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August 08, 2022

Two Tense

By Jeffrey Carl Jefferis

"I have, like, a very prominent roof of my mouth. You know what I mean?"

"Oh, yeah. My mouth roof is sooo prominent too."

"Really? That's so wild."

"I know, right?"

"Mine cuts on the softest pieces of food. It's sooo annoying, you know?"

"Definitely. Sometimes, I scrape mine on water. Well, at least it seems like it."

"Wow! That is so freaky."

"I know. Can water even be sharp?"

"I totally think so. You know, this one time . . ."

"Excuse me," Jack interrupted. "Could you two girls please go have the worst conversation I've ever heard somewhere else?"

Jack stared at the stunned girls. He quickly concluded that instead of obliging his request, the two girls would soon dare to have the nerve to question it. They were mustering up oodles of pathetic, sanctimonious attitude. This prompted him to immediately exit the line for coffee and even the coffee shop.

Jack was in Tacoma, Washington, roughly forty miles from his suburban home outside Seattle. He had visited Tacoma at least three times a year over the past five years but was, nonetheless, extremely pleased to be in Tacoma now. It had been more than six months. He was long overdue.

Jack walked into the diner next door to the coffee shop. He took a seat at the counter despite noticing several free, private booths. He was craving human contact. He was hungry for it. Starving. But he would only make himself available for it. He would not initiate it. That would spoil the flavor of it all.

"Can I get you something, mister?"

"Sure," Jack responded. The waitress was typical and beautiful, in a roundabout and utterly sad sort of way. "I'll have the trucker's breakfast. Sunny side up. The Canadian bacon. And a cup of decaf, please."

"My, oh, my. That was sure well ordered. Have you been here before, mister?"

"No. Never."

"Oh, ok. Cream for your coffee?"

"No thank you. I'm lactose intolerant."

"Gotcha. Well, that'll be right up."

Jack watched as his waitress, young enough that she must be named Daisy, chewed most unhygienically on her fingernails as she gossiped with another waitress, old enough that she must be named Doris, by the coffee station behind the counter. It was disgusting. Jack knew it. But Jack had not planned on taking a bite of any food or a sip of any drink served to him in the diner. Though the young waitress, surely named Daisy, was not aware of this, it was still her saving grace.

"Yur lactose intolerant, eh? What's that, like an allergy or summin'?"

Jack finally regarded the man sitting to his right at the counter. He was wearing leather boots and dirtied blue jeans. His thick torso was covered by a red and black lumberjack flannel shirt. His face and skull were covered with thick, black, greasy hair.

"You could say that," Jack responded innocuously.

"Yeah, I hear that. Me, I'm allergic to cats. You believe that? Tiny, little cats."

"Well, that is quite common. Much like everything else about you and your life." Jack felt pleased with his slight. But only the thrill a bank robber must sense after stealing a candy bar. Unfortunately, as he saw it, even this up side would be stripped from him as the man to his right failed to recognize the insult.

"Yessir, I reckon yur right. You know what I can't figure is?"

"Why apples fall from trees?"

"Nah, not that. The thing I don't get is, I'm allergic to cats. So, if I'm allergic to cats, why ain't I allergic to cat meat?"

Jack stared back at the man seated to his right at the counter. He was so very grateful. So very hungry. He suspected, no, hoped, that he might finally be getting a tasty nibble.

"When were you ever around cat meat?" Jack's response, a simple and obvious question, would lead nowhere, to his immense disappointment. The man seated at the counter to his right simply looked back at him, speechless.

"Seriously," Jack questioned. "You look stunned. Did you honestly think that you were making a legitimate point?"

The man seated at the counter to Jack's right stopped looking back at him and sheepishly lowered his gaze to the plate of pan-fried grease in front of him. Jack felt the air being vacuumed from his lungs. It was as though he had been desperately craving a milkshake. And then, upon finally being served one, he had sucked the first portion of shake halfway up the straw, only to run out of breath and watch as the shake descended down back through the straw into the glass.

"Here you go, mister," the waitress surely named Daisy interrupted. "The trucker's breakfast. A cup of Joe, no cream. Enjoy."

