Scene 9

The van was gone, which didn’t surprise Melody in the least. She filled in her parents with what she knew of the two men, and this seemed to make them a little less worried about their own involvement. However, what Hairy Mike and Uncle Gordon knew and what they wanted was still a big mystery.

“Maybe they’re testing out some new holographic projector technology or something,” Bernie said.

Melody shook her head and groaned. “That is possibly the dumbest suggestion I've ever heard."

Bernie stammered as though he didn’t want to concede his argument despite the fact that he was struggling to find solid ground. “It's a valid suggestion.”

Melody turned her lips into a crooked smile and formed an expression which indicated to her father that she was about to engage in a verbal battle the likes of which none have ever seen. Before she could put forth her first argument, however, Bernie raised his hands in defeat.

“Never mind,” he said. “I've seen that look before. I defer to the court’s expertise.”

Melody raised an eyebrow at his lackluster attempt, but was happy for the victory nonetheless.

Lonnie stepped in. “There's no evidence that they really even had anything to do with this. Did you see them pointing any projectors at the door? I am starting to wonder if we're all just not being a little too paranoid about these guys.”

Melody shrugged her shoulders and tilted her head, but otherwise didn't disagree with the statement.

Bernie just became quiet, and seemed to ignore the entire conversation.

They decided due to the lateness of the day, and the growling in their stomachs, that food should be procured as soon as possible.

“What?” Bernie said, raising an eyebrow. “You think Melody would eat something out of a food cart?”

“There are restaurants downtown,” Lonnie said.

They decided on a middle-eastern restaurant close to the river, named Al-Amir. They also decided to drive there and, much to Bernie’s chagrin, park in the lot across the street.

“You saw those hourly rates, right,” Bernie said. “That spells no dessert and once the food arrives, start shoveling it in.”

“Oh,” Lonnie said. “I think we were already not planning on enjoying this meal.”

Bernie raised his eyebrow. “What’s that supposed to mean?”

“I think you know.” Melody had been here with her family a few times before, and was the least keen on the idea. On their last visit her father spent a good deal of time asking the waitresses if they knew Al, or if Al was short for Alvin or Alfred, or even more horribly, Aladdin.

“Let’s please not have a repeat of last time,” she told him.


Melody explained her dilemma.

Bernie chuckled. “Everyone thought that was funny,” he said.

The girl shook her head. “Nope,” she informed him. “Not one person did. It was very embarrassing.”

“You’re just at that age where everything your parents do is embarrassing.”

“Okay, but if the hostess rolls her eyes and flips the open sign to closed when they see us coming, just don’t be surprised.”

They entered and were greeted with a very nice, but small and intricately decorated entrance. This led past a beautiful wooden bar to a back dining area.

A short woman with a dark complexion and glasses approached them quickly, smiling. “You caught us a little early,” she said. “The cook is just getting the kitchen ready if you don’t mind waiting a few minutes.”

Melody’s heart beat loudly in her chest. If her father hated one thing it was waiting. She might avoid embarrassment after all.

Bernie looked over to his wife, who merely gave him a look that said, “Don’t even think about it.”

“Three please,” Bernie said, and then looked at Melody out of the corner of his eye. He smiled in that slight way which she found exasperating. “Also, am I to understand by the name of your restaurant that you have Alum Ear?” Bernie then pointed to his ear as if to illustrate the location of the fictitious affliction.

Melody covered her face with her hands. She could feel it going purple.

The hostess however, didn’t seem to understand. “I’m sorry, sir?”

“Alum Ear. Like in the cartoons, you know, like when Yosemite Sam (although Bernie didn’t even bother to pronounce Yosemite correctly -- instead going with Yo-Zem-Mite for double the embarrassment) “accidentally takes a drink from the bottle marked “alum”, and then his face puckers up.”

The hostess appeared flabbergasted. “I don’t...” She looked over to Lonnie for help.

Lonnie grabbed her husband by the arm. “Don’t mind him,” she said. “His veins are small and he’s prone to stroke.”

“Oh.” The hostess’s eyes widened, and appeared almost relieved, but then jumped in, “Should I call a doctor?”

“No,” Lonnie said. “It’s nothing serious.”

Slightly confused, the hostess said. “Right this way, please.”

Melody stared around the room in wonderment as though the surroundings had just transported her to another land. The room was dark, but each of the neat tables was lit by a twinkling red glass candle. From the ceiling hung a yellow drapery which gave the impression of flowing sand dune overhead. On one large, imposing brick wall was a painting of a middle-eastern town square in which Melody imagined people talking politics or playing Parcheesi.

