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"Not Your Ordinary Tuesday" - Corey M. Pentoney

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Cyrus Mead was seventy-six years old and had had more than his fair share of what life had to give and really only felt that there was one thing missing from the whole experience. He had fought in both the Vietnam and Korean wars, not on the front lines, but as a translator and code-breaker. When he got home, and out of the service, he had taken a job as the manager of a local hardware store and married his high school sweetheart, Evelyn McGuff. They had moved from Upstate New York and settled down in a large townhouse in Louisiana. Evelyn bore three children, Mary, Cassandra, and Peter, who were all married now and had kids of their own. Evelyn had passed away three years ago, the kids had moved along and spread out across the country, and now Cyrus was left alone in a very large house. Cyrus had no complaints about his time on Earth, except perhaps that he had never had the pleasure of tasting shellfish. Although he was quite sure that his lethal shellfish allergy had everything to do with this, he had every intention of rectifying this.

But first, he had an appointment with his lawyer to iron out his will. Cyrus put on his best black suit, as he didn’t think it would do to die in just any clothes, and was glad to see that it still fit. The last time he had worn it had been to his niece’s wedding. He considered wearing his bowler hat, but it was the middle of July, and he was afraid it would make him sweat, so he decided against it. Shiny, black, wingtip shoes went on his feet, and he slapped a little aftershave on his cheeks after shaving. He had scheduled the appointment weeks ago, but since his lawyer was rather busy with cases concerning cellphones, drunk drivers, and inappropriate pictures, this was the first time he had to see him. Donald S. Parsonium was his name and he kept a large office above the town’s only tea house, and the rooms always smelled of fruity and herbaceous things.

“Cyrus!” Donald said, when Cyrus walked into his office. “Wonderful to see you.” Cyrus Mead grunted in reply. He had never liked Donald all that much. Cyrus thought that Donald had had a thing for his wife and had once threatened Don with a pair of tin snips in an alley behind a bar after he found the guy schmoozing his wife.

“What can I help you with?”

“Need to take care of my will, Don.”

“Not as young as we used to be, eh Cyrus?” Donald chuckled.

“Just never got around to making one, Don, and thought it about time I should.”

“Then let’s get it drawn up,” Donald said, pulling out a piece of paper. “Where should we start?”

“The house goes to Cassie,” Cyrus began. Cassandra had the biggest family and still lived in the area, so if he passed away, she could make the best use of the enormous house she had grown up in. “She also gets the books, all of Evie’s books.” Cassandra was a teacher. “Peter gets the cars, the tools, and the old roll-top desk in the front room. The kids’ll know which one.” Cyrus nodded to himself. When Peter was a child, he had helped his father restore his old F-150 truck, and the thing still ran like a bull in Spain. Maybe he would just sell the Cadillac, but Peter had the oldest kids, and they’d be needing cars of their own soon enough. Cyrus had been a fairly decent handyman and had collected a respectably- sized garage full of tools of all sorts, and not just the hand-operated kind. “Mary gets the money. All the investments, all the accounts, and the bonds that are in the fireproof box in my closet.” Mary lived in California and wouldn’t be able to drag furniture or whatever across the country, so she got the money. There wasn’t much, but it was enough that she might be able to buy herself a new car or a vacation for the family.

“I think that’s about it, Don,” Cyrus said.

“Alright,” Donald Parsonium bit his tongue a little as he jotted down the last of Cyrus’ wishes then pushed the document over the desk for him to sign. “Sign on the line, and everything will be official.”

“Thanks, Don.” Cyrus signed the paper, stood up, and removed himself from the wood-paneled office.

Down the street, a few blocks from the tea shop and Donald Parsonium’s law practice, was one of Louisiana’s more highly touted seafood joints, and this was where Cyrus Mead headed. On the way, Cyrus saw a sandwich signboard advertising five-dollar haircuts. The Mead men didn’t suffer from baldness, and Cyrus still had a full head of curly gray hair on his head. Running his hand over his scalp, he felt that it was a little shaggier than he normally kept it, and he could really use a trim; it wouldn’t do to be ill-groomed when he died. A middle-aged man with an apron on was at the counter reading a sports magazine. No one else was in the shop, which didn’t surprise Cyrus an awful lot, since this wasn’t the kind of fruity place most people would frequent. Cyrus told the man that he wanted a trim and, when the job was done, tossed him a twenty. Then he left, and kept walking down the road to The Clam Shell.