"You know, Daisy," Jack responded. The waitress, whose name was not Daisy, looked back at Jack rightfully confused. "This plate here and, well, cup of Joe, as you called it, is for my buddy here, the man seated at the counter to my right. He deserves it. And it's on me."

"Oh, well, really," questioned the waitress surely not named Daisy.

"Dang, buddy, that sho is nice of ya. I appreciate it. I really do."

"Wait," Jack interrupted. "Daisy, there's no cat meat in that omelet, is there?"

"Well, no, mister. Of course not."

"That's a shame," Jack responded.

Jack exited the diner unsure of his next move. He saw a sign indicating that the Tacoma Mall was four miles down the road. His stomach squealed like a toddler on Christmas morning. He began salivating. Jack, nonetheless, had too much discipline for that. The mall was a buffet, a superficial meal that never lived up to expectations. He would wait. He would wait as long as required. He would wait for an immaculate, supremely delicious five-course meal. Anything less would make this overdue sojourn to Tacoma a disappointment.

Jack turned and started walking to his left, the opposite direction indicated by the sign for the Tacoma Mall. He seemed to recall that a bookstore was just a few blocks ahead. He knew that he would not find a full meal there, but bookstores were always good for a treat.

Jack entered the bookstore and headed straight for the laughably large magazine rack. It had always amazed him how many times and in how many different ways the same pointless story could be told. And the size of the magazine rack was the most glaring reflection of that. He picked up a magazine and started flipping through it. Though he saw nothing but photographs of dogs and puppies, he decided that the name of the magazine must be "Illustrated Sports News Digest Bi-Weekly."

As Jack was pretending to regard the illustrations, read the news, and digest the sports, he was approached by an elderly woman, a senior citizen, an employee of the bookstore.

"Is there anything I can help you with today, sir?"

"Hello there, ma'am. Well, yes. Yes, there is something you can help me with. What time was it yesterday?"

"Well, it is 1:36 pm."

"Yeah, that's what I figured."

"Oh, ok. Is there anything else I can help you with today, sir?"

"Of course not. But you knew that before you came over here."

"Sir?"

"You have been more than helpful, ma'am. Please, go enjoy your afternoon nap, I mean break. You see that blonde girl behind me reading "Cosmopolitan Entertainment Gossip Today Monthly?"

"Sir? I don't believe that's the name of that particular periodical. It looks like she is reading . . ."

"Yes, I agree. Well, I'm going to talk to that piece of dumb shit now."

It was unusual for Jack to curse. He believed that outright vulgarity significantly devalued any statement. Shock value was a Casio. Subtlety was a Rolex. But, he was just so hungry. He was ornery.

"Well, young man . . ."

"What happened to sir?"

"Young man, I think that was a terribly thoughtless thing you just said. You should not be like that. You should be better than that."

"Thoughtless? That's not true, ma'am. Not at all. I called the girl behind me a piece of dumb shit. You see, most people say, 'a dumb piece of shit.' But I think that, 'a piece of dumb shit,' is a massive improvement. The former is two insults, thus diluting its impact. My version, the latter, is a single insult, thus more poignant."

"Young man?"

"Well, as you can see. I have put a lot of thought into it. And you called me thoughtless. You were wrong. In fact, it was thoughtless on your part to call me thoughtless without considering all the facts."

The elderly woman, the senior citizen, the employee of the bookstore walked away. She looked back over her shoulder one last time, seemingly afraid of Jack. This made him laugh. Bookstores were always good for a treat.

Jack was suddenly struck with a feeling of déjà vu. He knew that he had explained his theory involving the phrase, "a piece of dumb shit," on several occasions prior, but he was now feeling that he had explained it once before in the exact location in which he was standing. In the same store. In front of the same unimaginably large magazine rack.

"Why do you feel the need to insult me," the other, much younger, female employee of the bookstore had asked, several years prior. 'You should respect people."

"I'm a fellow who knows what things to appreciate and what things to disregard," Jack had responded. "Respect is what you do when originality fails you or you succumb to circumstance."

