[Void Galaxia] Chapter 31: Only Guy With Time For Puppet Master 2

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Tsukubashi-faced [but without the Oort Cloud paranoia], I watched the waitress walk back to the counter, the notepad almost slipping out of her hand either from fatigue or job apathy.

      What did she mean by the girlfriend thing? Did she know why I was here? Had Sadia come in and told her about me? Warned her?

      I picked up the menu again and stared at the overly-saturated pie pics, putting my doubts as caption bubbles nearby.

      She doesn’t know, it’s impossible. I mean, how could she? Sadia always came here, so technically it wouldn’t be impossible but… telling a waitress about some guy she was talking to online…that was just silly.

      But what about the girlfriend comment?

      I lifted the menu to almost eye level and did a slow pivot to the counter, performing a covert study. Kuso, she was actually quite pretty…the basics of her…but, facially, absolutely exhausted. Eyebags like…something…dark commas…apostrophes flipped on the side. Fuck, how long was her shift? Four months? And the other staff member, the tall guy, looked even worse. Like he hadn’t slept in a full calendar year.

      The waitress glanced up, just to the left of me, forcing a deft redirect to a booth nearby.

      Sitting there, very straight, was a man wearing a tartan scarf, on his own, eating unidentified pie. Not even the slightest bit interested in the Beverly Hills Cop poster on the wall next to him. Or the other 80’s filmn posters plastered up everywhere else.

      Swatting away the word hypocrite, I looked at the poster on my own wall and tutted. Puppet Master 2. I knew that one. Had watched it on GENTE+ one time, drunk, at three in the morning. The drilling puppet and the one in the revealing dress that vomited up leeches. Fairly decent animatronics, too.

      Beneath the poster was a selection of cut out reviews, printed and pasted up: Leech woman exits way too early. Chemical in puppets doesn’t make sense. Frustratingly inconsistent: sometimes they’re invincible, other times UN military.

      My memory was a little hazy, but I did remember the drilling puppet getting stamped on pretty easily. Was that what happened? If Sadia were around, I could ask her. She’d probably sat in the same seat at some point, read the same reviews. Elbows on this table, Nordic-pixie face in the same airspace as mine. Surrounded by men too shy to come and talk to her cos she was too pretty and too introverted and too-…

      The beeping device on the door rang, pulling me back.

      For some reason, the guy in the tartan scarf was standing there, staring out onto the street. Not leaving, just staring. He stayed that way for about ten more seconds then slid the door shut and returned to his pie.

      That was weird.

      Was he expecting to see someone out there?

      I looked around the rest of the diner. There were seven other guys, all eating pie, all on their own. No women at all, apart from the waitress.

      What was this place, a lonely hearts community? It’d been the same in the barr the night before. Eleven guys, two women, everyone drinking alone. And no one picking up. That one woman, mustard-yellow top, trying to sit next to one of the other guys, putting her bag down on the stool, asking if he wanted to buy her a drink, not bad-looking either, and the guy just ignored her.

      Did the men here not want sex?

      Did they have insanely high standards?

      Okay, the woman wasn’t at the Sadia level, but she wasn’t Mosaic Garr either.

      What was going on?

      The song on the speakers changed, playing something straight-up etherwave. Or maybe it was original 80’s. Hard to tell.

      Turning my phone in small circles on the table, I subtly glanced over at the guy closest to me. There was a piece of paper on the table in front of him, the text in blood red capitals, almost readable.

      Was that SAD?

      Perhaps an I and an A after it?

      You’re paranoid, popped into my head, Tsukubashi level, but I curbed it fast. Things weren’t that bad. Besides it wasn’t paranoia if they really were all out to get Sadia. And that wasn’t the craziest theory in the world…not even irrational…I mean, if she’d mentioned this place to me, she’d probably told others about it too. And I knew she’d messaged other guys, it was right there on the site, in clear blocks of text. And…if I’d bothered to come all the way here, why wouldn’t they?

