Written by Vonda Norwood
Glittering Sales Publishing is the name on the window of a corner building at a strip mall in Miami, Florida. Behind the glass door is a small, square space where Irma Gutierrez, clutching a violet paper folder on her lap, sits in front of a dark, bureau-style desk, and across from the head publisher, sixty-year-old, Beatrice Campbell.
Staring at her tan blouse, Beatrice buttons its top button. Her shoulder-length, blond wig slides, inching over her forehead. “Eighty-nine dollars and it won’t stay put.”
Irma drops her stare to a cellphone on the desk and she bites the inside of her bottom lip. Her ankles are crossed and tucked beneath the chair. She’s rocking her feet, and her white sandals are squeaking.
Mrs. Campbell glances up. She presses a finger to a center part-line then slides the wig in place. The publisher smiles at the forty-eight-year-old, brown-eyed, brunette, whose hair is in a tidy bun. “You’re a woman with good taste, Irma. That white dress makes those Tiger Lilies pop. I absolutely love that sundress.”
“Thank you very much.”
“Somehow, I thought you’d look much older.”
“You have the advance I sent you?”
“Yes.” Irma nods. “Four-hundred dollars.”
“After I receive your summary of the trip, I’ll deposit the rest into your account.”
“Sixteen-hundred.” Irma stares beyond the woman’s thick eyeglasses, searching her blue eyes for a sign of agreement.
“Don’t forget about the fifteen-percent of their total sales.” Mrs. Campbell shrugs. “Which hasn’t ever amounted to much, but that’s why I’m sending you with them. You’re going to love the hotel.”
“It’s hundreds of miles from here?” Irma points toward the floor. “From Miami?”
“It’s just a little south-west, Irma dear. Hundreds…” Beatrice points a finger and shakes it at Irma. “I like to remind all my authors not to exaggerate an exaggeration.”
Irma squints, glancing down then up.
Mrs. Campbell scoots forward. On the desk and in front of her, she rests one arm on top of the other. “That’s a good writing tip.” She gives Irma a nod. “Remember to share it. It’s on the list in your folder.”
Irma opens the folder and she flips the pages. “A to Z Car Rental, GPS Instructions, The Correct Way to Write.”
“Alright. Number one: Adjectives, go light on them. And—”
Beatrice clears her throat. “Simple and majestic…”
Irma closes the folder. “I’m sorry?”
“…red with a green and a very thick, long, long stem and the petals are covered with off-white, sparkling, large, oblong spots. You forgot the author was talking about a driveway where a body laid. Right?”
“Authors are very sensitive, my dear Irma. Most are crazy, really. You can’t ever tell them they’re technique is wrong, because they will kill you.” Beatrice smirks. “You know what I mean.”
“Your job is to address them as a group. That way they’ll suspect you’re talking about the other guy or gal.” Beatrice winks. “Mention the rules as often as possible. But don’t look those people in the eyes!”
Irma swallows hard. She nods each time Mrs. Campbell completes a sentence.
“Keep repeating the fundamentals… All you can do is hope that something will sink in.” Beatrice shrugs. “But, most importantly, I’m counting on you to teach them how to become a big hit on the platform called, Social Media and the People. Show them how you did it.”
Images of her page flash in Irma’s mind. The covers of the three books she self-published, and the fourth cover… it was meant for the last book in a romance series, but she didn’t finish writing it.
“Almost two-hundred-thousand followers… Amazing. I want you to teach me too. I can just imagine how many books you’ve sold… I know, it’s none of my business, but I am damn curious.”
Irma drops her stare to the green indoor/outdoor carpet.
“It’s something you should brag about, and I’d insist now, but I’ve got to be running.” Mrs. Campbell grabs the cellphone.
Irma stands. “The trip, um…”
“I have to be in Chicago tomorrow…” Beatrice springs to her feet. “Everything you need to know is in that folder.” She dashes to Irma’s side. “I hate airports. They’re always so crowded and—”
“Why’s the hotel so far from where the convention’s being held?”
Beatrice places a palm on Irma’s back and guides her toward the door. “I thought you were a writer.”
Irma hugs the folder. “I am. I was. I—”
“Where’s your sense of adventure, romance? The Out West Miami hotel was once a very famous museum.” Beatrice presses her knuckles to the glass and she pushes the door open.