"You shouldn't harass people, sir."

"Harassment is nonsensical insults. What did I say that was not accurate?" Jack was enthralled with the direction of the conversation. He was more enthralled that it continued.

"Accuracy is not the issue."

"Accuracy is always the issue."

"No, it isn't."

"If something is true, it is offensive to only those who deny truth. And denying truth is the problem. That person's problem."

"If something is true, it's only offensive to those who deny truth? That's your philosophy?"

"Of course."

"So, you believe it's a character flaw for someone to be offended when insulted by something accurate?"

"Certainly. Would you be offended if someone called you a girl? Or white? Of course you wouldn't. So why should you be offended that I just called you fat. You are fat, no?"

"You don't think that's fascist?"

"Are you serious? You are a girl. You are white. You are fat. That's accurate-ist. You're simply mentally insignificant."

"Mentally insignificant? You think you're qualified to make such a determination?"

"Of course I do. We judge. We all judge. We are all qualified to judge."

"On a certain level, you are right. But why here? Why now?"

"Well, miss, it's none of your business. But you asked an honest question. I respect that. So you deserve an honest answer. I don't live here. I don't know anyone here. I get frustrated keeping the peace, in other words keeping quiet, where I do live and work and know people. So, every so often, I feel the need to release some tension. I have to succumb to the urge to say the things I keep bottled up in my daily life."

"I cannot for a moment believe that you don't think that you are not the smartest person you know."

"Intelligence has nothing to do with it. It's all about self-awareness. It's about knowing the ways in which you are flawed."

"What are you saying?"

"I'm saying simply this: It's your fault if I make you cry."

The possibly former employee of the bookstore continued on some ridiculous rant after Jack had made that last statement. She said things. A lot of things. She was self-righteous and bold and arrogant and boasting. Jack had told her the reason for which he had been visiting Tacoma. He had never told anyone else that before or since. Jack had appreciated her forwardness initially, but she ruined it by employing words that could be found on the back of a book cover. She had transformed the conversation from personal into self-help. From an exchange of ideas into a regurgitation of ideals. She had become a grilled cheese sandwich without the cheese.

Jack exited the bookstore. He didn't bother with the blonde girl over his shoulder. She could in no way measure up to even his memory of the exchange he had had with the possibly former employee of the bookstore. Besides, the elderly woman, the senior citizen, the employee of the bookstore had made him smile. His treat had been a good treat. But even a good treat is still just a treat.

Jack was feeling deflated, lethargic. He needed to sit down. He crossed the street into the dog park and found a bench. He was so hungry. He believed that he might start to weep. Jack had to take action. He had to stop the bleeding, in a sense. He decided to purposefully intrude in the path of two rollerblading girls.

"Hey, watch it," exclaimed one of the girls, the taller one.

"No thanks," Jack responded. "Please, try to fall."

"I don't fall. I never fall. Only losers fall."

"You're kidding."

"What? No, I'm not."

"I wasn't asking a question," Jack clarified. "I was telling you. You are kidding. It's just a question of whether you're kidding me, or yourself. Judging by your initial reaction, I gather you're kidding yourself."

"Whatever."

"You know what the difference between me and you is?"

"That I'm hot and you're not?"

"No. That you would choose to answer that question in such a way."

Jack kicked a long stick into the middle of the walking path and continued past the two rollerblading girls to a park bench. He sat down and struggled to control the impending migraine that he sensed was developing. Much to Jack's artificial delight, he did not have to wait long. Things were rolling now, in a matter of speaking.

"Excuse me, buddy. But do you have the time?"

Jack looked up at a man walking through the park, and he smiled. He was salivating once again.

"Yes, buddy. Yes, I do. It's 1:36 p.m."

"I don't mean to be rude, buddy. But it's definitely not 1:36 p.m. I didn't leave my house until after two. And you didn't even look at your watch or your phone or anything."

"Busted," Jack responded with a smile. "Well done, buddy. You got me. The thing is, I don't need to know what time it is. And I am repulsed that you would suggest I inform you of such otherwise readily available information. What, do you have a tee time or something?"

"Well, now that you mention it . . ."

