Thursday, December 4, 2014

ralph pushes the door open

illustrations by konrad kraus

ralph slowly pushed the door open.

although he had heard that strangers were often regarded with suspicion, no one seemed to pay any attention to him as he entered the dim exterior.

he sat down at a small table in the corner.

a menu - or maybe it was a wine list - was lying on the table.

he picked it up. it was written in a language he did not understand.

as he did not understand most of the languages in the universe, he was not at all non-plussed. not in the least.

ralph looked around. he did not see any waiters or waitresses.

his eyes grew accustomed to the dimness.

it was a place just like any other - one he had seen a million times before, in a thousand lifetimes.

he decided to just sit there for a while, rest his weary bones.

and his even wearier feet.

he had walked many a weary mile, just getting here.

he had not been able to find his landing spot in the fog and rain that blanketed the planet, and had been lucky to land at all.

finally a waitress appeared in the shadows and approached ...

a cigarette dangled from her lip.

she was sultry looking.

she was really, really sultry looking.

she was the sultriest looking woman ralph had ever seen.

personally, he preferred girl next door types, with freckles on their noses and big smiles.

but nobody cared what he preferred.

now the sultry looking waitress reached his table and looked down on him with her tray on her hip and a sneer on her lip (that the cigarette dangled from).

the script had been prepared. now ralph just had to hope that it worked.

"do you want something?" the waitress asked in a surprisingly clear and non-sultry voice.

ralph thought that this was a good omen, that it indicated she was playing a part.

if she was not playing the part that well, it might be a problem down thew road , but probably not his.

"i would like a daiquiri, please, with not too much - "

"we don't have any of that shit," she interrupted him, "just beer. rheingold draft. you want one?"

"yes, please." so far the script had not come in to play.

"you want a sandwich or something?"

"no thank you."

now came the script. ralph hesitated for a second, then said:

“what do you do for excitement in this town?”

if the waitress was the one, she would answer: “how the fuck do i know?”

ralph had been skeptical of this procedure, pointing out to commander krogar and captain gordon that the expression might well be used by anyone, whether they were the contacts or not.

they had replied that they wanted a response that, if overheard, would seem "natural".

gordon, who had become a real snotty little prick since being promoted to captain, had sneered, "what do you want the contact to say, something like ' reeses peanut butter cups in the amalgamation of the purple rhinoceros'".

in the end, despite his desparate pleadings, ralph had been forced to give in.

now he waited for the girl's answer.

but she didn't say, "how the fuck do i know?" instead she said

"i don't know, mister. for one thing we're not exactly in a town, we're out here in the middle of nowhere."

"oh." ralph could barely conceal his relief. "so i guess there's not much excitement."

"i've got some old national geographics, and some old issues of variety, in the back if you want to look at them."

"that's very kind of you, but no thank you."

"you sure you don't want anything to eat? cookie whips up a great grilled cheese sandwich."

"no thank you."

"suit yourself. you don't know what you're missing." the waitress moved away.

"mind if i sit here?"

ralph turned and saw a man standing behind him. the man had a big red face, and a right arm that was twice the size of his left arm.

he looked familiar, but everybody looked familiar .

without waiting for ralph's answer, the man sat down.

"remember me?"

"no, i am afraid i don't," ralph answered.

"what a character! you always were a character, ralphie!"

the man knew his name. or did he? ralph had been down this road before.

too many times.

the man ignored the look on ralph's face. "remember that job in moldavia?" he shook his head and laughed. "we fixed some refrigerators then, didn't we?"

ralph decided to cut to the chase. "what do you do for excitement in this town?"

"huh? i don't know, what does anybody do for excitement anywhere?"

the waitress came back with ralph's draft beer and put it on the table.

"is this guy bothering you?" she asked ralph. "if he is, we'll throw him out, no problem. "

"no, he's not bothering me." ralph hated arguments, and violence.

the waitress turned to the man who had sat down. "you sure you're not bothering this guy, ralph?"

"i don't bother nobody, ralphie, you know that."

"you'll be bothering me if you don't order nothing."

"i was just saying hello to this guy because he's m' old pal."

"your mold pal? what did he do, develop mold from listening to you - in a cellar somewhere? with the mushrooms?"

"very funny."

"order something, ralph. or i'll have sammy come over and throw you out."

sammy. at least, thought ralph, the original ralph who had pushed the door open, there is at least one person here not named ralph.

"i'll have a grilled cheese sandwich, with extra mustard."

"you going to pay for it?"

"i'll pay for it."

"you going to pay for it yourself, or are you going to try to impose on this gentleman, who i'm sure never saw you before in his life, to pay for it?"

"i said i'll pay for it."

suddenly another figure appeared. he looked like a strong man in a circus."

"hello, sammy," the second ralph greeted him.


the first ralph blurted out to sammy, "what do you do for excitement in this town?"

sammy just looked at him.

"we fix refrigerators," the second ralph said. "we fix refrigerators and then we get together and talk refrigerators."

"he didn't ask you," ralphie the waitress said. "did he?"

now sammy spoke up. he had a surprisingly high voice. "i don't want to hear about refrigerators. i want to know who this character is?"

"you mean myself?" asked the first ralph. "i'm just a guy who is looking for excitement."

"there is no excitement." sammy glared at him from beneath bushy eyebrows. "the age of excitement is over."

"like the age of miracles," added ralphie the waitress with a laugh.

"you know," said the first ralph. "i think i'll have a grilled cheese sandwich after all. it sounds like a good idea."

"with extra mustard?" asked ralphie.

"no, hold the mustard. but chutney sauce, if you have it."

"don't worry," ralphie told him. "we have everything you need."

to be continued?

sources: something happened, by joseph heller
man on a leash, by charles williams
when everybody ate at schrafft's. by joan kanel slomanson

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