Melody suddenly became lost in thought. She was onto a new idea. She liked new ideas, especially when they dragged her away from other thoughts that stressed her out.

“Parcheesi,” she said.

“Parcheesi?” Bernie stared at her for a moment.

“Yes,” Melody said, but didn’t elaborate.

“What about it?”

Melody didn’t say anything.

Bernie snapped his fingers in front of his daughter’s face, but her eyes were currently glazed over. He shook his head and returned to the menu.

Melody liked Parcheesi, but felt as a game it was old and decidedly long. She thought it could be spiced up in some way. Her mind now turned away from the excitement of Uncle Gordon and Hairy Mike was now focused on creating new mechanisms which could possible improve the game play.

Once the Jackson’s were seated, she propped her head down on her elbow. “Perhaps with some cheese mechanism,” she began, as though this were the current topic of the table. “If blocked by an opponent, the player could bribe the blockers with a certain number of cheese tokens....” Her eyes brightened. “Or lure rat henchmen from within the city walls.” Her face became suddenly dour as she began to grow concerned about the theme of this new spin-off. “Wait, do they even have cheese in the far east?” She would have to ask the waitress.

“Dad?” she said, popping open her eyes as though she had just awoken from a nap. “Do we have any game publishers in the family? I think this could be a great game, and I need a good solid ‘in’.”

Bernie laughed. “No,” he said. “But your uncle Richmond always has to be the dog in Monopoly.”

Melody scowled at her father. What did that have to do with anything, she wondered.

The waitress came around and her parents already knew what they wanted. Melody, however, who had been daydreaming, and who also had only experienced Middle Eastern cuisine a couple of times before, was completely lost.

“I’m a vegetarian,” the girl pointed out adamantly to the waitress.

The waitress laughed. “Many of our items are vegetarian,” she said, in a long, carefully formed voice. Melody looked up at her for the first time. She was a fairly large woman in a white shirt and a red scarf. Her hair was long and beautiful, and she spoke with a voice dark and full of umber.

“Okay then,” Melody said, straightening her blouse.

“We have lamb,” the waitress continued. “Much lamb, but you don’t eat.”

Melody quickly scanned the menu, thinking, “Dad, please don’t say anything about alum and it’s puckery effects.” Then it hit her the question that she wanted to ask. “No lamb,” she confirmed. “But do you have cheese in your culture?”

The waitress laughed even harder at this. “Cheese?! Yes. We have Ackawi, which is a soft, milk cheese. We have Naboulsi, which is boiled, as well as Jibneh Arebieh...”

“Okay,” Melody said. “I guess that was a silly question.”

“Would you like some cheese?”

“No,” Melody said. “I was just doing some research for a board game idea.” She put down the menu and proclaimed that she would just have the first thing she saw on the menu which suited her dietary restrictions: “Vegetarian Maza, please.”

Still chuckling to herself, the waitress took the menus and departed to the kitchen, ticket in hand.

Bernie leaned forward. “Board game research?” He shook his head. “How could you embarrass your mother and I like that?”

Melody squinted at her father until her eyes were just barely slits. “Your mother and me, not your mother and I,” she corrected.

Bernie cocked his head to one side. “I don’t think so,” he said, laughing mockingly.

Lonnie placed her hand on top of his, “Why do you argue? You know she’s right.”

“It’s easy,” Melody said. “Just break it up into two parts. How could you embarrass me and how could you embarrass your mother?”

“Either way,” Bernie said. “The point is it was embarrassing.”

“That is also incorrect. Compared with your interaction when we arrived, my interaction was not-embarrassing in the slightest. There’s an easy test. In my case, the waitress laughed. So, it’s a jolly occasion in which no one is embarrassed. In your case, the hostess looked horrified and asked if she needed to call a doctor. Hence awkwardness. Hence embarrassment for the family.”

Lonnie puffed out her cheeks, and did her best godfather impersonation, cupping her hand and facing it upwards across the table. “You have brought awkwardness on the family,” she said.

Bernie pointed to his wife with his thumb. “I suppose you don’t think that’s embarrassing, either.”

Melody slapped her cloth napkin open in front of her and dropped it neatly in her lap. “Not at all,” she said.

Bernie rubbed his chin, said “Hmmm,” a few times, and then began to play with his fork.

The table became a little somber at this point. Lonnie took a piece of paper out of her purse and began to make a list, presumably a shopping list of some kind. Melody became lost in thought once again.