"You know, buddy, there are two kinds of people in the world, for the purposes of this particular conversation: Those who belong to a country club, and those who make the world suck . . . but not as much as those who belong to a country club make it suck."

"How did you know that I belong to a country club?"

Jack smiled again. "Well, buddy, you are attired in the standard middle-aged man who belongs to a country club but is still desperately trying to be 'hip' costume: Sport coat over the t-shirt with jeans and slip-on loafers; backwards hat covering your bald spot leading to your long hair dryly flowing down your back. You don't have the single earring, but I'm sure you're considering it."

"You have no idea what you're talking about. I'm not trying to be hip. This is how I normally . . . and where do you get off?"

"Look, buddy," Jack continued, "go wash the tanning lotion off your face with a bucket of cancer water and continue to indulge your baby porn fetish in private."

"You know, you have problems."

"You have no idea."

"I don't need this."

"It's not a question of what you don't need. It's a question of what you don't want . . . to hear."

"Whatever. Have a good day . . . buddy."

As Jack watched the man continue down the park path, he felt the beat of his heart via a sharp pain in the blood vessel on the right side of his frontal skull. He could not recall a time when his blood sugar had been so low. He felt like it was his first day without a cigarette after having had a two-pack a day habit for a decade. Jack was on the brink of breaking down. He again felt the oncoming of tears.

"You look absolutely horrible. I think you need a corndog."

Jack looked up and saw a stunningly gorgeous, blonde woman in her mid-thirties. She was holding two corndogs and had extended one out to Jack. "A corndog? Sure. Thank you."

Jack reached for the corndog and intentionally missed it with several grabs.

"Are you blind? Do you need me to hand it to you?"

"Oh, no. I see just fine," Jack responded. "I was simply staring at the three-quarters of your breasts that are flopping out of your blouse. That is what you intended when you got dressed this morning, no?"

"You don't find it attractive?"

"Of course. I am a heterosexual man. Some urges you just can't deny. No matter how disgusting they are. But it's still ultimately repulsive. Actually, you're much like that corndog you have there. I am starving right now. And the smell of that corndog is enticing. I'm having an involuntary physical reaction to it. But, fortunately, I have a brain. And my brain works. And the voluntary portions of my brain are telling me that that corndog is absolute filth. That it is greasy and unhealthy and completely lacking in nutritional value. And that what I really want is a nice house salad, a well-cooked rare rib-eye with a twice baked potato, and tiramisu for dessert."

"You're funny. Unnecessarily mean, but funny."

"Right. So, go bounce and jiggle your way through the park as you awkwardly walk in those ridiculous high heels and find some guy who pretends to like you long enough to get you into bed."

"Wow. And you're perceptive too."

"Pardon?"

"You just read my mind, actually. That's my plan, essentially verbatim."

"Pardon?"

"Well, I don't usually admit this, not to any one. But I am a single female and I work a ton of hours. I love my job."

"This is becoming painful."

"I just don't have time to date. Then again, I don't want to date right now, actually. I have more important things I'm trying to achieve first. Still, I am a woman, and I have my urges. So, I drove up here from Portland. Do so once or twice a year, sometimes more often."

This garnered Jack's attention, though he made sure not show it.

"And, well, I find a nice guy and, not sure how to say this, but . . . I screw his brains out. No strings. No complications. Just screwing."

"Shit," Jack mumbled inaudibly, or so he hoped.

"Just need to relieve that tension, you know? And this trip has been long overdue for me. I've been short tempered and frustrated for the past few weeks. Especially at work. And you know something? I thought that guy could be you. That's why I offered you a corndog. But, clearly, you're not nice. So, I guess I'll go track down that guy with the long hair I'm assuming you insulted before he stormed off. Perhaps he won't be so offended by my perfectly sculpted breasts and would enjoy having amazing, wild, animal sex for the next day or two. You be well, corndog."

Jack watched again as a person walked away from him down the park path. The sight of the lady from behind aroused the same involuntary physical reaction as the sight of her from the front had. Jack grinned. His headache was receding. He felt himself subtly nodding.

