Emergence - Julie Noble
The cicadas were emerging. The pandemic was over. Roger was cleaning the bugs off the grill of his red Dodge Viper, but they were sticky so he used the Miracle Eraser sponge that a female friend told him about. That did the trick. Roger longed to be with a real woman and return to his life as a lobbyist. Either life revved up now or this was his final molt. There was a lien on the car which he ignored. In his condo in Alexandria Virginia, the bedroom was a mess. He threw a Men’s Health magazine, Snickers wrapper and Panera dinnerbox off the bed and found his new "Stealth Performance" golf pants with two-way stretch. They were white with green golf clubs littered all over them, that whimsical aristocrat image Roger sought. The neglected bank account, the crusty refrigerator, the dirty laundry piles and the stubborn bed bugs --- all of it --- was a poisonous cocktail of executive dysfunction. His unit was a tipsy stroll through shame and filth but only the condo board was concerned and threatened to oust him if he didn't clean it by May.
Roger had suffered alone during lockdown, finding distracting projects. His art, gluing small shells together to make light switches and little houses was his salvation. He worked on the carpeted floor, often naked, so it was now a prickly surface of crushed shells and encrusted glue. He had some of his ex-wife’s clothes and even tried some arousing cross dressing. Other winter evenings he had masturbated to pictures of women friends on Facebook.
He would take his new date to the restaurant with the private VIP entrance and prix-fixe menu with a patio. There was grand stairway down to it, as he recalled, where they would be seen by Capitol Hill power players. He was a contract lobbyist for hire, usually by insurance companies. He still used a 1980's rotary Rolodex with 3,000 white index cards because he had never mastered electronic files. He liked to touch and fondle the cards on the enormous wheel, the many powerful men who validated his skills of persuasion. Like the cicada invasion, Roger believed high-tech advances were a lot of noise that quickly left behind worthless exoskeletons, like video tapes and floppy discs. His Dale Carnegie charm was effective, sustainable and his best protection. He hoped tonight's date was the woman he needed but beneath the shell of hope, was a buzzing rage. Without a woman in his life, Roger fell to pieces. He’d always known this and secretly hated women for holding this power over him.
He wedged his bulky body into the driver's seat, checked himself in the rearview mirror, noticing coconut hair gel on his hands as he gripped the leather steering wheel. He spent a lot of time managing his image, a vital business asset. Roger's date---her name was Liz --- was curvy in her purple cocktail dress, as she walked down the stairs with poise. He told her about his insurance clients who struggled in the pandemic, but her mind drifted to her new high-tech dentist who now offered facial fillers and botox injections. "Botox injections! At the dentist! Can you believe it?" she tried to change the subject with the news. Roger held his head up high, catching glances from a few congressional types at the tables. He needed this and inhaled the stamp of approval after the winter darkness.
He called the chef to the table with embarrassing fanfare, then ordered a drink for Liz in a sweeping gesture, explaining to her it's a Magic Mule, a cocktail that changes colors. Beneath the tablecloth she was rubbing her thumbs, then picking her nails. Roger went on about the artisan pasta, the heirloom salad and the smoked gorgonzola. She tried to listen when he was talking about how little fish sustain the big fish. "You know, like swimming with the sharks, right?" even though he had never read that book.
Liz thought their exchange was disconnected and his references and trousers were dated, but the sheer warmth of the big talkative guy at a table with heavy linens and tinkling glassware on an outdoor patio with chirping cicadas, brought her a sense of safety and normalcy. She began to relax as he talked about an upcoming Nationals game. There was a little lost boy in there, she sensed, and her compassion morphed into a tender smile and loving eye contact. After a crazy-fun drive back to her place on roads still free of normal traffic, Roger was invited inside. The cicada roared.
Julie Noble writes from Bethesda MD. She has previously written as a news reporter and ad copywriter.