Best Key Lime Pie
My father in law, Jamie, wasn’t allowed in the Ship & Shape anymore, even though he had been legally absolved of shooting me. A sympathetic judge had deemed the attack an “accidental” discharge of a firearm. I peered outside as I wiped down tables left-handed. No Jamie in sight. Even after a couple of months, the rod, screws, and plate that gave me a functional elbow often made my right arm throb, the pain shooting up through my shoulder and curling around my neck like a snake. I rolled my neck to ease the tension.
The Ship & Shape, which we owned, lived above, and were still struggling to make profitable, wasn’t air-conditioned. Mostly because there just wasn’t enough money for it. The old ceiling fans only managed to suck steamy air in from the water and direct it downwards to further moisten the patrons. They didn’t seem to mind overmuch, and usually, neither did I. But today, the heat and humidity amplified the pain. I should go upstairs and lie down. Our apartment had an air conditioner, a gift from my father in law. Pulled from his house when he upgraded it with some money he won at the dog track, it was ancient, loud, and musty smelling. But he had delivered it with a drunken flourish worthy of a brand new central air system and I hadn’t had the heart to refuse him. It was the only thing he had ever given us and despite it’s failings, it managed to make the small apartment bearable in the overheated summers of the Florida Keys.
Jim and I had worked hard to buy this place, and I worked even harder to keep it running. Jim, the big earner, was on an oil rig more often than he was here, so the day to day of it was up to me. And mostly, I did a decent job. We were just beginning to turn a couple of dollars of profit over the loan payments and I could see a pale light at the end of the long, hot, tunnel.
I was on the verge of giving in to the pain and heading upstairs when I saw several cars pull into the parking lot. It must be nearly noon. I wiped faster instead. We were famous for our frozen key lime pie and had even won a couple “Best Of” awards. Those and the good reviews we had gotten on Yelp and Tripadvisor brought in vacationers driving through to Key West. Between the locals and the tourists — we were keeping our heads above water. A sudden sharp stabbing in my elbow weakened my knees so that I had to lean against the table I was wiping for balance. I looked up to see the service station with its neatly stacked silverware, napkins, and condiments; and the memory of the shooting flashed back.
Jim was out on the rig, still two weeks from home, when it happened. It had been a stupid argument and I just should’ve kept my damn mouth shut. But it had been a particularly swampy afternoon. The staff was sticky and cranky, and our patrons were only barely civil, mopping their faces and necks with the extra paper napkins we provided for just that purpose. A crowd of tourists had left after taking endless selfies and photos of the pelicans that hung around in the water that flowed under the back dining porch, begging for scraps. We were two waitresses down and the tables out there were a wreck when my father in law ambled in waving a newspaper. He tripped on an uneven floorboard and cursed as he made his way to a barstool.
“Hey, Jamie.” I greeted him briefly and picked up a tray. “We’re two girls short and I gotta help out in the back. Bill will get you whatever you need.” Bill, our daytime bartender, frowned slightly at having to deal with Jamie but stepped up.
“Bud?” He asked. Jamie jerked his chin down in agreement, staring at the newspaper he had flattened on the bar with his grimy hands. I turned to go.
“Wait here!” Jamie reached out and grabbed my wrist as I passed. “Did you see what those Libtard, Commie fucks said about Trump!” It wasn’t a question, but an accusation. My father in law was poor, and angry, which fed his addiction to Donald Trump. And though I’d heard every inebriated variant of his gay, abortion, immigrant, black, Jew, Muslim, and Obama hating ravings and wasn’t in the mood for a recap — I stopped. Pulling away would only make him follow me, spouting crap and foaming at the mouth, through the restaurant in full view and earshot of the diners.
“No, what?” I tried to paste an inquisitive face over my repulsed face. Jamie leaned close and peered into my eyes looking for the lies he was convinced lurked there. I could smell stale French fries overlaid with several beers that he hadn’t gotten here. He was close enough to leer into my cleavage. I stepped back. Father in law or no — he was revolting. I could never figure out how he had sired my good-natured husband. He let go of my wrist to pound his finger into the newspaper. I reached up to blot sweat from my hairline before it could trickle into an eye.
He squinted up at my hair. “You should sweat, Girlie.” He had never once called me Annie. “You bitches are finished now that my boy Trump got elected President.” He sneered at me. “No more killin’ babies for any of you! And if you sinners break Trump’s anti-abortion law of these here United States of America, well…” He stopped to drain his beer in one go, wiping his mouth on his shirt sleeve. You’ll get what y’all deserve!” He shouted this last, snatching the newspaper up off the bar in his fist and shaking it like a bull whip at two middle-aged women diners who happened to be within hearing. They leaned closer to each other and bent over their plates. I made a mental note to remove that table from the bar area. He was winding up and the place was still half full. Bill raised his eyebrows in a do something signal at me.
