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Michael Fontana

Slipping the Mickey

         I noticed how the edges of things crisped with light and right away knew someone had slipped me the mickey. It didn’t take much in the early aughts, I was such a lightweight at seventy-eight, but it was nonetheless unnerving to stare at the curtains and see the contrast of flame on top with ash below. I smoked a Pall Mall, walked out the door, and sunlight accosted me like a mugger, rifling my pockets, kicking my shins, boiling my eyeballs blind. I leaned against a lamppost, crown of my head cold against the metal, hands gripping it with a force like to burst the rivets.
          That’s when my girlfriend, Shari, with her obsidian hair, argon eyes, and opal skin, turned the corner and spoke up:
           “What’s eating you?”
      “It’s what I ate, not what’s eating me,” I said, voice a quivering jellyfish.
           “Do tell,” she said.
           “Somebody slipped me the mickey,” I said.
           “Don’t say.”
           “You know as well as I do,” I said.
         She pulled her shoulders back in an attitudeof what I didnt know. Don’t blame me.”
           “I didn’t.”
           “I heard the insinuation though.”
      I insinuate nothing,I said. I lifted the crown of my head, reluctantly, from the lamppost, and turned to take her in, the way a kayaker might take in the rapids with a glance before plunging into their depths. “Still, it’s a possibility, isn’t it?”
           “Impossible,” she said.
           “Because I’ve been out of town for a week, remember?”
       I hesitated over this, turning it over and over in my mind like a diamond under a loupe before I accepted it as fact. “It’s true,” I said.
           “Who then?” she asked.
           “Let’s figure it out.”
      We observed a bench nearby, sat ourselves on it, my left hand catching her right, the morning dew on the boards dampening my buttocks through my trousers.
           “Had to be Brimley,” I soon decided and declared.
           “You don’t say.”
        I thought he was pushing up daisies, she said, the sweat of her palm as oily as a conger on my skin.
           “Pushing daisies,” I said. “He runs a floral shop on 99th Street.”
           “Why would he mickey you?”
         “Why wouldn’t he? Old gambling debts, jealousy over missing out on you, the gases of tulips and lilies beating him about the brains . . .”
           “Then confront him,” she said.
           “I’m too messed up right now. Let the intoxication pass.”
          I grew reckless and laid my head on her shoulder, a vulnerability I’d never shown her before. She patted my hair with her free hand, kissed my scalp, muttered words into the darkness that I couldn’t quite make out though it soothed me, the way the drone of a bee inside honeysuckle sets summer alight.
         In time she released me, and I returned to sitting upright. The sun was at its full tilt in the sky, like a neck throbbing in the guillotine. I closed my eyes and behind them played orchestras of fire, all the musical notes in yellow, blue, and a satanic red. With great effort I forced myself to stand, my shoes squeaking like a notice of unpaid rent in the mailbox.  
          Shari stood as well, tossed her hair back, hooked her arms inside my left elbow and guided me over to 99th Street.
       Brimley was a corpulent man wearing bib overalls and a white smock. He parted his hair like the Red Sea. “Brimley!” Shari shouted.
          He turned, his hands full of goldenrods, with a look like to pee his pants. “You!” he shouted back, though staring at me, not her.
           “What’s with the mickey?” I asked.
           “Mickey? I know nothing of no mickey,” he said.
           “Liar!” I shouted at him. I moved to break away from Shari, but she held me firm in the cage of her hands.
          “Listen,” Brimley said, moving toward me with the calm of a rhino building up to a charge. “I do lots of things that stink, okay? I drink, I pop pills like they’re Junior Mints, I whore around, you name it. But one thing I don’t do is lie, especially to you.”
           “Why not?” Shari asked, her features newly addled.
        Brimley turned to her. “Because I owe his destitute ass my life, thats why.”
         “True,” I said, chastened and staring down at my shoes, which felt like mugs of hot soup around my feet.
         “Listen,” he said, continuing to chatter at her. “We were at Anzio, sand crabs crunching underneath our combat boots. I’m about to step on a mine because I’m puffing away on a Camel unfiltered that refuses to light in the wind. Suddenly your boyfriend, cathedral of crap that he is, pushes me out of the way. I cursed him then because the Camel fell into the ocean and floated away. I curse him now because here I am peddling gladiolas when I should have long ago reached my eternal reward, no matter how horrific it might be.”
         Shari looked at him and looked at me. So, is that gratitude or spite?”
           “An olio of both,” he said, and spat on the ground.
          Meanwhile the mickey, still cruising through my system, turned all the flowers into pyrotechnics, burst after skyward burst of color and light, each a scalding flame that I only dared to see from the corners of my eyes. I collided with Shari on the sidewalk there as I moved to turn back toward my flat and staggered with the contact. She, on the other hand, completely toppled backward as if Frazier to my Ali.
          “I’m sorry, my dove,” I said to her as I reached for her hand to help guide her back to standing. I had forgotten that she, like me, like Brimley, wore peculiar spirals of wrinkles on her face, each line a demarcation of some past trauma, perplexity, difficulty, or defeat that etched itself into us and onto us so we would never be completely free of it.
          Still, they made her even more excellent for that. I kissed her hand as she stood again. She smoothed her skirts and adjusted the cream-colored buttons of her blouse too.  “Who does that leave, if not Brimley?”
           “Me,” I said.
           “I slipped myself the mickey.”
         “Yes. Every morning I set aside my day’s worth of pills. I put them all in a small ceramic bowl hand-glazed by my mother, sealed with an image of the ouroboros, eating itself alive. The pills tinkle as they touch. But I also had out my jar of mickeys, a stockpile of them to ward off evildoers and ne’er-do-wells. This fine morning the sunlight climbed through my window like an eagle greeting its hatchlings in the aerie. Mesmerized, I must have absently emptied the jar of mickeys into mother’s bowl. They tinkled there with the same poignant grace as my other pills.”
        “Plus, they’re blue,” Shari added, her features now again lit with their customary wisdom.
         “Yes, like your Viagra. You knew I was on my way. You must have dropped one of those in the bowl too. You confused the pill of desire with the pill of dismay. No wonder you’re in such a state.”
         This recognition brightened my features too, I could tell. I felt the weight of despair shake away like so many sheaves beneath the force of a scythe.
         She took my hand and smiled, so vivid a smile it might have been glacial snow in which I wished I could have hidden my head. Instead, we wandered back to my flat with the mystery solved, and while we couldn’t quite make love, we could reinvent it under pressure of a thousand touches, kisses, and caresses.

Michael Fontana is a retired activist, teacher, and fundraiser who lives in beautiful Bella Vista, Arkansas.

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