Madonna and Cecil
In his white shirt, gray summer weight suit, and polished black Florsheims, he looked like a John Deere accountant on parole from the Plow and Planter Works.
His date wore a black leather skirt and red Tony Lamas. She’d unbuttoned her western cut denim shirt and tied the tails under her breasts, baring her midriff and lifting her forty-inch bust. She stroked his blue striped tie. “C. C.,” she squeaked, “you promised me a drink on my birthday. You said I got to pick the spot.”
“But I thought you’d pick a nice place,” he whined.
Many small-minded tavern owners would have taken offense at his insensitive remark. I let it slide. The moment she’d dragged his sorry-suited butt into my bar, she’d owned me.
I topped off the pitcher of Wisconsin Amber for the boys at the pool table and maneuvered for a better look.
“The places you take me don’t have dance floors,” she said firmly. Her voice was amazing. Even from across the room. her high-pitched, child-like, nasal-little-squeak sent shivers through my skin. She sounded fifteen, but didn’t look it. In the dim light, I figured her for twenty-one, out celebrating her birthday. She pointed to a barstool. He took a seat. She strolled over behind him.
I wasn’t blind. I noticed things as she approached the bar and the light got better. Her short blonde hair failed to hide distinctly dark roots. She carried some extra pounds around her mid-drift—nothing a hundred daily sit-ups wouldn’t cure. Only the wrinkles around her eyes told me she was past forty. Don’t get me wrong. She was still a looker. And the lady knew how to move.
“Stop your pouting,” she squeaked at her companion. “It’s my birthday, for god’s sake.”
I call my tavern Night Court because it’s across from the county court house. Lawyers and suspects, clerks, jailers, bail bondsmen, hookers, and off-duty deputies all frequent the place. Every one of them can legitimately say that they missed supper because they went to Night Court. But the place is nothing special.
Our wine cellar is shallow, but we’ve got a dozen craft beers on tap, including our own micro-brew, “Emma’s Pissed.” I named it in honor of my mother, and put her picture on the label. She doesn’t approve, but I wanted to thank her for marrying an older man who believed in trust funds. I keep ma’s picture framed by the safe, and I call her every Sunday night because that’s Jerrie’s night to close the place. Jerrie is my business partner.
The birthday girl sat down at the bar. She patted her date’s arm as if to say, “Good boy,” then leaned over in my direction. She had noticed I was staring. “I may be a year older, but I still got it, don’t I, Honey?”
“Name’s Ed, and, yes, ma’am, you still got it.” I extended my hand and shook hers. She held my hand for a moment before releasing it.
“Please, don’t call me ma’am.”
I smiled my best “customer is always right” smile and asked, “What would you like me to call you?”
She instantly replied, “Yo’, babe!” I nodded in approval. “I’ll raise my hand to order a drink, or some batter dipped mushrooms, or,” she winked, “to ask for a napkin on which to write my phone number, and you’ll say . . ..”
“Exactly.” She nudged the suited sack of shit beside her to see if he got the joke. He grunted. She raised her hand.
“Yo’, babe!” I said. “What can I do for you?”
“This handsome young man, C. C. by name, has promised me, the birthday girl, moi, also known as Madonna,” pointing to herself, “a pitcher of margaritas.”
C. C. started rising from his barstool. “I believe what I said was that I’d take you out for a drink.”
“A pitcher of margaritas is the drink I want.”
“Yo’, babe. I’m on it.” I turned to him. “Can I get you a micro brew?”
“Sure. Whatever.” He stood patiently while Madonna rooted in his pocket for quarters, then sat down and waited for his beer as she sauntered over to the jukebox.
I poured him a frosty mug of Emma’s Pissed, and asked Jerrie to make the margaritas. I grabbed some quarters from my tip jar and joined Madonna. Junior Brown’s “Too Many Nights in a Road House,” started playing as I spilled my quarters out in front of her. “You’ve got great taste in music, Madonna.”
“Thank you, Ed,” she squeaked. “It compensates for my lousy taste in men.”
I motioned with my head toward the bar. “You mean C. C.?”
“Hell no. He’s all right. I give him a hard time, but he keeps taking me out. He’s a good kid.” She finished making her selections. “I shouldn’t tell you this, but his real name is Cecil Chadwick.”
“I imagine he doesn’t share that with a lot of people.”
“He couldn’t keep that secret from me.”
“Why not?” I asked her.
“I’m his mother, Madonna Chadwick.” She winked again, and then walked back to the bar. She looked over her shoulder to see if I was following. “I think my drink is ready.”
Not only had Jerrie delivered the pitcher and poured Madonna her first drink, she’d managed to engage Business Boy in conversation.
