“Out of the van!” yelled the cops, guns drawn.
Wide-eyed and hands up, Marc answered: “I swear! He said he was eighteen! Didn’t you? Didn’t you? Tell them!”
Meanwhile, in the desert, Monica posed next to a Joshua Tree while her girlfriends spread the blanket and popped the champagne and tapped weed into the bowl and, one of them, Sheila, squat-pissed behind a cactus that was playing a game of stick-em-up.
“Anyone ever notice,” began Joanne, as she was like to do, “that Mr. Murphy had a face like a weeping willow?” This betrayed that they had all been together since high school, excepting pissing-Sheila, whom the other girls tolerated for Monica’s sake, who had a bead on Sheila marrying her brother.
“Can I just say,” said Sheila, buttoning her Levi’s, “that this is one fucking-out-of-the-way place to have a shower?”
Monica said: “This bride-to-be is ready to get baked. Who’s with me?”
They sat around the blanket, Sheila plopped into the middle, and while Joyce got the pipe lit, Mirabel poured champagne into cups made from avocado pits.
Meanwhile, in Laguna, Mrs. Blancas listened on loop to Elaine Stritch belt “Ladies Who Lunch.”
“Does anyone still wear…a hat?” she asked along, clutching her gin fizz. She adjusted her turban in the mirror and spoke to herself: “My father used to tell me, he’d tell me, ‘Lolo, you better marry rich, because you are the laziest person I’ve ever encountered.’
“And one for Mahler!”
“Can you imagine he said that? To me?”
In the parking lot of Del Taco, Marc sat in the back of the cruiser. A cop was still questioning the boy that Marc thought was a man and he tried desperately to read their lips through the bulletproof window, the heat stifling him. He was caught off guard when the front passenger door opened and the other cop – the cute one, the one with the pencil mustache – got in. He handed Marc back his cell phone. “You might want to call someone. We’ll be heading to booking in just a few. Figure bond will be about ten.”
Marc showed his hands, cuffed behind his back. The cute cop sighed and got into the back with Marc and unlocked one of the cuffs so that it dangled like a gaudy bracelet from his left wrist. “Giorgio for Men?” asked Marc. The cute cop slammed the back door and left Marc alone.
Nothing. Not even voicemail. He dialed again. Nothing. He looked through his contacts.
In the desert, Sheila’s phone rang. Being she was in the middle of the blanket, everyone stopped as she looked at her phone. Monica said: “I can’t believe you get a signal.”
Sheila got up and walked toward the stick-em-up cactus.
“The fuck you want?”
“Sheila,” said Marc, “you with Monica?”
“What’s it to you, you fuck?”
“Sheila, listen, really, I need to talk to my sister. I’ve tried calling her but she doesn’t pick up.”
“You know, you’ve got a lot of nerve….”
“Sheila! Seriously! Now is not the time!”
She hung up.
“Fuck!” yelled Marc, enough that the cops and the boy who pretended to be a man turned to look.
Marc began to cry – not ugly-cry, but a single, dramatic tear – as he dialed once more.
Mrs. Blancas turned down the volume and picked up her princess phone.
“Yes?” Silence. “Yes, who is it?” she asked, looking in the mirror at that mole that ought to be removed.
“Hello, Mrs. Blancas.”
“Wait. Mom. Don’t hang up.”
Silence. Then: “What do you want, Marco?”
As he searched for words, Marc watched a family walk through the parking lot. The kids were devouring their tacos as they walked, the littlest one dripping salsa verde down his front.
“The tacos here really are delicious,” he said, wiping away the tear, the dangling cuff brushing his cheek.
“What?” asked Mrs. Blancas. “Marco, are you drunk?”
“I said: THE TACOS HERE REALLY ARE DELICOUS! THEY’RE JUST REALLY FUCKING DELICOUS! OKAY?”
“Oh, I can’t do this. Really, you’ve always been such a churl,” said Mrs. Blancas.
“Mom. Really. Please. Don’t hang up.”
“Do you remember,” asked Marc, “I broke my arm and you wouldn’t take me to the hospital, until finally I vomited on the dinner table and….”
“Your father was much too tolerant….”
“What has that have to do with….?”
“Someone had to be the heavy.”
“Yeah,” he said. “That was you all over.” Silence. “So, you’re not at Monica’s shower….”
“Sheesh. Are you kidding me? It’s in the Goddamned desert!” She huffed. “Now, what’s all this cockamamie talk about tacos? Marco, where are you? Marco? Good God, you’re not in Tijuana, are you….?
The back door opened and the cute cop stuck in his head.
“All set?” he asked.
“Who’s that?” asked Mrs. Blancas. “Marco, who are you with? I hear a voice….”
Marc took a breath. “Here’s the thing, Mrs. Blancas. I’m in a little bit of trouble and as much as it pains me to no-fucking-ends to ask: I, might, kind of, you know, need your help….”
But soon enough he understood it was too late. In her impatience to get answers, Mrs. Blancas had put down the phone to examine more closely her mole, this time with the magnifying glass, and then she readjusted the volume to ten so that the only response Marc received was Elaine Stritch screaming at him, full throat:
AAAAAAAAAAAAAiii’lll drink to that…..
J. Edward Kruft received his MFA in fiction writing from Brooklyn College, and has been a Best Small Fictions nominee. His stories have appeared or are forthcoming in several journals, includingJellyfish Review and MoonPark Review. His sister used to needle him with the same knock-knock “joke,” the one where the answer is banana over and over, until finally, the punchline is “orange…you glad I didn’t say banana?” He hated it immensely. He lives in Queens, NY and Sullivan County, NY with his husband, Mike, and their adopted Siberian Husky, Sasha.
His fictions can be found on his Web site: www.jedwardkruft.com
and he can be followed on twitter here: @jedwardkruft.