The name of the Rose
The waiter left, taking the order, and the plate of pie that was already on the table. it was uneaten and that made me notice things. the table was full of things, actually. entrees, desserts, drinks. there wasn’t much there that was left out of the menu, and I suspected that those excluded were just removed before.
the is tall, with long hair and fashionable clothes. I can’t see much from behind, but I can guess she is in her thirties. she bearly touches any of the food. all she does is look at the napkin that is spread in front of her. there is some kind of intricate diagram on that. a flow chart.
the lady traces her finger carefully , moves through arrows and squares, puzzles things, then goes back to this square or that. when the waiter arrives with the new order, a mouth-watering chocolate mousse, she consults the diagram, pays in cash, tips as well. the waiter asks, and takes something else off the table again. out of habbit, he asks will there be anything else, or will she want something more, which sends her again to consult the diagram. she reaches a certain square and orders something. completely oblivious. she orders, pays, gets food, sends food, she tips well, I think, cause the guy, is so happy.
this goes on and on, a parade of food is marched on and off the table, with little more than a casual nibble here or there.
I am watching this. this is insane! I can’t leave. she seems to be trapped in this flowchart loop thing. but I don’t dare disturb this. what if I make things worse? in the end, everybody has a right to both privacy, and to be weird.
finally it’s eleven, my cup of coffee is ancient history, and the stools on all the tables are sitting upside down on the top. the waiter approaches, and hesitantly tells her that it’s last call. she consults the diagram yet again, and asks the waiter “what is my name?” to which the guy replies: “Rose Ellison”. the lady traces her finger down the bottom of the napkin. I can’t restrain myself any longer, so I stand and peek. the square she points to goes : ” enquire what is your name” . I look above that; an arrow and a square: “you’re informed it’s closing time”.
finally, below the question of the name is a branching point. another two arrows: ” if your name is Rose , pay, tip and go home ” the other: “if waiter doesn’t know name, or name is not Rose, then demand to see an appointed representative of the Mazda car dealership. do not leave until a member arrives.”
the lady leaves. she doesn’t take the napkin. but there are more like it, to be sure.
Names and Memories
Felicity stepped into a small diner, the air warm and welcoming from the frigid outdoors. Her hands slowly thawed as she waited for someone to seat her. She blew on her red fingers and rubbed her hands together, trying to warm them. Finally, a hostess arrived. “Hello,” She greeted Felicity.
“Hi, table for one please.” Her teeth chattered as someone else opened the door and a blast of icy wind blew inside.
“Follow me.” The hostess led her to a table holding two seatings. She placed the menu in front of Felicity, flashing a smile. “Someone will come take your order.” The woman hurried off.
Felicity grabbed the menu, her fingers tingling as they warmed. Her coat was still snug on her body and her scarf was still set in place around her neck. Her blue eyes scanned the list of foods that filled the menu.
A middle aged man came up with a notepad in his hand. His blonde hair was smoothed back neatly and his green eyes studied her intently. “Hi, I will be taking your order tonight.” He murmured. A flicker of recognition seemed to spark in his eyes. “You look like you could use a hot chocolate, Fe-Miss.”
Felicity’s face grew warm, “That sounds good. Thanks.” Her heart picked up as he turned to get her a hot chocolate. She was sure he almost said her name, but how could this waiter possibly know her? The line he had said also sounded familiar, yet she couldn't place why. Felicity hadn’t been to this small town in years, everyone had moved on with their lives. Several people she ran into didn’t recognize her.
The waiter arrived with a small napkin and a mug with steaming hot chocolate. Felicity had slipped of her coat and shed her scarf and gratefully accepted the steaming hot drink. The napkin slipped to the table and she placed her mug on it.
“What would you like to eat?” He pulled out his notepad again. His green eyes looked at her expectantly, something hid in them, a warning of some sort.
“Uhm, I’ll have the turkey club, please.” She handed him the menu. His fingers brushed hers, sending tingles up and down her arm. Felicity released the menu quickly and pulled her hand into her lap.
After the waiter left Felicity grabbed her hot chocolate and slowly sipped the warm liquid. It soothed her dry throat and helped her shivers to stop. The napkin floated onto her plate from the bottom of the mug. She set her mug down and picked up the small, flimsy napkin.
As she turned it around and around anxiously, her eyes caught a scrawled word on the napkin. She stopped, straightened it, and then smoothed the napkin. Her eyes squinted at the small writing in the corner, she studied it several seconds. Finally, she was able to comprehend what it was. Her heart raced as she stared at the little scrawled name. "Lawrence." The words caught in her throat as she whispered them.