Jerrie is the flamboyant member of our partnership. She started waitressing in this tavern when she was eighteen. She has long, curly red hair, a stocky body, good business sense, and a contagious laugh. She lived with the previous owner for six years before he saw a PBS special on Paul Gauguin and relocated to Tahiti. Her business sense and my inheritance money made us a good team. Tonight she was wearing dark panty hose and a black judge’s robe that ended four inches above her knees. Experience told me she was wearing nothing else.
“ . . . and so, I bought Nano-Vations stock for a song two days after the IPO when it took that dip,” she told C. C.. “Too bad I didn’t sell it last week just before the merger rumors. It’s still doing all right. Finally making a profit, although next quarter projections . . ..”
While Jerrie talked stock portfolios, I served a posse of sheriff’s deputies back from their shift. When I returned, Jerrie and Madonna were discussing nails. Madonna’s nails were obviously fake, painted with red and orange swirls.
“I have to put on nails I can remove easily, otherwise, I’m afraid I’d let down my bowling team.” When Madonna saw me walking over, she began self-consciously playing with the turquoise necklace she wore. Suddenly she raised her hand.
“Yo’, babe!” I responded.
She pointed to the almost empty pitcher. “Do you have more like that?”
“Mother,” C. C. scolded, “you’ve had enough.”
“Now, son,” she responded, “Jerrie here has been keeping me company, and so I think I’ve been shorted on the birthday drink situation.”
I analyzed the glassware on the bar in front of them. Sitting in front of Jerrie was her usual tonic water with a twist of lime. She started omitting the gin from her drink two weeks ago when she found out she was pregnant.
Jerrie poured tall, dark, and diversified another pint of Emma’s Pissed. C. C. struck me as a cheap drunk. If he had a third, I’d be calling a cab. Madonna, though, had single-handedly dispatched the entire pitcher with little apparent effect except a slight glow in her cheeks.
“I don’t know why he takes me places if he doesn’t want to have a good time?” she told Jerrie.
I knew why he did. I knew all about trips taken from guilt. Except instead of taking my mother to bars, I took her to farmers’ markets, outlet malls, and Wal-Mart. When I felt real guilty, I took her to the Purple Parrot Antique Boutique.
“He used to be a normal kid,” she continued. By now, Jerrie was comfortably resting her left hand on his arm. C. C. was blushing.
Jerrie seemed fascinated by Madonna’s every squeaky word. “I thought C. C. would end up an auto body man or a Marine. But no, National Honors Society President, State Mock Trial Runner Up, Midwest High School Chess Champion, scholarship to the University of Iowa. Every time he came home, he was reading another damned Frenchman: Foucault or Camus or Voltaire.”
Madonna drank deeply from her glass. “One Saturday morning his senior year, he came home for a surprise visit. He woke me up where I’d blacked out on the kitchen floor. There he was all dressed up in a Polo shirt and Polo slacks. I asked him where his pony was.”
He raised his hand as though he were in English class, and it was his turn to speak. “I was dating Brittany. She told me that since I was a senior I needed to start dressing more like an adult.”
Madonna slapped his arm down. “Mind you, Brittany has never set her sorry ass in my kitchen even though her family lives just outside of town. Levi jeans and Metallica shirts were good enough for his father, I don’t know why Ralph Lauren has to sign everything C. C. wears.”
“Mother thinks accessorizing means body piercing and a tattoo.”
“I’ve birthed a monster,” she squeaked. She emptied her Margarita glass and reached again for the pitcher.
Jerrie touched Madonna’s hand. “Sometimes children do things that are out of their mother’s control.”
Madonna leaned over to Jerrie. “C. C. was a keeper,” she said in a stage whisper. “He was the one I choose to be my companion.”
Jerrie turned to C. C. “What does she mean, ‘a keeper’?”
He sighed. “I have two older brothers and one sister whom I’ve never seen. She gave them up for adoption at birth. I give her credit for not aborting them, but I think each was an interruption in her career. She was in the entertainment business until recently.”
“What’s she doing now?”
“Working at Wal-Mart and feeling sorry for herself. She was just transferred to Cosmetics after the fiasco in Small Appliances. She’s hoping that if Wal-Mart comes out with their new line of intimate wear, she can transfer there.”
“Oh, haven’t you heard?” she gushed. “They are planning a whole line of sexy clothing called Sam’s Secret. It will be in direct discount competition with Victoria’s Secret. I’m hoping to work my way up from the local store to the national design team.”
C. C. drank deeply from his beer until the pint was empty. He stared at it for a moment as if wondering where all the liquid had gone, and then he said firmly, “Where might I find another beer?”
Jerrie slid her arm under his and eased him off the barstool. “Come with me, Sweet Pea, I’ll give you a personal tour of the tappers.”
Madonna and I watched Jerrie pilot him around the bar. “I think that’s the last you’re going to see of your son tonight, until you’re ready to pour him into a cab.”
“What’s she going to do with him?”
