Volume II, Issue I Spring 2003

Last Night's Thong

Dan McClenaghan is a jazz journalist and hospital cook whose short stories  mostly involve Ruth and Ellis and friends. He is currently at work on a novel about cryogenics, resurrection and xenotransplantation.

Mona and Johanna stumbled through the side door into the kitchen, fifteen minutes late, bleary-eyed, with their previous evenining's bright come-hither make-up slightly blurred.

The old cook, Ellis Leahy, looked them over as he flipped some spuds on the grill, and he said, "Mornin', Sunshines. Did we go out drinking last night, trawling for low-rent men?"

"Bite me, Ellis," Mona said, fixing him with a red-eyed glare.

He'd brewed the coffee for them. The girls pushed by as he pulled a pan of biscuits out of the oven, and they staggered out the swinging doors toward that hot elixir, fixed up two steaming mugs for themselves and laced them each heavily with milk and sugar.

Ellis set his hot tray on the wooden butcher's table, cut two biscuits out, set each in an individual monkey dish, split them, slipped butter pats between the halves, and shuffled out of the kitchen to deliver warm morning treats to the girls.

They'd hunkered down with their coffee at table six, right outside the kitchen. Ellis slid the biscuits under their noses. "Oh man," Johanna said, with a hint of a hungover slur, as the steam from the biscuit tendriled up and caressed her face. "That smells so good!"

"Get the fuckin' honey, Ellis," Mona commanded.

"Since you asked so nicely, my darlin'," Ellis replied, "I guess I will."

Mona made an ugly face at his back as he went to do her bidding. Johanna gulped her coffee, and when Ellis bumped the jar of amber-colored wildflower honey down on the table between the girls, he said: "You don't mind my sayin' so, ladies, it looks to me like you both got yourselves rode hard last night, and put away wet."

Johanna, with a slug of buttery biscuit bulging in her cheek, a crumb of the same dropping onto her breast from the corner of her mouth, looked at the cook and said, "That is so crude."

And that," Mona added, setting her cup down with a shaky rattle in its saucer, "is so accurate."

Johanna, momentarily aghast at Mona's truth-telling, glared, with her cheeks aglow, across the table at her partner in the booty call game. "Shut up, girlfriend!" she said.

Ellis belly-laughed. Mona joined him to make a duet, and finally – as big fat Dan Lampro knocked on the front door to be let in for his breakfast – Johanna added her laughter to the mix, making it a three-part harmony.

     ~ ~ ~

About an hour into a medium tempo breakfast rush, Johanna, under the influence of four cups of coffee, had to pee. She banged through the swinging doors into the kitchen, slammed a tray of dirty dishes down by the deep sink and high-stepped it, dishwater blonde ponytail dancing, into the Loma Alta Cafe's little back-of-the-kitchen, one-seater bathroom. She was so close to having "an accident" that she didn't check the position of the toilet seat. It was up; and when her butt went down, it dropped deep into the slippery maw of cold porcelain, bun tips touching tainted water.

She exploded with a curse – a voiding of her lungs that reduced the circumference of her rib cage, causing her to slip a bit deeper. Then she tried to wriggle free; but the fit was tight, and she knew very quickly that she was going to need some help.

She had to scream to get any attention. Her bellowed curses dwelled in too low a frequency to penetrate the bathroom's door and carry over the kitchen clamor. But her shrieking – high in volume and pitch – would have pierced a wall of solid lead.

Ellis got the key from the nail in the storeroom, and he and Mona came to Johanna's rescue. Ellis unlocked the door, swung it in. Normally the door's edge would have cleared the front of the toilet by eight inches; but with Johanna sitting there like a giant upended hermit crab in a porcelain shell, it was only able to swing in a foot and a half before it bumped to a stop against a dangling ankle. And with no sense that it might be better to let Mona take a look first, Ellis stuck his head and shoulders through the opening and saw the missing-in-action waitress, folded in the middle, knees to her chest, shapely calves hanging toward the floor, with a tiny black thong spanning her ankles, like a half-assed cat's cradle; and with a characteristic lack of sensitivity, Ellis Leahy burst out laughing at the sight.

Johanna blushed tomoato red. She kicked and writhed; her thong stretched this way and that, like a rubber band, until it worked its way down off her foot and flew free.