      My head spun, past the posters, over to the counter. The waitress was picking up what had to be my coffee, so I got up and intercepted. She froze a little, stuttering the words table okay, but by then the coffee was already in my hands.

      ‘It’s only a few feet, I think I can make it.’

      ‘You look like you need the rest,’ I replied, nodding awkwardly as I played back the line in my head, matched it to her Gena Rowlands death stare, realised I’d just called her tired, then wiped everything clean and walked back to the table. On the way, I stalled near the note-writing guy, peeking over his shoulder at the paper. After hovering for two seconds, I muttered, ‘almost dropped it,’ to my coffee cup and continued on to the Puppet Master 2 poster.

      I sat there, stirring the coffee.

      Not a hundred per cent certain, but that paper he was looking at, it definitely had something that looked like Sadia’s name on it. Either that or SADISM.

      But it couldn’t have been that…there was no M. No second S either.

      No, it was Sadia. Had to be.

      And there was a street name, too. That one I was sure of…cos I had the same name written down on the piece of paper in my jeans pocket. It was her address, without a doubt.

      If that guy had it too then…what?

      A race to see who could get there first?

      The waitress appeared holding the blueberry pie. ‘Here it is…the last slice. Table delivery.’

      ‘Thanks.’

      ‘One minute after your coffee.’

      The sarcasm wasn’t hidden, but I wasn’t sure exactly what she was being sarcastic about so I just replied with another thanks.

      ‘I’m kinda curious,’ she continued, sliding the plate onto the table. ‘Did you hear about this somewhere?’

      ‘Sorry?’

      ‘This caffé, the pie…did you read about it somewhere? Or did someone tell you about us?’

      I looked at her, wondering again if she might know Sadia. Then almost instantly ruling it out.

      Nah, I was right before, it wouldn’t make sense. Did the waitress in my old college canteen know me? No chance. Anyway, even if Sadia came in here every day, it didn’t mean she ever talked to the staff…and she never mentioned them in her messages. Just the 80’s style video theme and the back room.

      ‘It’s one of my favourite pies,’ I answered finally, digging the fork in as a figurative full stop.

      ‘You and everyone else in here.’ She smiled, a little forced, and walked away.

      I drank some coffee and looked at the fork sticking out of the pie.

      That was it…the pie Sadia always raved about. The pie she wanted to eat with me one day, sharing the same spoon.

      I picked up the fork again and took a bite.

      Uhm. It was definitely blueberry. And salt. And overpowering sourness.

      I managed a few more bites before putting the fork down and deciding it was never a good thing to pretend to like something for someone who wasn’t even there. Even if she were, would she care?

      Probably not.

      My brain went to her bedroom at home, watching her as she typed out some of that burning girl stuff, not caring about school or her friends, waiting for someone interesting, someone foreign to come along and rescue her. Then diving into a swimming pool and fingering herself under the surface. Asking if I wanted to jump on her. In her room instead of mine. With a Japanese face staring back at me.

      I opened my eyes and stared at the puppets on the wall.

      Sadia. Sadia. Sadia. Sadia. Sadia. Sadia. Sadia…

      No detours.

      No maelstrom, no swirls.

      Focus.

      Pulling out the piece of paper from my pocket, I traced every letter of her address.

      That’s where I had to go.

      Wild Cat Lane.

      I looked at the guy a few tables over, and thought about him getting there before me.

      Kuso, maybe it wasn’t just him either…maybe there were more? What if I’d waited too long already?

      An image of twenty, thirty guys lined up outside her housse, all holding bouquets of black flowers came into my head. And there I was at the very back…number thirty one. Holding a plastic daffodil.

      Jesus…

      I got up, took the bill to the counter and apologised to the waitress for not eating more pie but there was somewhere I had to go.

      ‘The art museum?’

      ‘Sorry?’

      ‘It’s brand new, just down the road from here.’

      ‘Oh. Not today, no. Maybe tomorrow.’

      ‘The train station then?’

      ‘Ha, not there either. Not yet.’

