General Fiction posted September 6, 2021

This work has reached the exceptional level
Zee agrees to have lunch with an old friend.

Lunch With Iris, again.

by zeezeewriter

Word to the wise, never start a conversation with, "How are you." Think of it as opening Pandora's Conversation Box.

And that brings me to how I ended up having lunch, once again, with my ex-girlfriend, Iris, a walking-talking encyclopedia of misery, starting with arthritis and ending with the dreaded Zika Virus she caught while visiting Lincoln Park Zoo. Litigation is pending proof.

When last we spoke, Iris and her dip-shit husband concocted a scheme to extort a cool million from my dwindling coffer.

The scheme cost her husband a body part, and Iris most of her inheritance. I walked away with a hole in my living room wall and a date with an adorable Detective. (More on the Detective later.)

Anyhoo, I digress.

My life had settled into the mundane. Biggie and her son, Tolliver, moved into our cottage in Wisconsin. Q had done the gentlemanly thing and put a ring on her finger. His thoughtfulness accomplished several things. She was now a citizen of the US, and Q has custody of Tolliver, thus circumventing any future claim on the boy from his birth father's family.

Q divides his time between Chicago and Wisconsin. I admire his ability to coexist on two vastly different fronts. I still grapple with Day Light Savings time--fall up, spring, whatever.

With Biggie gone and Q absent every weekend, I felt abandoned. Even Stella has deserted me for a bearded man of questionable reputation. Something to do with being a proud boy.

So, I was left adrift, untethered, to roam about my condo searching for mental stimulation and anything resembling copulation. My Detective had flown the coop. According to him (and I quote), "You're nuts."

I took this as an insult. I'm a card-carrying member of the manic-depressive club with narcissistic tendencies--several really big words for a one-syllable man.

So, that's how I ended up having lunch with Iris. Sheer desperation co-mingled with absolute boredom.

I met her at Manny's Delicatessen, her favorite lunch spot, not mine. I prefer to be seated in a well-padded booth with a linen table cloth and napkin.

Manny's is cafeteria-style. Get in line, pick up a red plastic tray (still wet from the dishwasher) and silverware wrapped in a flimsy paper napkin. Then scoot your tray down a waist-high running board until you encounter a sweaty man in a grease-stained shirt either slicing meat or dishing up a tomato-based special of the day.

Iris ordered the corned beef on rye bread, served up with a potato pancake and a limp pickle spear. I ordered the matzo ball soup and a diet soda.

And of course, by the time we'd worked our way to the cashier, a log jam of customers stood in a semi-circle, waiting for a table in an overcrowded dining room.

"I'll get us a table," Iris said. Iris is a pro at the table stare-down. "Follow me,"

"I'll wait here," I said.

She zeroed in on a table against the wall. Two casually dressed men sat engaged in conversation, their empty plates piled in the middle of the table. "Ya done?" she asked.

"Pardon me?" one of the men said in a somewhat indignant tone.

"No problem," she said. "I'll wait." And she stood a foot away from their table and hummed the tune, The Lion Sleeps Tonight.

At that moment, I felt like a gazelle lollygagging around on the Serengeti Plains flanked by lions. I know. Crazy.

The men slurped down the last few remnants of soda clinging to melting ice cubes, shoved back their chairs, and harrumphed off.

Without waiting for a bus person to clean the table, Iris pushed the dirty plates, glasses, and silverware to the back of the table and claimed our spot. "Hurry!" She said.

I scooched myself past angry patrons and joined her. "The tables dirty," I said, balancing my tray like a juggler with a plate on a long stick.

"No problem," she said and pulled a wad of napkins from the metal dispenser and commenced toweling off the table. "Sit," she said.

I sat, imagining the remaining lions circling for the kill.

Once settled in, I spoke the dreaded words without thinking. "How are you?"

For the next twenty minutes, I heard how she's plagued with urinary tract infections, hates her new job, new boss, new apartment, and all of her neighbors. And, (wait for it...) she thinks her eight hundred-dollar pedigreed cat has feline leukemia.

With only a droopy pickle spear left on her plate, she got around to asking, "How are you?"

"Okay," I answered.

"Just okay'?" She asked.

"No, in fact, I positively fabulous!"

And that's when I realized why I go to lunch with Iris.

Just keeping my characters alive, at least in my own mind.
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