Irma rushes onto the sidewalk then turns around. “A museum?”
“I still have to pack.” Mrs. Campbell slides the phone in a pocket of her tan slacks. She pulls a set of keys out from the other. “When the population here grew and all the main roads went to and from everywhere but near there, they renovated.”
“Into a hotel?”
“My dear, people come from all over the world just to stay in their exclusive, luxury suites.” Beatrice fumbles with the keys at the deadbolt. “I’ve made all the arrangements for everyone. They have fine dining and views that over-look groves…” She locks the door, turns and swoops her palms passed Irma’s nose. “Thousands of beautiful orange trees.”
“Of course it is.”
Behind Irma, high-pitch beeps sound-off. “Fudge!” She hops, turning toward the vehicles.
“Fudge?” Beatrice giggles and marches passed Irma. “Use big girl words, dear.” She steps off the curb and rushes between a parked, silver car and a red mini-van. “No one wants to get fudged to death.”
Mrs. Campbell pulls the van door open. “That’s on the list too. Study it. I’m counting on you.”
Irma grits her teeth and smiles. The van backs out of the space then behind the silver Taurus where it stops for a moment before pulling away.
The newly hired publicist turns around and takes a step when from her right eye, she catches a glimpse of a dark object falling toward her. She closes her eyes and darts forward. Rock cracks against rock. She stops and whips around. A red brick, broken in three pieces, lies on the cement and two-feet from where she stands.
Irma sidesteps and peers onto the roof. “Is someone up there?” Squinting and scanning, she sees three air conditioning units on a sand-colored, flat surface.
Trembling and hugging the envelope, Irma studies the exterior of the building. It’s tan in color and the top edging is lined with red bricks. In the parking lot, two cars enter and they drive by. People are rushing to and from stores. Irma jogs to the end of the building. She rounds the corner where then she sprints to her white Jeep.
Written by Vonda Norwood
Later that afternoon, inside a private medical center, Irma powerwalks, smiling and waving to many familiar faces as she passes nurse’s stations.
After an elevator ride to the fourth floor, she steps out and pretends to not notice male nurses who are reading medical charts near every entrance and exist. This floor is temporary hosts to one patient and a team of psychologists and physical therapists who specialize in trauma concerning the Green Beret who retains classified information.
Irma trots around the last corner. In a room at the end and to the right, lies her husband, Colonel Donovan Gutierrez. Four month ago, he was injured when a suicide bomber exploded a truck at a checkpoint outside a military base in Afghanistan. On a raised bed, between two small dressers, Don is facing a blank television screen and he is staring at the ceiling.
A young woman places a chair beside his bed. She leans down and presses a green seat. “Cloth covered and cushiony, Mr. Gutierrez.”
Don keeps his hazel eyes locked on white panels. “First, you tell me it’s ninety-eight degrees, then you think I’m going to let you cook my wife’s ass…”
The woman stands tall. “I have removed the leather chair, Mr. Gutierrez.”
“I can’t walk, but my vision is perfect.”
“Yes it is.”
“She’s lost twenty pounds since the army tried to stick me at a desk.”
“You will walk again, Mr. Gutierrez…” The nurse heads toward the open doorway. “All you have to do is cooperate with the people who want to help you.”
“Cooperate with people who don’t know any better than to offer a skinny woman a fake leather chair on a hot day?”
Irma charges into the room. “Sara… Ooh, the white pants suit.”
Sara smiles. “It’s how we know it’s Wednesday.” The women giggle and embrace for a quick hug. “I love your Tiger Lilies, Irma.”
Donovan Gutierrez bellows, “No one here addresses me as Captain.”
“Enjoy your visit.” Sara rushes through the exit.
“Thank you.” Irma marches forward, passing a small, elevated table at the foot of Don’s bed. Near the window, she pulls a cord, and beige curtains open to tinted glass with a view of a small rose garden on the roof, one floor below. Across the street and above the Miami Family Diner, a digital sign flashes the time, date and temperature. “The pinks are losing their petals, but the yellows are in complete bloom.” Irma heads to the table where from she lifts a remote and aims it at the television. She presses the power button then the mute button. “Those flowers are so lovely.” Finding a local news channel, she brings the remote to her husband, placing it leaning against his left thigh and on top of his thumb.
