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TOE Short Story :: Marchesa

Fawzy Zablah

Once in the summer of 08, the conjoined twins, Fawzi and Habib Delgado got jumped at a strip club in Hallandale, FL. They were making their way to a lap dance when they accidentally bumped into a drunk patron with a thick island accent. The drunk patron shoved the brothers into a bar stool.

The brothers, being the optimists they were, shoved the man back, yelling, “What the hell, man? What’s the big idea?”

The drunk patron’s friends, who were equally drunk, jumped in and the twins were beaten so savagely that Habib would need 14 stitches on his forehead and Fawzi sustained a busted  lip and a minor concussion.

Fawzi and Habib shared one body with two legs, two heads, and three-and-a-half arms. When they walked, they wobbled from side to side. They were thirty-two years old, and since Fawzi controlled the right leg, and Habib the left leg, they had to undergo five years of intense physical therapy when they were kids to learn to walk on their own. As one can imagine, they never really had a chance. A bystander that saw the fight, and was an eyewitness to the brothers’ valor and fearlessness, described them as two of the loveliest fools he had ever seen.

What the thugs didn’t realize was that the twins were club regulars and had over a long period of time become the establishment’s mascots. They were so loved by the club that they had a table that was usually reserved for them.

And that explained the huge brawl that ensued, spilling into the street involving bouncers, thugs, and the Hallandale police department. The culprits were later banned from the club for life. The twins were rushed to the hospital followed by a long caravan of exotic dancers from every corner of Latin America. The waiting room at the hospital resembled Bourbon Street during Mardi Gras.

The name of the dancer that Fawzi and Habib had intended to get a lap dance with was Marchesa. She was an English girl with blue eyes and a brilliant smile. Michelle was her real name and she was born in London in 1976. Her body was thin, and her skin had a bright pink hue that made her look like a shiny ghost whenever she made her rounds around the club. She was undeniably beautiful, but she didn’t look like an exotic dancer. She looked more like a Hollywood actress in the tradition of Ingrid Bergman.

Fawzi and Habib were her best customers, and after almost three years of lap dances and vodka-fueled conversation, they couldn’t find the courage to tell her how they really felt. Since a lap dance with Marchesa was their goal on the night of the brutal attack, she felt guilty and stayed with the brothers the entire time at the hospital.

Then during a brief moment of lucid insanity in their hospital room, the twins asked Marchesa out on a date. They tried to ask her on a friendly date, but the words came out in the wrong order and it sounded like they were asking her out on a date-date. The movie date was scheduled for the second Sunday after their release from the hospital.

A week after they were released, Fawzi and Habib were having trouble sleeping. They both had the same recurring dream about watching a horrible movie with Marchesa. The only difference was that in Fawzi’s dream they were at a movie house, and in Habib’s they were at a drive-in. Either way the movie in the dream was so bad and tasteless, that Marchesa would get up suddenly and leave the theater without a word. In both dreams the brothers would then run after her into the lobby, and out to the street where she would disappear into a puff of smoke that rose up to the night sky. And as they wandered into the same busy street, yelling out her name, they’d almost get run over by a truck being driven by an androgynous samurai with black bangs and dark, dreary circles under his eyes. The samurai, angry and incoherent, would then pull his truck to the side, and, stepping out of the cab quickly, he’d jump, perform a somersault in midair, and then lunge at the brothers with a sword slicing them in half.

The brothers would then wake up in a cold sweat, staying up the rest of the morning arguing about which movie to take her to. Horror? Action? Comedy? Drama? Independent? They were afraid that if they didn’t pick the right movie, they would be throwing away an opportunity to have a woman in their lives.

By Thursday night, they were so tired and groggy from not getting any sleep they decided to call their old creative writing professor from community college, to talk about the curious situation they were in. The professor, a German American quadriplegic cinephile by the name of Merkel, told the brothers to meet him at the Denny’s restaurant across the street from his studio loft in South Miami.

