You arranged to meet her at the front steps of a church with dizzying limestone curves of nude angels. They blew shaken breaths into the tumbling leaf sky. When she arrived she scrunched her face and pecked a kiss on one of the statue’s lips.
Later she would describe the sensation as cold, but right then you sat on the steps while she kicked pigeons in various directions. She was having fun, you could tell, the way her markered eyebrows were sketched down into the bridge of her nose.
Once she was done, she ripped a feather from the bird’s wing and tucked it behind your ear. “Fashionable,” she commented with a wistful smile.
What she also did was tug on the sleeve of your coat and beg with whines like the wind carrying dust that catches on your eyelashes. She asked if you could move the meeting to a local restaurant with expensive wine instead. You knew, in the back of that mind like mismatched socks, that it wasn’t a good idea. She argued that she wouldn’t talk another minute without some garlic fries and a glass of tequila.
You would suggest taking a taxi but there had been too many incidents in yellow vehicles like those. Hangovers with ties knotted too tight around your neck and religious holidays you had spent thinking about your career and ignoring your family’s frustrated calls.
Besides, she offered to drive anyway. Her car was neat and smelt of Kleenex that may or may not have been coated in salty Sunday tears with hints of smashed glass bottles in the trunk.
“Don’t worry, the restaurant isn’t far,” she cooed, and pinched herself from the daydream.
You didn’t mind and clutched your notebook closer to your chest. It was your soul in a world full of mental women who survived murders.
She clicked the key into place and the car spluttered to a start. She patted the leather wheel a few times before rolling down the window. A breeze filtered through and you shivered.
“David, dear, do you have your driving license? Just in case we run into the Fuzz.” She licked her too-pink lips.
You gulped and clutched the arms of the seat. “Don’t you have a license? You’re like thirty.”
She hushed you with a finger weaved with gold rings and ruby-throated gems. “Don’t expose me. Thirty around here is like sixty in the rest of the world. Now let’s go.”
Nobody warned you about her driving. That’s a shame, too, because by the time you arrived at the restaurant, your round school boy glasses had been flipped upside-down on your pepper-freckled face. She flicked strands of orange hair out of her own eyes and tore the doors apart with the tip of her high heels.
“Follow, David,” she commanded, and you did.
Inside there were low wooden tables with scars shaped like the initials of lovers that never reunited. Also watermelon gum and ants that disguised themselves.
Waiters bearing the heaviness and silence of a muted black swept by. They sat you down and she scooted back her chair and lifted her feet to rest on the table.
You stared at her shriveled, dry toes and the contrast between them and the lime green sandal. She smirked when she saw you looking and wiggled them in your direction. You sighed and wiped your eyes.
She was becoming impatient with those dangly bead earrings from a local craft fair. “So, are you going to ask me any questions, David dear?”
You stole a breath full of salty fried and hamburgers. Your stomach screamed. “Yes, I’ll begin.” You jotted down Margo Johnson Interview on a fresh page in your notebook. The ballpoint pen you carried was full with ink and ready to scribble. “Could you tell us in detail what you saw that night of the Johnson Murder?”
She swallowed, splitting open her purse to retrieve an old cigarette. She lit it in front of you and you saw the reflection of red and orange eyes that licked the cigarette. Finally, she stuck it in her mouth and glanced up at the ceiling. “We were on a bridge that night, the day before my wedding. He asked me to dance beside the water with him and I agreed. We were to be newlyweds the next morning so we could do whatever we wanted. My family had joined us and warned us about the money-crazy men. They came. With guns and gray masks and deep voices—”
She puffed smoke into your face and you coughed and waved it away. She was probably not supposed to smoke in the restaurant but you didn’t think she cared. You wrote a few notes in your notebook and looked up to the ceiling and saw it was white. A boring, faceless white with no scars and no gum. You didn’t know why she liked gazing at it.
“I’m sorry,” she managed to choke, “I can’t answer that question. It’s too painful and I need something to eat.” Tinted tears imprinted themselves on her cheeks and she observed the restaurant.
A waiter rushed by with a platter full of fries and she caught a handful of his apron. He almost tripped.
“Sir, who are those fries going to?” she asked, batting her artificial eyelashes.
The waiter frowned, “Table five, over there.” He pointed to a family of two parents and three bickering children.
“Well let’s just say there was a little mix up. We’ll have the fries and you can go make them another plate. Oh, and fetch me some tequila too. I won’t last this hazy afternoon alone!” she called after him while removing the fries from his grip. Setting them down on the table, she placed her cigarette on an extra plate and lunged for the fries. “They’re not garlic but will do just fine.”
“Margo,” you grabbed a fry, “please try and tell us the details. Maybe we could start at the end and work backwards? What happened in the end?”
She twirled her ringed fingers around in her hair and tugged at the knots when they became tangled. “I don’t remember the end except for the part where they let me live and killed my family and husband and where I got bone-crushing depression.”
“Margo!” you exclaimed, and were surprised at yourself because the drinks hadn’t even arrived yet. You didn’t even bother to write it down in your notebook. “If you can’t remember the events, this interview will never work. I’m honestly starting to think that this murder is fictitious.”
She frowned and laughed, “How dare you, bitch! I’m trying to do something nice for the world by telling my tragic, stupid story. Do you think I want to do this? And don’t speak to Margo Johnson like that.” She gathered her feet off the table and poured the whole platter of fries into her purse. The cigarette was left alone until she sucked another big breath in and let out in your face. The smoke was tart and salty and forced you to blink it out of your eyes. She set it back down on the plate and you watched wisps of smoke rise from it. “We’re done here.”
“Goodbye, Margo.” you waved with a halfhearted smile. “See you tomorrow.” She kicked the doors open and clicked all the way to her car in her four-inch heels. You knew she was much shorter without them on and crossed out the name in your notebook.
“Excuse me?” There was a tap on your shoulder. You twisted your head only to find the waiter in all black balancing a tall tequila glass on a platter. “Should I hold onto this until she’s back?”
“No, no,” you laughed at yourself and Margo’s timing and the ignorant idea of the interview. “Just put it all on Ms. Johnson’s tab. She’ll be back from the bathroom soon.”
The waiter smiled and set the glass down. His eyes flicked to your face one more time before he and his curled lips disappeared.
You took the glass in one hand and the cigarette and notebook in the other. You didn’t break open the doors like she did but you were close enough. When you arrived outside the birds flocked around you and you slurped the straight tequila. It was earthy, semi-sweet, and self-centering. You could feel it tickling your throat and your breath becoming strong. You could also feel the stains on your lips and you liked the way the liquid slid up the edges of the glass.
You thought of the naked angels and their limestone hearts and shoved the cigarette into your mouth. The sidewalk was gray and when you came upon a timeworn trashcan woven from scratched metal poles, you stopped.
Your notebook flew into the can and fell apart when hitting the bottom. The pages scattered and shrieked. It had wings but couldn’t fly on its own. You need to go back to where the people couldn’t talk and were vulnerable under the sun.
You danced carefully and confoundedly, feet tapping on the concrete, all the way back to the church.