      She opened her mouth to say more, but it turned into a yawn and after that she probably realized that there was nothing much to add as we didn’t know each other. Which was a shame, as despite the general aura of exhaustion, she still looked like quite pretty. And present. In the flesh. Right in front of me.

       Taking the change, I looked back at the Puppet Master 2 poster. ‘This place is quite unique. The execution of it…concept-wise…’

      ‘I’ll let my boss know, she designed it.’

      ‘Is she here?’

      ‘Not until sunset usually.’

      I nodded, looking around at the other seven men and seeing two of them staring back. ‘Maybe I’ll come back sometime. Try a different pie.’

      ‘Well, there’s a fairly good chance I’ll be the one here to serve it to you.’

      ‘And me,’ shouted the tall guy to the side, winking.

      ‘Ignore him, he’s taken five Panadol.’

      ‘Okay, err…see you around sometime. Maybe.’

      ‘Yeah.’

      I smiled at her, and the tall guy to the side, and then finally listened to the voice in my brain saying, get out the door, go find Sadia, and the voice behind it, screaming, what the fuck are you doing? It’s a waitress, you’re a customer, she doesn’t give a grainy shit about you, and walked out of the caffé.

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      The Seven Men In The Caffé [brief notes]

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      The first man, next to the Beverly Hills Cop poster, was from France. He’d seen Sadia’s profile on a dating site, but had never been able to break into conversation with her. She’d replied, but only two or three lines each time. Then, one day, after watching the Lilya 4-Ever remake, he’d gone back to the site, seen her home town on her profile details, booked a flight and now there he was, ashamed, depressed, expectant.

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      The second man, beside the Critters poster, was from Ireland. He’d always wanted a literary girl, as he was a poet himself, so he’d joined as many writing sites as he could find for the sole purpose of fucking a poet. So far, he’d fallen in love with five women, and Sadia was third on the list. His plan: to ask each of them to run away with him, reasoning that out of a total of five, one of them had to say yes. The first one he’d visited, in Miami, called the police. The second, on the fringes of Denver, used pepper spray. Sadia was lucky number three.

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      The third man, beneath the Night Of The Demons poster, originated in Turkey. He’d seen Sadia on the writing site and had recently come into some money so, why the fuck not, he’d thought, and booked the flight. He’d talked to her quite a lot and she’d always ended her messages with xxx so he figured he had a better shot than most. Of all the men, he was probably the least coiled.

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      The fourth and fifth men were both from Denmark, had both met Sadia on a dating site, yet only one of them felt [fleetingly] embarrassed about coming all this way to try and pick up an eighteen year old girl. The other one was simply determined. He’d messaged her, she’d replied, he’d told her his issues, his anxieties and she’d responded with her own. There’s something special about this one, he told himself over and over and over [and over].

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      The sixth man, by the Phantasm 2 poster, was a wild card. Italian, unemployed, lived off the money picked up from hustling and gambling in each town he ended up in, Cronenberg fan, teetotal, other stuff. Usually, when he was moving to the next place, he would go online and search for women who lived there, women he could seduce in advance. Sadia had written back, saying she loved Italian culture, and, to him, that was enough to give Fresno a shot. But by the time he’d arrived a few days ago, she’d stopped messaging him. In fact, he hadn’t had a message in over two and half weeks.

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      The seventh man, frowning at the Reanimator poster, was from Scotland. Older than the others, he saw himself as a teacher for young Sadia, an educator, and eventually, a lover. He’d masturbated for weeks over her avatar, exchanged messages, typed out long e-mails where he’d offered advice on what to read, what to see, what to listen to etc., and she’d written back calling him her life-guide. That’s when he’d made the decision to come. First to New York then cross country, masturbating in every motel room, picturing the two of them together, her young, naked form in his hands…eyes awed, sacred as they viewed the fucking. But then he’d arrived. Hard and expectant. And she wasn’t replying anymore.

      ‘Peithoian whore…’ he muttered, digging nails into his skin, eyes on the green mist swirling out of the Reanimator test tube.

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