Oswald Madness was sitting at the end of a very long table in a very white room that had a long line of narrow vertical windows against one wall. The windows were covered with chemical blue curtains, the bottoms of which gently swayed because of some sort of artificial air being pumped in.
His eyes hurt. His throat felt like he had been screaming for a long time, but he didn’t know why. There was some sort of lingering cloud over the table that silently churned like a butter thunderstorm. Then someone spoke and the cloud began to twirl into a tighter vortex and then drifted up and out of the room through an invisible hole.
“Can you pass the Christmas mustard?” the young girl called from a seemingly long way away. “I have some vivacious ham here that I would like to add a little more zing to.”
Oswald looked down in front of him at the table adorned in a crystal white cloth. There before him sat a jar of unopened Christmas mustard from a deli in Chicago that he used to know of because his Aunt Sharlene would never shut up about it at family gatherings around the holidays.
He looked up and called out. “Who’s there?” He saw the vibrations of his voice shoot across the long table and stumble into something on the other end.
The girl’s voice came back. “Do I need to come over there and get it myself? You really don’t want that.”
Oswald pushed his chair back and got up. The floor didn’t feel real. He picked up the jar of Christmas mustard and started walking toward the other end of the table. He walked and walked and walked. “This is the longest table I have had the displeasure to encounter,” he said out loud.
“Just keep going. You’re almost there.” A small hand suddenly reached out and snatched the jar from him. “Thank you.” And then the mist around her cleared and she slowly came into view. He just watched as she struggled to open the jar. “Fuck!” she said loudly, and then she handed the jar back to him. “Could you open it please?”
Oswald pushed his hand against the lid and turned. There was a little audible pop. He handed it back to her and she smiled up at him. “I don’t know why they make those things so damn hard to open. What if this had been an emergency?”
“A sandwich emergency?”
She gave him a dirty look as she did not care at all for his sense of humor.
He quickly altered the awkward moment. “I know you,” Oswald said to her.
“That’s right,” she said as she smeared Christmas mustard on a piece of rye bread with a silvery knife that flowed like liquid. “I know you as well.”
“What is this?” Oswald wanted to know. “It seems that just a minute ago I was chained to a very different table. I was in some sort of trouble, I think.”
“You were in trouble, but I decided to get you out of it,” the girl said, and she looked around with admiration. “This is my home and I have invited you for lunch. Are you not hungry? I assure you the meats and breads are top of the line… Top of the line.” She took a monstrous bite of the sandwich she assembled and chewed. She casually swung her legs beneath the table and hummed while slowly moving her head side to side as if she didn’t have a care in the world. She was wearing washed-out blue jeans cut by ragged stone, red high-top tennis shoes and a Nirvana T-shirt. She swallowed and looked back up at him as if she was annoyed. “Are you just going to stand there and stare at me all afternoon?” She took another bite of her sandwich and chomped. “Go on now. You can go back to your seat and have your lunch.”
Oswald looked to his right and down the long length of table to a chair in the distance. “We can’t possibly carry on a conversation with so much space between us,” he said to her. “Can’t I sit closer to you?”
She ran her hand across her mouth and looked at him as if he had requested something horribly unreasonable. “Why would you want to do that? We’re eating, not talking. There’s a time for talking and it’s not when we are eating.”
“We can’t do both?”
“No! They’re two totally different and unrelatable things. It would be a mess!”
Oswald decided it was not in his best interest to push the subject, so he turned and walked away from her toward the other end of the table, a table that seemed to have become even longer than before. When he reached his end, he sat down in the chair there and scooted it in closer to the table. He sighed when he realized he forgot to bring the Christmas mustard back with him. “Hey!” he yelled out.
“What do you want now!?” the girl answered sourly.
“I forgot the mustard. Can you bring it to me?”
There was a cackling, childish laugh. “You’ve got some nerve, Mr. Madness. You’re in no position to ask me to do anything for you.”
“I just want some mustard. You can’t expect me to eat a dry sandwich. It’s not like I’m asking you to jump off a cliff.”
“You want me to jump off a cliff?”
“No! I just want some mustard!”
He heard a plate clank in the distance and then it was quick footfalls coming toward him. The girl suddenly appeared, and she slammed the jar down in front of him. “Here’s your fucking mustard!” she barked. “I wouldn’t want you to choke on a dry sandwich… Or would I?” She scowled at him, turned, and walked away toward the other end.
Oswald cringed and called out to her vanishing trail. “Thanks.”
He worked on assembling a sandwich and when it was built to his satisfaction, he took a big, deep bite. It was very agreeable to him. But then he realized as he reached out in front of himself that there was nothing to drink. He looked all around to see if he had perhaps overlooked something. He swallowed what was in his mouth, cleared his dry throat and called out to her again. “Hey!”
“Jiminy Cricket! What the hell is it now!?” the girl replied from the other side of the vast distance.
“I don’t have anything to drink. I could choke without something to wash this rye bread down with.”
“Ugh!” she scoffed loudly. “Seriously, Mr. Madness. You are becoming a real pain in the ass.”
“You sure do swear a lot for a young lady.”
“So fucking what!”
“I’m sorry if I offend you, but I was unfortunately raised in not the most stable or proper environment. I’m afraid I’m the product of poor parenting… But despite my personal woes, I persevered. As you can see. But try not to be so judgmental.” She reached for and rang a small bell.
He thought he heard her whispering to someone. And then that someone suddenly appeared beside him balancing a small silver tray on his hand. He was tall. His bald head was large and shiny. He had small facial features. He was dressed in a black and cornsilk-colored suit. And when he spoke it was in a very soft, almost undecipherable tone. “The lady has asked me to bring you something to drink.”
Oswald hesitated to answer the strange man at first. “Yes. What do you have?”
The strange man nodded his head and a slight smile appeared on his face. “Whatever you want, sir.”
Oswald thought about it. “Chocolate milk.”
“Fine, sir. I’ll bring it straight away.” He gave a quick bow and then was off. He returned in nearly an instant, and the strange man’s hand, clad in a tan glove, set down a tall glass of chocolate milk in front of Oswald.
Oswald peered up at him and tried to smile. “Thank you.”
“Oh, you’re quite welcome, sir,” the strange man answered. “I do hope you enjoy it. I worked it out of one of our brown cows myself… May I get you anything else?”
Oswald nodded. “I think I’m good.” He lifted the glass to his mouth and took a deep drink. He smacked his lips and looked at the strange man who had brought it. “That’s the most incredible chocolate milk I ever…” The glass suddenly fell from his hand and the chocolate milk pooled on the table and began to seep into the tablecloth. Then Oswald’s eyes flickered and closed, and he collapsed headfirst into the spill. The strange man got down on his knees and moved his face closer to where Oswald lay. The man shook his head and made a noise with his mouth. “How unfortunate,” he whispered. Just then the girl appeared. She was whimsically eating a chocolate covered banana as she looked things over.
She cocked her head and asked. “What happened to him?” Then she laughed before taking another bite of her treat.
The strange man looked up at her and grinned. “Must have been a bad cow.”
TO BE CONTINUED
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