She was still having a difficult time with this ghost business. This wasn’t something she generally believed in. If it was a residual energy, she might be okay with it. That is to say, human energy which still remained in the general vicinity of where it was created might make sense. She knew that when people were angry, for instance, they left waves of energy behind on the environment. Melody occasionally experienced strong feelings in rooms she had never previously been in. Rooms which just felt wrong. Her mother seemed to experience this phenomenon fairly often and would quantify how a room felt on her “creepy scale” from one to five. Five being the most creepy.

The other type of “ghost” that Melody could live with was the “recorded message” type. As in when a person or event seemed to play out over and over again as though the single point in time were recorded, like a magnetic tape, onto the environment. Similar to the first type, this event was probably burnt onto the fabric of reality somehow due to its strong emotional energy content.

However, this woman in white business seemed to exist on an entirely different level than these two explanations. One even beyond most normal hauntings: The full bodied (and exceedingly realistic) apparition! What’s more, this was a predictable full-bodied exceedingly realistic apparition. One could practically set one's watch to it. This was definitely NOT something she was comfortable with, but at the moment couldn't think of any acceptable theories.

“OKAY!” came the voice of the buxom, dark-haired waitress, stamping her feet on the ground for dramatic effect. She had a large flat-bread held above her head with one hand, and a tray containing many small bowls in the other. To Melody’s horror, these bowls contained rolled up grape leaves, white liquids and pastes, and some kind of green chopped salady thing which the woman kept calling “Tabuli”

The waitress had arrived at the table with a bland-looking cohort. The man expressionlessly helped her spread everything out. Every time he placed something new on the table, the plate would clank hard on the wooden surface, and he would shout “Okay?”. With the woman's booming voice and feet stomping, and the man's plate clanking and shouting, the entire affair seemed to Melody more of a dance number then a presentation of food.

“Please say this isn’t just all for me!” Melody looked on the scene with horror. She was never a big eater. She had nothing against Middle Eastern food, other than that it was sometimes more flavorful than her pallet could handle, but eating large quantities of the stuff was not something she was known for.

“Yes yes yes,” the waitress exclaimed with zeal and great enthusiasm. “The young lady order Vegetarian Maza, and that’s what the young lady gets.”

Bernie leaned forward. “The fourteen dollar price tag should have been the tip off for you,’ he said. “Your mother and I usually share that particular entrée.”

“Why didn’t you stop me,” Melody said, horrified as the plates continued to clank on the table, following by the expressionless waiter shouting, “Okay!” after each one.

“It all happened so fast,” Lonnie confessed. “But that’s okay. We can help you.”

“And leftovers are nice,” Bernie added, rolling his eyes. “Lots of leftovers.”

Melody instantly blushed.

Once all of the food was placed in front of them, and the servers appropriately thanked, Bernie dug into it practically with both hands. Melody noted that this motion was analogous to a baseball player sliding dramatically into home plate.

Lonnie, however, paused. She leaned in, slightly, and spoke in a whisper. “I don’t want to alarm anyone,” she said, softly. “But I think the pursuers at some point became the pursued.”

Bernie looked around conspicuously. “Whad yoo men?” he said. Though his words were mangled due to the many food obstacles lodged in his mouth, his intent was clear.

Lonnie shushed him.

“Don’t look, you idiot,” she said. “I'm pretty sure that ‘carry boots’ and 'hairy arms' are sitting a couple of tables behind us.”

Horrified by this prospect, Melody arched her back in an unobtrusive fashion. She acted as though she suddenly needed to stretch as if from an extended nap. “I can't tell for sure,” she said. She then rubbed her eyes, continuing with the ruse that she had simply just woken up. “Well,” she said. “That guy on the right certainly fits the bill.”

The man in question was facing away from them wearing a red, cowboy style shirt, and his hair looked like it hadn’t been de-greased in ages.

Bernie began to fidget. His nervousness did not fail to curb his appetite, however, as he continued to shove food into his mouth as though it were going out of style. “Was he looking this way?”

“He wasn’t when I did my stretch move,” she said.

“Well look?”

“I can’t do another stretch move. It would be too conspicuous.”

“Maybe you’re just a stretchy person.”

Melody squinted at her father in a way that told him that she could keep up this dimwitted line of argument as long as HE could. “I am not a stretchy person. And I choose not to role play such a character without considerable research.”

“But they don’t know that. They don’t know anything about you. To them you could just be a stretchy person.”

Melody growled under her breath. “Why don't you pretend to drop a fork or something and look. That way you could also see what kind of shoes he’s wearing.”

“If any,” Lonnie added.

Bernie swallowed what food he had in his mouth, and began to speak while at the same time using his fork to emphasis his speech. “Fine,” he said. “But if you think that I’m going to...” The fork suddenly flung from his hands, bounced off the table and then onto the floor. It really did look rather natural and for a moment, Melody was proud of his acting skills.

