Seared Tuna

I’m not sure if it was the seared tuna. I’m not sure if it was the seared tuna, or unproductive comparisons I had made throughout the evening; those that only press the large thumb of self-ostracization down on oneself. I’m not sure if it was that seared tuna salad or the looming shadow-worker I’ve sculpted; the catcher of fallen stars, with empty hands wiggling.

I was supposed to be watching a double-feature with a boy who has rosy cheeks and a naughtier version of a balloonist’s smile. He is tall and likes psycho-sexual horror. We would have drank bitter wine from across the seas, and tea with locally sourced honey. It would have been expensive but it would have been worth it. I wanted his innocent face to see me. The dings and bleeps of internet outreach never chimed, and so I met up with the actress instead.

After games around the fireplace, two British financiers chauffeured me back to the big white gallery: The exterior paint is white and the expansive walls are white. The tongues italicizing, oh, say… personal conclusions about chlorine-on-linen canvases, are, predominately belonging to those whom are white. In their non-iron work shirts, the UK gents quizzically said their goodbyes; they were honoring my request to leave me in front of a drug store on Highland.

Infectious organisms that gummed to my dinner were suddenly all heaped together on one very steep stairwell inside of me- perhaps with a rubber band wrapped around them, cutting off circulation- and in protest, they sent a bowling ball loose into my gut. The thin tattoo needles of rain marked my shoulders and I looked up at the street lights. I was not at the corner of happy nor healthy. Inside, there were several vested cashiers with very bleached complexions and a couple of huffed security guards buried under uniforms. Maybe they had mustaches. They were the sort of wage earners who seem largely disenchanted and in need of a fantastic handjob. I wrapped my arms around my belly, the international code for “I’m in pain” and willfully asked to use the restroom. “We don’t have a public restroom”. “Look, I know, but I’m going to be sick.” “Sorry, there’s no public restroom.” “Please help me. It’s an emergency.” “There’s nothing we can do. No public restroom.”

The automatic doors flapped open and spit me back out onto the sidewalk. I scanned up and down the avenue for my next destination. It was well after midnight. I fluffed my hair with one hand and wiped away runny makeup with the other. “Excuse me?” I beckoned, with my hands cupped over my mouth to ensure a resonant echo. The Mobil manager pushed opened a metal drawer which apparently secured a two-way conversation. I lowered my head so that my voice would carry inside the drawer. “I know your sign says NO RESTROOMS, but I am having an emergency. Please help me.” The clerk, I have to say, impressed me with his indifference. Arms folded, he simply shook his head no. “I’m really sick!” I cried. He looked off to the side, unflinching; he stood not unlike a Native American chief (but a really methy version). I thought, “If only I could ever care so little.” I stood there in front of the glass panel between us, the winter rain oddly comforting me. As alone as I felt in that moment, the sky’s tears stopped my own from rising. The sky is something I can always count on. I gagged.

Two neon red signs flashed OPEN across the street. It was a mid-century donut shop. I checked my phone. My Uber driver was approximately two minutes away. Should I risk it? It had already been ten minutes since I had called for my ride, I didn’t want to wait another ten. Fuck it. I darted across the road, hobbling with my arms closing me into the frame of my body. The old donut shop appeared to be vacant. I yanked on the door handles even though I already knew it was closed. It was all so dramatic. Those neon lights told lies- and got my hopes up like the lost dreams of so many Hollywood inhabitants. At this point, I had no choice but to strongly consider public defecation. A homeless or drunk or schizophrenic or perhaps very lonely (but probably drunk) man approached me. “What are you doing out here so late? Why are you out here? Why are you all alone? What are you doing, girly?” I hobbled some more, this time fleeing from the line of danger. He was still going.

Pawn Shop. 24 Hours. These crooks could surely understand bending the rules. They could certainly make an exception for a fine-bred dame like me. “Listen. I’ve been to a bunch of other places and no one will let me use their restroom. Can you PLEASE help me? I am really sick and I don’t know what to do.” With a friendly laugh, the Latin man behind yet another glass panel (symbolism, right?) said, “Sorry. I can’t do that. We don’t let anyone back here.” “I don’t know what to do. I am really, really sick. Can’t you please just help me?” “I mean, there’s a garbage can right out back if you want. I mean…” his sentenced puttered out into low vibrations. I threw my arms up and crab-walked out the door, trying to keep it all inside- the frustration, the toxic seared tuna, the tears, the worry, the disbelief.

