The mayor arrived at 2:15 in the afternoon, just as he always does. Not a minute before, not a minute after, and certainly not without his bowler hat that is two sizes too small for his fat head.
“Meringue or Rhubarb today?” asked Pod, even though she already knew the answer.
“Rhubarb, and warm it up with a bit of ice cream. Make it two bits,” the mayor laughed from a place somewhere beneath his chins as though he didn’t say the same thing every day.
The mayor pretended to consider. He pretended to think about his weak bladder and inability to fall asleep at night if he drank coffee past noon. “Yes,” he said, after waiting for enough time to pass should one be really considering such things.
“Comin’ on up,” said Pod, as she poured the coffee.
She slid the pie across the counter in a practiced move that left the plate just an inch from the edge.
“One of these days that’s going to end up in my lap,” said the mayor, trying to sound stern.
“Maybe, but one of these days is not today,” replied Pod.
The mayor shook his head while shoveling pie into his mouth.
“You know,” he said pointing his fork at Pod, mouth still full of pie, “those people down there at city hall, bitchin’ and hollerin’ about not being able to park a goddamn motorhome along Seventh Street are giving me a goddamn headache.”
Pod could see that it was not in fact the people down at city hall that were giving the mayor a headache. It was his swollen pancreas. But that’s not a conversation to have over pie.
Pod walked the three blocks between The Cafe and her little house. As she passed the blue house two doors down from her, she waved to Carol – who was hiding behind her curtains and keeping a stiff expectant eye on the neighbors, just in case anyone decided to do anything worth gossiping about.
Pod saw the slight gap in the curtains snap shut and could envision Carol clutching at her blouse as though she barely escaped certain death. Carol always pretended not to be peering nosily out from her windows, and Pod always pretended she could see Carol plain as day.
Pod reached the small wood fence that separated her house from the rest of the world and lifted the crooked gate — just about an inch on the right — so that she could free the latch. The moment she stepped over the threshold of her yard, she felt a wave of relief. Her shoulders lowered, her muscles relaxed, and her brow unfurled. Pod walked up the flagstone path stepping over the cracks with practiced measure, even though she didn’t know her mother and there was no need to break her back. She said hello to the ever watchful Snug, a black Scottie dog who belonged to her neighbor who lived across the alleyway that ran alongside her house. Snug’s ears stood up and his tail gave a short wag, but that was all the attention he could muster before he got bored with Pod and returned his stern eye to the kids playing across the street. Pod thought that if dogs had human jobs, Snug would be the surly playground monitor who bosses kids around through a megaphone. Snug and Carol would make a delicious pair, if they didn’t hate each other so much. You see, there could only be one guardian of the neighborhood, and the one who could shit on your lawn usually won.
Once in the house, Pod kicked off her shoes in front of the door, untied her apron and threw it in the wash. Lank, Pod’s cat, wound himself around her feet, managing to simultaneously be underfoot and avoid being stepped on.
“Hey Lank” said Pod. “Rough day at the office too?”
The Cafe paid the bills, but it wasn’t what one would call fulfilling. Listening to that fat-ass mayor glib on about the people of Whitten Island made her tired. The mayor is just a greedy blowhard who is scheduled to die on May 17th, just twenty-eight days from today, and as far as Pod can see, the world won’t be any less without him.
After a long hot shower, Pod walked down to a coffee shop to do some work. When not serving pancakes and eggs at The Cafe, Pod runs a local dating website, Love Potion Number Nine. It’s probably not what most thirtysomethings aspire to do, but it’s fun for Pod and it earns her quite a bit of side cash. Members have to pay a monthly fee in order to access the website, where they enter some personal information and things they think others would like to know about themselves — although the things they enter are never what other people want to know.
Mike606 adds that he loves to hike with his two yellow labs. HotLoni doesn’t really want to know about his dogs — she wants to know if he talks with his mouth full or leaves the empty milk carton in the fridge. KnottyNines mentions that she likes country music and wants to go bungee jumping. Smitty404 — terrible screen name Pod thinks, who gives themselves a name that corresponds with a broken link? — likes long walks and bookstores. None of this is what the other wants to know. Not one person on this website gives a shit that SparkFour makes vision boards and does CrossFit.
What they really want to know is if the other will get stupid drunk at a company party. Can they keep a positive balance in their checking account? Is their ex-girlfriend crazy? Do they have genital herpes? That’swhat people really want to know before the first date. Pod has yet to see a profile that says, “41 yo female who is moderately insecure, will spend hundreds of dollars every month on beauty products and hair appointments, can’t handle any sort of criticism — direct or implied — and will make you have a joint Facebook account.”
No one knows that Pod is behind Love Potion Number Nine — that’s something she wouldn’t put on her “About” page. If she were to date. Which she doesn’t. Pod has very little interest in having a serious relationship with someone. Relationships are hard when you know more than you should and when your thoughts can somehow rearrange the circumstances around you — and because people are messy. Pod has no interest in helping them clean that mess up.