Miss Understanding

1. 

 

Frank looks up for a moment at the officer sat across from him and stares him straight in the eye.

“Look, I’ll tell you everything that happened,” he says, pausing. “Hell, I’ll even tell you in the exact order that it happened… but you’ll never believe me, so what’s the point?”

“Try me,” replies the officer.

And so, Frank leans back in his chair, props his hands behind his head and begins it all over again.

 

 ************************************

Almost everyone wants to look young. In fact, I can think of few circumstances in life in which one would not wish to, save perhaps for kids trying to purchase liquor under age or such like. And of course, there are always some folk who just like to be different. Thankfully for Frank DiMaria, the overwhelming majority of the populace does not think in this way and thus he is able to sell his wares easily. Today is just another day, another expo and hence, another opportunity.

You can tell a lot about a man from his business card. Frank thrusts one into the palm of one of the many outstretched hands that have passed before him today and it reads:

 

Frank DiMaria:

President, Eternal Youth Enterprises,

“Because eternal youth need not be a secret”

Los Angeles, California

1-800-ETERNAL

 

Whilst it’s not technically a lie, “President” is perhaps a somewhat grandiose term to describe Frank’s position, for he is also the epitome of the term “a one man band”. Whilst this has some drawbacks, it is also a position that allows him the liberty to choose any title he so well pleases. Indeed, it is also a position that affords him many other liberties, but all will be revealed in good time. In any case, a more accurate title might perhaps be “salesman”, or “entrepreneur”, but neither seemed to impart the same gravitas as his chosen moniker.

“Thank you madam, I look forward to doing business with you,” he says to the owner of the outstretched palm I mentioned moments ago. She smiles and walks off, content in the knowledge that their transaction today might preserve a little of that youth just a moment longer.

Frank’s chief rule of sale had been the same since he first started out in business selling flavoured soda powder to the other kids in school. Frank’s family had travelled to the UK when he was young, and a trip to a candy shop over there introduced him to something the Brits called “sherbet”, essentially a flavoured soda powder that tasted like a party in your mouth where everyone was invited. Upon returning home, he’d figured out the recipe from the internet, back in the days where images were luxuries and videos were non-existent, YouTube still but a twinkle in some nerd’s eye. But text was all Frank needed – if there was one thing that he was good at in life, it was taking orders, and a recipe was this in its most base of forms. All he needed was the ingredients – he figured he could make a profit of at least twenty cents a pop if he sold it for a dollar a time.

The only thing he hadn’t banked on was little Jimmy Jacobs in ninth grade. Jimmy was the youngest son of the Jacobs family, the local “elite” in the town Frank grew up in. He had also become Frank’s number one customer, so, when he introduced his latest “super strength” flavour, Jimmy was, of course, first in line. The problem was that Frank had made the mixture so strong it began to strip the enamel from Jimmy’s teeth, and he was promptly first in the line at the orthodontist’s as well. Cue a swift couple of phone calls from said orthodontist and Jimmy’s parents to the Principal. This little problem, coupled with the fact that the Principal had a suspicion he was dealing coke anyway, meant he was shut down in days and learned a valuable lesson: know your product.

Jojoba. Aloe Vera. Parraffinum Liquidum. Hell, he could tell most folk that shit was made from unicorn tears and science granules and they’d be gullible enough to buy it, but for the most part Frank was an honest man and felt it best to impart the wisdom he had learned over the years.

“Folks, if you want to see a demonstration of my wonderful products, please take a seat in the auditorium in front of you.”

 

********************************

 

Frank glances across to the podium whilst pawing at his tie relentlessly, almost as if he somehow ought to be able to summon the spirit of a genie from within him. Nerves can do funny things to you, but they also prove you’re still alive, and with increasing regularity Frank found little comfort that this was still the case. Well, other than that one little thing that need not be mentioned at this point.

He feels a vibration in his pocket and pulls out his cell. It is his wife, Amanda. “Hey babe, how are you?” he asks.

“Missing you, baby!” she replies, sincerely.

“Aww, I’m sorry honey, I shouldn’t be away too much longer,” he says. “I uh, have got this demonstration to present at, then tomorrow it’s eight hours of hard sales, followed by four and a half hours of flying… Yay! But then I’m all yours.”

“Really?” she replies. “But you told me that it was only a one day-deal… I thought you were going to be home tonight?”

“Yeah, I’m sorry, I’d figured it would pretty much just be a one day thing, a bit of sales today and a presentation… but well, business has been slow and I’ve got to recover my costs of travelling out here somehow, so I’m stopping at some roach-ridden motel down the road tonight, then heading back tomorrow.”

Amanda lets out an exaggerated sigh and replies, “But you’ve been away so much lately!”

