Spring 2011

Table of Contents - Vol. VII, No. 1

Poetry    Translations    Fiction

Lou Gaglia

Days of Wine and Pratfalls


Jack’s nightly dinners at the pizza restaurant after work were routine until the new waitress handed him a hot plate of baked ziti.
            “Yow!” Jack cried, shaking both hands wildly and then plunging them into the pitcher of ice water.
            The waitress giggled, and he looked up at her curiously.
            “I’m really sorry.” She continued to chuckle. “Are you all right? I’m sorry.”
            “No, it’s my fault,” he said, taking his hands out of the pitcher.
            “It was hot,” she said.
            “Thanks. I know.”
            While he ate, he read his newspaper, as usual, but sneaked looks over at the waitress as she cleaned a table with a rag. He watched her accidentally wipe the entire oil and vinegar stand onto a booth seat, then laugh to herself as she picked it up, wiping the spilled liquid off with her hand.
            Jack looked away, out the window into the dark street. His eyes opened wider. “Geez,” he said to himself aloud, “I think I’m in love.”
            Her name was Lee, and she thought he looked pretty cute in his oil delivery man’s uniform. She felt bad that she’d burned his fingers, especially since he didn’t get angry, didn’t ask for a new pitcher of water, and left her a nice tip. A few nights later, as she walked by his table, she accidentally got one foot stuck under another and fell onto his table, then backwards into him. He caught her, helped her back up, and asked her to a movie.
            On the way into the movie theater she accidentally swung the glass door into his nose. “Sorry,” she said, wincing, but he laughed it off.
             As they made their way into the middle of an aisle she caught her coat on one of the seats, and as they both bent to untangle it, they knocked heads.
            I’m crazy about her, Jack thought as they settled into their seats and held hands. Head over heels. She’s so beautiful in her clumsiness.
            Later she bought an extra large tub of popcorn which he held lightly between them on the arms of their chairs. But when he relaxed a little, she sneezed violently, knocking the entire contents into his lap.
            Lee’s relationships had never lasted more than a few dates. The last man in her life was her boss in an insurance office where she was secretary. She’d told him she’d fixed the squeak in his chair, but when he sat in it, it tipped completely backward and over. She’d forgotten that she’d released the whatchamacallit underneath the chair to wipe it clean and had forgotten to snap it closed again.
            Lee felt that it was only a matter of time before Jack stopped calling her. But his burned hands hadn’t bothered him, the door into his nose was no big deal, and he’d eaten the buttery popcorn right off his lap without a complaint. Maybe it would work out after all, but she wasn’t counting on it.
            When they began living together at his house, he loved her so much that the accidents hardly ever bothered him. One Saturday, while they tried to get the hose to work, she turned the water on at the wrong time, catching him full in the face with a steady blast.  Weekends later they were painting the house together. He took the hallway and she took the bathroom, but just as he decided to take care of the bathroom door frame she turned the corner at the same time and painted his face with a full stroke. 
            Lee’s boss at work became increasingly frustrated with her. It wasn’t only the burning of customers’ hands with baked ziti dishes and pans of pizza. It was the tripping into diners, the annoying questions she asked the pizza makers just as they were tossing their pies—only to have the pies land on the floor or their heads. It was turning on the coffee machine but forgetting to put the pot underneath. It was her uncanny ability to conk heads with the cooks and waiters and the boss himself no matter how careful they’d become around her. Finally, she accidentally poured ice water down a woman’s back, missing the glass entirely.
             Her boss had had enough and finally dismissed her.
            Jack was never especially clumsy himself. But one morning, as they brushed their teeth side by side, he dropped his toothbrush. “I’ve never done that before,” he remarked, but she was still too sleepy to notice or answer. A few days later, in the garage, as they headed for one of the cars on the way to the supermarket, he dropped one apple under one car and another apple under the other. They were too far under to reach, so he backed one car out and ran the apple over; then he backed the other car out, more carefully, but ran that one over, too.
            “You’re getting to be worse than me,” she noted. 
            “That’s impossible,” he laughed.
            Lee found another job, this time as a museum cashier. She worked her first three days without an accident. On the fourth day she slipped and fell as she was giving a man his change. She went down suddenly with a thump and the change flew into the air.  But she went the entire following week without a pratfall, a spill, or even a head bonk. Even her trips to the cafeteria for lunch were incident free.
            During a break she looked idly at some museum brochures listing the goings-on around town, and noticed that the gym was offering Yoga classes. She thought she’d give it a try.
            Jack and Lee tried to clear space in the backyard for a garden. As they walked single file along the grass near scattered garden tools, Lee stepped to the side. “Watch