Right at Ellis' face.

Like that split instant just before a car crash, time dilated. The thong – that was sailing near warp speed – appeared to Ellis Leahy to be moving in slow motion, with liquid twists and undulations, like a jelly fish a thousand feet below the surface of the sea. And in this time stretch he made the assumption that the black jelly fish (floating closer and closer) was last night's thong, an intimate article that had survived a hot and frisky foray into the sordid and lubricious. A bit of stringy cloth that was almost certainly harboring pecker tracks.

He bellowed wordlessly, a lugubrious drawn-out trombone note in the time distortion; and his hand – in seeming slow motion also – floated upward, with the intention of interception. A half a second too late. The thong drifted over the tops of his fingertips, and piled into two dimensions on Ellis Leahy's face.

Like a bursting bubble, the cook's perception popped back to straight time. He lurched out of the doorway, snatched the thong in his fist as it slid off his chin, and stumbled back, his foot coming down in the soapy water in the mop bucket Rosendo the dishwasher ahd just wheeled out. And he was off, careening across the kitchen on his unintentional skateboard, blasting through the swinging doors and going into a spin in the middle of the dining room, losing the thong as he fell.

The bucket sloshed out the propped-open front door into the parking lot; Ellis went down hard on his ass; and the thong arced back at the kitchen, as Johanna – freed from the toilet with Mona's assist – blasted out the swinging doors. She leaped high and jabbed her airborne underpants out of their flight, skidding to a stop upon her landing before she spun around to retreat to the privacy of the kitchen to put her thong back on, treating the stunned patrons of the Loma Alta Cafe to a brief and glorious view of her bare buns as her pleated thigh-length waitress dress flared high with her pirouette, prompting Clete Johnson, on table eight, to slip an extra ten bucks into the tip tray; a move that induced his better half, Juanita, to snatch that sawbuck back, along with the original two dollars he'd laid there.

The buns of Johanna – they would, due to this incident, take on a legendary status at the cafe – were a heavenly sight; but the girl was mortal; she put her thong on one leg at a time, just inside the swinging doors this day, getting herself snagged in its twisted webbing as she tried to slip her second foot through. And with the thong stretched tight between the knee of her grounded left leg and the knee-high entanglement of her right foot, she lost her balance, tilted and hopped back out the doors and tumbled ass over coffee pots on Ellis as he was sitting up from his fall.

The cafe's patrons gave a collective gasp at the brief rolling view of the entirety of Johanna's nether parts; and when old Clete got his eyeful he choked on the final bite of his English muffin, started hacking like a cat with a hairball problem, began to turn blue.

Juanita leaned in and started pounding him on the back, and when it became apparent that this wasn't going to work, she screamed for help as Clete bumped his chair back and staggered away from the table, hand clutching his throat. Johanna jumped up and danced around behind him and gave him four hard hugs of a Heimlich maneuver. The chunk of muffin popped free. Johanna had saved Clete Johnson's life; but it looked to Juanita like the girl – who had displayed herself shamelessly, twice – was humping her husband. She knocked her chair back, shouted out: "HOOTCHIE, LET GO OF MY MAN!"

Johanna released Clete. He dropped down to one knee, panting hard. Juanita glared at Johanna. Johanna glared right back, and asked: "Who do you think you're calling a hootchie?"

The ghosts of their tails lashed waves of static electricity into the air; there might have been a fight; but Ellis, still sitting on the floor, was struck funny by the scene he'd just watched unfold, and when he guffawed, the girls shifted their attention to him: Juanita's and Johanna's heads turned toward Ellis simultaneously, like two puppets controlled by the same string, and Johanna wanted to know: "What the fuck is so Goddamned funny?"

The cook clapped a hand over his mouth, gulped, mumbled, "Nothin'." But a smirk snuck around the fingers that covered his lips, and Johanna – with her black thong clinging to her right ankle now – stalked over and kicked him in the kidney; and Juanita lunged in and cuffed him hard on the head. Then they did it again, and when Ellis rolled to his hands and knees to crawl to ther kitchen, away from their assault, they followed him, continued the laying on of the feet and hands, a pummelling he could have avoided if he'd only remembered, earlier that day, to put the toilet seat back down after he'd peed.

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