April 2, 2008

Francis and Cynthia

The decapitated cat’s head fell hard to the floor. Its furry skin split from the impact, like a grapefruit dropped from a rooftop to pavement. The veterinary lab assistant (who is now out on her ass, jobless, and embarrassed) dropped the head in the waiting room of the vet’s office where she had been employed for only three months. She’d been instructed to take the box through the back door, but didn’t because she wanted to see Rob, the rockstar-skinny heartthrob who sat behind the front desk, and perhaps more importantly, wanted him to see her newly-blond hair. She wanted to trace Rob’s defined, stubbly jaw with her tongue.

This was what caused Cynthia and Francis to meet for the first time. Cynthia Lauren, 43, single/content, had been there to see if they couldn’t do something about her gray tabby Linen’s leaky nose. Francis Granger, 25, single/desperate, had been there in an attempt to find a date (the bar scene just wasn’t working for him).

“Shit,” the lab assistant said, “shit, shit.”

The head slid over the linoleum and stopped at Cynthia’s feet. She screamed and kicked it in the left eye. It squirted white goop and blood and flew to the other side of the room.

“Shit, shit.”

Cynthia stood up. She was not going to trust Linen to these people. Incompetence gave her heartburn. So did pizza, but Dr. Zdeblick gave her the purple pill called Nexium. She hugged Linen, 8, morose/bitchy, to her chest and walked out of the office into the humid Memphis air. She wanted a drink. Francis, who wanted her drunk, was quick behind her. He threw the Highlights magazine onto the table as he bounded out of the door. He had found the cookie, Santa’s hat, the bow, and the candy cane but had yet to find the gingerbread house and the menorah (it was the holiday issue).

“Hey, miss!” he yelled after her as he pulled a five-dollar bill out of his pocket. “You dropped this. Hey!”

Cynthia put Linen into the cat-carrier in the backseat of her open car. She turned around to see Francis slow to a confident stride.

“This fell out of your pocket.”

“What?” she said, closing the door. “Well I don’t see how that’s possible.”

“Why not?”

“Well, this dress doesn’t have any.”


“Pockets. I don’t have any pockets.”

They both stood there for a moment.

Francis took a step closer, winked, and said, “Caught me,” as he attempted to insert the bill into Cynthia’s cleavage. She stared at him in shock as he tried to get the bill to slide smoothly in between her breasts. Cynthia had no idea what to do so she did what seemed most appropriate and kicked him in the shin.

“Ow,” he yelped as he fell onto the hot pavement, his voice raising half an octave. He looked up at her, squinting, with a confused look on his face. She still didn’t know what to say so she simply turned around and walked to her car. Francis got up and ran after her.

“Hey, wait up, I’m sorry, hey!” he said.

Cynthia stopped abruptly and turned around to face him.

“What did you just…I mean, why did you…who are you?” she demanded.

“I’m sorry, I — I just thought you were pretty. Pretty like an angel.” Francis took some Chapstick out of his pocket but before he could apply it, Cynthia kicked him again and he fell, again, to the pavement. She got into her car, a green Toyota Avalon, and drove away.

Francis lay on the ground and let out a “Wait!” but she didn’t stop. He noticed a pair of confused children standing on the sidewalk, eating stringcheese and Butterfingers.

“You guys wanna see something cool?” he asked. They nodded. Francis then ran in a circle on the ground, like Donald O’Connor in Singing in the Rain. They weren’t impressed and walked away, leaving peanut-buttery crumbs and a depressed Francis Granger behind them.

“Make ‘em laugh,” he said to the concrete.

Reuven Perlman

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