Cyrus was about to walk into the restaurant when he was struck by an enormous oversight on his part. He had completely forgotten to pick out a coffin. The burial plot was preselected, right next to his wife, of course, but he should have a coffin waiting for him so that the kids wouldn’t have to take care of that. As he walked back to his car, he figured that while Madeleine’s Coffin Emporium was closer, Fred Morse’s Pinebox Bazaar was probably the better place to go, and he had known Fred for a long while and might be able to get a discount. It took Cyrus ten minutes to drive to the Bazaar, through the south side and over the bridge to the old part of town. Fred wasn’t there. Cyrus told the sales rep that he could take himself through the showroom and asked if the rep would be able to call Fred up at home and ask if his old friend Cyrus could see a break on a coffin.

When the rep had gone, Cyrus started browsing through the rows of coffins. When he had bought one for his wife, he had purchased a really nice plush number made from pure walnut. He didn’t think he would like something so extravagant, but he wanted it to look stately. He wondered if they still made flat-topped coffins, as they would take up less room in the ground, and Cyrus had always had a soft spot for conservationist programs. All of the gardens around the house had been kept up by him, not just for Evelyn, but because he liked to get his hands dirty and thought the flowers made the house look nice. Several coffins caught his eye. One was a pure white one made of pine; another was black with silver trim and handles; and the last was made of maple, with only had a clear varnish and simple wood handles. The lid had only a little arch, and it was a decent price. Cyrus wrote down the product number and went back to the office where the sales rep was just getting off the phone with Fred.

“Boss says I can knock five percent off, but that’s it,” the rep said.

“That’s it?” Cyrus had been hoping for more, but he supposed that five percent was better than nothing. He gave the rep the product number and wrote out a check for the exact amount. Once that was done, he drove back over to The Clam Shell and parked out front. Cyrus briefly wondered whether the car would make it back to his house or just be taken to a police lot after they found his body. He didn’t want to bother anyone too much. Since it was only three in the afternoon, the restaurant was fairly empty, and Cyrus was offered a seat in a little booth by the window and off to the side of the main dining room.

“Hi, my name is Lindsay, and I’ll be your waitress this afternoon,” Lindsay, his waitress, said. “Can I start you off with something to drink?”

“How about an old fashioned—make those here?”

“I can certainly ask for you, sir.

“Thanks,” Cyrus said, and picked up the menu that the hostess had dropped on the table.

The Clam Shell had every shellfish that Cyrus could remember existing: lobster, mussels, shrimp, oysters, crabs, prawn, crayfish, scallops, the eponymous clams, and even smoked squid. Unfortunately, they didn’t have a meal that included them all. Lindsay returned to his table with an old fashioned in hand.

“Fantastic, Lindsay.”

“You stumped the bartender with that one, but she looked it up. Ready to order?”

“Well, I’m not seeing what I want on the menu, so I’m hoping you can whip something up for me,” Cyrus replied.

“What were you looking for?”

“A shellfish sampler. I want a few of every shellfish you have, with sauces to go with them. Any way you could do that? I’ll pay whatever it takes.”

“Let me ask my manager, OK? I’ll be right back.”

“Sure thing,” Cyrus replied.

Tucked inside his jacket pocket was an envelope that contained an apology to his waiter/waitress, and he took it out and filled her name at the top and the appropriately sexed pronouns and words he had left room for in the body. It was all hand-written, as Cyrus didn’t use the computer he owned for more than the occasional email to his kids, and he didn’t even own a printer. Simply put, the note said that he was sorry about leaving his corpse at the waitress’ table and further apologized for the surely distasteful condition it would be in when she found it. On the lighter side of things, it thanked the establishment and, particularly, the cook who made the dish for him, and made sure to point out that it wasn’t the cook’s food, really, that killed him. Cyrus folded the letter back up and placed it into the envelope, to which he added five one hundred-dollar bills before tucking in the flap and replacing it in his pocket. Lindsay strolled back over to his table, a smile twitching on her face.

“My manager says,” she began, and at that moment something in her voice reminded Cyrus of his daughter Mary—perhaps it was the bounciness of her overly welcoming tone—and it annoyed him a little, “That we can make a specialty seafood platter for you, but it would cost fifty bucks.”

“That’s fine, Lindsay,” replied Cyrus. “I’ll take that. And another old fashioned.”

“You haven’t finished that one, silly,” Lindsay said. Cyrus looked at her for a moment, then swirled the cup and drank it in three big gulps without flinching. “Okay… I’ll get you another one.”

“Thank you.”

Cyrus wondered what it would taste like. Fish had always been a favorite of his, especially Evelyn’s rosemary and dill salmon, but until now, naturally, he had avoided shellfish. Once he had eaten a casserole his mother-in-law had made for Evelyn and him when they had visited them in Maine. That dish had been made with clam juice, and he ended up in the hospital an hour later. This was before the days of epinephrine pens. Cyrus still remembered how long it had taken for his throat to close up and his face to swell with the amount that he had consumed. He would have to eat fast if he wanted to finish this meal, as he was expecting it to be fairly large, and the allergen would take effect much faster. He unfolded a paper napkin and spread it on his lap, another as a bib, and the utensils were arrayed on the table, opening their welcoming arms in anticipation of the plate that would sit between them.