The trip to Tacoma had transformed from complete disaster to blissful delight during the course of an unexpected two minutes. His previous experiences dictated that this would be the normal way of things. Nonetheless, he had sincerely started to believe that this trip had been doomed. But, no longer. He had displayed navy seal-esque discipline in sidestepping the coffee shop, the diner, the bookstore treat, and the park vendors. And he had been rewarded. He was starving and the perfect meal was now ready.

The only question was, should he stab her, or strangle her? Stabbing was much less complicated, but the lady had certainly proved herself strangle-worthy. Jack felt relief enter his feet and ascend steadily up through his body, replacing and pushing up and eventually out and off his shoulders the tension that had been infecting him for weeks.

Jack had found his ideal meal. It was time to eat.

* * *

Beth was walking through a park into town. She was in Tacoma, Washington, roughly 150 miles from her suburban home outside Portland, Oregon. She had visited Tacoma at least twice a year over the past seven years, but was nonetheless extremely pleased to be in Tacoma now. It had been more than six months. She was long overdue.

Beth walked into a diner. She had been there several times before, though she could not recall the specifics. Beth took a seat at the counter despite noticing several free, private booths. She was craving human contact. She longed for it. She was so horny. She hadn't been this horny in such a long time.

"Can I get you something, ma'am?"

"Sure," Beth responded. Beth looked over the waitress and decided that she must be having sex on a regular basis, likely with more than one guy. Beth envied her, briefly and in limited scope. "I'll have an English muffin and egg white omelet, please."

"All rightie. I'll put that right in. You know, you look familiar. Have you been here before, ma'am?"

"No. Never."

"Gotcha. Well, that'll be right up."

Beth watched as her waitress, young enough that she must be named Peaches, chewed most unhygienically on fingernails as she gossiped with another waitress, old enough that she must be named Peggy, by the coffee station behind the counter. It was disgusting. Beth knew it. But Beth had not planned on taking a bite of any food or a sip of any drink served to her in the diner.

"Just an egg white omelet, huh? What's that about, you allergic to egg yolks or summin?"

Beth finally regarded the man sitting to her right at the counter. He was wearing leather boots and dirtied blue jeans. His thick torso was covered by a red and black lumberjack flannel shirt. His face and skull were covered with thick, black, greasy hair.

"No, not at all. Just trying to eat healthily," Beth responded innocuously.

"Yeah, I hear that. Me, I'm allergic to cats. You believe that? Tiny, little cats."

"You're not telling me that you're turned off by a little, ah hem, pussy . . . are you?" Beth leaned toward the man, placing her elbow close to his eating space and rubbing her fingers across her lips.

'I sure the hell is, little lady. Those little pussy cats mess me all up."

Beth stared back at the man seated to her right at the counter. She was so very wanting to be interested, intrigued. She was so very horny. She suspected, no, hoped, that she might finally be getting a tasty nibble. She had tracked a middle-aged man trying to be hip with a backwards hat covering his bald spot through the park, but eventually she saw that he was headed to the coffee shop next door to meet up with his wife and two kids.

Beth started to think that she would have to lighten up on her normal standards. This trip to Tacoma was long overdue for her. And she could not return to Portland unsatisfied. She started re-considering the prospects of the man she had spoken to before exiting the park. She had offered him a corndog and, in return, he had insulted her. She could not remember ever a time when a guy was not excited and receptive to such an offer from her. Even the few men who had been married could not help but to respond to her flirtation.

So the guy had been rude and arrogant. He was different, at least. Bold. Perhaps that would suffice on this sojourn. Perhaps it would have to suffice on this sojourn. She was so horny. Her mind was made up, and she was satisfied with the decision.

The only question was, should she poison him, or burn him? Poisoning was much less complicated, but the guy had certainly proved himself burn-worthy. Beth felt relief enter her feet and ascend steadily up through her body, replacing and pushing up and eventually out and off her shoulders the tension that had been infecting her for weeks.

Beth had found her ideal mate. It was time to screw.

Article © Jeffrey Carl Jefferis. All rights reserved.
Published on 2010-11-08
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