“Butterfingers,” came the voice of the expressionless man, appearing seemingly from out of nowhere. “Here’s a fresh fork, sir,” he said, placing a shiny new three pronged utensil in front of Bernie while at the same time quickly squatting down and picking up the other. Before Bernie could thank him, the expressionless man said, “Okay,” and disappeared seemingly into the ether. This wasn’t entirely true, however, as Melody saw him depart down the hallway and then behind the bar.

Bernie scowled at the fork in front of him. “Not only did he ruin my plan,” he said. “He gave me a trident!”

Like the pronunciation of the “t” sound in the word often, it was the three-tined fork that seemed to be the bane of Bernie’s existence. Melody had inquired about this more than a few times, but never got a satisfactory answer, and more or less assumed that there simply wasn’t one. “It just looks evil,” he would say. “Man wasn’t meant to eat food with an utensil of evil.”

Melody shook her head. “Every time with the trident speech,” she said.

“When your father finds a joke he likes,” Lonnie jumped in, filling a large piece of pita with some hummus, “he sticks with it.”

Suddenly, Bernie shoved a large piece of pita drenched with baba ganoush into his own mouth, and stepped on both Melody’s and Lonnie’s foot. “No wun loo up,” he said, his words were greatly obscured by the bread. “Ach natweral.”

Melody squinted at him as she tried to decipher the meaning behind it, and wondered why if he wanted them to respond quickly to his message that he would muddy up his words with a mouthful of food. She, however, did as instructed, and nibbled on hers so as not to look as though she expected something was about to happen.

Even still, when the man in cowboy boots stopped behind her and began to speak, she nearly jumped out of her skin.

“Good evening,” the man said. His voice was weathered like a rusty old water pump, and even dripped like it hadn't been used in some time.

Melody said “good evening” in return, cautiously and at the same moment as the rest of her family. She then turned, though it must be said with incredible apprehension, to look up at his face.

The man's skin was burnt and brown, as though he had spent most of his life out in the sun, obscured only by his coarse and wiry stubble. When he smiled he showed a mouth full of yellowish-brown teeth, stained by years of chewing tobacco and neglect.

“That was a mighty apt description, young lady,” the cowboy said. “You do me a great service.”

Melody clapped her hand over her mouth, blushing.

“I feel almost like we have met before someplace.”

The Jacksons all looked at each other with confused expressions on their faces, and shrugged their shoulders at each other. “No,” they all said. “I don’t think....”

“Waaaal,” the voice behind Melody said, in a long, drawn out fashion. “Maybe y’all just have one of them faces.” He then tipped his hat, which only Lonnie could see. Melody had her back to him, and Bernie couldn’t meet the man’s gaze. The man they knew only as Uncle Gordon then turned and left the restaurant.

“That was awful neighborly of him,” Bernie said, trying to make light of the tense situation.

“That was an awfully bold move for someone who was recently walking in his socks to avoid detection from a twelve-year-old girl,” Melody said.

“Maybe he just had a rock in his boots or something,” Bernie offered.

“Oh,” Lonnie said, in a dark tone. “I’m pretty sure that was a warning.”

“What do you think we should do, mom?” Melody said. She almost added, “I don’t cotton to threats,” but in actuality they did make her extremely nervous. “Call the police?”

Bernie laughed, and placed his hand to his ear as though it were a phone. “Hello, Precinct. There was a man who tippie-toed past us earlier who now just said ‘Hello’ to us in a restaurant. Can you please send a squad car over?”

Melody laughed, but quickly stopped herself by biting at her lower lip. She did not want to encourage her father in his silliness or they could be sitting here all day.

Lonnie placed her hands out wide onto the table, in a motion that meant everyone needs to stop talking and calm down. “What I think we should do is get a Great Dane-sized doggy-bag for all of this food, and go home and research that Madeline D’amarite on-line before our next encounter with her.”

“Are you sure you want to continue after Mr. Creepy Cowboy said we had familiar faces?” Bernie seemed shocked.

“Also,” Melody continued. “I don’t think we need to end the meal, that’s still a week away.”

“Okay,” Lonnie said. “Let’s just sit here and eat while that cowboy and his furry friend break into our house and claim squatter’s rights.”

Bernie choked on his water, and called the expressionless waiter over. “One dump truck, please,” he said. “And the check.”

It Happened on Lafayette Street

Season One: Episode One

Melody Jackson

vs. The Woman in White

by BMB Johnson

Scene 9

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