“I know, baby, but I figured that, y’know, this is Miami, and I struggle to keep up with the demand… but boy, it’s been a struggle…”

“So let me get this straight,” she replies. “It’s been a financial disaster so far and yet you can run up a motel bill overnight?”

“Well, I haven’t made enough today,” he replies, “but the guys who come to this expo all the time tell me that Friday’s the busiest day, so I’m going to give it a shot, see what I can make, then head home to you guys tomorrow.”

“And what about your flight tickets?” Amanda counters.

“Uhh… I picked up one of those ‘anytime’ return tickets, y’know,” Frank replies. “Part of me was kind of worried this might happen, to be honest.”

There is a pause on Amanda’s part before she says, “You know, I’m starting to worry the kids won’t even recognise your face when you get back!”

It is a poorly-judged attempt at humour on Amanda’s part and is the last thing Frank needs after such a day.

“Don’t say things like that, honey!” he snaps.

“Why not? Sometimes that’s how I feel!” she replies.

“Because it’s not true for a start!” he retorts, fumbling around in his pocket for a moment to dig out his wallet. He opens it out upon finding it, and looks down at the picture; Amanda carries the wearied look of a woman who’d either recently escaped a POW camp, or of someone who’d been looking after two kids singlehandedly for far more time than she probably should have. Even still, she was just as beautiful to Frank’s eyes as the day they met, all of twelve years ago. What wasn’t so beautiful now was the relentless nagging coming from her, and Frank felt the need to defend himself.

“I keep a picture of the three of you in my wallet because I’m on the road as often as I am for our… no, wait – your futures, and because it’s the closest place to my heart I can keep you, ok?!?”

“Or because you can’t even remember what we look like!” Amanda replies, before going silent for a moment. Almost in tears now, she continues, “I’m sorry baby; I just… miss you, and love you so much…”

“I know, baby, and I love you too,” he replies. “And Milo, and Mary.”

Frank glances back down at the picture in his wallet – Milo was five when it was taken, and Mary, four, and both couldn’t fail to be anything but future superstars. The two of them might as well have been twins, both having identical mops of curly blond hair and baring the same continent-wide smiles as they looked on at the camera. The contrast to Amanda’s face of mild despair brought nothing but a similar smile to Frank’s face.

Anyone who had befriended him on Facebook could tell you that his wall was littered with pictures of the two of them, and closer friends still could confirm his home was full of recordings of their early footsteps into this big, wide world. Even if Frank’s company one day grew into a multinational conglomerate, or he had created the finest sculpture known to mankind, Milo and Mary would forever stand as the most incredible things Frank had created in this world, or indeed, any other.  

“Look,” he continues, “I’m sorry babe, but I’ll make it up to you, I promise.”

Amanda mumbles back down the phone in vague acknowledgment of his statement, before Frank’s eye is caught by a smartly-dressed lady gesturing for him to come towards her.

“Baby, I gotta go, I’m demoing my new product line and I’m up next,” he continues.

“Ok,” Amanda replies. “See you tomorrow.”

“Wait, don’t I even get an ‘I lov—” is all Frank manages to get in before Amanda hangs up on him.

For those in the vicinity with good hearing, Frank can be heard mouthing the word “bitch!” under his breath, before a microphone is thrust towards him, moments too late so as to avoid an awkward, George W. Bush-style moment. Frank accepts the smartly-dressed lady’s offering, and looks up at his audience before speaking.

“Good afternoon folks, it is my pleasure to be presenting my products to you here today at the Florida State Beauty Expo, but first let me introduce myself to you a little. My name is Frank DiMaria, and I am the president of Eternal Youth Enterprises. I started my company around five years ago, with the mantra, ‘Because eternal youth need not be a secret’. It’s uhh… printed on the business card, for those with short memories,”

Frank winks to the audience who reply with polite chuckles.

Another look at them confirms what Frank had suspected would be the case, in so as it is largely made up of old timers, which is not something to be unexpected for an event held in Florida. Whilst he had never been a man to discriminate, particularly when trying to make money, Frank did question what they thought they would get out of using his products. They were designed for people of a younger age to use, to slow down the ageing process, whereas for the audience present, it would largely be an exercise akin to basting a turkey, one which was soon going to be arriving at its own personal “Thanksgiving”, regardless.

Another glance around demonstrates that there are also a few younger, society types, probably Orange County wives, but even the majority of them are still far too advanced to be able to utilise his assistance. Whilst Frank traditionally likes to pick an audience member to be a volunteer for his product demonstrations, this particular collection seems like an audition for Night of the Living Dead. It is at times like this that one of the convention’s staff comes into play.

“Ok, it’d be nice if we could get a volunteer,” Frank continues, glancing around the room to see a sea of hands rising before him. He pretends to look around the audience for a moment, before pointing towards the plant. She is a voluptuous blond in her early Twenties, probably helping to pay herself through college, no doubt.