When Fawzi and Habib arrived, Merkel was already there, waiting for them at a table in the middle of the dinning room with two chairs pushed aside to make room for his wheel chair. He was drinking coffee and he wore a blue Nautica jacket with scruffy long hair looking very much like The Dude from the Big Lebowski. Merkel’s eyes were blue, like the pasty, fading blue off the Florida coast before a big storm strikes.

And there they sat, the teacher and his former students. Three bachelors with eternity staring them in the face each morning when they woke up alone, and late at night when they went to bed alone. They were the hopeful, lovely, bright, and distorted subjects in a painting done by a master from another dimension. A master that could not exist in their world. A master that would have to invent them out of thin air.

As Merkel stroked a warm cup of black coffee as dark as the blackest hole in the universe, Fawzi and Habib sat across from him with a small tiny glass of orange juice and an orange soda.  They all ordered the Grand Slam Breakfast.

“I think a comedy is the best choice,” said Fawzi.

“See what I mean,” said Habib, looking at Merkel. “He thinks comedy is a safe bet. Most guys will choose a comedy. What if she doesn’t like the same kind of humor you like? It could be a disaster. A horror film eliminates that possibility. If it’s good horror, she will be scared and get excited and it will be easier for us to get into her panties.”

“Is that really all you care about?” said Fawzi.

Merkel watched them with a mischievous smile, like he was watching a man at war with himself.

“Maybe the question you two should be asking is, what does she like? What kind of movies does she like? Do you know?”

“She reads novels,” said Fawzi, looking despondent.

“What kind of novels?”

“She’s into Dan Brown and Charles Willeford.”

“She likes thrillers and crime fiction – she has good taste.”

“Of course,” said Habib. “She’s a stripper that can’t do no wrong.”

“Why are you trying to be clever?” said Fawzi.

“Because who cares what she likes? We just want to have sex with her.”

“What the hell are you talking about? This is serious. She could be the one.”

“What do you mean, the one? She’s a stripper for god’s sake.”

“Are you telling me you don’t feel even a little bit of affection toward her? She treats us with respect, she looks at us like we are people and not freaks. How can you talk shit about her like that?”

The server brought the three Grand slams. Merkel ate while the twins continued to argue.

“I’m not talking to you for the rest of the night,” said Fawzi.

“Whatever,” said Habib. “I’ll admit that she is nice. And I guess she is our friend, but you are such a fucking pussy.”

“I don’t wanna talk to you, please shut up.”

“What’s this girl’s name,” said Merkel.

“Her name is Marchesa,” said Fawzi.

“No,” said Habib. “That’s her stripper name. Her real name is Michelle.”

“But,” said Fawzi, raising his voice, “she prefers to go by Marchesa.”

“That’s an interesting name for an exotic dancer,” Merkel said, while pouring syrup on his pancakes.

“Why is that interesting?” said Fawzi.

“Yeah, why,” said Habib, while playing with his straw.

“Marchesa, in Italian, is the title of a noblewoman. The wife of a Marchese is a Marchesa. Where is she from?”

“She’s from London,” said Fawzi.

“There was an eccentric Italian heiress by the name of Marchesa Luisa Casati.”

Merkel then fixed himself to be more comfortable in his wheel chair, by replacing his right foot on one of the pedals.

“The artist Augustus John painted a famous portrait of her with orange hair like a wildfire and deep, dark eyes and red lips with a mysterious grin like the Mona Lisa’s. I think he slept with her too. He was one of her many lovers. Jack Kerouac saw the painting and was inspired to write some poems about it.”

The twins did not say anything.

“My college sweetheart, Daisy Donovan, minored in Italian,” said Merkel, “she was obsessed with The Marchesa.”

He paused, carefully picked up his coffee with both hands, and took a long sip. The twins watched him closely. After putting the coffee down he continued the story.

