The Paisley Park Cafe was that spot every town has. The place where faces got fixed to the names and all manner of business was conducted. Liz Austin was the proprietor of the bookstore/coffee shop/city hall. A runaway bride from New York City who skipped out on her adulterous stockbroker husband for the wide open road. She left the only city she’d ever known with thirty grand in a savings account, a suitcase and a New York Yankees baseball cap. After retrieving her ’66 midnight blue Mustang convertible out of storage, she left behind a Dear John note in the form of divorce papers and went Sally Ride.
She settled in Vegas, working as a dealer at the Bellagio and almost getting married more times than she was comfortable admitting. She made a small fortune by investing in Apple stock and then doubled down on Microsoft. With her first million in the bank, she went looking for peace of mind and found it in the kitschy little town of Magic Dance, Arizona. It had been ten years to the day that she’d bought a two story brick home in the center of town and converted it into a retail space on the first floor with a living area upstairs.
Every bit as frugal as the college girl who’d dined nightly on Ramen, she was cursing herself for it now as she slapped her Goldstar upside its faux wood paneling and muttered her most crude Japanese when the 13″ inch color television didn’t respond positively.
“Kuso . . .”
“What kind of nonsense you fixing that pretty little head on now?”
It was Chantal Du Bois, the comely middle aged widower whose reputation in Magic Dance was the stuff of legend. She’d made the scene five years earlier, circa a small town in St. Anne Jamaica by the name of Moneague. The forty fifth official resident of the town was also the first black resident in its fifty seven year history. No sooner had her heels touched down than she was rumored to be canoodling with the unhappily married Sheriff, making short work of the failing marriage and thus becoming the unofficial deputy.
“Queen Bee!” Liz smiled. Everyone called Chantal by this sugary royal moniker which spoke to her matronly presence.
“I’m trying to wake up this lazy ass thing,” Liz complained.
“Maybe it’s time to upgrade. What year is that old thing anyways?” Asked David Rockfield, between sips of his Cafe con Leche.
“1983 . . . first thing I bought when I moved away. After which I ignored it while collecting broken hearts,”
“Yours or theirs?”
“It was a close call,” Liz replied.
“Well, age doesn’t do us many favors and I’m fairly certain TV sets share this regrettable shortcoming,” David opined.
“You would think it could accommodate me when there’s news being made someplace else, yanno?”
“What does that mean? Kuso?”
“It means shit in Japanese,”
“Excuse you very much, girlfriend. Ya gonna cut ya mouth on all those sharp words,” Chantal said.
“I know mama, but it’s my home remedy for when the fates conspire to go pee pee on my Oui Oui,”
“Pretty young thing like you cursing? It’s like taking a crayon to da Mona Lisa,”
“Uh, what part of Liz have you been willing to overlook all these years?” David laughed.
“She’s too beautiful for that kinda language . . .” Chantal winked.
“Liz, the goddamned paper!” David whined, pointing to the September 10th date on The Arizona Republic.
“Excuse me, young man?” Chantal frowned.
“Sorry baby, but I like my news to be served up with an umbilical cord, thank you very much,” David said before leaning in for a kiss.
“Oh Sheriff, ya make my knees do the crazy little thing . .”
Chantal’s laugh filled the room with music. Liz often joked that having Chantal as a regular did more for her business than advertising ever could.
“Alright ladies, I’m off to see the Wizard,”
“When you see him, ask him for a new television set for me, will you?” Liz asked.
“So what is this business about something going on someplace else? Honey, there’s a whole lot of something going on someplace else, no mattah where you standing,”
“It was a plane crash in New York, what a horrible thing. It got me thinking about how long it’s been since I left. Eighteen years . . .”
“Well then, you might have to find ya way back. Don’t let dat man be an excuse for not going back,”
“I don’t think he mattered to me. When I left it was kinda like Thomas Wolfe was riding shotgun in my head. I never looked back.” Liz explained.
“You nevah mind that news from someplace else for now okay?” Chantal said as she turned the set off. “And could you bring me some of that magic nectar of yours, sweetness?”
“Darlin, you are a direct line to the stars,”
“You’re my spiritual poetess, you know that?”
Liz shook off the ominous feeling that was working its way into her bones. She delivered a righteous spill to Chantal, fired up the turntable and laid the needle onto some Queen as the morning sun meandered up the walls. She stepped outside for a smoke, her eyes venturing into the cloudless sky above as her mind wandered back home as if by divined by cosmic wings. She closed her eyes and prayed that the day wasn’t as irretrievable as it seemed. And maybe it was the coffee tap dancing on her synapses and maybe it was the nicotine surfing through her blood stream, but her eyes were carrying her now. She flew across that cloudless sky, shouting at the world below to stop running away from her even though she knew it was hopeless. It was gone from her, the world she once knew.
Stolen by the news from someplace else.