Wilted Flowers

What commences are a pair of unconventional episodes for Valentine’s Day. Oh? You expected different?

Voices Carry

It wasn’t the woman’s shrieking alone that awakened me. The suffering she emitted raised an alarm.

This being Las Vegas, all neighborhoods between the most and least desirable share one trait: enduring varying degrees of homeless wretches crazed by all sorts of drug mixtures. Day or night.

Besides those stumbling along the city’s sidewalks giving ragged rage to the bizarro introspection inside their heads, there are fellow pavement obstructions who succumb to what must be the excruciating pain of frazzled cranial synapses. Hence yelling incoherently.

So, after adapting Las Vegas residents are more accustomed than they like to otherwise admit to unfathomable outbursts from the most marginal among us. Unfathomable to us because mentally toxic mixes do not swirl through our veins and consume our marrow.

Shrieks piercing a recent Mojave Desert winter night jerked me from sound slumber. I squinted at the cell phone kept on a bedside stand. Reflexively I thought the alarm had rung. Many hours remained before that clamor. For most of the rest of America the evening hour was early yet. But since I still labor at a Las Vegas job, I must maintain a Las Vegas schedule. Stretched out in the rack during prime-time television hours viewing in order to start stirring for work before any morning breakfast news show begins broadcasting.

Needless to report I resented the interruption of deepest, darkest, most restful of Nod. But my umbrage was short. The quality of peace shattering torment wasn’t anywhere along the usual spectrum of self-created affliction.

No, this distress was being imposed.

The last time I heard such wailing was years ago. Again, at night. A coyote had caught a laggard cat nearby. During the feline’s throes before becoming a meal, it issued death cries. These farewells were distinct, long, and painfully taut. Last keens until black eternity.

One imagined the hunter either ignored or had become used to such from its prey.

The woman’s cries had the cat’s same anguish. Except a human voice projected painful octaves.

Locating where this agony occurred was difficult. At least from my bedroom window.

A man beat her. There’s no mistaking the “whump!” of fists punching flesh. Clearly, they were a couple because with every blow he loosened, she screeched out litanies of his failures. As a man.

He didn’t order her silence. Speaking, he gutturally explained, okay, justified to himself, how they had reached this point. Not that she’d fomented their present travails. She’d just worsened them. Which he found unbearable, if not altogether intolerable.

Her voice had taken on the scratchy saw of a harshly bowed violin. She rallied to find the strength to twist knife-like those confidences he’d shared with her. Was she his wife? His lover? Had to be one or the other. Casual acquaintances seldom hear the deeply secreted portions of others’ lives. Enough trust must’ve built between them for him to have dropped his guard to reveal his own.

It had to have been marvelous between them before it became this night.

Surmounting that hesitancy takes time. Particularly with men. He had trusted her enough to believe her incapable of betraying him. Maybe it wasn’t betrayal. Not by her at least. Perhaps he’d been the couple’s transgressor. Let’s say that the case. Rather than react meekly, to accept whatever he’d done, to take it as he likely expected, what prevented her from instead refuting then reproving him?

Had her standing up to him precipitated this night’s violence? And if at fault, she having bared his culpability, shouldn’t that have sufficed to have exposed the utter fragility a husband or lover requires to attack his partner?

Sirens heralded the police. Through a walkway between two neighboring buildings across from my own, red and blue lights strobed along a parallel street. Two prowl cars answered as usual. Each car seated two officers again as usual.

The law gave firm commands. The man’s belligerence indicated he wasn’t following them. A resulting scuffle was brief. Police radio squawk affirmed an ambulance en route.

From hereon the voices were muted, smothered beneath the police cars’ engines and an occasional dispatch sent over the police frequency.

From thereon quiet resumed as did my sleep.

So Wrong

A week before Valentine’s Day, I dined in a casino restaurant. I carry a loyalty card at this establishment. Every casino offers some version of the same. Cardholders who frequent the games and sports book can accrue points through them. These points can be redeemed for various comps. I dedicate mine to dining.

Depending on circumstances points may be used towards discounts on bills of fare or even reward free meals. I ate on a free food day. Who refuses free food?

Among guests in that dining room sat an animated diner. Animated, not agitated.

While waiting for her plate to arrive, she engaged in the increasingly aggravating practice of using her cell phone at the dining table. Okay. Let’s grant a dispensation. This instance was less obtrusive than customary because she sat alone. She wasn’t seated amid a party at a table who ignore conversation among themselves for the blue-screen hypnosis of the held device.

The woman, as any within earshot learned, went by Danielle. Blonde. A big-haired one at that from Texas. Fort Worth. She had an expressive face, lively eyes, and rubbery lips. Except for the hair, Danielle reminded me of Little Suzy, an acquaintance made in my hometown of Quarropas New York. We worked out at the same gym. For a time there a bunch of similarly disposed fitness enthusiasts also formed a social connection outside our grunt, groan, grimace, and sweat sessions. How does that occur? Finding alike strangers, merging orbits, merrily traveling along until suddenly, inexplicably the bond breaks and we scatter apart. Ought to be some doctoral candidates studying this phenomenon.

Little Suzy had also hailed from Fort Worth. Shared traits with Danielle. Except Little Suzy’s blondeness was less extravagant. Both of those Texans were variations on Rhode Island women who piled their tresses rather than teased them into clouds. In Rhode Island, the mantra is “The higher the hair, the closer to God.” Maybe in Texas, Fort Worth at least, the slogan is “The bigger the hair, the greater to Glory be.”

