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Grey Sparrow Journal

Issue 30, July 31, 2017
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Friday Night


by Riley H. Welcker


 

Giorgio slapped his neck and cheeks with Safari cologne and pushed the Ralph Lauren bottle against the wallboard of the bathroom sink, where it clung for mercy. The bathroom choked with the overpowering scent of citrus. Oranges or lemons? Does it matter? The fact is he smelled like a Spanish orchard. He ran his fingers through his thinning, curly black hair once and then twice, and turned his head from side to side. He ignored his bulbous nose, the striking and most prominent feature of his face, mimicked a kiss, and smiled. He straightened his green polo shirt which wouldn’t stop bunching up around his bulging pecks and biceps. The polo player straightened on his horse, his club held high. Tonight, Giorgio was going to smash a skier, a real humdinger. It was going to be an unforgettable date. He slipped on his WeWood Date Watch, shook his wrist and ran his fingers between his hips and his leather belt, adjusting his jeans.


“Giorgio, what is taking you so long? The girls are waiting.” Mendez emerged on the open doorway, coughed, and stepped backward.


Giorgio smelled his arm pit. “I forgot deodorant.”


“Deodorant? You’ve taken a bath in it.”


Giorgio opened the bathroom mirror, removed an Old Spice Sport stick, crammed it into his pits, leaned into the sink as he hastily returned it to the mirror cupboard, and suddenly jumped back. He looked down. Water from a small pool on the sink had seeped into his pant leg precariously close to his zipper. “Oh. Not good.”


“What is it now?” Mendez asked, through his elbow.


Giorgio began to rub furiously at his pant leg with a wet towel. “Tell the women to wait.”


Mendez laughed.


“Tell them I’ll be right there.”


Mendez walked out and coughed between laughs.


“And don’t tell them why,” Giorgio shouted around his shoulder. He scrubbed his pants until the blot faded to a lighter blue, but still considerably darker than the rest of his pants. Giorgio calculated it was good enough, wrenched the towel over the towel rack, and studied his five-foot-six-inch frame in the mirror at one last glance.


Dust particles wandered aimlessly through a beam of late sunlight that struck the middle of the floor as Giorgio emerged on the main room. A blue vacuum was still parked in the entry. The kitchen counters were clean; the sink, sprouting dishes. One cupboard door hung open.


Mendez, half hidden in the haze, was sitting on the couch across from their two dates: Tiffany and Topeka. The girls were talking to each other. Mendez sat with his shoulders curled and his hands squeezed between his knees. When Giorgio entered, he stood up quickly. Tiffany and Topeka both looked up and rose to their feet. They were dressed like twins, only they weren’t twins. Both wore tight jeans, tall boots, and blouses.


They were beautiful.


Tiffany was blond, and her hair hung in loose curls. She was thin and taller than Giorgio by two inches. She wore a gold bracelet on her wrist and smelled of lavender. Topeka, on the other hand, had long black hair and olive skin and her silver earrings dangled and glinted like fishing lures. She was too dark to be white and too white to be dark and neither enough of both to be considered either. She was white in the winter and brown in the summer and had an awfully envious tan during spring and fall. She had the kind of outdoor color that girls turn orange for and the kind of indoor color the orange girls can’t get back.


“I’ll be right there.” Giorgio waved. He drove the vacuum to the closet door, rounded the kitchen counter, tossed a cup from the table at the sink, and smacked the cupboard door shut. It didn’t move. He pushed. It resisted. “What do you want to do tonight?” he asked, investigating the reason it wouldn’t close.


Tiffany’s hips swayed as she scooted between the living room furniture and plunged onto the wood stool at the kitchen counter separating the kitchen from the living room. Topeka remained standing in the middle of the living room beside the coffee table and glanced back at Mendez who was standing awkwardly with his hands in his pockets.


