That morning, when the stranger came, Estelle was assembling a collage at one of the bar room tables. Only when she became emotionally maxed out with Lester and his drivel, would she remand herself to the upstairs crawlspace closet, size of an airplane toilet; while tears, hidden by the black olive oil waterfall of hair, cascaded down her cheeks. In that same closet, her paraclete, the olive oil and tears co-mingled, dripping off her bangs onto the collages, mixing with transparent matte and acrylic paints to give her pieces a highly sought after quality within that particular subcategory of art. Estelle's collages were highly favored throughout Eastern Europe where torn black and white smudged newsprint images were in high demand. In particular, they sold like hotcakes in her native Romania where she was regarded as a national treasure for the under represented. Estelle’s collages sold well in general throughout what had once been known as Eastern Bloc countries, where people were generally hard pressed to buy their weekly loaf of bread, let alone a collage; countries in which people drank shots of home-made liquor from rusty sardine cans then darned socks in the light of coal burning stoves. Estelle was famous in those places. People there bought her collages instead of potatoes, hanging them prominently on threadbare living room walls. Her paper was thought to hold magical power, bringing good fortune to the owner. Estelle's collages were more popular than national lottery tickets in fact. Wealthy gangsters from cities, such as Estelle's two cousins, the "sons of bitches" who burned Lester on his deal, traded her pieces like currency. They all felt Estelle spoke their language through the images she created, a language of shit and blood, using words impartial to man, and therefore words intolerable to hear by most, detestable to anyone who did not understand shit itself.
She cranked them out, packaged her work and Lester shipped them overseas. She left part of her proceeds in the bar's cash register at the end of each week. Lester said nothing, knowing full well where the money came from. Only because of Estelle's collage income was Lester able to pay off his note to the loan sharks month after month after month. The consolation for Estelle was simply to be present, bearing witness to every moment of Lester’s suffering.
Only on one occasion, on a day they would both remember, did Estelle’s frustration bubble to the surface and she said a few things out loud as opposed to whispering them:
“That’s all you do, Lester. Work this old bar. And look where it is: fucking TURDSVILLE. Not even in Altoona. Why did you buy this dump in the first place? Why the fuck why, Lester, you lamebrain dickhead!”
“You were the one that introduced me to those sons of bitches, Estelle, need I remind you? Those Romanian swindlers, those SON OF A BITCHS. You said they were your artsy fartsy friends and I could trust them. And I did. I explained to you what was to be. The bar was going to be the legacy I would leave my sons. I already explained all that. So now I’m here and I've had not word from either son in years. I have you, Estelle. You are all I have now. But I hold you personally responsible for all this. You know as well as I do that neither of us are going anywhere.”
On that day the truth came spilling out the cracks in the edifice, and Lester thought the day, “was just like Hoover dam had been attacked by Mothra,” and thereafter referred to the day as their Mothra-Versus-Hoover-Dam day. He’d say things to Estelle like, “We’re not going to have another one of our Mothra-Versus-Hoover-Dam days, are we? Boy, that was a real melt down bumper crop.”
“Your sons don’t speak with you,” Estelle had gone on to remind him on that ugly Mothra-Versus-Hoover-Dam day. “Your sons are living in Saschatchewan with their mother. Your dreams backfired, Lester. I’d say big time. You could have bought a place in the Florida Keys and they could have visited you there, not here, in this stopped up toilet of a dead-end shithole. They will never visit you here. Oh, but I'm sorry, I didn't mean to describe it as a shithole. What I meant to describe it as was a CRACKED PORCELAIN TOILET SITTING LOPSIDED IN THE MIDDLE OF A DEADEND BOULEVARD SUROUNDED BY NOTHING BUT ABANDONED FACTORIES ALL THE WAY TO THE HORIZON WITH CLOUDS LOOKING LIKE WET STINKING TOILET PAPER THAT’D BEEN WIPED ACROSS YOUR ASS TWO WEEKS BEFORE AND HUNG UP TO DRY, OR, NO, MAKE IT WIPED ACROSS YOUR ASS TWO YEARS BEFORE AND NOT HANGING BUT FALLING FROM THE SKY AND. . . STOPPING UP ALL THE TOILETS IN THE WORLD BECAUSE THAT’S WHAT YOU DO, LESTER. YOU STOP UP ALL THE TOILETS WITH YOUR STINKING TOILET PAPER. YOUR DUMPS ARE SO BIG AND STINKY THAT I HAVE TO GET THE PLUNGER OUT EVERY TIME YOU LEAVE THE RESTROOM AND I HAVE TO STAND THERE FOR TWENTY MINUTES PRAYING IT WILL ALL GO DOWN! PRAYING! AND I DON’T EVEN BELIEVE IN GOD: I’M THAT DESPERATE THAT I WOULD PRAY TO A GOD I DON'T BELEIVE IN!”
