Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Jimmy and the Missus

“Jimmy! Take a picture of that!”

The Missus had a voice to set the world on edge; a grating sound day-old coffee might make, if it could. She and Jimmy had stopped at Eaton Street, in downtown Key West, in the midst of a stroll past the bars and boutiques along Duval Street.

“Take a picture, Jimmy!” The Missus said. It was more command than request.

She was an itty bitty woman, for such a voice, of a height to confound those signs at amusement parks that read, ‘You must be this tall to ride this ride’, and if she ever had weighed more than ninety pounds, it couldn’t have been for more than fifteen minutes. The Missus compensated for her lack of stature by wrapping herself in garments that demanded attention.

An over-sized shirt, banana yellow, hung to mid-thigh, all but covering lemon Capri pants. Gold jewelry dripped from her ears and fingers, and her face was almost hidden by a pair of bronzed sunglasses. The ensemble was completed by straw sandals and a visor as lemon-yellow as her pants. A canvas purse, salt-white to match her lacquered hair, hung from her right shoulder and looked to weigh as much as she did.

“Picture of what?” Jimmy asked.

He wasn’t much taller than The Missus and it was clear he never skipped a meal. Meaty arms and heavy-hammed legs. Stubby sausage fingers. A melon belly, round and firm enough to bounce him back upon his feet, should he fall.

His head was covered by a Panama hat and his eyes were hidden by ink-dark shades clipped onto prescription lens. His outfit was as bright as hers, but less coordinated. Kelly green shorts. Lime green plastic sandals and white athletic socks. An islands shirt, orange as the sunset seen from Mallory Square and covered with pink flamingos in such contortions you could almost hear the Red Queen shouting.

“The silver man, Jimmy,” The Missus said. She was pointing now, commanding her army of one. “The fellow that looks like a statue!”

Jimmy followed orders; he brought one of those little digital cameras up to his eye and pointed it toward the nearby street performer. The silver man struck a statuesque pose, hoping for a large tip, no doubt.

After the Kodak moment, The Missus jerked Jimmy’s hands toward her, inspecting the image he had captured. She nodded acceptance and they resumed their stroll. The rest of him didn’t move, but the silver man’s eyes followed them, pleading. No luck. Jimmy’s thick hands were full of camera and The Missus didn’t even glance toward her purse.

“Jimmy, do you suppose we should look for Tom and Doreen?” she said. “Tom has the car keys.” Jimmy sighed, as he slipped the camera into his pocket.

“They ain’t going to leave us,” he said. “Besides, it’s only been twenty minutes.”

“But what if something happens to them?”

“Like what?”

“God only knows! What if Tom has too many beers and picks a fight; you know how he is when he drinks.”

“You just got to think of troubles.”

“Well, you never do! What if something happens to one of them? What if we’re stuck here because Tom goes to jail or Doreen winds up in the hospital? Have you thought of that?”

If he had, he didn’t say. Instead, he stopped outside one of the tee-shirt shops that seem to sprout on Duval Street, between all the bars, like weeds blown over from the neighbor’s lawn. One stubby finger tapped against the glass.

“Lookee there! Don’t that beat all!”

The window was filled with white tees imprinted with bumper-sticker humor. I’m 18 years old—with 40 years experience. Look at my face because my tits are blind. My liver doesn’t love me anymore. And the one every shop carried, the one city officials wished wasn’t on display anywhere, because it was close enough to the truth to be painful. I got Duval-faced on Shit Street. The Missus grimaced.

“Jimmy, you can’t buy one of those! If you do, it goes right into the trash when we get home!” Jimmy tilted his head and glanced at her from the corner of his eye.

“Didn’t plan to,” he said. “But I can look, can’t I?” She sniffed, as if to determine if the scent of her disapproval was strong enough.

“That’s all you better do, Mister!”

“Listen here, Missus,” he said. He was looking at her full-on now. “You’re the one needed to see Key West. You’re the one wanted to drive all the way down here from Orlando. You’re the one that had to have Tom and Doreen come along, and made Tom rent that gas-guzzler. Just you remember that.”

His voice never rose, but the pink in her cheeks did. He turned back to the window and they stood in silence for a time. At last, she lifted one sculpted fingernail to the glass.

“That one is funny, isn’t it?” she said.

The bitter-coffee whine was more palatable, sugared and creamed by whatever had flowed between them. Jimmy nodded; he tapped the plate glass once more.

“Yep,” he said. “And that one there makes me laugh, too.” She snickered and clasped her hands between her breasts, as if to offer up a prayer.

“Oh, yes! Take a picture of that, Jimmy,” she said. “Take a picture!”