“When I went to the hospital after the accident, she stayed with me every day. But when the doctors told me that I’d never walk again, I started being real mean to her because I figured  she would leave me eventually, so I thought I better dump her before she dumps me. The last I heard she stayed in upstate New York, and married an architect.”

“Do you regret it?” said Fawzi

“Every day.”

“Really?” said Habib.

“No,” said Merkel.

Then Merkel gave the twins a big smile and continued eating his pancakes. He had known them for ten years and knew when he had them hooked. Merkel loved telling them stories.

“So how is the screenplay going, guys?” said Merkel.

“It’s going,” said Fawzi.

“Yeah right,” said Habib. “He doesn’t want to start rewriting yet. He’ll get depressed about not having a woman, and then drag me from our computer to the strip joint to go watch the girls dance.”

“So no headway with the second act?” said Merkel.

“He’s still stuck in the first act. I can’t do rewrites at a strip club.”

“Shut up. That’s the way I like to work. I write a first draft and then I let it simmer for a couple of weeks.”

“It’s been a year,” said Habib.

“It doesn’t matter. You can’t rush it. Don’t you know most  rewriting is done in your head? Not on paper. It’s what Ernest Hemingway used to do.”

“Fuck Hemingway. He was a homophobe.”

“Fuck Tyler Perry.”

“Fuck you. Tyler Perry is a genius.”

Then, suddenly, there was a silence among all three. The twins began eating their meals.

Some time later after everyone was finished eating, and with their plates to the side, they continued their movie discussion.

“This is serious,” said Fawzi. “If we choose the wrong movie, that’s it. It’s over. A real man chooses the right movie on a date like this. A bad choice can just ruin the whole night. Even if it’s her choice. So maybe before watching a bad movie with us she’ll think that we’re special, but after a bad movie, she won’t think about us in any way and that’s the worst thing that can happen, worse than death. It will be a living death and you will be dead to this person.”

There was silence all around.

“Why are you such a drama queen?” Habib said, while watching curious customers walk past their table.

“I am who I am. And I’m telling the truth.”

“Maybe you guys should take her to an action movie or a science fiction movie. Those are usually foolproof. It’s not too serious, but not a dumb comedy. It’s sort of in the middle. Maybe right alongside horror.”

Nobody said anything for exactly a minute.

“I want to marry her, Merkel.”

“Fawzi you need to relax. You can’t jump the gun with a girl like this.”

“He is such a pansy,” said Habib.

“What do you want, Habib?” said Merkel, smiling.

“I… want… sex. I don’t care if she likes us or not, but is she willing to have sex with us. That’s what I tell this sucker over here, but he doesn’t listen.”

“Being single sucks,” said Fawzi, abruptly. “I don’t want to be single. I want to settle down.”

“Even though we still haven’t finished the screenplay?”

“To hell with the screenplay. I wanna fall in love.”

“You are such a hypocrite,” said Habib, laughing. “Whatever happened to ‘first you get the money, then you get the power, and then you get the girl’?”

“To tell you the truth,” Merkel said, interrupting Habib. “You’re both right. Love is important, Fawzi, and sex matters, Habib. You both share the same heart and body and like two gentleman scholars you must be fair and meet in the middle.”

“What’s the middle?” they both asked.

Merkel placed his elbows on the table, rested his chin on the knuckles of his hands, and thought about the question which lingered in the space between them. He closed his eyes, and the brothers waited, patiently studying his face. His breathing was normal, and the aura he gave off was soothing and friendly, like sitting on the side of a mountain with a Tibetan monk.

He opened his eyes and spoke.

“The middle is two bottles of a very good Amarone, a couple of joints, a pan pizza from Pizza Hut, and Fellini’s La Dolce Vita on DVD.”

“Are you for real?” said Fawzi.

“I don’t mess around when it comes to love.”

“Really?” said Habib.

“No,” said Merkel.


Fawzy Zablah (@fawzy_zablah) is the author, most recently, of “Ciao! Miami.”

September 30, 2013 6:56 pm

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