Giorgio pushed at a corrugated can bulging from the lip of the cupboard, but it wouldn’t budge. He pushed it harder. Something popped, and the silver can slid backward. Satisfied, he closed the door. Under his armpit, between the counter and the kitchen cupboards, he caught a glimpse of Tiffany’s face. She was leaning forward with her hands crossed and her forearms pressed into the counter. Giorgio noticed that her skin had a strange orange tint to it.


“I thought you had that planned,” Tiffany said.


Giorgio re-rounded the counter and faced the three of them. Mendez looked at Giorgio for reassurance. His eyes widened and bulged. Mendez’s first name was Carlos, but Giorgio never called him that. Giorgio claimed it wasn’t as exotic as Mendez and said that women would go for a guy named Mendez long before they would for a guy named Carlos. Mendez was twenty-six, but he looked like he was eighteen. Giorgio, on the other hand, was eighteen but could pass for twenty-one, a fact he felt made him even more exotic. Mendez had a strong accent. Giorgio said it was the kind of accent women go for so long as you use it right. You have to make yourself sound exotic or a girl isn’t going to go for you. Mendez arrived in El Paso two years ago when his parents immigrated to Texas from Chihuahua, trying like many people to escape the crime in Juarez. Giorgio’s name wasn’t Giorgio either; it was George.


Giorgio and Mendez were roommates, and cooking, among other things, was a constant source of argument.


They usually argued about this when it was Giorgio’s turn to cook. Giorgio didn’t like to cook and never learned how, but he was not about to admit that to Mendez. The ability to cook made you exotic, and Giorgio knew more about cooking than anyone. He claimed that his knowhow gave him the authority to command Mendez to do the cooking, which would predictably drag Mendez into a protest over ridiculously erroneous logic. But this didn’t change anything; and in the end, Mendez would toss his hands in the air, drop a grease-filmed pan on the stove, and declare himself la sirvienta.


Occasionally, after dinner, Mendez would reflect on his life in Juarez and Giorgio would silently start the dishes so as not to interrupt him and listen to Mendez recount stories with a far off look, such as how they had to take the battery out of their car at night or they wouldn’t find their car in the morning.


Giorgio and Mendez both thought of themselves as cowboys and argued which was the more cowboy. Mendez considered himself a cowboy for working en los huertos nogales during the summer with his father and achieving good grades in school. Giorgio figured himself a cowboy for his BMX bike and the number of girls in the mall who checked him out. When they cruised North Mesa on Saturday night or checked out girls at the mall on Tuesday, they wore the cowboy hats they both purchased at the Saddleblanket.


When Mendez was with Giorgio, Mendez got a date; when he wasn’t, he didn’t dare approach the girls. Even when he was with Giorgio, he never actually approached them. Giorgio, however, seemed to have a way with women. He would ask for their numbers and they would text them to him. It was nothing short of miraculous.


That was how they picked up Tiffany and Topeka. Both were charging through the food court with Hollister bags over their arms when Giorgio slid in front of them, swung off his cowboy hat and said, “How ‘bout a date, perdy ladies?” The girls tittered over his swagger and tossed him their numbers, while Mendez looked on with his mouth hanging open.


“What’s that smell?” Tiffany asked.


“What smell?” Giorgio’s nose moved over his left shoulder.


“It smells like manure.”


“I don’t know what you’re talking about.”


“Manure?” Mendez hustled around the furniture and into the kitchen. Tiffany plugged her nose and looked at Topeka. Mendez and Giorgio sniffed the air; Giorgio, with a confused expression on his face; Mendez, with a look of horror.


Mendez leaned into Giorgio’s shoulder and whispered in his ear: “Where is my compost bag, the one I was saving for the tomatoes out front?”


“It was on the counter, and I threw it in the cupboard when we were trying to clean—” Giorgio pointed. “Oh.” His brows linked. “Anyone up for going out?” he asked with an unnatural cheerfulness.


The girls quickly departed the apartment, and Mendez cuddled Giorgio’s elbow out the door.


