On that momentous morning of the stranger’s arrival, Estelle had been assembling a collage on one of the bar room tables, her usual spot. Only when she became emotionally taxed with Lester and his drivel would she remand herself to the upstairs crawlspace closet, size of an airplane toilet, and allow her tears, usually hidden by the black olive oil waterfall of hair, to freely cascade down the side of her cheeks. The olive oil and tears co-mingled, dripping off the bangs directly onto her paper, melding with the transparent matte and acrylics imbuing those creations with a sought-after effect. Her torn and smudged newsprint images increased in demand significantly, lauded by artistic society and within the salons of Eastern Europe. Estelle’s collages sold like hotcakes in her native Romania where she was regarded as a national treasure.
She quickly became the artist for the under-represented. In terrains where people were hard put to purchase their weekly loaf of bread, her collages were purchased greedily; Estelle becoming quite famous in the those regions where people drank shots of home-made liquor from rusty sardine cans and darned their socks in the light of coal burning stoves. These people bought her collages instead of buying potatoes, hanging them prominently on threadbare living room walls. The paper she utilized was thought to hold enormous power in itself, bringing good fortune to the owner. Amongst “travelers,” for instance, Estelle's collages were more frequently acquired than national lottery tickets. Wealthy gangsters from cities, an example being Estelle's two cousins, the "sons of bitches" who burned Lester, traded individual works like currency. She spoke their language through the images, the language of shit and blood, her shapes and colors were “words” impartial to man, intolerable to hear for many, even detestable for anyone not understanding the true concept of shit.
Lester had begrudgingly allowed Estelle to quit waitressing and do collage full time. The truth was, he had to. She cranked them out and packaged them. Lester brought them to the post office for shipping overseas. She left a portion of the proceeds in the bar's cash register at the end of each week. Lester said nothing, knowing full well where the money was coming 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 and bear 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! We’re not even in Altoona. Why did you buy this dump in the first place, Lester? 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 the mess I’m in. 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 gates of hell. Lester remarked the day, had been “just like Hoover dam had been attacked by Mothra,” and thereafter referred to the day as Mothra-Versus-Hoover-Dam day. He’d say things 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 Saskatchewan 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. ER, NO, MAKE THAT 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: 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 HAVE TO STAND THERE FOR TWENTY MINUTES PRAYING IT WILL ALL GO DOWN! PRAYING! AND I’M AN ATHEIST. 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 to herself into the night. 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, for instance, can’t admit they like taking vacations to places like Brazil where people change their urine stained bed sheets then go back to their tin roof slum houses. The status quo would be upset if they admitted that and the system would come tumbling down. And the right wingers have to keep saying keep those goddamn poor people out of my country when they’re hiring those same poor people out their back door and are licking their fingers and counting their money the same way the liberals are counting their money. And the poor people themselves are yelling at the top of their lungs yeah, keep the other poor people out because we’re not the same poor people as they are and going along with whatever rich person is yelling and screaming the loudest pretending to be one of them. And it’s all entertainment and the entertainment industry is licking their fingers and counting their money as well, only it’s a bigger pile. But it’s all made out to be a serious problem-solving endeavor.”
Estelle responded out loud. She couldn't help herself. “I don’t think that’s true, Lester,” she said. She had her own theories about how things worked and didn’t think it was like that at all. Lester wouldn't understand her theory. Most people wouldn't. All she cared about was Lester had something she wanted back. What was true and what wasn’t true was irrelevant, as were either her theory or Lester’s.
“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 and working at the bar was that few people could disagree with him. His customers were blind drunk most of the time and tended to go along with all his theories.
“That’s a good one, Lester,” they’d say.
On the day the stranger arrived, while Estelle was scissor-butchering her January True Criminal magazine, Lester had finally stopped talking long enough about entertainment philosophy for Estelle to to return her attention to the little ad she had spotted and get a word in edge wise.
“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 impulsive decision making. Thinking is my department. I’m also head of the business department.”
“That you are, Les,” she said, and whispered, “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-yew-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 named 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 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 Lester’s malt liquor because it was the cheapest alcohol Lester sold. When Heffler peed, everybody in the place had been bellowing out Heffler this and Heffler that, goading him on until he took out his pecker. They all cheered, drunk as spinning tops. The whole place ended up like it usually did by closing time, as if an atomic bomb of crotch rot had exploded, enveloping everybody in the fallout of sweat, stale beer and urine vapor.
Estelle stroked her newly cut-out severed limbs as if they were cute little kittens and behind her bangs whispered with even greater urgency:
“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 and applaud thinking, oh, its chocolate time. 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, Lester. 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; and it’s all driven by hate, the opposite of love. I hate you Lester, hate you with a capital H. The change is coming soon, real soon Lester, maybe even later today, maybe even sometime between the hours of one to two pm . . .”