KILMANJARO, CHAPTER TWO: ESTELLE AND HER HOBBY CACHE

Estelle knew in her heart of hearts the whole chain of events had been a fluke; from the impulse to pour olive oil over the top of her head leading to a further decision, moments later, of combing her hair straight down, allowing for a near Cousin-It look.  Then, as soon as she placed those plastic red horned rims over her heavily olive oiled face, that they didn't come sliding straight off onto the floor was remarkable. On the contrary, they held fast. And it wasn’t Magic that held them there; it was Science: Science with a capital S.

Estelle didn't want to know anything about Science, whether spelled with capital or lower case s. Lester might have been able to explain why the glasses stayed on: He claimed to represent a “repository of knowledge.” To some extent he did, although under her breath Estelle called him "the suppository of knowledge," and for that reason wasn’t about to ask him for explanations of any sort, knowing she'd have to deal with him lording the knowledge from one end of the bar to the other like Napoleon at Austerlitz.

The bottom line was: Her red horned rims stuck against her head. Estelle didn't give a rat's ass why.

“You look like some greasy old waterfall,” was Lester’s only comment when she emerged from the rest room that first night, after the oil treatment.

“Isn’t that stating the obvious, Lester? And why would you state the obvious when you could just guess?”

“Guess what? That doesn’t make sense, guess. I don’t know what you are talking about, Estelle.”

“I know you don’t know, Lester.”

Estelle knew a few things Lester didn't. For one, her olive oiled bangs covered two galaxy shaped clusters of maroon freckles on either cheek. An old woman had lived in Estelle's childhood neighborhood used to call her “the little witch,” and spat betel juice on the ground whenever the little girl walked past her front porch. The old hag further took to waiting by Estelle's mailbox each and every day, so as to follow her to and from school. This, in turn, offered her what she considered a welcome opportunity to shake a knarled finger in Estelle's direction, cross and recross herself, while sputtering  curse after curse. The woman, a devout Pentecostal, felt bound to the task: Any form of display was an abomination, and in Estelle's case, the freckle clusters glowed a less-than-God-like orange.

“Something’s not right with the child. She carries the sign,” the old woman informed members of her congregation. After she made this announcement, there arose a great hubbub from those present, with many writhing on their backs as if in the process of being electrocuted, speaking in voices seldom heard since ancient astronauts roamed the Earth.

By age seven, Estelle had already decided to live the life of a rebel on top of what was already not right about her in the natural sense. "Living the life of a rebel" signified something different to different people: To Estelle, it meant wielding a teaspoon of magic whenever it struck her fancy. As it happened, the old hag was killed by a dump truck, which for no apparent reason, careened up onto the sidewalk one day after Estelle had passed the woman's mailbox. The old hag had been in a particularly bad mood the day previous, her curses unnecessarily vehement. On top of that, Estelle's art teacher, Ms. Pledgefeather, had showed the class how to make collage for the first time. Estelle had been beside herself with possibility and started snipping out things as soon as she got home. The next morning,when the hag started to bluster, Estelle felt peeved that an otherwise wonderful day would be soiled by this old woman's negativity. The truck pinned her against one of the neighborhood's sturdy tarred telephone poles, her legs dropping almost on impact onto the pavement beneath. At the time, two dull thumps had been reportedly heard by Mrs. Stillsbury next door; she likened it to the sound her hamhocks made when delivered onto her back porch by the local butcher. Even though the woman had been divided in half, the truck's engine more or less cauterized her major blood vessels allowing her time enough to raise a knarled finger in the direction of the child one last time; Estelle by then was skipping into the next block, thrilled to be going to school unimpeded, head filled with a myriad of ideas for collage and photo manipulation fun.

At least as far as Estelle's "look" went, she was satisfied with that for the time being, and didn't take it any further. She didn't use the Extra Virgin oil in any case, just the Plain, cheap stuff stored in metal two-gallon containers, pressed from olives possibly stolen off the back of a truck parked at a Palermo gas station while the driver had been taking a leak. Lester agreed on buying her that particular brand whenever he made his weekly trip to the Piggly Wiggly. He had softened over the years when it came to Estelle's personal needs although this was no consolation for her; in fact, it made her even more angry, an adding insult to injury kind of thing, and contributed to what ultimately happened in the course of what she called "Lester's final moment of truth."

The practical reason Estelle poured the olive oil over the top of her head was so Lester wouldn’t want to touch her. She knew there was one thing that gave Lester a major case of the heebie-jeebies: Getting grease on his hands. Whenever he did, he’d spend an inordinate amount of time in front of the washroom sink, a jumbo sized squeeze bottle of detergent in one hand, toothbrush in the other. He'd scrub and scrub and scrub, like some old crazy man locked away in an insane asylum, usually until his hands bled.