An image of the waiter standing before her flashed to her mind. His eyes seemed to hold an urgency, a warning. She abruptly stood, her chair toppled over. Several spectators watched as the chair fell to the ground with a thud. Felicity fished in her jeans pocket to grab a few dollars and placed them on the table. She rushed to the door of the building, forgetting her coat and scarf. Her hand grabbed the door and she swung it open, pushing herself into the cold winter air.
Felicity rounded the building to an alley and hid in the shadows. If the waiter was right, then there was a man named Lawrence sitting inside the diner. The bitter wind cut around Felicity, she shivered hard and stood in the shadows. The diner door jingled open and then shut, footsteps sounded her direction. "She couldn't have gotten far." A gruff male voice spoke.
"I'm sure she's somewhere sir." Another masculine voice piped up.
Footsteps sounded towards where Felicity hid. Her body shook as she tried to stay still and her eyes peered into the darkening night. Heavy winter boots clomped in front of her then slowly seemed to grow more distant.
She held her breath as their voices drifted away. Someone touched her shoulder from behind. Felicity jumped and muffled a scream.
"Shhh!" A soft male voice warned. "It's just me." He turned her around gently.
"Oh." Felicity shivered harder than before, her teeth chattered. It was the waiter who took her order. He handed her the coat and scarf she left inside. "Thanks." She slipped them on.
"Here's your turkey club." A small smile formed on his lips. "I hope you enjoy it, Felicity."
Once he said her name, the memories rushed into Felicity's mind. "Travis?" Her heart pounded hard.
"Yeah." He rubbed her shoulders helping warm her. "Since you didn't pick up on my warning line, the only way I could let you know Lawrence was there was by discreetly writing it on a napkin to you."
She smiled. "Thanks for that." She clutched the box with her food.
"Stay safe, Felicity." His voice grew serious. "You know how bad Lawrence is and what he's after."
Her smile faded. "I know." She turned and walked into the night. "Thanks." She whispered. The name written on the napkin might have just saved her, for now.
She chose the place. I was anxious to see what that place said about her? I followed the crowd inside, all of us hurrying in, and out of a steady October rain. I paused just inside the doorway, disappointed to find the cafe trendy, and very busy. Periodic laughter arose from fern draped booths as young business people on lunch breaks vied for the attention of pretty co-workers, or new bosses. The hum of wordless voices dulled the persistent tinkling of silverware on china, while gentle currents pushed downward by overhead fans circulated the rich aromas of perfectly prepared foods. Aproned servers rushed past me with patchworks of culinary art in the balance. There were spaces at the bar, so I sat and ordered a coffee from an unsmiling, pony-tailed and unisexed attendant. I glanced at my phone. It was not my kind of place, but I would have met her at a dentist’s office if she’d asked me too... and I was five minutes early. Perfect! I looked towards the door, my heart’s queue to begin a slow, agonizing beat as it impatiently waited.
I had first noticed her at the coffee shop this morning, or rather I had noticed that she was noticing me at the coffee shop this morning. She looked out of place here, like she belonged in a Starbuck’s, or some place even fancier, buying some coffee with a fancy name, double vanilla latte grande, or something like that. And she was certainly not the type of woman who usually paid me any mind, not that the ones who did weren’t pretty, but this one was striking, with long auburn hair, green eyes, and firmly sculpted legs which protruded seemingly forever from beneath a fashionable skirt that some highly paid designer had consciously tailored just to show off their like... and that designer deserved every penny made, in my humble opinion. When our eyes met, she had smiled.
Swimming was the last thing on my morning agenda, but that’s where I found myself as that smile lifted me from the constraints of gravity and swam me upwards through the air, high above those other blue collars seated so heavily in the shop’s metal backed chairs, or padded booths. Suddenly unnaturally shy, my eyes left hers to concentrate on the coffee steaming up from my cup and onto my glasses.
Sensing a presence I assumed to be hers I looked up, but could see nothing through my fogged lenses, “I’m Candice,“ a friendly voice stated, “I saw you from over there, and I liked your smile. I have to be at work, but if you can, I would love it if you could meet me at noon, for lunch?” My tangled tongue said nothing. The click of her heels pulled at my heart as they passed away. Through the lifting fog on my glasses appeared a napkin lying on the table; “Cecil’s” the print on the napkin stated, “3rd and Main, Louisville, Ky.”