“Hope you can eat all this,” said Lindsay as she set the enormous platter and another old fashioned in front of him.

“Me too.” Cyrus looked at her face again and, this time, took notice of her features. She had thin lips under a wide-set nose; waxed eyebrows hovered tenuously over her beautiful, almond, hazel eyes.

“Do you have a boyfriend, Lindsay?”

“What?” She looked shocked, probably because nobody ever asked her such personal questions, and if they did, it was probably just to get her into bed. “Yes, I do. Sorry.”

“I’m not asking for me,” replied Cyrus, holding his left hand up to let her see the wedding ring he still wore. “I’m married.”

“You wouldn’t be the first married man to ask for my number.”

“But I hope I’m the first asking to make sure that you’re happy.”

Lindsay didn’t respond but, rather, smiled and walked away. Cyrus supposed that she had other tables to wait on, but he couldn’t see them from his booth, so he resigned himself to his meal. On the plate were four grilled sea scallops, a split lobster tail, a small bowl of shrimp scampi, a crab cake, a dish of steamed clams and oysters, and fried squid legs. Arranged around the outside of the plate were sauces that Cyrus recognized—cocktail, melted butter, tartar, and ranch—and a few that he didn’t. Saliva filled his mouth, and his hands shook as he grabbed his knife and fork and cut a little slice of a scallop. Slowly, he brought it to his mouth and sunk his teeth into its charred, buttery flesh. It melted in his mouth, much like Jell-O did, and he closed his eyes to better enjoy the flavor. Once that first bite had been swallowed, he quickly ate the rest of the scallops and moved on to the shrimp scampi. The shrimp tasted more like the butter and garlic that it was in, and Cyrus ate the rest covered in cocktail sauce. Clams and oysters were wonderfully nutty and chewy, and when doused with melted butter, they tasted better than Evie’s salmon. Cyrus scolded himself for thinking that, then scolded himself for not being honest.

By the time his throat started to close up, only the crab cake and the lobster remained. Everyone always talked about how great lobster was, so Cyrus wanted to save it for later. He had had trouble saying what the squid was like, but, just based on this plate, it was a mix of clams and scallops. The breading gave it a great texture, and when he dipped it into a pale red sauce, which turned out to be filled with horseradish and pepper, it was certainly delicious. A small piece of crab cake had already been cut and was hovering from the end of his fork over the horseradish sauce when Cyrus started coughing and his eyes began to swell shut. It was much harder to dip crab cake into sauce when he had to tip his head to the right and down a little just to see the plate. The second to last bite of spicy crab went down hard, scratching his throat and almost getting stuck. A little sip of old fashioned managed to push it down, and he had the last bite loaded on his fork after a second of fiddling. As he brought the fork to his mouth, he remembered the envelope, and reached his shaking left hand into his jacket to fetch it.

Cyrus couldn’t feel his mouth anymore and wasn’t sure if what he was chewing on was crab cake or tongue. With the envelope nestled between the salt and pepper shaker at the edge of the table, his throat closed enough that his breath was like squeezing the last drops of ketchup from the bottle, and the table became a blur through the skin and tears. Cyrus gripped his fork harder, afraid that he would drop it as the oxygen stopped reaching his brain and he lost some small motor functions. He could feel the shellfish in his throat and stomach being absorbed and making his skin boil and pulse. It was a pleasant feeling, for the most part, much like stepping into the shower when it was still just a little too hot and tolerating it anyway, until the body adjusted. Eating shellfish was much like that, he thought, and he paused for a moment to relish the warmth that was spreading through his body before blindly stabbing at his plate to find the lobster.

Cyrus could only see bright stars popping in his field of vision now, and when he brought the lobster to his mouth, shell and all, and cracked it with his teeth, he was reminded of his and Evelyn’s first date, to see the Independence Day fireworks held every year in their town. They had sat on the roof of his apartment building on a blanket, drinking wine, and smoking cigarettes. Fireflies and June bugs filled the air, swirling the smoke that they had exhaled in failed attempts to blow rings.

When the fireworks started, Evelyn had leaned against Cyrus, her head tucked under his chin. Her perfume was crisp and intoxicating, and her skin and hair were soft against his. The fireworks faded into the background, paling in comparison to the experience of just being close to Evelyn. Cyrus’ head filled with the colorful explosions of that night and the way it had felt to lie to his wife that he would love to taste her homemade lobster bisque. She had proudly stated that it was the best in the state, and Cyrus didn’t want to break her heart by telling her that he would never be able to taste it.