They moved into the dining room and sat down and Esmeralda and Chang dished out scrambled eggs and grits and sausages and hot biscuits with homemade rutabaga preserves, and by each plate was a cold beaded can of Tree Frog beer for the grown-ups or a bottle of Dr Pepper for the kids, with a bottle of Jose Cuervo tequila in the middle of the table. And after everybody had their plates full Big Jake did an unheard-of thing. He told Esmeralda and Chang to grab a couple of plates and sit down and join in. Esmeralda and Chang both looked at each other and shrugged, then got plates and silverware and sat down.
Just about everybody was pretty damned hungry. Dick and Daphne and Harvey had respectively had Beef Wellington and Lobster Fra Diavolo and Surf ‘n’ Turf in the Samba Room, but none of it had been very good and they had only picked at the food out of politeness; and besides, all that seemed ages ago. They were ravenous now.
Paco and Derek were all doped up, so they didn’t eat too much, and pretty soon Derek just crawled under the table and fell asleep while Paco concentrated on the beer and tequila.
The Doc ate a bit of egg and potato and then sat back smoking, sipping a glass of the yellow tequila.
Enid was fucking starving. She’d thrown up all her barbecue at Paco’s place and it had been one long night; she dug in.
Hope usually ate like a bird, but seeing her idols Dick and Daphne and Enid eating like ranch hands made her want to emulate them, so she dug in too, as well as she could.
Attie and Cleb were poor kids, you didn’t have to ask them twice to clean up their plates.
As for Mr. MacNamara, Buddy and Brad, well, it had been a long time since they had had real Earthling food, and they were in something close to ecstasy.
Brad got a little drunk.
“All things said and done, I gotta say I love this fucking planet,” he said. “Fucking love it.”
“Hey, watch your language, mister,” said Cleb.
Brad raised both his hands.
“Whoa, sorry, kid!” He looked around the table, smiling, his mouth full of sausage. “I don’t watch myself with this guy I’m liable to get a shiv in my neck!”
“Just remember there’s ladies present is all,” said Cleb, coldly.
“I will, slugger! I will! Ladies! Real human ladies! And food! Real food! And real booze!” He paused, sighed, muttered, “Not like the shit they gave us in that fuckin’ casino, man.”
Cleb was about to correct Brad’s language again, but he let it go, this time.
“Okay,” said Enid. “Daphne. Speaking of this so-called casino -- tell me, what exactly transpired there?”
And Daphne resumed her tale, in her fashion.
The Rat Pack, the Samba Room...
Jake, wise to the joke, kept chuckling and saying, “Aw, Miss Daphne!”
But the Doc realized that it was probably all true. And stubbing out his cigarette he remembered Omaha Beach, he remembered rising up out of his body and looking down, and that vague awareness he had had of others somewhere up there, also looking down. It all made sense. For the first time in his life things made sense. And he felt himself on the threshold of that mental displacement he had first felt as he staggered up the beach that morning after getting hit. He didn’t fight it now. He let it happen and it happened. He was there in his head and everything else in the world was out there. And it was okay.
“Hey, Doc,” said Big Jake. “You gonna eat them eggs or memorize ‘em?”
And now he was back.
There was Big Jake’s fat chewing smiling face.
There was everyone else, and the Doc was with them. And it was okay.
“Stuffed, Jake,” said the Doc. “Delicious though.”
And he shook out another cigarette and lit it up and went back to listening to Daphne’s story.
When Daphne found herself on the verge of the part about Frank’s saying that the spacemen had previously abducted Dick and Hope and hypnotized them so that they would have sex -- well, she found herself hesitating for just a fraction. She glanced over at Dick, and the poor man was just frozen, staring at her in what could only be called great apprehension. She decided it was best to keep this part a secret, at least for the time being, and quickly improvised a different version, mutatis mutandis, of how and why she had got up from that table in the casino, “in an absolute huff”.
So on and so forth, and finally she got to, “So, it looks like curtains for us, with this horrible motorcycle madman just about to mow us all down with his machine gun, when -- thwoomp -- little -- Jed is it?”
“Cleb, ma’am,” said Cleb. “Cleb Parsons.”
“Mister Parsons here saves the day, throws this knife right into the madman’s neck.”
“It were Bull Thorndyke’s knife,” said Cleb.
“Pardon me?” said Daphne.
“It were the knife what Bull Thorndyke pulled on Harvey t’other day. The one the sheriff made him drop on the barroom floor. I picked it up and took it when no one weren’t lookin’.”
“How foresightful of you, Jed,” said Daphne.
“Name’s Cleb, ma’am.”
“Cleb. You were wonderful, Cleb.”
“Just did what needed doin’.”
“Yes you did.” Daphne addressed the table at large. “Oh, the look on that motorcycle fellow’s face when he saw who had thrown the knife. It was priceless.”
Everyone stopped eating for a moment, looking at Daphne.
“Well, it was,” she said. “Wasn’t it, Dick?”
“Well,” said Dick, and he put his forearms on the table. “Let me put it this way. I think I’ve had enough excitement tonight to last me a lifetime.”
“Amen,” said Daphne.
They ate up all the food and then Daphne looked around and said, “God, I’m still hungry. I’m a pig.”
Before you knew it Enid was offering to make pancakes but Esmeralda wouldn’t let her and then Daphne said she knew how to make pancakes, her specialty was blueberry pancakes. There weren’t any blueberries but there were plenty of Esmeralda’s rutabaga preserves so pretty soon Enid and Daphne and Esmeralda were all working together in the kitchen making rutabaga pancakes while Hope hovered about trying to be helpful.
Meanwhile Cleb had fallen asleep in his chair, so Attie went in and asked Esmeralda where she and Cleb were to sleep. Esmeralda left the pancake brigade, Harvey picked up Cleb, and Esmeralda led him and Attie up to a room on the second floor and then she left them alone.
Harvey helped Attie get Cleb undressed down to his worn old jockey shorts, and Attie tucked him in under the cool covers.
He’d been half awake as they were undressing him and now he said, “You comin’ to bed, too, Attie?”
Attie told him she was going to stay up for a little while.
“G’night, Harvey,” said Cleb, and Harvey said goodnight too.
Outside in the dim hall Harvey and Attie immediately went into a clinch.
(Continued here. “A beach book you can read even when you’re not at the beach.” -- Mrs. Emily Grunger, Books Editor, The Olney Times.)