The barstool was uncomfortable, the brass foot-rest too far from my feet. I checked my watch again. It was a quarter after twelve. I had been stood up. Disappointed, but not surprised, I laid a five-spot on the counter for my coffee and shuffled my way to the door. A misting rain still undulated on the breeze as I crossed at the Third Street intersection. Looking up, I did a double-take as I passed an overhead sign; antique, and weather worn. “Cecil’s” it said. I pulled the wrinkled napkin from my pocket. “Cecil’s,” it said. I turned, recrossed the street, and looked at the window of the cafe I had just left.
I ran back across the road, and raced inside. Cecil’s was a genuine 1950’s hamburger joint, warm, and smelling like heaven. A genuine Wurlitzer blasted country-blues from the corner while a waitress carried Coke’s with straws served in frosted green, glass bottles.
I described my date to the freckled, teenaged waitress. “Yea, she was here... didn’t order anything. Drank her Coke and left... she looked really sad. Great tipper though!”
I wadded up the napkin, and pushed it through the little swinging door on the stainless steel trash can, the napkin ending it’s life cycle right back in the same cafe where it belonged. The rusted spring on the old fashioned, screen entry door screeched as I pushed myself through on my way out, and back into the cold rain where I belonged. I looked up at the sign once more before stepping into the downpour.
“It was Cecil’s, you moron, not Cecilia’s.” With that, I lowered my miserable head and stepped into the miserable rain.
Name on a Napkin
Wine stains bloom across satiny napkins
Upon which lie
Of minds heady with lust
Hints of sweet cherry infuse into the air
As desperate lovers engage in shameless affairs
Burying their hands in each other’s hair
Too consumed to think of despair
I pity their beloveds who stay back at home
Waiting like hopeless fools, forlorn
Wondering what’s keeping them from coming back tonight
Unaware they might be kissing somebody else under the cloak of night.
August 5th, 1996
2181 North Flower...
..and I couldn’t read the rest. The letters had been smeared from what looked like an old tea stain. Not too old.. after all it was now only October of '97. It was my first time in Britain and I felt so alive exploring the new surroundings...but...somehow I knew I had to find her. And somehow..I knew if I didn’t that I would feel at least a little ..less.. alive. The book I found the napkin in was titled “A Life Lived and Lost” and written in 1988. The cover was a dark brown felxible leather with dirty gold inset text. Oddly enough, it had no author- just an inscription which read “To my daughter- whom I have loved and will continue to love from this life and into the next” -Unknown.
Preacher’s 10:15pm--be careful, scrawled hastily in bloated green ink as it seemed to spill and blur into the spots of translucent grease. Syd crumpled the napkin and took a sip of her Cherry Coke as she stared out the window; cars dragged plumes of dust as they sped by; the sky bled hues of glorious indigo and fiery orange in the gloaming; darkness would ensue, soon so soon she’d see him again.
One and Only
He had been staring at Rosa off and on for the past ten minutes. She sat next to Marie at the shiny, sticky bar, talking about the article she was writing for the magazine, the promising Tinder date she had been on last weekend, how her landlord was an ass who would kick her out if he discovered her cat. And every once in awhile, she glanced back at the man in the booth. He was with four others, two of whom were women, so at least Rosa knew he wasn’t some creepy predator. He had accountability. Witnesses. She had sworn off creeps after the cute cashier at the bookstore had started following her around. It didn’t hurt that this guy also looked vaguely like James Dean. He slouched into the corner of the booth, laconic in a leather jacket and white t-shirt, twirling a lollipop from one corner of his mouth to the other, occasionally removing it to sip his beer.
His eyes flicked back to her at the bar now and then, taking in her red work-to-night dress, tastefully slit up to just above the knee and exposing a tantalizing bit of caramel thigh. She could feel him looking at her. She just hadn’t decided what to do about it yet.
“Marie, you see that guy in the booth? My right, your left in the leather jacket? He’s been staring. Do you think I should go say hi? Maybe send him a drink?” Marie’s blue eyes darted over, moving in that circular, non-obvious way that is so very obvious to anyone bothering to watch. Which he was.
“That depends. He’s cute. Very devil-may-care. What do you feel like doing?“Marie smiled, waggling her blond eyebrows suggestively. Rosa glanced back one more time, taking in the pile of glasses on his table as his friends dug in their wallets and laughed loosely.