She let Lester have it with both barrels on Mothra-Versus-Hoover-Dam day and afterward none of what had been mentioned was ever mentioned again. Estelle internalized her thoughts from that point on, whispering them into the dark nights. When she did make the occasional offhand remark out loud, it would throw Lester into a tizzy.
The previous week, for instance, Lester had remarked, “Politicians have to be entertainers, both the right and left wingers. Liberals can’t admit they like taking vacations in Brazil with poor people changing their bed sheets. The status quo would be upset if they did that and the system would come tumbling down. And the right wingers have to keep saying keep those goddamn poor people out of our country all the while they are counting their money as well, same as the liberals. And the poor people are yelling at the top of their lungs yeah, keep the other poor people out and they go along with whoever is making them sweet talk. But its all entertainment. Nobody calls it that. They make it out to be serious endeavor.”
Estelle responded out loud. She couldn't help herself: “I don’t think that’s true, Lester.”
Estelle couldn’t care less what was true and what wasn’t. She had her own theories about how things worked and it wasn't like that at all. Lester wouldn't understand. Most people wouldn't understand. All she knew was that Lester had something of hers that she wanted back.
“Sometimes I think you disagree with me ON PURPOSE, Estelle!”
Lester shouted and pounded the bar with both hands. He didn’t like Estelle disagreeing with him. He didn't like anybody disagreeing with him. The only saving grace of living in the crawl space above the bar was that few people could disagree with him there. The customers were blind drunk and tended to agree with almost anything he said.
On the day the stranger arrived, when Estelle had been scissor butchering her January True Criminal magazine, Lester finally stopped talking about his entertainment philosophy and Estelle returned her attention to the little ad she had spotted.
“I just thought that was an interesting thing for an ad to say, interesting with a capital I, Lester, so I’m cutting it out for you. Only five ninety-five to get the booklet that would teach you how to make money from your angry impulses.”
“You said that already.”
“I just thought.”
“Maybe you shouldn’t think. Stick with your collages. They don’t require much thinking, it seems to me, just, what would you call it, impulsive decision making. Thinking is my department. I’m also head of the business department.”
“That you are, Les,” she said, then whispered. “And as a result we’re surrounded by nothing but opulence as far as the eye can see.”
“I heard that, Estelle. You wield your sarcasm like a straight razor slashing slashing slashing at my joog-u-ler, Estelle. You don’t think I notice? I do. I’m trying my best here. But you know what I think? I think you wouldn’t be with me unless you thought there was something to what I am trying to accomplish AND accomplishing it right before your very eyes. Am I right? Did I split the arrow?”
Estelle lowered her whisper down a notch so Lester wouldn't hear. “You know very well why I’m with you, Lester. You think I’d forget? Why even bother saying that? Just wait to see what I have in store for you, Lester Asster. I feel the tide is about to change.”
Lester’s place stunk of stale beer and ammonia that morning, more so than usual. He had scattered sawdust on the floor the night before when a man names Heffler, one of his best customers, urinated just under the bar. Lester hadn’t bothered to mop the area at the time but threw down a handful of saw dust at the base of the man’s stool. He had waited just in case Heffler had the urge to piss a second time as he sometimes did. Lester didn’t want to mop twice. Heffler lived under the bridge on the bar side of the Industrial Canal. The rest of the customers were what one might be called transients and drank nothing but his malt liquor because it was the cheapest alcohol Lester sold. When Heffler peed, everybody in the place had been yelling and slurring Heffler this and Heffler that, goading him until he took his pecker out and peed. They all cheered, drunk as spinning tops. The whole place ended up like it usually did by closing time, like an atomic bomb of crotch rot had exploded with everybody becoming enveloped in its fallout of sweat, stale beer and urine vapors.
Estelle stroked her newly cut-out severed limb as if it were a kitten and whispered with even greater urgency behind her bangs: “I think you’d be surprised what I don’t tell you, Les. You’d be surprised what thoughts are in this pretty little head. You’d be surprised, Lester Ass-ster Master ass, fuckin’ ass-HOLE, not just an ass but an ass HOLE out of which shit come squeezing like play dough through a plastic template for all the kids to ogle at with wonder then applaud thinking, oh, its chocolate time and spring had sprung in la-la land, sun’s coming up, cakes on the griddle and a nice big pile of brown play dough is laying there for us to play with I bet you didn’t know Milton Bradley or whatever company makes brown Play Dough? They don’t. But wait, what’s that smell? It’s Lester’s shit is what that smell is. The kids don’t know that. Only I know that. All is not what it seems, Lester. You have no idea what I do when you are asleep, where I go. It’s all driven by hate, the opposite of love. I hate you Lester, hate you with a capital H and a change is coming soon, real soon Lester, maybe even today.”