Judy a lovely glossy top shell

May 24 [Tue], 2011, 11:18
Janice says, "Let's go see if the kids want anything in the souvenir shop and then go buy a paper. I'm dying to be somewhere air‑conditioned." In the souvenir shop they buy Judy a lovely glossy top shell and Roy a strikingly black‑and‑white murex, with rough prongs that he instantly begins to scrape along smooth surfaces ‑ the painted rail leading back to the parking lot, and the Camry itself if Harry hadn't reached down and grabbed the little slob by his boneless little arm. Harry hates shells. Whenever he sees them he can't help thinking of the blobby hungry sluggy creatures who inhabit them, with hearts and mouths and anuses and feelers and feeble eyes, underneath the sea, a murky cold world halfway to death. He really can't stand the thought of underwater, the things haunting it, eating each other, drilling through shells, sucking each other's stringy guts out.The interior of the car has grown broiling hot in their absence. The Florida sun has burned away those thin clouds like aging jet trails and left only a waste of pure blue above the palms and the Spanish tiles. The heat and the pressure of family life have stupefied the kids; they hardly beg for a treat when he stops at a joy Food and Gas and buys a Sarasota Sentinel. The movie they all decide upon is Working Girl at two‑forty‑five at some "park" that turns out to be miles away, shimmering flat Florida miles full of big white soupy power‑steered American cars being driven by old people so shrunken they can hardly see over the hood. Any time you get somewhere down here without a head‑on collision is a tribute to the geriatric medicine in this part of the world, the pep pills and vitamin injections and blood thinners.Though Judy swears Roy has been to the movies before, he doesn't seem to understand you can't just talk up as in your own living room. He keeps asking why, with a plaintive inflection: "Why she take off her clothes?" "Why she so mad at that man?" Harry likes it, in the movie, when you see that Melanie Griffith in her whorehouse underwear has a bit of honest fat to her, not like most of these Hollywood anorectics, and when she bursts in upon her boyfriend with the totally naked girl, like herself supposed to be Italian but not like her aspiring to be a Wall Street wheeler‑dealer, riding the guy in the astride position, her long bare side sleek as the skin of a top shell and her dark‑nippled boobs right on screen for a good five seconds. But the plot, and the farce of the hero and heroine worming their way into the upper‑crust wedding, he feels he saw some forty years ago with Cary Grant or Gary Cooper and Irene Dunne or jean Arthur. When Roy loudly asks, "Why don't we go now?" he is willing to go out into the lobby with him, so Janice and Judy can see the picture to the end in peace.

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After the flamingos, the path takes them to a snack bar in a pavilion, and a shell‑and‑butterfly exhibit, and a goldfish pond, and a cage of black leopards just as Harry had promised Roy. The black‑eyed child stares at the animals' noiseless pacing as if into the heart of a whirlpool that might suck him down. A small machine such as those that in Harry's youth supplied a handful of peanuts or pistachio nuts in almost every gas station and grocery store is fixed to a pavilion post near an area where peacocks restlessly drag their extravagant feathers across the dust. Here he makes his historic blunder. As his three kin move ahead he fishes in his pocket for a dime, inserts it, receives a handful of brown dry objects, and begins to eat them. They are not exactly peanuts, but perhaps some Florida delicacy, and taste so dry and stale as to be bitter; but who knows how long these machines wait for customers? When he offers some to Judy, though, she looks at them, smells them, and stares up into his face with pure wonderment. "Grandpa!" she cries. "That's to feed the birds! Grandma! He's been eating birdfood! Little brown things like rabbit turds!"Janice and Roy gather around to see, and Harry holds open his hand to display the shaming evidence. "I didn't know," he weakly says. "There's no sign or anything." He is suffused with a curious sensation; he feels faintly numb and sick but beyond that, beyond the warm volume enclosed by his skin, the air is swept by a universal devaluation; for one flash he sees his life as a silly thing it will be a relief to discard.Only Judy actually laughs, a laughter that turns forced, out of her fine‑featured little face with its perfect teeth; Janice and Roy just look sad, and a bit puzzled.Judy says, "Grandpa, that's the dumbest thing I ever saw anybody do!"He smiles and nods at his inflated height above her; he feels short of breath and tight bands of pain pulse across his chest. In his mouth an acid taste intensifies. He turns his hand, his puffy keratotic hand, long‑fingered enough to hold a basketball from above, and scatters the pellets where the peacocks can eat them. A dirty white one dragging its filmy tail through the dust eyes the turdlike food but doesn't peck. Maybe it was human food after all. Still, his day has taken a blow, and as they move along the path only Judy is gleeful; her prattle eclipses a sudden anguished crying, the noise peacocks make, behind them.Wearying of Jungle Gardens, they move along a path that pas‑ses yet another piece of this same all‑purpose lake, and a cage where a lonely ocelot dozes, and cactus gardens, and a black pool advertising a water monitor but where they see nothing, perhaps because they don't know what a water monitor is, and cages of parrots and macaws whose brilliant plumage and ornate bills seem to weigh them down. It's hell, to be a creature. You are trapped in yourself, the genetic instructions, more strictly than in a cage. At the last cage a scraggly tall emu and a rhea are snapping at the wires of the fencing with a doleful soft leathery clack of their bills. Their long‑lashed great eyes stare through the diagonal wire squares. Clip. Tap. Clip, say their sad persistent bills, to no avail. Are they catching insects human beings cannot see? Are they delirious, like old rummies?Harry retastes the acid pellets and the yellow‑and‑red glop McDonald's puts on hamburgers, with the little limp green pickle, and wishes to God he could stop eating. Janice comes to his side and touches the back of his hanging hand with the back of hers. "It was a natural mistake," she says.

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