So, when did the Lucky Charms mascot become a god? Didn’t he used to be an unassuming leprechaun with hidden gold and a red balloon? Maybe it all began when the balloon was struck by lightning. We got a little yellow bolt in the center of the red marshmallow, and he got superpowers. Look at the front of the box: it looks like what would happen if Stalin joined Ringling Bros. No more singing about clovers and blue moons for Lucky. Now he controls time. Now he can fly. He can twist your cold front into a misty spring morning, blow Climate Change out of the air as easily as if he were blowing an errant red hair out of his face. He can accelerate my morning routine, or at least speed up my internet videos before I have to wolf down breakfast and become part of I-90’s traffic problem. But maybe time wouldn’t be an issue any more. What would happen to the timepiece industry? How would he decide whose schedule to prioritize? Would the Senate vote on it? According to the box, he can also bring things to life, which I take to mean more than what Shakespeare’s Aaron promised to do, propping putrefied corpses against the front doors of grieving fogeys and all that, although I don’t know if people count as things, and I don’t know if things that start out as things, like a pet rock or a microwave oven or a dish drain or a lava lamp or a jean patch, count as the sorts of things they mean. I eat the sugary cereal pieces first. Then I drink the rainbowy grit-infused milk. Chewing the marshmallows reminds me of the sound of machine parts. If things that start as things count, I choose my childhood stuffed animals. Or a red balloon.
She stirs an oblong chocolate coin around a ceramic bowl of whipped cream and flips a self-rolled cigarette between the fingers of her other hand. I drag the pools of my adrenaline for a story to entertain her with, but “Elía, you can’t smoke in here” is all that comes out.
Now she leans back with a cheeky grin, sets the chocolate on her tongue, and tells me I’ve got two minutes to rivet her, or else she’ll consider our whole two weeks of casual dating a mistake, and whatever we have together will be nullified.
Behind her, a waitress in a black necktie carries a crystal-domed dessert tray to a table across the room. Behind the waitress, there’s a Monet. Behind the Monet is a wall made of polished chalcedony.
“My grandmother was a medical record,” I say. “It all started with cigarettes she rolled herself. After her second heart attack, Dr. Hacker – I’m not making that name up – asked her why she still smoked. Gram looked right at him and said, ‘Because it’s like breathing.’ He tried to explain that smoking is sort of the opposite of breathing, but it was like those little wads of tobacco were her essence or something. Ten years and three cancers later – well, you can guess the ending. But I barely remember the hospital stuff in between. It’s like, there she was, this stubborn warrior, blowing smoke rings over the creek where we played Pooh-Sticks after school, and then she was a legend.”
The cigarette now rests in the gap between Elía’s front teeth.
“I don’t know what you’d call that,” I say. “Selective memory, maybe.”
“Pyrrhic victory,” she says.
I can’t tell if Elía believes the story. I think it’s all pretty reasonable, except maybe the thought that I was any challenge for my Gram at Pooh-Sticks.
I’m about to flag down our server for the check when I notice Elía’s wrinkled brow. For a second, she’s not looking at me. Then she is.
She pulls a lighter from her jacket pocket, cups the cigarette from the air conditioner next to our heads, and makes a tiny flame.
I’ve just poked a sewing needle halfway through the hem of my flapper dress with a black-and-white reference photo of Violet Romer ogling me from the corner of the bathroom mirror when my twelve year-old walks in wearing knee-high black socks and says something about Charlie Luciano – maybe that her teacher mentioned him, or that her “boyfriend” looks like him, or maybe I’m so knotted in my own nerves about ’20s Night at the Pinstripe that I’ve just imagined it – but no, it turns out she’s actually asked why people called him Lucky when he had that droopy eye and a face like a pizza crust. I tell her I think it’s because he survived the beating that gave him those things, and from there became the most affluent gangster in history, but the kicker is that he did it all because he couldn’t get his dick hard, and as I’m saying this, I am Charlie Luciano, washing my face with leaden sink-water in the bathroom of the Villa Tammaro, counting my breaths, and then above the monotone of muttered Sicilian beyond the door comes the rush of thunderclaps as Siegel and Anastasia empty their weapons into Joe the Boss’s chest, and maybe I leave the bathroom and ask them why we waited so long to make this move before I toss the Ace of Spades over the body and jerk my head towards the rumbling Model T outside. Luciano never had kids because he couldn’t bear the thought of innocent children having a gangster dad. My daughter is in sixth grade and taking her first health class. I don’t know if she knows what a dick looks like, or if kids even call it that any more, or if she knows that I left her dad for the same reasons Luciano destroyed so many things. She gives a nervous laugh, unsure whether she’s supposed to. Little gullies cut through the freckles beneath her eyes. I remove my wig, unable to wait for her to ask if she can join me tonight, and set it on the tawny crown of her head.
Richard Hartshorn was recipient of the 2011 Richard Bausch Short Story Prize, and his work has appeared in *Drunken Boat, Our Stories, The Writing Disorder, theNewerYork*, and other publications. He earned an MFA in Writing from Vermont College of Fine Arts, and lives in rural upstate New York.