After a long silence, Lester said, “Stool is underrated.”
Estelle shrugged. She was tired of hearing his speculations. He went on.
“Just like I don’t want to hear about one’s religion or one’s sexual preferences, I certainly don’t want to hear about one's stool or that one passes stool every day. But there is no sense in denying the importance of one's gastrointestinal tract in all its aspects. And we're not just talking about taste buds here, which are featured on TV commercials and therefore permissible. No. I'm talking about Bowel Movements, capital B, capital M. And we don’t discuss bowel movements. Bowel movements are taboo. They’ll mention the word constipation on commercials but . . .”
Lester continued to drone on and on. Estelle listened to not a single word, only to the tone of his rumbling. Lester's rumbling, ascending and descending hill and dale, had a soothing quality to it. The morning in fact, had been a peaceful one up until the time the stranger arrived. Lester and her had been engaged in parallel play; Estelle with her cut outs, Lester with his money counting and promulgating, about as good as it got between the two of them.
Estelle turned Lester's ad, the one she had showed him previously, to the right ever so slightly and removed from her box the quilt bordered "describing my process" tear out she'd been saving just about for ever. She lowered it onto the paper in front of her, and as soon as she did, her hand shot up to her mouth. Estelle tittered like a Japanese schoolgirl: A perfect fit. Both borders ran together like water. She needed nothing more to complete the composition.
Immediately after the "describing my process" piece had been glued in place, the door of the bar was flung wide open.
Roddy Granger, married, two kids, mortgage, car loan, a titular counselor by profession (or, in modern vernacular, an investigative clerk for an insurance company), took one step into the bar and stood: The glare of stark sunlight streamed around his darkened silhouette as if Jesus had emerged from the tomb, post crucifixion day three , and was looking for action. The needle on the juke box careened off the 45 sounding as if somebody was holding a microphone up to a blackboard being raked by sharp fingernail extensions, the sound man amping up the reverb, knocking a dollop of squelch off his wooden spoon onto the whole kit and kaboodle. The Beach Boys Barbara Ann had been playing, Lester's “just about most favorite song of all time,” which for Estelle, was like having a live 110 AC power cord clipped to each ear lobe.
Estelle’s head turned at the same speed as the needle ripped across the juke box turntable. One of her bobby pins flung from her ample head of black olive oiled hair, making an audible tic on the linoleum floor. The bobby pin tumbled afterwards but the tumbling could not be heard as the bobby pin had been coated with a fine layer of molded plastic which muffled tumbling in general.
“He pushed through that door. Pushed,” Estelle whispered.
“Is this?” Roddy Granger began.
Never had anyone entered Lester’s Place enveloped in sunshine so early in the afternoon. All the bar's customers were still asleep at this hour. Right away, Lester didn’t like the looks of the man or how Estelle’s head had turned so suddenly to focus all her attention in his direction. He growled like a big bald Mastif, pausing in his money counting, which was very unusual in itself.
“I can tell you right now, we don’t want whatever it is you’re selling, stranger.”
“I’m not selling anything. I’m looking for a Lester.”
“No, you’re not. Because Lester doesn’t know you and you obviously don’t know him because Lester’s standing right where I’m standing. And getting back to the first-person: I’m Lester.”
“Ass-ster,” Estelle whispered and turned to examine the stranger. Her nostrils flared, opening and closing, opening and closing. He had appeared just as she envisioned he would.
At that moment, Lester said something somewhat interesting, but not all that much so.
“Estelle, don’t think that I can’t hear your whispers. I can. Your whispers are entertaining to me even though they are generally insulting. That’s why I don’t say anything. You seem to think your whispers are like thought bubbles, that I would go on my merry way oblivious to them, as if they comprised some aside in a play I know you have entitled Your-stinking-life-at-Lester’s dead-end-bar. Surprised? What, you don’t think I’m capable of thinking, you being Miss Eastern European abstract collage maker? That’s where you’re wrong. You judge me on appearances and have never gone beyond that. I’m a stereotype to you."
Lester turned to the stranger.
"I’m sorry, Mister, but there is no good time to talk about relationship issues. Generally people don’t. I’m too sleepy, or there’s always someone listening, like a funny looking stranger standing in the doorway, so we can’t talk. Excuses. Avoidance is what it is. People choose complacency over pain. That’s right. People not only don't deal with their issues but they refrain from talking out loud in the company of strangers for fear of being embarrassed. Not me. I’d bicker in front of Ann Landers, that premier gossip columnist, if an issue came up that I felt was worth bickering over. But you might say I was a natural bickerer and have that, shall we say, skill set.”
“Well, I’ll just take a quick draft then and be on my way.” Roddy Granger said.
For a moment he wondered if he had the right bar. The man didn't deny he was Lester, not too uncommon of a name, the very name Benson, his supervisor at Hellman’s Insurance, had written on the triplicated assignment sheet. Benson had said nothing about the bar’s seediness or that it was located in the middle of nowhere; only that Lester, the man who owned it, had put in a damage claim, insisting his bar had been attacked by a bear that came down from the mountains some time ago. There were "claw marks on the wall," he had written in his statement, which included snapshots. The whole thing was fishy: There were no mountains anywhere near that part of town, anywhere near town period.