She makes her way around the foot of his bed. “You had them turn the thermostat down again. It’s cold in here.”
Still staring at the ceiling, and rarely blinking, Don mumbles, “You’ve lost muscle, have no body fat.”
“What are you talking about? I’ve been what you call a stick, for over ten years now.” She sits on the green cushion, crossing her right leg over the left. “Tall and skinny, that’s how you like ‘em.”
He blinks twice. “If you were short and chubby, that’s how’d I’d like ‘em.”
Irma leans forward. “I know.”
Slowly, Don turns his head to his right. His eyes lock with Irma’s. “Well?”
“Your doctor said—”
He returns his position to staring at the ceiling.
Irma settles back into the chair. “You were wrong.”
His stare drops to the wall just beneath a weather report. Through his nostrils, Don draws a deep breath then he exhales slowly. “What is your job title?”
Irma sits tall and she cups her knee. “Publicist.”
He turns to her. “Is that a real thing?” Don studies Irma’s nods and her shoulder shrug. “There are things you must experience before you will learn.”
“The four-hundred dollars cleared. And I get—”
“Sixteen-hundred…” He blinks once. “…when you return.”
“Two-thousand-dollars, just for signing on.” Irma grins.
He gazes at the ceiling. “Now, you can buy her books and sell them. Nice.”
“All I have to do is chauffer the authors to a luxury hotel. I get to stay free, so I can drive them to the convention in the morning.”
“And set up booths, help sell books…” In his mind, Don counts the passing of five seconds. “The idea of driving…” He draws a slow and deep breath. “…hours away and then returning to Miami early enough to prepare work stations…” He counts the passing of five seconds. “Honey?”
Irma’s fluttering eyelids and headshaking shew away Don’s attempt to insert reasoning. “After I take them home, I’ll drop by here and—”
“Admit that I was right.”
“I’m getting paid, and this is a good way for me to learn a few ins and outs of the publishing business.”
“What happens to Mattie and Andrew?”
Irma’s eyes widen.
“Yes. I read your books.”
“You’re the one who bought them last week?”
“I downloaded the books to my phone.”
Irma leans back and slips her hand into her skirt pocket. She pulls a cellphone out. “Do you remember your passwords now?”
“Nothing to remember, never signed up.”
“Oh. But you know that?”
“The site knew it.”
“The Roaring Twenties… A fun time to read about.”
“Yeah. It was fun to write.” Irma leans toward the bed. “I want to show you a picture of us when—”
“Mattie doesn’t know it…” Don stares toward the ceiling. “Andy didn’t rob that bank.”
Irma lowers her eyes and the phone to her lap.
“But he’s never going to get the chance to prove it to her, and on the page where you wrote, to be continued, Mattie will forever cry about her bad choices in men.” He turns and studies his wife’s widened, brown eyes. “Because their author got a new job.”
Irma reclines and shoves the phone into her pocket. “You’re the reason I was hired.”
He stares toward the raised table.
“In California, all those new recruits…”
His breathing is short and rapid.
“Isn’t one of your jobs, um, teaching how to, or is speeching about how to? What’s it called?”
His eyelids flutter.
“It’s not called that.”
“After California you toured Texas and Mississippi. You ended each speech by saying, ‘Follow my wife on social media, or I’ll hunt you down and kill you’.”
“A joke.” His face turns red.
“Told after sharing what you did to those terrorists in—”
“I hoped they’d stop sending me off to give speeches.”
“You told that so-called joke for two years.”
Don’s upper body trembles. “It was inappropriate, poor taste… I should have been reprimanded and reassigned to do real army stuff. I’d rather mow lawns with my teeth then—”
“Wow.” Her eyes well with tears. “You remember.”
He turns to her. “But everyone laughed.”
Irma giggles. “Almost two-hundred-thousand laughers follow me on a program called, Social Media and the People. I appear to be practically famous.”
“What kind of fudgery have those bastards been up to?”
She claps once. “Fudgery. I love that one.”
His temples throb.
“Not a thing, Donny. I had no idea they followed me, until Mrs. Campbell mentioned it when I applied for the job.”
