all the leering japes of Gladrag. Spotlights pierce the windowpane. Weapons rattle with a snicking purpose, rounds are chambered, pins are pulled. And now the hackneyed bullhorn: Yeah, we know you’re in there.

Why drag it out? They take him.

~

Endings get no better than they are.

Divorce and marriage: Jill was glad to let Jack go, to send him off to happiness, her mental mailman goof. She fiddled for their wedding, played Quarter Moon in a Ten-Cent Town, sounding just like Emmylou. The blushing bride wore naugahyde and Jack put on a tie.

Divorce and marriage: Jill married Cash, of course, swore her love through iron bars and Minx sent meat. The blushing groom found elbow room and Jill drank rock and rye.

Jill makes his Pentecostal prison life as good as any could: her prison ministry includes free concerts, Born to the Blues, and she brings the fatman gaoler a pie from Cookie every time. The mildman Pentacost becomes a trustee, pushing bookcarts up and down the cell blocks, calling out their names: “Hot Kafka! Getcher Dostoevsky here! Done it with an ax, he did, the way my Jilly done to me!”

They live for conjugal visits, and for the daughter that she bears him, sweet Genevieve the child of autumn love, that spastic splat of his salvation. She’ll never take his violence, nor mama’s violin, for Jenny will a sculptress be, scrap metal welded well enough for craft-show sales, a slight dark woman lighting Luckies with acetylene.

There’s bliss enough, and pain enough, to make its blindfold way around the block. They all were lost they all were found they’ll all live long enough on lovestruck ground.

  

©1999 Bob Arter

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