Like Little Suzy, I bet a pair of open-toe, leopard-skin patterned pumps sat in Danielle’s closet. If asked, wouldn’t she have not just admitted this but go all out by proudly declaring ownership? Then go on to fess up having a bra and tap pants ensemble bearing the same motif as the shoes.

In our time together in Quarropas, Little Suzy worked in the financial field. The World Financial Center held her office. These were three stout buildings across the street from the World Trade Center.

I liked the WFC. Not only did my former employer nurture clientele there, but the complex also hosted a potpourri of shops and attractions. Sometimes on Manhattan date nights, I’d steer chicks inside and let window shopping/retail therapy magic work its charms in getting me over easier later.

On the morning of September 11th, 2001, Little Suzy sat in her cubby. Until the second hijacked jet smashed into the South Tower, staff followed guidelines. They remained planted. A lot of them would’ve rooted themselves there. Carnage on the other side of West Street prompted low-level managers into making executive decisions. They decided to evacuate people under their aegis to safety. Nonetheless they also made clear everyone was free to follow his or her own conscience. Were there any subsequent repercussions, the chiefs would absorb the brunt. Feet did their duties. Those bureaus were left vacant.

Back in Quarropas, Little Suzy later told us theirs began as an orderly departure. Had to wonder how orderly it could’ve been. Flames billowed above them. They breathed burning jet fuel fumes as well as saw office workers trapped on the Trade Center’s upper floors, who, knowing their fates, plummeted to more merciful demises.

Order lasted until the South Tower collapsed. Then it became “Asses and elbows, man!”

All this she related to us that afternoon at the gym. No, it’s not strange she worked out after being spared possible atomization. The morning’s attack, its further devastation, escape, had soaked her through with adrenalin. Hitting the weights, the treadmill, would dispel an ocean of nervous energy.

Also clear her head somewhat of the day’s terror. Seeing her state then, one could surmise Little Suzy hadn’t yet completely stuffed her eyes back into their sockets.

Gauging Danielle, she’d possibly been a teen on that Tuesday morning. Printed by the attack, certainly, but unlike us adults not entirely recalibrated by it.

She’d put her cell on speaker. On the other end her BFF. Someone she referred to as “Big Sister.” Danielle had plenty to tell. Mostly laments as it developed. Both parties’ cackling interrupted that recital.

A few times Danielle verged on becoming morose. Happily, she did not slide into maudlin.

This Texan had been in Las Vegas to attend a convention. That went fine as far as those go. Danielle made sure to emphasize that despite work taking precedence she didn’t forsake the craps tables. Unfortunately, the bones were unkind.

“And the drinks aren’t cheap. Good thing guys were buzzing like bees around honey. So, I didn’t have to break the bank.”

What really galled her was checkout. On the elevator ride to the counter another guest entered. If Danielle had described him in any finer detail the fellow could’ve been seen as majestic. Somewhere in his mid-50s. Tall. Handsome. Charming. A kind of inadvertently sexy voice. But it was his hair which enthralled her deepest.

Although she hadn’t run fingers through his mane, Danielle described it as “luxuriant. Gray weaved up there. But it made him look distinguished. Isn’t it amazing how you can say that about a man. ‘Gray makes him look gorgeous.’ Say the same about a woman and we say, ‘she’s old.’”

In an aside, Danielle added, “We get to his age and our nipples start dropping down to our waists.”

The sudden hotel duo chatted on the descent. They continued speaking on the line towards checkout. Danielle felt she was getting that “vibe” from him even if he sent it unintentionally.

She speculated. “Maybe all the women he meets feel this way.”

After checking out, they waited at the valet for taxis to the airport. As kindly as possible without coming on like a wolf, he offered to share his ride with her. I think the gap between his asking and her accepting must’ve been seamless.

Disaster struck in the taxi’s backseat. The driver asked his passengers which airline they’d fly. Same airport but two different terminals. Danielle had reservations on a domestic carrier. Flight on a premium air carrier awaited him. It was a semi-private transportation provider serving point-to-point destinations. Pricey as these are, the benefits were worth the cost. No killing time in lines. No crowds of passengers being herded and mistreated like cattle. No TSA humiliations and inconveniences. Flyers weren’t prohibited from bring their own bottled beverages aboard. Best of all, a customer could arrive at the terminal about 20 minutes to half an hour before the flight’s scheduled departure.

Only in hindsight did Danielle realize she should’ve grasped the opportunity, wrestled it to the ground, then made it hers. She had no idea of his destination. It could’ve been Jersey City or Boise. She regretted not attempting some stupid futile gesture to remain beside him.

The women shared one of those booming laughs that drew attentions of the most casual passersby and observers.

Danielle said she tried not sighing when her eminent gray-haired possible prince drove off.
“And dammit,” the Texan fussed, “I never even asked him his name!”

Naturally her situation worsened upon arriving at the airport. After putting up with all the invented indignities every passenger must before boarding a commercial flight, only at the departure gate did she learn equipment problems had grounded her plane. The schedule was such she’d need to remain in Las Vegas one more day.

Indeed, once more in hindsight, she should’ve pulled a Lucy Ricardo maneuver after all. Thus, Danielle’s continued presence in Las Vegas. One some of her fellow diners doubtlessly found entertaining.

In the end she asked her BFF the term for such a series of “calamities.” Danielle proposed it was destiny.

Her BFF didn’t miss a beat. Nor mince words. She answered, “No, Little Sister. It was fucked up.”