“Jerrie will teach him how to tend bar. She’ll keep him loose enough with beer to allow him to enjoy himself, but not so plastered that he can’t show her a good time if he decides he wants to leave with her instead of you. Jerrie has an apartment above the bar.”
“Hey, he’s my date . . .,” she squeaked, rising from the bar stool.
“He’s your son,” I said guiding her back onto the stool. “Plua, you’ll have no trouble picking up any man in this bar, if you want to.”
She modesty lowered her eyes as she softly patted her hair into place. “You really think so, Ed?”
“Trust me, Madonna, I don’t care how many birthdays you’ve had, you’re a great looking broad.”
“Oh, it’s not just the birthdays that have me concerned. I’m used to birthdays.” I reached over and topped off her margarita glass again. “I’ve got surgery scheduled next month.”
“Nothing serious, I hope.”
“Elective.” She leaned over and squeaked into my ear. “I’m having my implants removed.”
“Really?” I tried not to stare as I envisioned what her breasts would look like without the augmentation.
She read my thoughts and leaned over again. “My breasts were really quite lovely before I had them done. It was a career move. I paid for the operation with C. C.’s college fund, but made the money back within six months because of my increased income. He was twelve at the time. He handled all the finances, figured out how to cost the price of the operation and did the work on the tax return to take it as a business expense. I’m very financially secure, thanks to my son’s investments.” She reached into her purse and pulled out her billfold. She carefully removed a well-worn school picture. “This was his sixth grade photo. He was a handsome child.” As I admired the photo, Madonna sipped her drink.
Bob Burris, a burly guy about six-feet-four, nudged his way to the bar, jostling Madonna’s right arm and causing her drink to spill on her bare leg. She jumped up from the bar, knocking her stool over. Bob turned to see what he’d done and immediately froze. “Oh, my God,” he said. “I’m so sorry.”
Bob’s a regular. He works for the DOT and spends his summers filling potholes with hot asphalt in the ninety-degree heat. He’s irritable, not noted for his politeness. His giant biceps make him cocky, eager to start of fight. But he seemed awed by Madonna.
“I take it we’ve met,” Madonna said, extending her hand to shake his.
“Sheila Lamour! It’s been three years since I’ve seen you on stage. Where’ve you been?”
“Nah. Retired?” He looked her over carefully. “You still got the stuff. My name’s Bob. I’m your biggest fan.” He looked around in disbelief that everyone else wasn’t as awed as he was.
I looked at C. C. standing hip to hip with Jerrie behind the bar. Apparently this type of meeting happened all the time to Madonna. I suddenly understood why he preferred to take his mother to places of refinement. A patron of Chez Rashid probably wouldn’t interrupt cocktails with his wife to gush that he was “Sheila’s biggest fan.”
“The guys will never believe that I met you.” He started looking around the top of the bar.
“Maybe if you got her autograph . . .,” C. C. offered flatly, pushing a napkin in Bob’s direction and reaching for his pen.
“Now, C. C., Bob might lose a napkin. Then what would the guys say when he tried to tell them the story?” C. C.’s expression told me he’d been down this road, too. Madonna dug into her purse and pulled out a black Sharpie. “Let me do it this way.” She pushed up Bob’s sleeve and much more slowly than I thought was necessary, autographed his biceps, “Sheila Lamour.”
Bob just stood frozen.
“Well . . .,” Madonna asked, “aren’t you going to return the favor?”
“If you’re my greatest fan, I’d like your autograph, too.” She handed him the marker.
A little stunned, Bob finally started to reach over to sign her arm.
“No, silly, not there.” She opened up her blouse a little wider at the top, stopping just short of exposing everything. “Here.”
Reverently, Bob signed his name across her chest. She took back the marker, then kissed him on the cheek. “Thank you,” she said, and then turned away, dismissing him. Bob walked away from the bar, forgetting his drink.
C. C. told Jerrie, sotto voce, “She does this every time we go out. You’d think she hadn’t retired.”
“She’s like a firefly,” Jerrie said.
“What do you mean?”
“Fireflies have these highly stylized mating rituals. The movements have meaning only within their species.”
“And what do the movements mean?”
“That the female is ready.”
“Oh, my mother is ready.”
Jerrie gave C. C. a playful nudge that seemed to surprise him. But he didn’t back away. He looked down at his empty beer glass and then up to Jerrie in her impossibly short judge’s robe and tights. He moaned just a little, as he realized he needed a few more ounces of courage, but wasn’t sure if he’d still be able to stand without assistance.
He pointed to his glass. “You think I could get another one of those?”
“Of course,” Jerrie laughed. “This is a bar.”
When she returned Jerrie handed C. C. the beer and made sure he took a drink before he did anything else. She motioned to Madonna.