“We’ll take care of it later. Let’s just get going,” Giorgio whispered. Mendez shut the door and thrust the key into the lock. The bolt popped. “Whose car are we taking?” Giorgio asked.


The girls frowned at each other.


“I don’t have a car. I’ve only got this bike.” Giorgio pointed at his green BMX chained to the railing.


“I’ll drive,” Mendez said. He was in a terrible mood and stalked past them.


                Giorgio called shotgun and raced Tiffany to the passenger seat. The car chirped. Doors were thrown open. Giorgio and Tiffany were a flirtatious tangle of arms for about fifteen seconds, when Giorgio squeezed into the front seat. Topeka slowly took the backseat behind them, her chin elevated. Tiffany pushed Giorgio’s head and her nail snagged his curly locks. Giorgio yelped as he pulled her finger free, and he tumbled, arms flailing, out of the car. Tiffany laughed and pushed him back in. Tiffany’s shadow then sliced across the back window and the car bounced and rocked as she slid into the driver’s side backseat and clicked her seatbelt. Topeka caught her glance but did not return it. Instead, she stared into the back of Giorgio’s head.


Mendez stared through the front window with his hands folded over the wheel. “What are we going to do?” he asked.


                “Let’s go to Applebee’s,” Giorgio said.


                Tiffany’s eyes widened. “Are you sure we want to go out to eat?”


                “Where else do you want to go?” Giorgio asked.


                “I don’t know, I just thought—”


                “Applebee’s sounds great,” Topeka said.


                “What do you say, Mendez?” Giorgio asked.


                “I don’t care.”


                “Applebee’s it is then.”


Mendez immediately thrust the stick into reverse and backed out of the parking lot, one hand on the wheel, the other on the back of Giorgio’s seat, his face thrust into the back. Topeka pulled out her iPhone. Her fingers worked the screen in her lap, and she pushed it back into her pocket. Giorgio laughed in front of her. Tiffany’s eyes darted to Giorgio and back to Topeka. Topeka smiled. Tiffany sank into her seat with her knees up and stared out the window. Mendez turned back around, and the car started forward.


At Applebee’s Mendez beat them all to the door and opened it. Both girls walked past him without a word. Giorgio slapped Mendez’s shoulder and smiled and said, “You first.” He held the door with a hand and followed Mendez inside. They didn’t wait long and were soon seated in a corner booth. Both girls scooted in, and the waitress handed them menus. Giorgio and Mendez bunched in after them.


“Anything I can get you to drink?”


“Water is fine,” Topeka said.


“I’ll have the same,” Tiffany said.


“And for you?” the waitress asked, passing menus to Giorgio and Mendez.


“Bring us a jug of water and some of those cheese-stick things,” Giorgio said.


“The mozzarella stick appetizer.”


“That’s it.”


“I’ll be right back.”


Giorgio and Mendez sat kitty-corner from the girls; Topeka and Giorgio, closest to each other. Topeka laid down her menu and as she did so her hand grazed Giorgio’s arm. He looked up and she smiled at him and looked away. Tiffany watched their interchange and re-browsed her menu and chewed on the end of her finger.


The waitress returned, placed the appetizer on the table, flipped out her pad and pencil, and asked if they were ready to order. Mendez, Giorgio, and Topeka nodded, but Tiffany shook her head and asked for more time. The waitress stuffed her pad and pencil back into her apron and said she would be back.


Giorgio and Mendez both seized a golden finger and plunged it into the marinara sauce. Topeka picked her own golden finger with care—most of her other fingers extended—dipped the end of it lightly in the sauce, and took a tiny bite. Giorgio double dipped. Mendez protested. Topeka defended Giorgio. And Tiffany stared at the delicious golden fingers and continued to chew on her own, forgetting her menu.


“You better take one before the boys eat them all,” Topeka said.


“Yeah, dip in,” Giorgio said, shoving his same finger into the dip a third time. Sauce spilled over the sides of the little black cup.


“Now look what you did,” Mendez said. “Could you be more careful?”


“What!” Giorgio said, through a mouthful.


