sparacino cat eyesA short story by Jack Sparacino

Piers Vulkner, known to his friends as Bulky Vulky after eight seasons of playing respectable if unspectacular football in school, always knew that Danita Pierce was the right woman for him. Her name fit perfectly. She had the most luminous eyes he ever saw on a human being. 

A cat, maybe, but certainly not a person. He met her one wretched rainy day in Savannah when he showed up, early as usual for medical appointments, for an MRI on his tortuously arthritic spine. The back that seemed to take a foot off his 6’2” frame and made walking an everyday ordeal. Climbing up a four-foot step stool to hang a picture felt like SEAL training. Tylenol? Advil? Anything else over the counter? Back brace. Physical therapy even. They barely dented the pain.  

It blurred Piers’ vision, like looking at the world through a pickle jar. With bits of garlic and spices drifting drunkenly. When the pain got really bad, the bigger seeds reminded him of a pack of white rubber-capped women swimming in graceful synchrony, Esther Williams leading the way with her trademark canned grin. “Cut!” Piers could hear her director Mervyn LeRoy shouting, “You’re ruining this take! Go back to camera 3 and start again. I don’t care if your arms hurt!!”

Danita handed Piers some forms to fill out and smiled like a giddy eight-year old at her best friend’s birthday party. Or so he imagined. Maybe she was like that with everyone. Would that be a bad sign? Maybe not. In any case, it was game over for old number 28. The pickle jar broke away and there sat a young woman with eyes from another planet. They were like the tropical green you see on lemons starting to ripen in October, but even more like emeralds at twilight. They were exotic, an old fashioned and perhaps even hackneyed word, Piers admitted. Mesmerizing, really, even more so set against her huge gold hoop earrings the size of tambourines.  

Her voice sounded like a scratchy recording of Dinah Shore, honey and sand.  She was so distracting, he wondered how anyone could work with her or even carry out a  conversation.  ‘Uh, Danita, could you please hand me . . . I mean . . .  is there any way you could . . . uh, do we have some of those, you know . . . ’  He took her clipboard and pen and tried filling in the blanks on the forms. Halfway through his social security number he felt his breath catch and his hands tremble.  Good thing he’d gotten there early.

“Gee you’re really pretty. Those eyes . . .”

“Thanks. Is that your best line?”

“Well, your desk is really tidy. Nice lamp, too.”

“I like lamps. This one came with the desk.”

The MRI over, the incessant clang and metallic ping still gonging in Piers’ ears, scrawny Dr. Schemlik reviewed the images and told Piers to hang in there. The doctor recommended against surgery but cheerfully offered him a series of painless options like custom exercises, acupuncture, heating pads, ice packs, hemp oil and maybe meditation. He even suggested that Piers spring for an expensive pair of running shoes and a back brace with enough support this time to hold up a tractor.

At least his prognosis wasn’t fatal.  And while he felt like he looked twenty years older than Danita, Vulky was still young at heart and in real life only eight years her senior. His first balky phone conversation with her after the MRI was a challenge, especially since his heart jack hammered so hard he could hardly hear himself speak. He took a deep breath, felt nauseated, trapped in a musty closet. Is this love, he wondered? Maybe poison. He bet a phone call might help.

“Hey, cat’s eyes, how’d you like to get a coffee tomorrow?”

She smiled. “Who is this?”

Their first date revolved around 50-yard line seats at the Rose Bowl, courtesy of an old gambling buddy who owed Bulky a thousand bucks and a co-ownership of his battered pickup truck. Bulky and Danita drank up the lovely weather, cold drinks and a great game, highlighted by some of the best defensive play he had ever seen. Two guys dragged off the field after a train wreck tackle looked more like surplus cheese under a sweltering sun than athletes. Danita knew a lot more about football than Bulky did but underplayed her superior knowledge. She thought he was kind and smart. He smelled like slightly burnt cinnamon and leather. She felt she had him hooked without going overboard.  

Danita knocked back three beers without feeling a thing, though she managed to sound very slightly tipsy as the game progressed. Bulky stuck with diet Coke, drunk on love. He avoided the peanuts, afraid they would stick in his throat or attract rodents. Was he getting paranoid?

Their courtship boiled, then simmered as they got to know each other’s quirks. They married in a white brick elfin church in backwater Louisiana. Danita wore an ancient taffeta dress from her grandmother, brought to a pale yellow sheen and within an inch of its life by gallons of OxiClean. Bulky wore his dress navy whites, a tiny red carnation pinned helplessly to his lapel. Few guests knew he had been in the service. Danita knew, and his parents. But hardly anyone else until then.

Bulky and Danita were too pretty and way too happy for the wedding photographer to capture the moment properly. Their dreamy gazes melted together like Jello. Fortunately, a dozen revelers with cell phone cameras were on a nuptial hair trigger, eager to archive the true meaning of love in this tiny moment, a hiccup in time.   

All their friends came for the ceremony, even Weezer and Clyde. Just back from a rodeo, they said. They smelled like cattle and looked like they were covered with the Singer dust, maybe just trying to look authentic. What a shame when Bulky’s jealous friend Bill brought a revolver to the ceremony, shot the punch bowl into a rummy, shardy mess, then fired at Danita before threatening to blow away every guest he could draw a bead on. Dean Cisco tackled him, then talked him down off his ledge and grabbed both of them a slushy Coors. Then a couple more while they waited for the cops to come. Other than that, the celebration was magnificent. Danita’s dress was largely salvageable. Her younger sister looked forward to wearing it someday.  

The bullet hole might need some professional attention, she thought.