The odd thing was, the phrase “Kitschy Cousin It” had fluttered into Estelle's head, a leaf through the kitchen window, on the morning of her finding the pair of red horned rims. Estelle got premonitions all the time. She had them with her collages too, envisioning a pattern or cut out before actually running across the shape in what she called "one of her many boxes of possibilities."

Estelle had one of her "prems" before the arrival of the stranger too, glimpsing his silhouette inside the bar room door, light from the parking lot streaming in all around him, as if he was post crucifixion, day three, having just busted from the tomb and was looking to have a cold one. She knew what it meant right away and tried her best to conceal her unbridled joy and lust for vengeance.

As soon as Estelle put on the horned rims and had stood in front of that grimy rest room mirror, parting her hair no more than a few millimeters to the left, just enough to see out one eye, she suspected something was going to change. Because of that, she wore them constantly; even kept the glasses on while assembling her collages although as light in the dingy bar was scarce, had to pop both lenses out.

As mysterious as any of that had been, on the day the stranger physically appeared, bizarre circumstances and conversations ensued commencing with Estelle vaguely brushing the index finger of her left hand against her olive oiled hair, and using it's adherent properties to turn the many times molested page of her January True Criminal magazine. She was perusing her two favorite sections, Forensic Cases and Ads, liberally employing her fine control scissors plucked from her “hobby cache,” one of Lester’s old cigarillo boxes sequined to look over-the-top-tacky. She cut out all the severed limbs she could find from their black and white crime scene photos and laid them down inside an old shoe box painted black on the outside, white on the inside, her "no tellin’ when” box.

Lester was speaking out loud at that point, so loud that the bottles of booze on the glass shelf behind him started rattling. Lester normally spoke a whole lot of nothing as far as Estelle was concerned and when he did that, she usually took to whispering. Estelle called that specific kind of whispering her “describing my process whispering.” She had torn that very phrase, “describing my process,” out of a vintage craft magazine, and kept it, always thinking how remarkably funny it was and stone cold perfect in that the typography had been quilted. She’d been saving that one little scrap for just the right collage, trying it out on every one of them: Laying it, turning it, flipping it, each time having to return it back to her "no tellin’ when" box, disappointed. The quilted quote had to fit, and fit exactly were she to use it at all.

After cutting out the last traumatically amputated foot of the forensic series, Estelle whispered to herself: “I just love sifting through my little cut out boxes looking for those special somethings. And when I spot one, I'll plunk it down, grab a second one, scoot that one up against the first, lift the first, veer it, press it, twist the second just a skosh, torque the first a mere titch, and presto change-oh, we're living on South Beach, all zinc oxide and shuffleboard."

As soon as these words left her lips, what amounted to an incantation, Estelle spotted an ad she hadn't noticed before, encased in the cheap ornate swirl and in doing so, raised her hand up in front of her mouth like a Japanese schoolgirl. Estelle wasn’t a Japanese schoolgirl by a long shot but had once seen in an old National Geographic, pictures of giggling Japanese schoolgirls and had been right away enthralled and became to some degree obsessed, not only with Japanese schoolgirl tittering but the postures they assumed while tittering. She massacred, as she liked to call it, that particular issue of Nat Geo, removing all the schoolgirl hands, their tittering open-mouths, tittering eyes and portions of their tittering school girl uniforms. She created a hobby within a hobby on that day: A collection of images for one, as well as a desire to emulate Japanese school girl postures, especially the tittering-behind-a-flattened-hand pose.

She tapped the ad and flapped the paper at Lester.

“Les. This one says here you can make money from your angry impulses. Only five ninety-five for the introductory booklet. ‘Turn your displaced anger into profit,’ it says. I thought that was an interesting headline.”

“It’s not really a headline, is it, Estelle?”

“Well, Lester, then maybe what I meant to say was, it’s more like an interesting title for an ad.”

“OK. That’s more like it. Be specific, Estelle. Whether it’s a line of typeset or a line of . . I don’t know, trains or something, it’s entertainment is what it is, entertainment with a capital E.”

She’d heard Lester talk about his theory of entertainment before. He’d talk about it every day, usually at night when they were both laying in bed and she was trying to sleep. When he started in on that, she’s take her two pillows, press them as tight as she could either side of her head until she could barely hear his droning: Lester saw all human activity as boiling down to entertainment. Lofty Constitutional change, Nobel Prize winning research or creation of great art in whatever form were the same as whittling a stick of hickory to Lester, a means of passing time. Estelle didn’t necessarily disagree with that but didn’t care one way or the other. At bedtime, only buzzing was generally present in Estelle's head, buzzing like a hive of honey bees or white noise from outer space. That's all there was and that's all she wanted to hear, certainly none of Lester's half-baked theories. Estelle thought Lester was a bit too militant about this theory of entertainment anyway, to the point of being close minded.

But she never told Lester that. She never told Lester a lot of things. For one, she couldn’t. Not until she got her paint brush back.

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