The Lady from Shang-Shang: Kilmanjaro, Chapter One

The olive oil Estelle poured over her head every morning to form the greasy waterfall of black hair was fittingly self-deprecating; but then, if you asked her, she'd say it was half self-deprecating. She'd point out she wasn't acting the whole time she was in the bar, only half-acting. For Estelle, everything that took place inside Lester’s bar, 'the show' she called it, was not entirely real, only half-real. So, it followed (Estelle had a logic all her own), that her act of hair-oiling was only half self-deprecating. And half self-deprecating suited her just fine.

As it turned out, the show ended up becoming something else entirely after Estelle discovered the red horn-rims. Someone had left the glasses on the bar one night. Who left them or where that person would have gotten hold of a pair that exquisite was anybody’s guess; and there’d been too many of the usual distractions, the slurring, eructations and shattering of beer mugs to even narrow it down. The bottom line was, for Estelle, their appearance was a gift from some drunken angel whom, she imagined, had swooped down like Tarzan, King of the Apes, and dropped them, inadvertently or not, for her to find.

She’d been mopping up a puddle of urine around one of the bar stools when she spotted the shades, wrapped around a crushed can of Schlitz, and right away threw a crumbled napkin over the top, feeling herself to be a secret agent at Checkpoint Charlie, sliver of microfilm embedded in a filling. Estelle had a rich imagination. She certainly didn't want to call that asshole Lester over to show him. He’d have "confiscated" the glasses, as he liked to say. Lester had been counting money at the time, straightening crumbled one dollar bills out on the side of his ancient cash register like he always did. She slipped them into her apron pocket and made a bee-line for the rest room, twirling once en route. She'd seen Sissy Spacek do a twirl in Coal Miner’s Daughter and it stuck in her head. Slipping inside the old toilet, and locking the flimsy door behind her, she clamped the glasses on over her already heavily olive-oil laden hair and they stuck fast: Red against black. Perfect. She turned and peered closely at herself in the grimy mirror over the sink. What she saw in the cracked reflection, was a visit to the Louvre itself; as if she'd flown all the way to Paris, France,  had been met at the airport by the dead General Charles De Gaulle, who then planted a big welcoming smacker on both cheeks before bequething to her the Légion d'Honneur. What a find, those horned rims had been. They turned out to be more than a little something to hold onto, the lone branch growing out the side of that sheer cliff face against which she'd been clinging since Lester had taken her thing. Those horned rims represented Hope with a capital H for Estelle. And Hope, at that point, was a necessary commodity for her to keep in her apron pocket, like some people hope for baby Jesus to meet them at the pearly gates and hand them an ice cream cone.

Estelle needed Hope exactly because of what Lester had done to her, what he had taken. She couldn’t leave the bar because of it, a kind of evil magic. She certainly couldn’t show anybody what she looked like in the new red horn rims, which contrasted perfectly against her trademark black waterfall of oil. Although this wasn't entirely true. If you pressed her Estelle would admit that she could still show the regulars: The piss-in-your-pants sterno-drinkers staggering through Lester's bar, (which he had cleverly named Lester's Place).

But what she wanted to do was to show her glasses off at the mall, not inside the dingy beer hall at the outskirts of town by the closed down factory. That’s ALL she wanted to do. Her needs were modest. But Lester didn't let her. He could have, as he possessed her thing. He was allowed to by the rules. But he didn't, and so Estelle stayed within the confines of the bar, where the thing was somewhere, twenty four seven. Slept upstairs and dreamed of the old days, when she'd been free to wander around the stores, levels one, two and three, taking both the up and the down escalators, wearing whatever she wanted, not those billowing brown and black one piece shit-ass ankle length smocks he brought back from the Salvation Army store.

Estelle was forced to keep her deep dark secrets, but played the good church mouse whenever Lester was lurking around. She had to: Estelle was biding her time. Lester was in for a surprise on day, a big one.

In her frustration, Estelle further imagined herself pulling out her hair follicles one by one, neurotically, as they called it in Lester’s Encyclopedia of Mental Illness, just about her favorite book of all time, although she’d never admit that to him. The truth of the matter was, even though she imagined herself doing so, Estelle would never actually pull hairs out; only real hair pulling nuts did that, not the intensely frustrated and imaginative people of her ilk. In Lester's book they called it Trichotillomania. Estelle loved ten dollar words like Trichotillomania and murmured them whenever Lester was out of earshot, sometimes in a little high pitched voice. She'd every now and then murmur a ten dollar word and at the same time fire off her imaginary pistol, pointing an index finger at Lester's head, flexing her thumb back and forth, and making the "Pih-chew, pih-chew" sound.

What she did do was use the spine of Lester's book to scrape at the mortar between the bricks of her prison cell. She scraped day after day, gradually digging deeper, forming an escape tunnel in her head, the book's spine equivalent to a toothbrush or teaspoon back in the days when prisons were places you could escape from, that is, if you were patient. Her digging with the book's spine, of course, was metaphoric. Estelle only had metaphors to dig with, no real teaspoons or toothbrushes; or she would have dug. She would have dug with a bobby pin if she had one and could have.

The fact of the matter was, Estelle could hardly move without her thing. Lester hid it. It was no life at all living with Lester in his dead end bar. "Fuck that Lester," she'd whisper over and over and grip her eyelids and roll her eyes up so only the whites showed. She couldn't see the effect but liked to imagine someone looking at her when she did that. Because he hid her thing, Estelle would remain an apparition to her fans, even if she somehow managed to get outside. They wouldn't be able to see her. She'd need her thing for that. In her mall days, she had her thing with her and plenty of fans. They were all still out there, somewhere. She knew that. They used to look at what she'd been wearing and go "oo" and "ahh." she'd turn and swing her purse and smack her gum, all that. The only fans she had now were the drunks in Lester's bar. She figured herself to be an apparition to them as well, an apparition in the throes of their delirium; she figured they probably didn't realize she existed at all.

'They possibly share some kind of collective delirium,' she conjectured in private, usually biting her fingernails, but hadn’t decided if she believed that to be true or not. At some point, Estelle decided being an apparition within someone else’s delirium wasn't all that bad. She was complex. But again, Estelle was just biding her time. Lester had it coming.

Kilmanjaro.jpg