the—” behind her, Jack stepped on the forked end of a rake and the handle walloped him in the forehead “—rake!” she finished as he staggered. He groaned and laughed, feeling at the bump on his forehead, but she looked at him gravely. “Are you all right?” she asked, and ran inside for ice.
            At work Jack was in the middle of his route, filling a house’s oil tank. When a hummingbird scared him he ran back to his truck, but he was clipped by a kid on a bicycle as he crossed the sidewalk. By the time he got up and brushed himself off, he realized he’d overfilled the tank. Oil spilled all along the sidewalk on the side of the house when he released the hose. He tried to clean the spill with extra rags he had in the truck, but it didn’t help much, so he broke large branches off a neighbor’s bushes and placed them over the spill. It was lucky, he thought, that neither the neighbor nor the house’s owners were home. Maybe they wouldn’t notice the spill or the missing branches.
            Lee’s Yoga lessons were fascinating and relaxing to her. She found she could center herself and balance. “I can stand on one leg for hours,” she boasted to a friend over the phone.
            “Why would you even want to balance on one leg for hours?” her friend had answered.
            Her friend didn’t understand. No one did.
            “Who balances for hours on one leg?” the friend went on. “I never heard of such a thing.”
            “I’m swimming, too,” Lee interrupted. “I can swim all day. Before, whenever I swam, I’d just sink. Now I can float all d—”
            “I gotta get off the phone,” her friend cut in.
            In the kitchen at home, Jack decided to put up a photo of him and Lee at the beach. Lee sat at the table reading a Yoga book while Jack found the stud and expertly began to drive a nail through. But as he hammered the nail one final emphatic time, the frying pan fell off the shelf above and dinged Jack on the head. The noise made Lee look up from her book. As Jack staggered around holding his head and laughing, Lee spat out, “Why the heck are you putting up that picture in the kitchen?” He stopped staggering to stare at her annoyed face. She went angrily back to her book, and he slumped sourly into a kitchen chair.
            Lee found herself avoiding marbles scattered in the hallway leading to the kitchen. She caught a bag of rice before it came down on her as she opened a cabinet. She knew she hadn’t put the rice up there or placed the marbles in the hallway. A few days later she walked into the kitchen and was caught by surprise by the wet floor. She gripped the floor with her bare feet to keep from slipping before expertly cat-walking away.
            Jack was miserable. The marbles, the rice, the wet kitchen floor—none of it had worked. He was losing her.
            After he finished his deliveries, he’d sometimes go out to eat dinner rather than come home. He went to the same pizza restaurant where he’d met Lee. The waitress cheerfully warned him well ahead of time about the hot dish of baked ziti. He didn’t even leave her a tip.
            The museum director asked Lee out to lunch in a fancy restaurant. She was thrilled, but she felt guilty about Jack. But she was thrilled. But she felt guilty about Jack. But she was also thrilled. And guilty about Jack…
            Jack took the day off and sat home reading Sports Illustrated on the porch, eating his lunch alone and drinking red wine. A bumble bee flew at him and he violently swatted at it with the magazine. Meanwhile the dark red wine spilled all over his light blue shirt. Two women neighbors talking nearby looked over dully as he laughed to himself, looking down at the large stain over his chest.
            The museum director took Lee to a very fancy restaurant on the west side of town. They ordered vichyssoise with salad, followed by fish and vegetables, and some kind of potato-like dish; then dessert was a chocolate mousse with coffee. He talked in monotone about the museum business. He didn’t have much interest in the paintings, he said, just the business aspect. Lee tried to listen attentively but couldn’t help looking around at the restaurant help. When she saw a waiter enter the “Out” door at the same time that another exited, the crash and the spill made her grin. The museum director looked back disinterestedly and continued talking. He spilled nothing, knocked over nothing, and tripped over nothing during the entire lunch. Perfectly poised. Perfectly boring! Lee watched his lips move and thought about Jack.
            Jack had had too much wine. He’d poured half of his second bottle onto the kitchen counter before realizing he had no glass. He decided not to risk a glass and took the entire third bottle out to the hammock with him. As he left the kitchen he glanced at the photo of him and Lee on the wall under the shelf of pans. He wanted to throw his wine bottle at it, but it was his last one, so he tucked it under his arm and headed outside.
            Lee raced home from the museum to find Jack in the hammock. He seemed to be having a conversation with the trees above. Her lips trembled, and a tear came curling down her cheek as she called to him. He stopped talking suddenly, twisting his head to look over, and the hammock flipped him over onto his stomach. “I landed on the wine bottle, Lee. Didya see that? I landed on the bottle.” She helped him up and took him inside and made coffee. They sat quietly talking on the couch. And when he sobered almost completely he agreed to look into that Yoga balance thingy with her, and they hugged so hard they knocked the lamp over.

© Lou Gaglia

Poetry    Translations    Fiction

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