Madonna and I had returned to the juke box and were discussing the merits of disco versus blues. Pretty much everyone else in the bar except for C. C. and Madonna were regulars. When they saw that Jerrie and I were indisposed, Night Court became a self-service pub. People got their own drinks and kept a tab to settle up later. It had happened before.
“Your mother is ready, but the mating ritual of the firefly isn’t that simple. In a single yard there might be a half dozen kinds of fireflies, but the movements are only interpretable by the one species the female wants to attract.”
C. C. had finished most of his pint and was raising the glass to have another go. “Slow down,” Jerrie told him, “and stay with me on this.” She motioned to Bob, sitting with his buddies, still talking about the autograph he got from Sheila Lamore. “Bob was obviously attracted, but after your mother did her little dance, he walked away satisfied. No mating there.”
“Bob isn’t my mother’s type.”
“Oh!” He set down the beer. “So my mother is flitting around the bar or yard or wherever our metaphorical firefly wants to fly, and moving here and moving there . . ..” He stopped to demonstrate by moving his upper body, but almost fell off the barstool in the process.
Jerrie steadied him. “Something like that.”
“And the little flashes she gives, and the moves, all look like the same mating stuff, but she really just waiting for the right guy firefly to give the right signals to and she hasn’t found him yet.”
Jerrie snapped her fingers, which brought C. C. to attention. “You were right on track until the very end.”
C. C. stopped to retrace his words. “No, I’m pretty certain about that. Bob is not her type.”
“Not Bob, silly . . ..” She motioned my way.
C. C. stopped and observed Madonna and me on the dance floor. I was a decade her junior, but I would never mistake her for my mother. She smelled good and moved like a jaguar. I was her prey, but didn’t mind at all.
Jerrie walked over from the bar interrupted us. “Madonna, may I ask you a question?”
“It better be good,” she purred, “because I’m in no mood for small talk.”
“When does C. C. need to be at work?”
She looked over to C. C. clinging to the bar for stability, grinning. C. C. waved. “Nine o’clock, Darling, but he’ll need about an hour to get home and shower before that.”
“I don’t think he should be driving, so I thought I’d better put him to bed at my place.”
“That’s a great idea, Jerrie. I’ve been worried about him. But don’t be surprised if all he wants to do when he sobers up is talk about investments and securities.”
“I hope so,” Jerrie said as she scurried back to C. C.
“Give him French toast for breakfast, and he’ll never want to leave you.”
Jerrie waved. “Thanks for the tip.”
Madonna and I watched Jerrie ease C. C. off the stool. She put her arm around his waist. He put his hand on her butt under the tiny robe. She squealed when he squeezed, but she did nothing to discourage him. She opened the door that went upstairs to her apartment, and they negotiated the stairs in tandem while groping each other.
“You think she can handle him?” Madonna asked.
“Oh, yeah. And I suspect he’ll do all right with her, too.”
Madonna nodded. “Not many men would have figured that out. My son appears rigid and uptight and full of stocks and statistics.
“I bet he can be quite randy,” I suggested. “Just like his mother.” I looked at the clock. “Last call,” I shouted out.
“No it ain’t,” someone shouted from the pool tables.
Madonna squeezed my arm. “No need to rush them out. I’ve got all the time in the world, and I think you are worth waiting for.”
I had hoped she’d noticed.
“Besides, you seem to be short a waitress, and I’ve had some experience in that department prior to my adult entertainment career.” She sauntered to the bar with every male eye in the place glued to her body. She reached back and pulled out a short white apron. “Could someone help me tie this?” A half dozen volunteers rose in unison.
Madonna and I closed down the place a little early. The thumping of the bed upstairs made it awkward for some of the guys who’d had their designs on Jerrie. “I’ve heard that my son has amazing stamina.”
I made a pot of coffee. Tomorrow was Jerrie’s day to open, so I didn’t want to leave a mess. Madonna and I put the bar in order, then retired to my house, made a fire, and made love until almost sunrise when we finally fell asleep.
Jerrie never said much about what happened with C. C. that night, or what he said she told him she was pregnant. Within a week they were married. Jerrie sold Madonna her interest in the bar, so Madonna is my partner, now. She has the apartment above the bar. Half the nights I sleep there. Some night I sleep alone. We aren’t rushing into anything.
With Sheila Lamore tending bar most nights, business has picked up. And nobody, not even C. C., Junior, calls her “Grandma.”
“Yo, Babe” is the only title she answers to.
Paul Lewellan has published over forty short stories, including fiction in South Dakota Review, Big Muddy, Word Riot, Porcupine, Timber Creek Review, The Furnace, and American Polymath. His story, “The Queen of Bass Fishing in American,” received Special Mention in the 2010 Pushcart Prize anthology. Paul is an Adjunct Instructor of Communication Studies and Business Administration at Augustana College in Rock Island, Illinois.
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