In fact, there were claw marks on Lester's bar room wall. Lot's of them. Shortly after moving in, after the first night Estelle was forced to spend up in the crawlspace, they appeared, extending all the way from ceiling to floor. What ever made them gave the impression of being possessed of a personality with some anger management issues.
"Like some big old bear came crawling out of the canal looking for berries or something and just started clawing and clawing and clawing ," Lester said upon discovering the marks the next morning. "I'm filing a claim, Estelle."
"You go right ahead and do that, Lester."
She knew full well they would end up sending somebody out if Lester filed that claim.
And that somebody was now standing in the doorway: Roddy Granger. And as soon as Roddy Granger took one step through the door, out of the dull glare of sun, into the morose gloom of stark neon, he turned his head and saw the woman sitting at the table: Hair, jet black, glistening, wearing a pair of red horned rims like a female cousin It, with all these little bits of paper spread out in front of her. As soon as Roddy Ranger turned his gaze upon her, Roddy Granger thought, not thought, knew, "this woman is more than just a handful."
There was something else as well, a big something else. But Roddy Granger didn’t want to think about what that something else was exactly and clutched his church card tightly in his jacket pocket. The fact of the matter was, Roddy Granger knew the moment he walked through that door that he was about to be sorely tested. He was fresh out of Insurance Claim Investigation School and knew the day would come that he would be sent on his first assignment and that day came and here he was. Who would have thought he would be tested and tested sorely in a dive like this way out on some lonely industrial highway that lead to another industrial highway out of use for years, dead ending at a broken down power station by and abandoned factory, on the edge of a slimy oil slick garbage strewn canal.
“The plumbing fixture factory used to be right behind here, didn’t it?” Roddy Granger asked, making conversation.
Estelle immediately started to whisper: “No turning back. An irreversible falling into, a trap door opening, a drop from the gallows, the descent of the guillotine blade, as I fall backwards, arms outstretched, trusting . . .“
She projected what she whispered next in the direction of Roddy Granger: “. . . an enormous and unkempt black bush extending down both thighs.”
Estelle knew she had to pull out all her stops. She had just pulled one out, the sexual one, or as Lester called it, "the seshuwul one. " She would stop at nothing to get her thing back. "Here goes nothing," she whispered.
The fact of the matter was, from a different perspective, a more omniscient perspective, Estelle, by virtue of her manner and appearance and nothing else, stirred up shit in men. This particular man, this insurance claim investigator, whether it was due to the whisper directed in his direction intimating the unkempt-ness of a pubic bush, or the puddle of glistening olive oil at the base of the sultry cousin It-like woman's chair; this man became immediately enveloped in a tropical miasma of shallow concern, concern unfamiliar to him previously. For that reason he clutched his church card even harder to the point of almost bending it.
In the past, Roddy took a firm hold of his church card if challenged and was always careful, no matter what the circumstance, not to crinkle of bend it but simply clutch it, the talisman it represented for him, his symbol for a necessary mindset with which to go about his day. As he stood there after having taken one step inside the bar room door, he stroked the church card, stroked it deep in his pocket, as if it were some little furry rabbit, and as if he was the 'tard in the well thumbed and earmarked Steinbeck novel he so cherished; stroked it in a manner similar to Estelle stroking her cut outs of severed limbs just moments before he had walked through that bar room door.
Roddy Granger’s church card was by no means a rabbit but a square piece of rigid paper, a church card, just as Estelle’s cut outs weren’t kittens nor actual severed limbs: They were old black and white photographs of severed limbs taken at crime scenes, printed in her magazine.
“Drafts are two bucks, Stranger. Happy hour’s at five but its 1 pm so the drafts are two. Looks like you miss-timed your visit.”
Roddy Granger took a few steps forward and fished inside his other pocket to pull out and place two crumbled dollar bills on the bar top. He liked it that Lester called him “stranger.” Being a full-time clerk, even though he technically was an investigator now, he was way already well outside his comfort zone. He knew he had to be careful with any inclination of “liking it” though, having learned from his psychiatrist that he could get his head all bunched up in a fantasy land of sorts just like his underwear could get bunched up his ass crack. The last place Roddy Granger needed to be was bunched up in the ass crack of some fantasy land, either within his office cubicle or out there on assignment inside some desolate industrial highway gin joint searching for signs of insurance fraud.
As this was his very first field assignment, Roddy Granger didn’t want to blow it. He had to be cool, real cool. He was finally living it, living the dream, investigating a place on the edge of town in more ways than one. And so wrapped up was he in the dark dripping ambience of the bar's interior that he momentarily forgot all about his wife and children, forgot about them completely. He was living his dream, a dream meant only for him, one that he felt in his heart of hearts he deserved. And taking one look at that woman, that woman surrounded by all her clippings, he knew he was in the right place.
“And knew it good,” Roddy Granger whispered. Roddy Granger had a way of narrating his own life.
“What was that?” Lester asked, cocking his head. “Another fucking whisperer? What did I just get through saying? I can hear whispers. My hearing is like a bat responding to pings in the night. Goddamn Sonar used to be my moniker in the Navy. and there was a reason for that. Stranger, I could hear Estelle’s bobby pin drop on the floor when you walked through that door, right after Barbara Ann stopped playing. Stranger, could it be that you are as bad as her in the whispering department, like two peas in some freak show of a pod!?”