“Marie, I think you can go. I’ll see you next week.”
To a chorus of Marie’s “ow-ows” and after a go-get-em slap on the ass, she rose without another word. Rosa strolled over nervously, arriving just as they all started getting up. They looked at her appraisingly, the women nodding at her and the men nudging him.
“Mason, we’ll uh...see you tomorrow, man,” the tallest of the group said, smirking at him -Mason -before he winked at Rosa. Mason nodded before he turned back to Rosa, not saying anything. He hadn’t even gotten up.
“Umm...hi.” He stared at her, raising his eyebrows. Even though she had felt them on her all night, this was the first time she could see that his eyes were green. “I was just wondering why you were drinking with that ridiculous lollipop in your mouth. I mean, I’ve never seen anyone do that before. Why do you -I mean -do it?” Well, that was smooth.
He rolled it across his mouth to the other side. “If I drink something bitter while eating something sweet, it makes both flavors more intense. More extreme. I can appreciate each more. If you sit down, I’ll let you try.” He glanced from the other side of the booth back to her, a challenge in his eyes. She sat.
“Isn’t that kind of -well, gross? Suckers and beer? It’s not exactly cookies and coffee.” He smiled, and she glimpsed his slightly crooked, overlapping front teeth.
“On the contrary. There are actually some pretty great pairings. This one, for example, is Blue Moon and orange Tootsie Pop.”
With one hand, he took the candy from his mouth, a strand of saliva stretching thinner and thinner before it broke, dripping down his full lower lip. He held it out to Rosa. She took it from him, cold fingers brushing his warm ones as her mouth watered. Looking from it to him, she slowly sunk the candy into her mouth, sucking on it and twirling it from side to side in imitation of him. Mason watched hungrily, eyes dilated. With a final suck and as loud a pop as she could manage, she took it out of her mouth and handed it back to him.
“And now,” he said, plunking his half-empty glass in front of her, “drink.”
Mason sat against the wall on his bed, long legs stretched out in front of him as he watched the clock and waited for the mail to come. It usually came sometime after lunch, but whether or not there would be anything worthwhile was another question. His brother had sent him a wedding invitation. Mason wasn’t sure whether that was supposed to be ironic or heartfelt, but he knew that he wasn’t going. He wouldn’t be going anywhere for awhile.
Bang bang BANG! Some asshole was pounding on the door again.
“Harding! Back corner. You have mail.” The asshole guard who insisted on making such a racket every time he opened the fucking door clanked his keys and stomped his feet, giving Mason plenty of time to get off the bed and amble into the corner. The one time he hadn’t, the asshole had cracked him in the head. He wouldn’t make that mistake again.
Mason stood with his arms crossed, leaning into the white wall as the metal door opened. He had been with other inmates until they had started threatening to rape him. He’d been moved to solitary for his own safety. The asshole guard came in, his beer belly preceding the rest of him. Mason fixed his eyes immediately on the packet of letters he was holding. On the outside, no one ever sent anyone letters. On the inside, it was all they had. Sometimes, Mason would swear the Postal Service was being propped up by the prison system. USPS and USps.
“More fanmail, Harding. I swear, you’re a rockstar to some of these poor morons.” He tossed the letters on the bed and left again. It was the first time someone had spoken to Mason in -he glanced at the clock -eight hours. He pounced on the letters immediately, shredding the first one open.
I was so happy to hear from you -are you sure you’re okay? I wish you weren’t so lonely. I would keep you company...
I just want u to know that I think your inoccint. I should probly introduse myself. I live in NJ and Im a wife and mother...
I truly think we were meant to be together. From your last letter, it sounds like we would get along perfectly. I wouldn’t mind if you choked me every now and then ;). Please find a few pictures of me enclosed...
One of them was written on an honest-to-God napkin.
My name is Annabel Lewis. I promise I’m not one of those silly women who write to inmates, but I saw your picture on the news (the one where you’re wearing the blue AC/DC shirt), and I just felt this connection...
There were twelve fan letters today. Four of them were from new women. A couple of them were heinously written, misspellings and atrocious grammar galore. He stopped reading the hate mail, the letters calling him evil and coward and son-of-a-bitch as soon as he realized what they were. There were sixteen of those. But at least answering these women -he had taken to mentally referring to them his flock -would take some time. And God knew he had that.
Of course you’re the only one I write to. My one and only...