“Are a lot people reading your books?”
Her mind wanders to a routine of checking her sales report every Sunday. Her shoulders slump forward. “I’ve sold a total of twelve books.”
“Four of each in the series?”
“One each to you…” She giggles. “…and years ago to your mom and my mom… There’s a stranger out there who too bought one of each. Three years, and only one real sale.” Irma bites her bottom lip.
“Because you didn’t finish book four.”
She gazes at his chest, hips and legs… all which are tucked beneath a light-blue blanket and sheet. “I’m a quitter?” She lowers her eyes.
He stares at the ceiling. “The army threw me away.”
“Stay away from military bases.”
“I found a nice house. It’s—”
“I’ll sleep in a park first, after what they did to me.”
“It’s not anywhere near a base.” She pauses, watching his chest rise and fall rapidly. He takes a deep breath. A few moments later, his breathing slows. “They sent you here because of the type of therapy you need. This is special treatment, not rejection.”
“I engage physical therapy.”
“You sure do.”
“These doctors aren’t like the army bastards. Assholes… just want me to look at pictures. I’m a tracker, a hunter, a—”
“Proud butt kicker.”
“You’re forty-nine and have the body of a thirty-year-old who is in the best shape of his life.”
“Are you working for the army now, Irma?”
Her eyelids flutter.
“I’m thirty-six, and in better shape than any man.”
Her spine stiffens. She holds her breath then releases it slowly. “Oh—”
“I hate this place. No one addresses me as Captain.”
“He thinks he’s thirty-six… Obsessed with my weight.” Between the ages of thirty-six and now, Donny has become a colonel. Irma thinks back… At that age, she explored the idea of a vegan diet. Don told her that it wasn’t a natural way of life.
She swallows hard then clears her throat. “The army has informed you that no one is trying to remove you from field duty. Right here, right now, your job is to cooperate, rehabilitate.”
“You’ve lost twenty pounds.”
Irma’s eyes dart aimlessly. “It’s summer time. You know I can’t eat much when it’s hot.”
“Pick the phone up, Irma. Call the kitchen. Let us share a chicken sandwich.” In his mind, he counts the passing of five seconds. “It’s not hot in here.” He brings his stare to her.
Throughout their twenty-eight-years of marriage, when he returned from a mission, and later, from lecturing and training, he made a game of pointing out something different about their home, or about her. He’d bring it up to her as if she were a spy he had to trick into confessing.
Irma opens her mouth and flicks her tongue, making clicking noises while returning his stare.
Don turns his head, and upon viewing the tinted window, he shuts his eyes. “Why do you do that?”
“It annoys you the way I am annoyed, because how do you know I started a vegan diet?”
With his eyes sealed he rolls his head to the right where he then views the ceiling. “When we have dinner together, you eat only vegetables and fruit. You used to love cheeseburgers, but last Wednesday when Manny delivered, you couldn’t move fast enough to get out of here.”
Irma drops her foot to the floor. “I can’t hide anything from you.”
“You’re not following the diet correctly. If you don’t gain weight real soon, I’ll start force-feeding you cheeseburgers and sour cream.”
“Sour cream can be very fattening. Ask my mother. She never lets my dad eat it.”
Irma gazes off into thought and she frowns. “Yeah… Just thinking about it makes me feel fat and very sad for cows who are slaves because of mankind’s gluttonous ways.”
“That’s not natural. You know I’m right. You have lost an unhealthy amount of weight.”
“No, I haven’t.”
“I can see you’ve lost at least twenty pounds. And in what? I was gone for only two weeks.”
“Don, you’ve been in Miami for a month. I’ve been here for the past two weeks.”
“Exactly.” He frowns. “I’m sorry, I haven’t wanted to say it, but that diet has aged you.”
She searches her mind for an argument to present… A moment later, she leans toward the bed. “No. I am the same size now as I was when we got married. And everyone tells me that I look ten-years younger.” Irma sits back and grabs the arms of the chair. “While packing to move here, I looked at all the beautiful pictures in our wedding album. I haven’t changed one bit.”
He rolls his head to the right. His eyes widen. “Irma, go to the eye doctor.”
