Grace Bilgerbee looked like most of the women in the John’s Landing area of Portland: quite thin, yet with a provocative butt, a hint of breasts, and like she’d walked out of the pages of MARIE CLAIRE, wearing leopard-print flats, a gray wool skirt that ended two inches above her knees, a gray and black tweed tasseled jacket, her lustrous dark hair in a pony tail and her tortoise-shell Lady Gaga sunglasses.
Grace was a lower-echelon Public Broadcasting executive, yet she and her boyfriend of two months, Lancaster McCandless, who looked like a football player although he never played and who wore hiking boots though he never hiked, were able to rent a small wooden house that should have cost $150,000, but, in reality, was priced at $450,000. It helped that Lancaster worked in advertising, albeit at a lower level also.
They were both twenty-five.
Grace and Lancaster had just left Fish House on Corbett, arm in arm, where they’d had a glass of wine and shared a serving of the world’s best French fries. They were walking haphazardly on their way to the Italian trattoria, where it was Tuesday evening and Happy Hour all night long, and Grace and Lancaster were going to order the Heavenly Happy Hour Fettuccine Alfredo and, of course, another glass of wine. They looked forward to their hug from the wonderful Jerry and to chatting with the friendly owner, Guy.
But, somehow, in those few short blocks, they got lost. Perhaps they were too involved in their whisperings and sneaking little kisses in and they failed to watch the surroundings and be careful as to which way to turn. Suddenly, they came upon a street where they had never been before; a wild explosion of a street like a raucous carnival, or a street from the Deep South during Mardi Gras, with thousands of twinkling white lights, loud music, courting music, come-to-me music, saxophones blaring, and large neon signs appearing, welcoming them to certain evils — SEE THE THREE-LEGGED WOMAN, TALK TO THE MAN WITH NO HEAD, HER TONGUE IS AS LONG AS A COBRA, QUADRUPLETS IN FORMALDEHYDE. And there were popcorn vendors and red-headed clowns in green and yellow polka dotted costumes enticing them in to obscene shows with promises of free liquor and the latest celebrity secrets.
Grace and Lancaster were dazzled and teased and flattered. “Come on, come on!” the red-headed clowns encouraged. It was so tempting and they, sadly, succumbed. They were drawn toward strange exhibits and partook of the free liquor; and then, the terrible, final mistake they made was entering the cabaret of Mr. Vigliotides who lured them in with his unearthly PEEK AT THE FUTURE.
Mr. Vigliotides, wearing a white top hat, had a curling long, black mustache and dark-circled diamond-blue eyes. He wore a purple tuxedo with a red satin heart emblazoned on his chest. His long chalky fingers did strange things like measure their little toes and the cuticle on their third finger and the size of their ear lobes. He took a drop of their blood and tasted it. He put all the information into a computer. And then he took Lancaster to a back room and told Grace to wait, seating her at a pink cocktail table filled with glasses of topaz champagne. “Drink up, darling,” he urged.
After an hour, Mr. Vigliotides returned with another man who resembled himself as if they were twins. It was Lancaster McCandless transformed.
“What have you done?” Grace screamed when she realized what had happened.
“It’s alright,” the new Lancaster said, already twirling his mustache, “I’m going to be another Mr. Vigliotides. I’m going for training to New Orleans. It’s going to be a wonderful future.”
“It’s evil! It’s sick! You just want the wild exotic women on this street. You have accepted temptation!” Grace exclaimed. “Lancaster, you love me!” she pleaded. “How can you just…” but she did not finish because an awful retching, abrasive, choking sound was emanating from Mr. Vigliotides. With his long bony fingers, he squeezed his own throat as if strangling himself and, suddenly, six lime green parakeets flew from his mouth.
Grace gasped as they fluttered by her. Lancaster put his hands to his face in excitement, smearing the make-up on his eyebrows. He opened his mouth a mile wide and the parakeets flew in. He then chomped down on them splattering blood and feathers on his mustache and tuxedo.
After he had swallowed the birds and licked his lips, Lancaster burped and then calmly addressed Grace. “Did you say something?” he innocently inquired.
Grace threw up her hands and let out a tortured moan. “You never listen!”
She jumped up, knocking over several champagne glasses, and dashed back through the sparkling sidewalk. She ran, tripping over large clown feet, and pushed her way past barely-clothed decadent strippers and cigarette boys and, finally, she had escaped and saw that she was on Nebraska Street, a street that she knew, a real street in her life, a decent street. And then she paused, took a deep breath, collected her thoughts and slowly made her way to Virginia Street and the Italian trattoria with the romantic red-shaded lampshades, where she sank into her usual chair and was comforted by the pretty servers who had become her friends.
“It’s terrible to be dumped,” Evie said. “It was a most unusual way,” Melanie stated. “You’ll find someone else,” Susie offered.
Grace ate her Heavenly Happy Hour Fettuccine Alfredo and accepted the caring glances from the old couple, Bill and Marsha, who ate at the trattoria three evenings each week. They were in their eighties and had been married for fifty-four years.