Topeka daubed the end of her nibbled cheese stick in the spill and smiled at Giorgio with her stick between her teeth and winked and bit down and chewed slowly. Giorgio’s brows arced and he dipped a fourth time and looked back at Topeka.


Mendez caught the exchange and looked at Tiffany, whose hand was creeping toward the appetizer, her eyes growing larger. Topeka scooted closer to Giorgio who was now devouring his second golden finger. Tiffany took hold of a cheese stick, dipped it slowly, and glanced at the others eating their golden fingers and smiling and laughing. She lifted the cheese stick over her menu and disappeared behind it. A moment later, her greedy eyes appeared over the top of her menu and she captured another cheese stick and dipped it and pulled it back out of sight. Topeka was now nearly lying on top of Giorgio, her fishing lures dangling in his face, feeding him the last of her own golden finger.


Mendez drank his water.


When the cheese sticks were gone, there was nothing left to do but stare at the flat screens above each other’s heads, which they did. Football players galloped across the screen. Close-ups of player’s faces revealed their pores and their sweat. Bulging black men in tight white jerseys gripped their hips and shook out their legs between plays.


Giorgio dived into the recaps and began discussing wins with Mendez and the girls were promptly forgotten, that is, until the commentators took the screen. Giorgio looked away. Tiffany’s eyes were lifted to the screen above the boy’s heads with her menu lying flat on the table in front of her. A small blot of marinara sauce marked her cheek beside her mouth.


Giorgio gave a little wave, which she did not notice, but Topeka noticed the wave and looked at Tiffany and threw her hand to her mouth and stifled a small laugh. Mendez took another drink of water, his eyes still fixed on the T.V., when Giorgio nudged him and Mendez sputtered and wiped his mouth and demanded an explanation. Giorgio pointed and waved at Tiffany who appeared to be in some sort of trance.


Tiffany was thinking of last Tuesday at Wal-Mart when she was standing in the cookie aisle, staring at packages of Oreos, and a man walked through and asked her out. Tiffany was so surprised from getting caught in the cookie aisle that she immediately sank into her knees, turned away from the man, threw her phone to her ear, and hurried away to a quiet corner at the front of the store where she found an old woman sitting in a motorized cart with a Chihuahua in the front basket, at which point she pretended to talk on her phone in Spanish with her finger in her other ear, all the while glancing over her shoulder and trying to convince herself that she had never actually been seen in the cookie aisle. She had only just begun to feel she had dodged humiliation when the Chihuahua in the basket began to bark and draw attention to their secluded corner, and she promptly left.


Tiffany’s eyes moved absentmindedly across the others’ faces. Everyone was staring at her.


Giorgio cleared his throat behind his fist and glanced away and pointed awkwardly at the corner of his mouth, but she didn’t take the hint. Topeka lifted her napkin and shook it in the air. Tiffany stared.


“You have a little something, just there.”  Mendez pointed, offering Tiffany a napkin.


Tiffany’s eyes were drawn from her thoughts as she felt at the corner of her mouth and smeared it, which instigated an awkward and torturous string of instructions from Mendez. Topeka giggled into Giorgio’s arm as Giorgio’s head sank between his shoulder blades, his shoulders rising and falling.


Finally, Mendez licked his napkin, leaned over the table, and swiped at the smear on her cheek. Tiffany screamed and shrank back into her seat, hands plastered to the backing, which caused Mendez to lose his balance and he tumbled into her lap.


Giorgio’s head snapped up and Topeka’s giggle swiftly faded as Mendez promptly jumped out of the booth, straightened his shirt, dropped back into his own seat, and stared down the aisle in profound silence.


Topeka’s protective nature took over as she scooted across the seat to comfort her speechless friend. Mendez would not look at anyone. Giorgio, on the other hand, was at a complete loss for words. Mendez had never messed up that badly. He frowned at the ceiling and wondered where their waitress was and wished that she would hurry back and interrupt the now awkward silence and take their orders.