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Deluxe by Robert J. Caporale



Chaos taken in small doses will sometimes turn in on itself, working like an antidote, soothing itself, becoming less terrifying, less complex. In time it may even make some sense. Not a perfect kind of sense, but a strange scary little kind of sense, where everything is the same but different.

A gilded theater darkens.

A black and white movie flickers.

Choppy numbers count down.

An askew panorama of a distorted desert at dusk.

Endless sand dunes edged in short dry scrub-brush.

Off in the distance a band of interstate sparkles with occasional blasts of flashing sunset off stainless steel or windshields of passing Lincolns and Diamond Reos.

Gathering clouds shadow across the sand low and fast in a stormy desert sky.

Out of the clouds a large silver disk spins and crashes, skidding along the sand, kicking up a wake of trailing dust that hangs in the dry air for a moment like table linen.

A tall girl with a big ass in a long tight dress grabs her head and screams good and loud.

Drippingly, red letters flash across the screen: INVASION OF THE UF...the film flips, flutters, stops, smokes and catches fire.

The house lights go up.

The projectionist uses a fire extinguisher on the reels, covering them in a white dust.

Pick up refunds or rain checks at the box office, the manager announces over the loudspeaker. Sorry for any inconvenience, she says.

Across from the movie house The Deluxe Coffee Shop is fixed between a fish store and a tailor.

There are three cream pies stacked in a rack on the marble counter under a glass dome. One of the pies is a fake pie, for display only. Two are real.

A young waitress with a buzz haircut leans on the counter over the daily stock report. She has a tattoo of a barcode on her wrist.

In the back, a short-order cook scrapes the grill, peers out and dreams about sliding his fat greasy hand up under the waitress' white dress.

There's a security guard with sideburns and longish teeth sitting at a table by the front window below an icy-blue neon "air-conditioned" sign; he's stirring a coffee.

The waitress looks up, wishing she owned a couple hundred shares of AOL, and catches the security guard peeking down her blouse. She smiles at him and wonders what it would be like to have the cook and the guard take her right there on the counter, wildly knocking the pies and sugar dispensers onto the stone floor.

A couple step out from under the marquee of the theater, glide across the hot boulevard and open the door to the cool coffee shop.

They sit at the counter. The man is wearing a narrow iridescent green tie, penny loafers and cuffed pants. The lady is heavy, with a pretty face and skin the color of copper sand along the soft shoulder of the desert highway.

She wears turquoise around her neck, wrists and waist.

The waitress pours them coffee.

The couple tell her about the fire.

Too bad, the waitress says. Good movie. Saw it last night.

Tell us about it, the lady says.

Really?

Sure, the man says. Why not, I think the movie's ruined.

OK then, the waitress shrugs. Where'd you leave off?

When the thing crashes and the girl screams, the lady tells her.

Oh, that's early, the waitress says, folding the stock report.

Wait. The security guard picks up his coffee. I want to hear, too, he says. I was planning on seeing that movie.

They all get comfortable at the counter.

The cook stomps through the swinging door from the kitchen, pours himself a coffee and joins them.

First of all, the waitress tells everyone, in the next scene this happens.

They all wait for the waitress to say or do something.

She just stands there.

What? the security guard finally says. What happens?

What just happened, the waitress tells him.

You're supposed to be telling us, the man says.

I am, the waitress insists.

I'm sorry, the lady interrupts. I'm confused.

They all smirk at each other.

I'm trying to tell you that this is what happens next in the movie, the waitress explains slowly and with hand gestures like they were slow and hard of hearing, because this is the movie. Don't you get it? she says. We're in the movie. We are the movie.

How ludicrous is that? the lady says and sweeps her hair behind her ear.

The man shakes his head.

Christ. The security guard picks up his coffee. If you didn't see the movie just say so, he says. Why waste our time?

The door opens behind them and a tall girl in a long tight dress tiptoes in, gently closing the door behind her. She squints and glances around.

Oh, my, God, the man whispers. See that girl? That's the girl from the movie.

Are you sure? the cook asks.

Oh, yeah, the lady says. That's her all right. I remember the dress. Watch, the waitress says. She's going to order milk and banana cream pie, then coconut cream pie.

The tall girl takes a stool at the far end of the counter and orders a glass of milk and a slice of the delicious-looking banana cream pie.

Sorry, the waitress tells her. The banana cream's fake, plastic.

I'll have the coconut cream, she says.

See. The waitress smiles. I told you. She cuts the tall girl a piece of the coconut cream and places it, along with a carton of milk and a straw, in front of her.

The tall girl picks up the fork, inspects it, glances at her reflection in the shine.

What's going on here? the man says. I don't like this.

Take me home, the lady says.

What does she do next? the cook wants to know.

She asks for directions, the waitress tells him. She's lost. That's when the security guard says his lines.

Lines? the security guard questions. I don't have any lines. Nobody gave me lines.

Sure you do, the waitress tells him. What do you think you've been saying all along? Get ready for your cue.

Cue? What are you talking about, cue?

The tall girl looks over and says, Could someone give me directions to the air force base, please? I'm a little lost.

The waitress nudges the security guard.

The security guard lifts himself up as though the gravity in The Deluxe Coffee Shop just thickened.

Everybody eyes-balls him, waits to see.

He clears his throat. How about if I draw you a map? he says.

That would be great, the tall girl tells him. I'm from the East. I'm visiting my father, Colonel Thomson.

The security guard pulls a napkin out of the holder, shrugs, sits down next to the girl and starts drawing a map on the napkin.

You're so nice for doing this, the tall girl tells him. It's hard when you're new in an area.

I bet. The security guard marks an X on the napkin. See here, he says. This is where we are now, The Deluxe Coffee Shop.

The tall girl glances at the X, takes a bite of the pie. Mmm, she purrs, excellent pie.

The security guard makes a square across from the X. This is the movie house here, he says. The Grand. He draws a long line. This is the boulevard, he tells her. When you leave here you go in this direction. He makes an arrow with a big circle at the end. You go all the way out, he tells her, until you run smack-dab into the desert. And you better get going. He taps his pencil in the middle of the circle. It will be dark soon, he tells her, you don't want to be in the desert after dark.

The man in the thin green tie drops two dollars on the counter and takes hold of the fat lady's arm, jiggling her turquoise bracelets. Come on, he tells her. It's time for us to exit right.


Robert J. Caporale lives in Northampton, Massachusetts, and has had stories published in Zuzu's Petals Quarterly, Lummox Journal and Lucid Moon, among others. He has recently completed his first short story collection.


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