“We’ll go with this lovely lady here,” he says, as she gets up from her seat and walks towards him. “Now, would you mind telling me your name, please, madam?”

“Hi!” she replies, enthusiastically. “I’m— ”

“WHORE!!!” interjects someone at the back.

There are gasps from some of the audience, as the old-timer who shouted it gets up from her seat all the way at the back of the auditorium, before slowly making her way down the stairs. She is dressed straight from the page of a Brothers Grimm fairy tale, covered in a long, black overcoat, with a hood and a neckerchief obscuring her face from view. All that seems to escape from inside is the occasional flash of bedraggled white hair, which seems to be almost billowing in an imaginary wind. From the sleeves of the jacket protrude two black glove-covered hands, one of which is barely attached to a black walking stick.

“Her name is ‘Whore’, is it not, Mr DiMaria?” enquires the figure. “For only whores are damned for all eternity, and “eternity” seems to be what you’re selling here…”

“Sorry madam,” Frank replies. “I’ve already picked a volunteer for the demonstration, if you could just return to your seat, please, and we can continue with today’s presentation.”

The old timer continues to slowly make her way down the auditorium stairs, as event security look on uneasily, ready to pounce.

 “But you said you wanted a volunteer, Frank, and the lady here isn’t one, is she?” the figure continues.

Frank looks over to security with the same kind of look they themselves had moments ago.

“She’s someone the event have placed here, because you think we’re all too old to use your products, don’t you Frank?”

Frank looks back to the two security officers and says, “I’m really sorry about this folks, but security? Could you come help this lady find someone who might be able to assist her, please?”

The security guards begin to move in as the lady gets to the bottom of the stair case and begins to edge towards the stage.

“Oh, Frank, but I wanted to show everybody how you’d help me with my treatment, the world needs to see!”

Frank looks away from the figure to the rest of the audience and says, “Again folks, I’m really sorry about this, I can confirm I have never met this individual before in my life…”

“LIES!” scowls the figure as security grabs her gently by the arms, before escorting her away to the side of the room. As they pull the lady away, one of the security guards notices rings of blood beginning to seep through the arms of her jacket and he recoils in horror.

“What the..!” is all he can manage by way of words, before the brief distraction is enough for the lady to wriggle free and exit the auditorium with a freakishly unnatural speed.

Frank looks on in shock at the whole scene, before he feels a tug at his own arm. It is the sharply dressed lady from before, who pulls Frank to one side.

“I’m so terribly sorry about this, Mr DiMaria!”

“Who the hell is this woman? She’s trying to ruin my name; I swear I’ve never even met her!” Frank replies. “And what the hell was going on with her arms??”

“I know, and again, I’m very sorry, Sir, our event security should not have allowed this to happen. Is there anything I can do to help you?”

“Give me some counselling? That was messed up!”

“That is not a problem, Mr DiMaria, anything we can do to help one of our key speakers.”

“I’m joking, you couldn’t have known that was going to happen,” Frank replies. “But, I’m going to have to try and make sales up somehow, so I guess I’m going to need to stop over… and the day’s sales have been poor, now this… I’m going to struggle to even pay the motel bill!”

“Mr DiMaria, please do not even worry about that, I will ensure it is fully covered by the Expo. Just give me the details of the motel you’re stopping at, and we will ensure you are reimbursed for your stay.”

Frank smiles and says, “Thank you, that’s good to hear.”

The smartly-dressed lady takes the microphone from Frank and addresses the crowd.

“In light of today’s incident, we’re going to wrap up the demonstrations for the day,” she says. “Mr Ambrose can be found at stand number 432, and he will happily demonstrate his products to you for the remainder of the afternoon.”

The day had been a strange one, but was ending with a free plug, and hopefully some sympathy purchases along the way. The evening began with a free motel room and would get a whole lot stranger than the day.

 

2.

 

“It’s a simple question… Why did you do it??” Marilee enquires. She trots slowly round this darkened motel room for a moment, like a lion preparing itself to bring down a wildebeest.

“Look, there’s got to be another way; this isn’t really happening!” Frank pleads, but now she isn’t even looking at him, let alone listening.

You can spend your whole life doing good turns and favours for people, but if you do something bad enough then it will forever outweigh the good. For a second or two Frank recalls reading Shakespeare in high school and is sure The Bard had something far more poetic than he could ever hope to conjure by himself, but before long this tangent is lost to the ether. Marilee turns round to face him again, still brandishing a pistol in her left hand; her arm above peppered with every shade of bruise; from a kind of fudge brown, right through to amethyst. Marilee had turned out to be a fighter; more so than Frank had recalled if he was being perfectly honest.

“No, no, no no, NO!!!” she screams………………….

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