Sunday Observer Online


Sunday, 1 February 2015





Marriage Proposals
Government Gazette

EDVARD TUSK: without his face

Pablo D’ Stair

[Part 5]

Already across the motel lot, shivering over the curb into the long approach towards the diner, it occurred to me how not only did I have no idea why I hadn’t just gone back into my room after my little chat with the man—why hadn’t I asked his name?

Had he asked mine?—but that I had not really dressed for extended time out, the crisp tense to the air making breathing in—even just through my nose, scratching up an immediate sore throat—a chore.

At a middling trot I pressed on to the door of the diner, cursing things generally, a pointed scowl to me as I walked in—one which the woman at the cash register must have noted because she asked ‘Is that guy with the dog still out there bothering people?’ my eyes fixing on her a blank five seconds before I, a shudder at my neck base and teeth chattering, forced a smile and a ‘Naw, naw, just freezing out there.’

Why was I back in the diner? I groaned to myself behind my fingers pressed, rubbing warbled circles, into my eyes, then gingerly tapped my nose with my thumb tip, wincing at the contact. Why hadn’t I just turned around back up to my room?

Pointless questions, though, as with each breath of the over-warmed air—a vent just above my table, my head fairly swimming from the heat—the thought of the ascent of motel stairs, the pale orange walls of the room, beige of the bedside lamp or mint-white of the fluorescent bulb over the bathroom sink seemed excruciating to endure. Funny, of course—I placed an order for coffee, some toast, two strips of bacon—as all I would do in the room was sleep, yet really it was sleep which somehow felt the most exhausting, a finality, a sentencing I should pain myself to avoid.

All my thoughts were scribble-scrabble—and I was getting sick (‘I am getting sick,’ I whispered, as though hissing the words at Justine) was already sick, aches in my armpits, along the front of my neck indicating I needed to be out of commission at least a few days, medicated, no nuisances to stir me up.


When with a glance up I found a certain man sitting in a booth was looking at me, his eyes wide and intent, I got to thinking he had also been looking at me a moment ago when I’d given the room a bored look around, coffee too hot to drink, annoyed I’d forgotten to ask for a glass of water to cool it with.

I held his eyes a moment, was about to give him some kind of challenging glower, when the waitress passed my table in his direction, he turning his head up to her to take his check.

But he didn’t just take the check. I couldn’t hear what he was saying, but he held up a hand to keep the waitress there, slowly taking from his pocket a worn sheet of paper he unfolded, handed over to her. While she took a look, he turned to his coffee, had a sip, his wide eyes (or maybe not, maybe not looking at me) fixing on me again over the rising cup.

The waitress said something, the pantomime of it a clear indication that whatever was on the paper meant nothing to her, and the man, in short order, stood, put on his coat, hat, left a sizeable tip then walked past me toward the diner entrance.

A sudden sharp pain in my ribs, a deep seeded cramp, caused me to shift in my seat, squirm, and when I twisted in the direction of the cash register I saw the man was showing the piece of paper to another woman and some man—the late-shift cook from how he was dressed, a cigarette at his lip as though about ready to step out for a break, no one in the diner but myself and the staff, once this man with the paper left—all of them giving it a look, making a show of comparing each other’s impressions of whatever was the content, before all giving indication they’d no idea about the matter (whatever it was).

The man turned and our eyes (his even more peculiar, this time, somewhat bulging) met, though I was quick to give an extra-theatrical wince, continue my in-vain attempts at settling the worsening cramp now spreading into my abdomen.


Some time must have passed, though it felt quite all at once that the waitress was touching my shoulder, asking was I feeling alright, playfully apologizing she hoped it hadn’t been the food. I was sweating—brow, neck-back, underarms, seat of my pants—had to wait through some gurgles from the base of my throat before I told her I’d been under weather before I’d come in—‘Insomnia,’ I said, ‘hoped something in my stomach would’ve helped.’ She stood by while I got to my feet, followed right with me as I got to the cash register, where she and the other woman working made some remark about the man.

I perked up at this, pointing in the direction of where I’d been sitting, asked if they meant that guy, the both of them nodding, looking at me as though waiting for some riddle to be deciphered for them. Instead, I just asked ‘What was he…showing you some pamphlet?’

The waitress began speaking, but the other woman spoke over her—no bother to the waitress, who seemed glad not to be the one to give a narrative—explained it hadn’t been a pamphlet, but a print-out of a picture of some man.

‘A missing person?’ I offered vaguely, another idea about it in mind, but a desire for them to get to it without it obviously being at my prompt.

‘I don’t know. He just asked had the man been in. A Private Eye, said he was.’

And to this the waitress added, with some snark and a head shake, chin touching her chest, a very playacted faux-subvocalization,

‘Emphasis on the Eye.’
‘What do you mean?’

‘He just stared. I’d say he was an out-and-out creep, except he didn’t do anything…strange.’

Meek remark

I offered a meek remark about how he’d seemed to just be staring at me, too—doing an exaggerated imitation while I said it, holding my eyes as wide as I could make them, a kind of boogey-man expression and a smile.

‘Yeah,’ the waitress said, aiming the remark more to the woman, as though I was backing her up on a point of contention, ‘Yeah. And he didn’t blink any time I talked to him. Not once.’

But the other woman didn’t consent to this, made a noncommittal kind of sound, though admitted he sure kept his eyes wide open when he spoke and that, yes, he might have had some condition—though, she added, she hadn’t seen him applying any eye-drops, either, so, in her opinion (especially with the dry heat of the diner) he must have blinked, sometime.

‘That and they weren’t bloodshot—his eyes.’

A kind of lull crept over the discussion, I stood there noddering, eventually signing my check, giving a substantial tip, for which I got a warm ‘Are you sure? Thank you!’ Then as I was heading out the door, I heard the woman say to the waitress—as though returning to their own, more in-depth, private discussion of the man, ‘No, you’re right. Not bloodshot. But they seemed bluish—the whites seemed kind of bluish instead of the normal—‘ but I was back into the freezing night before I heard the conclusion of the remark.

Stomach cramp

I had to shut my eyes immediately, the cold making them sting and water, and I leaned to the diner façade, half hunched to another stomach cramp, hardly noticing the overnight cook was there, smoking his cigarette, huddled around himself for warmth, tapping some text message in to his phone. The only reason I didn’t move off, straight away, was the nausea kept me affixed, anchored there, my skin feeling numbly feverish, bones leaden—and I suppose it was due to my giving glances around that the cook said to me, ‘That guy—you looking for him?’

I coughed, swallowed what felt like two shot-glassfuls of the saliva rapidly secreting from the linings of my cheeks, then said

‘Yeah. He take off?’

Cook shrugged, breathed into the side of one hand, put his phone to his pocket, gave a last birdlike tap to the almost wholly burnt down remains of his cigarette, and offhand thumbed in the direction of the motel, saying ‘Thataway. Showed me that damned picture, again, too. Like I hadn’t already just looked at it.’

‘Yeah,’ I said, touching at my neck—lymph nodes fist-sized—and felt compelled for some reason to lie, ‘he showed me in the toilet and then at my table, too.’


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