Slow Squeeze(9)

By: Dianne Emley


“Don’t you cry, sugar. It’ll just make me cry more.”

“I always cry if someone else is crying.”

“Boy! You and I sure know how to cut straight to the quick, don’t we?” Barbie sniffed and folded her napkin and laughed. “Sitting here cryin’ and carryin’ on and we only just met.”

Iris laughed too.

“Iris, you and I have more in common than you think. Bet ya saw me and thought, ‘What in the world have I gotten myself into?’ Didn’t ya, huh?”

“You do cut a…unique figure.”

“Darlin’, you reach a point where you learn you just gotta please yourself. People are gonna nip at your heels no matter what.”

“Isn’t it the truth?”

Barbie sighed heavily, her chest rising up and down. She draped the napkin across her lap and smoothed it. “Mr. Stringfellow passed on a year ago.”

“Barbie, I’m sorry I brought it up.”

“But I want to talk about it. I’ve been kind of lonely since I’ve come west. Got no friends here, no one to talk to. I’m enjoying the company.”

A waiter brought a basket of hot rolls. Barbie slathered one with butter, took a big bite, and patted her hot pink lips with the napkin, leaving lipstick on the linen.

“I was thirty years old when I met Hal. He was sixty.”

Iris raised her eyebrows in polite surprise.

“I know. But I’d rather be an old man’s lover than a young man’s slave, know what I mean? I was a waitress in his restaurant. Hal’s. Real high-class Atlanta place in this big old plantation house. That was my first legitimate job. I was a stripper before that.” Barbie paused.

“Supposed to pay well.”

“It does, darlin’, it does. But you don’t meet the class of people you’d like to build a relationship with. And if someone nice does wander in, who wants to bring a stripper home to Momma? Know what I mean? Hal was divorced. We got married after a coupla years and I helped him run the business. When he started havin’ heart problems, I took over runnin’ the place. Did that for five years. When Hal died, I lost the taste for the whole thing. I sold everything, packed up, and moved out.”

“Do you have any children?”

“Nope. You?”

“No.”

“Hal had a coupla grown kids. Hated me. So did his ex-wife. Real society type. Tennis lunches and bridge brunches and charity balls and debutante balls and balls balls. She got remarried to some big executive at a soft drink company. Had everything she wanted and still hated me.” Barbie shrugged. “Just no tellin’ about some people.”

The waiter brought their food. Barbie’s grilled New York strip steak was surrounded by baby summer squash and edible flowers. Iris’s swordfish steak was grilled without butter or oil and circled with flowers and a halo of raspberry sauce.

Barbie picked up one of the yellow flowers. “What’s this flower doin’ here?”

“Try it. It tastes spicy.” Iris popped a flower into her mouth.

Barbie tentatively nibbled on the petals. “Well, I’ll be damned. They wouldn’t have gone for flowers on the food at Hal’s, let me tell you!” She picked up her knife and fork, eyed the steak lasciviously, then dug in. She closed her eyes. “Mmmmm…delicious. How’s your food?”

“Wonderful,” Iris answered.

“So, Iris. Say I have a million dollars to invest. What could you do for me?”

“Do you have a million dollars to invest?”

“Say I do. What could you do for me?”

Iris sipped her mineral water. “I don’t know you well enough to say. I need to know your financial goals, your risk aversion. I need to get a feel for who you are.”

“C’mon, Iris. You have a feel for who I am.”

“We only just met.”

“You’re hedgin’. You’ve at least got a first impression.”

“Well, sure.”

“Let’s have it.”

“First impressions aren’t always accurate.”

“But they’re often dead straight, aren’t they? C’mon. Let’s see how much guts you got.”

“Okay. I think you’re very warm and personable. You have a great sense of humor. I appreciate what you’ve accomplished in getting from where you were to where you are now.”