Friday, October 28, 2011

Guest Write - Joe Gensle

Jenna's Mortadella

Jenna leaned heavily into the glass display front of the grocery’s busy delicatessen, jostled by elbows of the people on each side of her. Despite the crowd, the three deli workers seemed like slow drones, working steadily without a sense of commitment to serve patrons quickly.

Jenna looked at the pink stub of paper in her hand, noticed “18” in bold letters determining her turn in the order of those to be served at the deli counter.

“For the love of Jesus,” Jenna muttered, then looked down the counter toward the workers and shouted, “Hey! . C’MON!! I gotta get going!” Two of the workers ignored her. The third, a sixty-ish black woman with grey-streaked hair, paused and gave Jenna a glare that raised the light blonde hair, and goosebumps, on Jenna’s arms.

“God-DAMN!,” thought Jenna. “Where do they find these people,” she wondered.

Serving another customer off to the right, the black woman's duties brought her side-stepping within six feet of Jenna and ducked half her body into the case fetch a half-round of cheese. As the woman emerged, Jenna shot her a look.

“All’s I need is a half pound of mortadella.”

The woman locked eyes with Jenna, “Wha’s your number, honey!”

“Eighteen!” Jenna replied with a sharp snap in her voice.

“You gonna be waitin’ awhile.”

“What’s awhile! I’ve been here forever! How many are in front of me!??”

“Right! And they’s 266 billion trillion people in front of you, and you jus’ gonna have to wait,” the clerk fired back with another momentary, as unsettling, glare.

“The HELL you say. Where’s the manager?”

“Right! You lookin’ at her. Now, what!”

“NOW, you slice my eight ounces of mortadella or…or I’m leaving and calling your headquarters!”

“You ain’t leavin’ and you ain’t callin’ nobody. Know why?”

Jenna roiled in furious silence and contrived a facial expression of angered disinterest, almost of boredom.

Nose to nose save for eighteen or so inches of deli countertop between them, the black woman cocked her head slightly as she said in a mockingly, sing-songy tone, “I don’t care if you a lilly-white little paralegal who don’t like black folks none too much.. Who doesn’t got a lick o’ patience. And who don’t like nobody who doesn’t speak like YOU THINK they should.”

Jenna gasped and above the deli’s din, barked, ”YOU DON”T KNOW ME! I don’t know or remember YOU…hell, I don’t even SHOP here very often. How do you know I’m a paralegal?!”

Only a wide, tooth-gapped grin answered Jenna. After a pause intended to further annoy Jenna, the black woman continued.

“You always been an impatient, spoilt little cuss.”

“HOW DARE you speak to me like that!”

“I dare cuz you ain’t goin’ nowheres. You cain’t leave without yo’ mortadella. Know why?”

“I need for my recipe--but other stores carry it! I’ve been waiting an eternity, you bitch! And I’m leaving!”

“You will wait an eternity. They’s 266 billion trillion people ahead of you and when your number 18 come up? You ain’t gonna hear it and the wait gonna start all over again.”

Jenna was never madder, more frustrated, but couldn‘t move or speak.

The black woman grinned and continued. “This is hell. Yo custom made hell right here in my deli, outta all yo littlest pet peeves and weaknesses in life. You got no recipe. You don’t need mortadella, Mortadella is I-talian for “she’s dead,” and you is. Kilt this mornin', too impatient to use a crosswalk and that car run you down an' TOOK your legs. You bled to death through ‘em.“

Jenna looked down, screamed and screamed, now knowing why the lean against the deli case felt so heavy. It wasn’t a lean. She’d been clinging to it with her arms. Her plaid skirt was caked in dried blood, as was the lower part of her blazer. Until then, she hadn't noticed the crystal on her watch was broken, and the sweep-second hand wasn't moving. Screams diminished into sobs.

The black woman’s eyes now shone, and Jenna’s whimpering form had no escape, nor did Jenna’s eyes, again locked with the old woman’s.

“You died on the street and when God didn’t grab you up?? I sho’s hell did! HA-HA! You like that pun?? No, I knows you hate puns! I snatched you up! Well...down! Hah! Another pun! You’s mine and as soon as I turn to walk off , you ain’t gonna remember a shred of this conversation! It never happened.”

The black woman shifted the heavy, half-round of cheese into her other hand and walked down the counter with her back to Jenna.

Jenna looked at the pink stub of paper in her hand, noticed “18” in bold letters determining her turn in the order of those to be served at the deli counter.

“For the love of Jesus,” Jenna muttered, then looked down the counter toward the workers and shouted, “Hey! C’MON!! I gotta get going!”

The three deli workers ignored her. Jenna could swear that one of them, a sixty-ish black woman with grey-streaked hair, paused and seemed to snort with the slightest perceptible puff of vapor or mist…smoke(?) coming from her nostrils, never looking up or away from the back and forth rhythm of the slicer she operated.

The black woman returned the roast beef to the case and butcher-wrapped a package of sliced beef, setting it atop the counter. She glanced right, along the countertop, right at Jenna.

“Wha’s your number, honey?”

“Eighteen!” Jenna replied with a sharp snap in her voice.

The black woman looked to her coworkers and quipped, “She got EIGHTEEN! Hell, tha’s 6 + 6 + 6, iddn’t it??,” and the three women emitted a loud laugh.

“God-DAMN!,” thought Jenna. “Where do they find these people,” she wondered.


Joe Gensle's Kentucky-born and lives in the Desert Southwest with his Chihuahua, “Coconut.” He loves international travel and ridin' his motorcycle, 'The Groovinator.' In his ‘other’ spare time, he enjoys “wondering why if not how, polishing my collection of lug nuts, and feeding sea lions (to sharks).” Gensle describes himself as ‘”obligingly obese, Conservative, left-handed, and Roman Catholic without hesitance” and claims he never apologizes for same. He occasionally makes written deposits at sixsentences.ning.com and mudspots.wordpress.com. He‘s been featured on other sites, and the repository of his writing may be found at his blog, http://headseeds.blogspot.com/

3 comments:

  1. Outstanding! Joe, this one is priceless!Good choice, Nic.

    Jeanette Cheezum

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  2. Spooky and perfect for this weekend. Nice little touches, too.

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  3. Interestingly - in a creepy way - I was just trying to figure out my "number" last night. I won't mention what they are here...;-) Good one!

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