“How ‘bout another beer?” He waved his empty glass at Bill. That was a bad idea. Coffee would be better. I stepped closer and lightly touched his shoulder.
“Listen, Jamie, can I get you a coffee and some nice, cold, key lime pie? You love our pie…” But he was drunker than I had taken him for. At my touch, he stiffened, sitting bolt upright on his stool and leaning away from me.
“I don’t want no shitty piece o’ pie from no goddamn Yankfuck dumbocrat! He shouted jamming a finger at me. It glanced off my shoulder but pushed me back a step. That I was from Maryland, had graduated college, and had voted for Obama, facts I had let slip before I knew better, made me forever the enemy. “You and all your demon spawn sisters are going to burn in the pits of the devil’s hell! The two women tucked money under their plates and practically ran out of the restaurant. He turned to watch them go. “Run, you whores of Satan! RUUUUN!” He shrieked, spittle flying.
“Jamie!” I shouted to get his attention. Lowering my voice to a hiss, I grabbed his shirtsleeve. “That’s enough now, you need to go! This is a place of business and we don’t talk politics here. The beer’s on the house. Please now, you gotta…” I tried to tug him off his stool when he jumped down right up against me and shoved me hard. I flew backward and crashed against the serving station. Napkins and cutlery sailed in all directions. A spinning steak knife caught the edge of my ear, as I slid towards the floor, nicking it. I reached up to the sharp pain, distracted long enough for Jamie to pull a handgun from the back of his waistband and wave it, flag style, in the air. Diners dove under tables. From the corner of my eye, I saw someone leap over the railing and into the bay. Behind Jamie’s back, I saw Bill reach beneath the bar for the sawed-off we kept there. And then, I lost it.
“You listen to me, you racist redneck moron!’ I howled at him, struggling to a standing position. Who the fuck do you think you are coming into a decent place of business and talking your mindless, jibbering shit? You’re a disgrace to every decent, thinking, American. You’re the people ruining this country! You, your brainless cronies, that bunch of hate-spewing fossils you idiots elected to congress, and that fucking lunatic of a President you support…” I ran out of breath and broke off to suck in a lungful of steamy air. He narrowed his eyes.
“Sticks and stones, Girlie, sticks and stones.” He growled at me. “Trump’s won, and guess what that means for you! Oh yeah! You think I don’t know what you done before my jackass fool son married you!” He slapped his empty hand over his heart and pointed the gun in his other hand at my heart. “You are a low-life, murdering, whore, baby killer, and I hereby deputize myself as President Trump’s Enforcer in Chief!” He pulled the trigger. I had seen what was coming and dove sideways towards the floor as the explosion shook the room. But my hand was still pressed against my bleeding ear which meant my arm was in the air. The bullet hit my elbow, shattering it into shards. The last thing I remember was hearing an echoing shotgun blast.
I woke up in Mercy Memorial Hospital, a crew of nurses and doctors working on my arm. One of the nurses, a regular at the Ship & Shape, filled me in. Bill was in custody for shooting Jamie in the back, even though it was in defense of his boss, and even though he’d done a piss-poor job of it, only managing to hit Jamie with a fraction of the rock salt. She added that my low-life father in law, Jamie, who had barely caught a few grains of the short spray was handcuffed to a bed at the other side of the ER, and that my husband Jim was on his way home. I grumbled at this last bit but it was too late. The call had been made. I lay there for what felt like years, drowsing under the influence of the painkillers and listening, through the thin row of cubicle curtains, to Jamie’s muttered curses.
I shook myself out of the memory. The restaurant was filling up. I heard Jim galloping down the stairs along the outside of the building. A few seconds later he burst in. Crossing the floor to me, he gathered me into a shower and soap sweet hug, careful as always now, of my arm. He kissed the top of my head, and I buried my face into his clean Ship & Shape t-shirt.
“I have a surprise for you.” He murmured.
“Can it wait? It’s almost the lunch rush and I need to…”
“You just have to look.” He took my hand and led me through the tables to the window. Sitting outside, under the “Best Key Lime Pie” sign and in front of the bottom step to our upstairs apartment, in a shiny box straight from the store, was a brand new air conditioner.