“I did.” She clears her throat. “Yesterday.” Irma grits her teeth to stifle a giggle. With two fingers, she points at her eyes. “Twenty-twenty. Looking at those pictures…” She sighs. “…I couldn’t believe how skinny I was.”
“You always say you were overweight when we got married.”
“No, but you sure were chubby.”
He stares at the ceiling. “Bring me that album, Irma.”
“Why? I don’t know what you’re thinking…” She shrugs.
“You’ll see that I’m right.”
“You’re just wrong.”
“Twenty-pounds in two weeks…” He shakes his head. “Honey? You’re harming yourself.”
“I am as healthy as a chicken who goes around freeing turkeys.”
He turns to her. “What the… Quit that diet. Or I’ll—”
“Go ahead, force me to eat a chunk of carcass.” She opens her mouth wide and points to it.
“How vegan are you?”
She leans toward his snarl. “We share this planet with creatures, all of them are our equals, and they have just as much right to not be eaten by us as we have to not be eaten by—”
“I’ll be walking Friday.”
“This Friday?” She reclines.
“While you’re on your way to the wilds of west Florida, I’ll be walking to Manny’s Burger Joint.”
Irma studies the fingernails on her right hand, and she grins. “I’m winning this one.”
“You’ll be getting real healthy when I’m walking again. Manny’s chunks of carcass are the juiciest and the best—”
“You’ll change your mind.”
“Not possible.” Irma drops her elbows on the arms of the chair and she presents her palms. “You don’t cooperate with the therapists. You won’t even speak with them.”
“Is that it?”
She laughs loudly. “That’s it!”
“Let me tell you something, no one will ever have as much cooperation as I shall give. Friday, I’ll be walking, and you’ll have to eat a cheeseburger.
“And, a tablespoon of sour cream.”
Written by Vonda Norwood
Irma Gutierrez never dedicated herself to learning much about veganism. She’s powerwalking from Don’s room and trying to recall quotes she read online thirteen-years ago. “He hates that crap.” She giggles and then she halts and presses her palm to her forehead. Sara’s behind a counter. She smiles at Irma and gives her a thumbs up. The vegetarian nods to the nurse who’s a Second Lieutenant in the U.S. army. She then resumes her forward striding, while smiling and planning how to slowly reintroduce animal products into her diet.
Meanwhile, the medical center is on the corner of two main avenues. Its front entrance faces six lanes, three heading north and three heading south. Traffic is heavy and steadily clearing all intersections at thirty-five MPH. Across six lanes is a diner where in the parking lot, Sergeant Ginger Johnson is sitting in a patrol car gazing at traffic from her side window. In the passenger seat, a young man who is writing an article about women cheating their way into workplaces meant for men, is interviewing her. “Your name reminds me of a stripper. You should think about changing it to a real name like, Gloria.”
“Is there something special about the name Gloria?” Ginger grins.
“It doesn’t sound like a fake name used by a stripper.”
“You keep saying you want to speak with my supervisor, so, don’t forget to mention that one about me too.”
“I do want to speak with him. Which one is he?”
“Captain Tiffany Baller.”
“You made that up. Are you lying?”
Ginger notes that it’s the second time she’s seen a silver, Ford Taurus travel north in the right lane at about ten MPH. It rounds the corner, passes the entrance to the medical center where then it speeds up. The car has no front plate, and she didn’t see a tail plate.
“Who gets all the dangerous calls? I mean, do male officers see more action than female officers?”
“I see, so you ladies get called to the scenes, for the purpose of inclusion. I get it. It looks good on paper, but when you get there, what do you do, jot down what you see, while the men do all the wrestling?”
The sergeant bites the inside of her bottom lip and she imagines typing a scene where men in tear-away, police uniforms wrestle convicts in pools filled with vanilla pudding. Women in mini-skirts and low-cut blouses wear caps that read, INCLUDED, and they sit on the hoods of patrol cars where they hoot and whistle… all the while jotting down what they see. Ginger presses her tongue to the inside of her cheek.
“What kind of names do the male officers call you females when you get special treatment?”
She turns her head slowly and stares at the smirking, twenty-three year-old. “You are too stupid to ask me…” Ginger makes air quotes. “…trick questions.” She turns to her window.