A fast-food marquee sprouted up into the air like thorny, bony twigs. I could see the young staff members move in Christmas elf synchronicity. The light inside was yellower than my previous conquests, and this time I was certain that there would be some kindness- there would be SOME saving grace, some redeeming for humanity. All my cards were in. The entrance doors were locked, but what about the elves? Me and my obliterated ego ran around to the side of the building, across the wet mound of grass, and barked at the drive-thru agent, “Can you please let me in to use the restroom? I am really sick and I honestly don’t know what to do. I’ve tried everywhere. I need help.” There were three cars in line and I was directly to the side of one of them. I know how crazy I looked; rained on, physically impulsive in vintage Indian textiles. The young boy in a visor did not care about the pain I was in- he was busy handing medium fries to a Jack in the Box patron. “I’ll give you as much money as you want. I’ll buy one of everything. Just please let me in right now. I am so sick. I need help.” He fell quiet and I could see the customer’s moral dilemma. Rejected, I scurried off like a west-end possum into the night.

The synthetic glare of an AM/PM convenience store bit right into the black skyline. I was going for the gold. In I went, twelve-packs stacked high, and above those, the curious leer of the only employee present. “I need your bathroom.” “It’s out of service.” “No it’s not. I need the bathroom.” “I just told you, it’s out of service.” “I am really, really sick,” the outgoing messaged repeated itself. “IT’S. OUT. OF. SERVICE.” He folded his arms with an authoritative pride. “Why is everyone a fucking asshole?!” I just about screamed, miming some sort of mini-seizure. Ow. Good God I was in excruciating pain. I was one notch above soiling myself. There was still an awareness- a feminine sense of dignity, if you will- that kept me in tact. I was as stiff as a sitcom butler. Ow. The knives went deeper.

I climbed into the back seat of the car and let out a whimper. “I don’t understand it,” my Russian driver said. “How could you not help such a pretty girl?” Everything in me stopped. “Such a pretty girl, and no one will help?” he added. Hanna-Barbara animated swirls seemed to be appearing above my head. “It doesn’t matter if I’m pretty. It doesn’t matter what I look like. I’m a human. Humans should help each other.” It was the only thing I could think to say, and I said it with urgency. We drove another mile or so when a blinking diner sign hollered from the corner. This was an actual late-night restaurant, with red booths and a juke box and intricate tile flooring. This was my last hope on my route home. I didn’t think I could hold it anymore. I would’ve had to get out on the freeway and squat by the side of the road. White aprons, white dish towels and my white teeth demonstrating what felt like a blueprint of a smile joined in tempo. “The bathroom is toward the back and you make a left.” Cherubs playing trumpets encircled me. I was Angelina Jolie on the Tomb Raider poster. I was Naomi Campbell, cat-walking with purpose and focus. “Please wait for me.” I texted my driver. “Don’t worry.” he replied. I felt a gold rush up my spine, but it was the reverberation of my own smile.

I closed the car door and sighed a sigh of relief. The seared tuna had left me. Good riddance, seared tuna. I could breathe again. I could twist and bend and laugh. I could listen to my driver’s stories. “My wife and I have been married twenty-four years,’ he said. “What’s your secret?” “My secret? My mother. She told me ‘the woman is always right’”. “Why are you working so late? It’s two in the morning and it’s pouring.” This man with crumpled jowls and a down-turned mouth was no spring chicken. “It is almost me and my wife’s twenty-fifth anniversary. I take her on special trip or something. To Bahamas or Hawaii maybe. So I work more hours so I can do for anniversary.” His kindness or general patience brought the color back to my face. I thought of the boy with the pink cheeks and the wise words and shut my eyes so tightly, listening to the water soundtrack God was playing for me.