Monday, March 2, 2015

M.J. Iuppa - A Headache Killed Her

The first time I met Elba, she was standing behind a mahogany bar, opening a bottle of Chianti from Tuscany with a hand-held corkscrew. Deftly, that is in two moves, she flipped the corkscrew open like a jackknife, and without looking at the bottle’s neck, she plucked the cork and poured two glasses of red for table 28.
Elba was the wine mistress at Theo’s Fine Dining. A living Modigliani: long neck, dark brown eyes, hair pulled into a severe bun, and her lips stained red.  She rarely smiled.  Her thinness made everyone wonder.  The way she could slip through cracks of doors and slid along hallways without disturbing the air; except for the scent of her perfume lightly everywhere.  She was hypnotic.  
I was working as a cocktail waitress.  I know absurd because I didn’t know anything about liquor. On my first night, a couple of ‘q-tips’ sat at a corner table in the bar, listening to the piano player.  I asked them if they would like a cocktail.  The man said, “Yes, Bombay gin and tonic, lime on rocks.”  The woman said, “Presbyterian.”  I said, “So you don’t drink?” She said, “What?”  Then she looked at her husband with that oh-god-she’s-an-idiot-look. He said, with his head cocked slightly away from his wife as if he were telling me a secret, “No, it’s a cocktail: Bourbon, club soda and ginger ale.”  
“Oh, coming up.” I swiveled left and high heeled it over to the bar.
“Bombay Gin and Tonic with lime on rocks and a Presbyterian,” I called out. Elba nodded and in two blinks had the drinks set up on the bar.  She looked at me and gave me the close to the chest ‘hurry along’ hand signal.  I placed the glasses on my tray and took them over to the couple without sloshing a drop.  The man winked at me.  The wife pretended to be carried away by the night’s music.  I smiled at both of them like I was trying to locate a bad smell.
By the end of the night, I had 35 dollars in quarters, nickels and dimes, and sore feet.  I sat at the bar and listened to the waitresses chatter about their night.  Elba was mopping the bar with a clean white towel, listening too.  Then a slender guy wandered in.  The waitresses greeted him. 
“Hey there, Lamb,” they said.  “Here for last call?”  
Elba arched her right eyebrow. Frankie was a Theo bartender, who couldn’t work earlier, but was suddenly here at closing time.  
“Just in the neighborhood,” he said,” wondering if you’re going out for eggs? How ‘bout it, Elba, my Latina rose, you in?” 
Without saying a word, we knew she was going home. She had another headache. Lamb shrugged his shoulders, trying to act casual, like it was no big deal.  But I could see that it was.  Marilyn, Judy and Suzanne were so ready for eggs, they sang a chorus of “Yeah, let’s scramble,” and everyone left in separate cars.
Before Elba and I left the bar, I asked her about Lamb. “He is such a woof,” she said.  
“A woof?”
“Yes, a woof.” 
“But I think he likes you, right?” 
“Don’t make my headache worse, “she said, as we walked out to the parking lot.  Her red pinto was next to mine. 
“Well, Good night, Elba, thanks for everything.”
“No problem,” she said, opening her car door.  When the dome light clicked on, we both could see that there was a slender florist box sitting on her car seat.”
“Someone left you flowers,” I said, suspecting that it was Frankie. 
Elba pulled the box out of the still warm car and opened it slowly.  A dozen black roses with a note scrawled in black ink: You’re killing me. 
Without expression, Elba took the bundle of flowers and shook its papery petals all over parking lot, then dropped the stems back in the box and tossed it into the backseat.
“Not-a-chance,” she said. Then she rubbed her temple and closed her eyes.  “Killing him,” she muttered, “this is killing me.”
“Good night, Elba. . . feel better,” I said. 
Once inside of our cars, we both looked up at the three o’clock moon descending in the summer sky, then we gave each other a little wave good bye before we headed in opposite directions. 
Later came as a phone call: Elba never woke up.

M.J. Iuppa lives on a small farm near the shores of Lake Ontario.  Between Worlds is her most recent chapbook, featuring lyric essays, flash fiction and prose poems (Foothills Publishing, 2013). Recent poems, flash fictions, and essays in When Women Waken, Poppy Road Review, Wild: A Quarterly, Eunoia Review, Andrea Reads America, Canto, Grey Sparrow Journal, The Poetry Storehouse, Avocet, Right Hand Pointing, Tiny-lights, The Lake (U.K.), The Kentucky Review, and more.  She is the Writer-in-Residence and Director of the Visual and Performing Arts Minor Program at St. John Fisher College.  You can follow her musings on writing and creative sustainability on Red Rooster Farm on

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