It means so much to me that you think of me as much as I think of you. Never before have I felt so understood. I, too, believe that we would be exactly suited for one another...
I know you are just fourteen but you sound so much older...
Of course I’m innocent...
He signed all of them ”Your One and Only -Mason.”
He had eluded them for so long. His mistake with the Mexican one was that he had fallen asleep after, and somehow -somehow -she had managed to saw her wrist ties off on a tree branch. By the time he woke up, there were cop cars on the road down to the shed, and he could only run so far with bare feet before they caught up to him.
It was unfortunate that he had chosen to take her to the shed that night. He could have just chosen his nice, tidy, evidence-free apartment, but instead he had picked the shed. It had been weeks since he had treated himself to the sight of a woman strung up among the trees, spread-eagled in the branches, rivulets of red running earthward. Plus, it had been a full moon -all the better to see you with, my dear. And so he had chosen the shed, with the dumping grounds just a stone’s throw from the porch and his Polaroids in their special case on the rusted shelf inside. The cops had found his lovely, decomposed harem when some poor hapless trainee had stumbled across a femur bone. Literally. Apparently, someone had thrown up when they saw the Polaroids. That still made him smile sitting in his cell weeks later.
He actually wasn’t sure how many women there were in the woods. Sitting in handcuffs at his arraignment with his lawyers beside him, he counted as the names were read off. Nine. Plus aggravated kidnapping, rape, and “forcible penetration with a foreign object” (ha) for the bitch who escaped. Rosa Perez. At least they didn’t know about the others. Although nine was surely enough to put him away for life, if not worse.
After endless appeals and delays, interrogations and interviews, bribery and battery, there was no putting it off any longer. Mason Harding would be executed tomorrow. It had been over three years since he was caught, two since his trial and sentencing. The publicity had died down for awhile, but with the imminent demise of the eminent serial killer, media outlets brought back the old pictures and experts, the footage of female admirers with their “we believe Mason” signs. Psychiatrists attempted to explain the inexplicable.
Mason, who had maintained his innocence during his trial and throughout too many interviews to count, suddenly decided that he wanted to talk. A camera was set up, a famous criminal biographer was called in, and he began listing the locations of what he called his “dumping grounds.” By his estimation, he had killed somewhere around forty women. Maybe more.
They made a documentary miniseries based on Theo Winters’ biography of Mason Harding. The last episode of the series showed that famous interview between the two men, exactly nine hours before Harding had been executed by lethal injection. Rosa had heard that he mentioned her directly at the end, that man who haunted her nightmares, and she knew that she probably shouldn’t watch it. But she needed to.
It took her weeks to work herself up to it, but she finally suceeded at talking herself and her husband into it.
The episode title appeared on a darkened screen, and then there he was. James Dean with his leather jacket and lollipop. Only now he was wearing prison orange and looked slightly haggard. Bags under his eyes. Thin wrists. James Dean on a hunger strike, righteous indignation blazing from his green eyes. She wouldn’t watch the whole thing. Rosa told her husband to fast-forward to five minutes from the end, covering her eyes and breathing fast, even here, in the home she had designed to be a haven of comfort and security. When he gently touched her shoulder, she opened her eyes again. He handed her the control, and she pressed play.
“Mason, I just have one more question for you. Why are you admitting this now? You’ve always said that you’re innocent. Why now?”
Mason Harding paused for a moment and smiled, that same slow grin she remembered from the booth at the bar.
“Well. I suppose it’s because I don’t have any time left. If I want people to know, it has to be now.” Theo Winters knit his eyebrows, uncertain.
“I’m not sure I follow. Do you mean that you’re sorry for what you did? You have to get it off your chest so families can have closure?” Harding stared at him intensely, arrogance and disbelief twisting his mouth.
“No. More like if I want people to know everything I did, everything I accomplished, I have to tell them now. I waited this long because this way, I know that people will still be talking about me, the police will still be searching.” Mason turned directly to the camera, eyes boring into the screen. “When families are informed of what I did to their daughters and sisters, they will think about me. Maybe if there’s a little sister, she’ll picture me doing the things I did to her instead. When Rosa Perez hears about it, she’ll remember every time I touched her, beat her, tied her up, like I’m doing it all again. I’ll be the one and only person that makes all those people feel that way, even after I’m dead. And if this interview ever airs, even more people will imagine me and everything I’ve done. I will be fucking immortal.”
The screen freeze-framed on her personal face of evil, and the credits began to roll. Rosa put her head in her hands.