“Stupid? You know I’m recording our conversation, right?” He taps at the phone in his hand.
A female voice comes across the car radio. She informs the sergeant that she is clear to take a meal break. Ginger responds to dispatch. Then she sits back and clutches the steering wheel. A silver Taurus rounds the corner and it heads north at about ten MPH. From her side window, the sergeant spots a middle-age woman who’s wearing a sundress, and powerwalking in white sandals. The silver car slows to about five MPH. Ginger’s dark eyebrows furrow.
“You know what is stupid? The name Ginger Johnson.”
The woman in the sundress steps where the cement slopes for vehicles. The silver car speeds up then it turns into the driveway. Ginger’s dark eyes widen. The woman leaps forward. The car continues into the parking lot. She pats at her chest and then she races toward the intersection.
“Ginger Johnson sounds like a man’s limp you-know-what.” He coughs and chuckles into his hand.
“Oh…” Ginger bats long, dark eyelashes. “Always tell new people about your developmental disability, baby.” She puts the car in drive.
Ginger informs dispatch of her intentions to investigate the driver of the Taurus.
“I am a man!”
The sergeant steers toward the east-bound exit.
“We’re not going to eat? I’m starving.”
An eighteen-wheeler speeds passed the front of the cruiser and then into the intersection. A blue, full-size van turns in front of it. To the sounds of crashing and breaks squealing throughout the avenues, Ginger radio’s dispatch, and the journalist screams.
Irma approaches the window of Manny’s Burger Joint. She turns toward the sounds of tires squealing, metal crunching and glass shattering. A dark-haired man with a thick, black mustache sticks his head out the window meant for placing orders. He shouts, “That’s a bad one. I hope no one is hurt.” He draws back. “Mrs. Gutierrez, please, come inside. No one will cross back for a very long time. Come in, it’s too hot out there.”
Irma is panting. “And too dangerous.” She charges for the glass door. “Hey, Manny?”
“Do you cook using lard?”
She grins and pulls the door open.
Across the street from Manny’s Burger Joint, is the Greco Fine Jewelry Store. It’s owned and operated by Mr. and Mrs. Samuele Greco. Their thirty-two year-old son, Sammy, is a jewelry designer. Inside the shop, a customer named Carlos Perez stands beside Mrs. Greco. Both stare wide-eyed out the window and toward the intersection.
Mrs. Greco closes her eyes. “Please God, I wish for no one to be hurt.”
In Spanish, Carlos repeats her words.
Behind the display case, Mr. Greco turns his head to his right shoulder. “Sammy…”
Mrs. Greco places her hands on both sides of her head, smashing silver curls. She spins around. “You should pray to God, not call for our son.”
“Your son is keeping my customer waiting.”
She makes her way toward the glass case. “You angry with him, he’s my son. I wait for the day you are happy with him and he’s my son.”
Mr. Greco chuckles. “No. If he makes me happy, he’s mine. Always.”
Carlos grins and he strolls toward the couple who are half-sneering and half-smiling at each other.
A white door opens behind Mr. Greco, and out steps a man who’s six-feet and six-inches tall. He carries a small, red box on the palm of his giant hand. Mr. Greco glances over his shoulder and then he and his wife take three steps to their left.
Carlos gazes at the man who’s a foot taller and half a body size wider. Sammy gives the red box to his father.
Mrs. Greco smiles at Carlos and she points at her son. “How such a small couple can make him? He is a first generation American. Uh, very tiny when born. We tell everyone we make him in Texas, on our honeymoon.” She and her husband bump shoulders and they snicker. Sammy smiles softly and he shakes his head.
Mr. Greco adds, “But we married in Italy, and he doesn’t get born in New Jersey for many years later.” The couple snicker.
Sammy clears his throat. “It doesn’t make sense to me either.”
Mr. Greco offers the open box to Carlos. “Your lady will be very quick to say yes, no?”
Carlos lifts the diamond ring from the box. “The mounting is spectacular.”
“My son is a great artist.”
“Oh… He’s your son?”
Mr. Greco shrugs. “I am happy.”
“Thank you for such a fine job. This is beautiful.”
Sammy gives Carlos a quick nod. “I wish you and your fiancé a long and happy life together.” He then returns to the back room and closes the door.