by Rosanne Griffeth
She sat in the booth stirring sweet tea with a real teaspoon—the sort with a small bowl atop a long, narrow tang. She looked like she'd stepped out of the nineteen-fifties with her cat-eyed rhinestone glasses, rocket-slim skirt and Pendleton jacket. When he saw her hobbling in that outfit with her flesh constrained by a girdle (there was absolutely no jiggle), he blurted out right in the middle of Maurice's Monkey Farm and Parrot Jungle, "Would you care to go to the Indian Head Diner and share a Captain's Platter with me?""Sure, why not," she said in that fake English accent some Southern women affect. She adjusted the jeweled brooch on her collar and applied another coat of Red #10 to her lips.
He was about to ask her about the brooch when their iceberg lettuce salads with Thousand Island dressing arrived. She raised a pale tomato to her lips, its anemia more transparent for the proximity to her mouth.
"Mmmmm," she said, "I love a good iceberg lettuce salad, don't you?"
"Absolutely. They soak the lettuce in real ice here to make it extra crispy."
He watched her holding the salad fork, her hands like little bird claws ornamented with a ring on every finger, including the kind that popped open to dispense poison or medication.
"What do you keep in your Lucrezia Borgia ring?" he asked.
She popped open the top jewel to reveal a pill. "Artificial sweetener."
"It's my favorite. It's hard to find the real stuff anymore." The ring made a small snick as it closed.
Born in Gibonton, she worked as a mermaid at Weeki Wachee, but left over an incident with a lovesick manatee. "Couldn't help it," she said, "it's hard to say no to an animal that size." There they were, both in the water with single tails. She patted her lips with the cloth napkin, wounding it with lipstick.
"So what brings you to Maurice's?" he asked, falling more in love with her by the moment.
She waited for the waitress named Susie to leave the heaping fried shrimp, scallops, fish and deviled crab plates before leaning conspiratorially into the oily food fog. She looked in both directions for spies. "I owed him one. We stole the biggest Adirondack chair in the world from a guy down in Brooksville. I'm arranging transportation west for it." She delivered the last sentence in an exaggerated whisper, as though he were an especially dense lip reader. Her brooch wandered again and she moved it back to her collar where a small chain attached it.
"What's up with your pin?" he asked.
She crammed hushpuppies into her mouth and pantomimed to the brooch, since her mouth was too full to speak politely. She offered the collar so he could examine it more closely. The brooch had six shiny black legs laboring beneath a payload of paste emeralds and gold. She must have seen the horror in his face when he pulled back.
She jabbed three fried shrimp speared on a fork in his direction, "Look here, Sunshine, all God's creatures are pretty in their own special way, goddamnit."
Her beetle brooch skittered back toward her lapel and the swell of her breast like it owned her. The more he stared at it the more he thought it looked back at him. He could just make out its eyes glittering with jealousy. He snapped his fingers for the waitress to ask for the check. She was obviously spoken for.
Rosanne Griffeth lives on the verge of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park and spends her time writing, raising goats and documenting Appalachian culture. She holds an MFA from the University of South Carolina. Her work can be seen or is forthcoming in MsLexia, The Potomac, Pearl, Pank, Night Train, Keyhole Magazine and Smokelong Quarterly among other places. She is the blogger behind The Smokey Mountain Breakdown.