Maude’s Cards and Humanity
Maude has sex dreams of Aaron Burr. Except he looks like Steve Buscemi, but she knows it is actually Aaron Burr. They lay in bed together with no shirts and very high thread count sheets up to their nipples and debate things like tantric sex, single-origin coffee, and the GDP.
Spontaneous human combustion.
At the café, when the patron who comes in daily and orders a cup of hot water with lemon and two packets of sugar, explodes, no one is sitting near him. Oh sure, bits of muscle and spatters of blood sully the clothing of the other customers, but there are no other fatalities or injuries. After the body (strands of it, chunks) is taken away, the café owner, Maude, decides the wall looks like art. She and her baristas are always trying to bring in local artists. Amateur watercolors of lakes and sunsets in Ikea frames never sell. Same with collages made from grocery receipts and dollar bills – some notion of anti-capitalism that never really sits well with Maude.
So Maude types out index cards:
Study in TNT
Café Luna Gallery
Opening night, March 14, 2016
People come after hours and want wine and beer and not tea and coffee and Maude realizes she does not know what goes into a gallery opening night. Artists are not the same. They expect more. But still, one man, in a beanie and a Members’ Only jacket wishes to purchase the art.
“I’m afraid it’s not for sale,” Maude tells him.
“Nonsense,” he says, dipping two fingers in his cappuccino and sucking the foam with his two front rabbit teeth. She thinks about it a while and two days later, jackhammers and workmen procured from outside Home Depot, removes a portion of the wall. The buyer comes in a pick-up truck and it takes two men and four women to haul it into the truck bed. The café now has a gaping hole in the side and when people drive by, they’d say: oh hey, that’s where that guy exploded.
After work, most days, Maude travels the thirty-one miles to Whispering Hollow, the home for those with dementia where she had stationed her mother the year before. Her mother, only 64, shuffles through a pack of cards with the dexterity of a Vegas card-shark, staring out the window. Regina, the nurse, kindly spoon-feeds her dinner while Maude eats tuna fish out of the can. Lovely seeing you, Sarah, her mother says when she leaves.
Maude’s pinky drifted through the green. You’re doing it wrong, said her sister, Sarah, who, at six knew how to manage such things as art.
Aaron Burr/Steve Buscemi is morally opposed to cuddling.
Sarah, Maude’s sister, was a fan of old samurai films, Zatoichi, Seven Samurai, and the like. She even had an antique samurai sword hung on display over her fireplace. She was an intern at an art museum. One night, after the museum had closed, a doddering docent turned out to be not so doddering and raped her three times under the accusing scribbles of Jackson Pollock. Sarah returned to the Modern Hall Gallery a week later and gutted herself with the samurai sword. She had also set fire to the Pollock and as her innards spilled, she reached for the painting causing her fingers to blister. This they could tell from the autopsy. The volcanic blisters were what Maude remembered when she identified the body.
A defective condom.
Maude pretends Mark is Aaron Burr. It makes the whole thing bearable. She’d been trying to make it bearable for a year now.
My inner demons.
A young man with a delicate blonde bun atop his head comes into the café with a large black portfolio under his arm. He asks to speak to the manager. Maude talks to him as he tells her of his craft and his calling. My Inner Demons, he says is the name of the collection as he pulls out print after print of ill-conceived Georgia O’Keefe reproductions.
Winking at old people.
She brings one of the not-O’Keefes to her mother’s that night. Tapes it up with masking tape. The following evening, Maude finds it under the bed with a photo of Maude when she was nine wearing a leotard and tap shoes. Also under the bed: a misshapen paper clip, a penny from 1958, an empty cigar box, a VHS tape of a film called Crimson Bat, and three socks. Doesn’t anyone clean the rooms in this place? When Maude leaves, she takes all of the under-bed findings with her. Two old men walk by her as she heads down the Laura Ashley hallway. They both wink at her. So she winks back.
In the car on the ride home, Maude curses herself for winking back.
Bread. Women. Beer. This is what Mark says when she tells him she might have something going on up there.
Not a yeast infection. The condom was defective, that Maude knows now.
Maude is sure he does not exist.
Genuine human connection.
The sister of the man who died in the café explosion comes in one day and orders a London Fog. At first, Maude doesn’t know who she is. She watches as the woman’s hand trembles as she pulls out a five dollar bill, notices the yellow-green dried stains at the wrists of her shirt. Snot, Maude knows. She understands that natural reaction of wiping away tears and snot and horror and sadness. She tells the woman the tea is on the house. The woman confesses that her brother was a vile man – a rapist – and that it’s just as well that he has blown up. Maude recalls the now-dead man and is surprised by the secrets behind tweed and sweet lemon water.
Riding off into the sunset.
Maude breaks it off with Mark. Resumes her nightly affair with Aaron Burr/Steve Buscemi. With herself, she understands.
The wonders of the Orient.
While flipping through six hundred channels, Maude stops on a subtitled Japanese film. She watches it to the end. Appreciates her sister’s tastes and wishes she could tell her.
Women in yogurt commercials.
While watching the movie, Maude develops a mad craving for yogurt with the fruit-at-the-bottom after watching Jamie Lee Curtis talk about the digestive benefits of yogurt during a commercial. Jamie looks so happy. Maude only wants to eat yogurt from then on. It’s all her stomach can handle.
A tiny horse.
Months later, the baby begins to kick. Maude feels as if a tiny horse is living in her abdomen. She pushes back. Eventually, the baby wins.
They ask Maude if she wants to eat it.
M. Night Shyamalan plot twist.
She says yes.
The invisible hand.
Maude takes the baby to see her mother. The old people don’t wink at her anymore. Instead, they stop her to pet the child on her softly tufted head or caress her cheeks. She has her mother’s eyes, they say. Yeah, she cries a lot, Maude says – seriously, but with a smile. Her mother stops shuffling the deck and begins to build a house made of cards. Maude’s daughter giggles with delight. Maude eats tuna from the can and watches as a ghost keeps the cards from falling.
Jennifer Fliss is a Seattle-based fiction and essay writer. Her work has appeared in PANK, The Rumpus, Pacifica Literary Review, Necessary Fiction, and elsewhere. She recently won the Fiction Southeast Hell’s Belles Short Fiction Prize. She can be found on Twitter at @JFlissCreative or via her website, www.jenniferflisscreative.com
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Image by Sharon Mollerus (Jackson Pollock, Free Form, 1946)