Worth A Hug
Marjorie snuggled with the cello. She hadn't played yet that Sunday morning. Outside her first floor window it was bleak; the scruffy clouds were heavy with rain. A beam of lamplight from the nearest table made her glow. She grinned from ear to ear, gleefully remembering last night's fortune, which prevented her from eating beyond a spoonful of rice, now cold on her plate. The cookie crumbs were still on the kitchen table, along with two plates. The one stained and stacked with spare rib bones, with hardly a trace of meat, except for the remnants of charred skin. That was her mother's plate.
Marjorie's plate was full of rice and two untouched spare ribs. Only a spoonful of rice had been removed. Before taking that only spoonful she ripped apart her fortune cookie, her three nights a week ritual. She would have ordered Chinese every night, but her mother would only allow it three nights a week.
The blueness under Marjorie's left eye was a reminder not to order Chinese a fourth night. Her eye still hurt a little, but was much better than it had been on other occasions. The bruise was a minor affliction; she desperately needed to know her fortune that day at all costs because of the man she saw jogging outside her window who bore a striking resemblance to her father. Although she hadn't seen him in three years she remembered him jogging every morning before work. His lean muscular body was still ripe in her brain. Luckily she had been brushing up on her music she thought. She would finally be able to play the cello for him, which she couldn't do the last time he was around; barely able to hold the cello then—it was as big as a big person to her. At five and a half every person was a big person to her. Now she was eight and a half and could wrap her arms around the cello.
Marjorie could have prevented her black eye had she gone to David's Kitchen when her mother was passed out earlier last night. David always was generous to her, giving her two fortune cookies a visit, one for each of her dimples. Last night she was afraid to leave the apartment, not wanting to get smacked for leaving when she wasn't supposed to. Instead she ordered Chinese on the phone, thinking her mother was passed out in her bedroom. Her mother socked her when the delivery guy came to the door.
Letting her fist unclench, she read the tiny piece of paper in her hand. Your big wish will come true. The tiny piece of paper, from the fortune cookie was crumpled from being squished since the start of her dinner last night.
Her mother lay on the couch, her arm hanging off the side. Her lipstick smeared above her lips, her cheeks smudged with rouge, one false eyelash dangling, needing only a sneeze to fall.
Marjorie didn't even realize how late it was, usually waking her mother for work by eight; it was now ten thirty . She kept wondering if her wish would come true, petting her cello as if it were a puppy.
The doorbell rang and her eyes opened wide. Instantly she thought her wish had come true. She couldn't believe things were happening so quickly. Dizzy and excited, her bare feet froze against the uncarpeted floor. The bell rang a second and third time. Her mother yawned, exposing two crooked teeth. Marjorie was frightened. She touched her bruised eye watching her mother stumble off the couch, one fake lash falling to the ground. Her mother limped to the bathroom.
By the fourth ring Marjorie opened the door.
“Hello. My name is Linus Hirsh. From Send Your Lost Love a Message, formerly known as Worth A Hug, but now since we're working independently as well as jointly we've been putting together all kinds of fabulous packages for you and your loved ones. Congratulations for being chosen for our limited time offer. Actually we can offer your loved one for an unlimited time, but you need act now. Mind you this list includes but is not only limited to: singing telegrams, personalized teddy bears with messages knitted onto their sweaters that tell that special someone how much you miss them. Good stuff like that and if you act now-”
The man scoffed at the little person with short blonde hair and couldn't make out the child's gender. He guessed, with difficulty, that the young child was either a very cute boy with bushy golden locks or a pretty girl with short hair. Linus Hirsh saw a little person and no sale; he frowned at the scarred face on his fake Rolex to see how many minutes he wasted on his pitch.
“Is your mother or father home,” Linus asked peering over the little girl's head while scratching his hairy neck.
Heaving coughs escaped from the bathroom.
“She just got up,” Marjorie haltered.
“I suppose I can wait.”
He dropped his duffel bag and dug through some items. Marjorie tried to peek into the bag, but Linus hunched over searching for one of the company's freebie teddy bears, his beefy arms blocking Marjorie's view. His faded tan jacket sleeves rode up by his forearms, revealing thousands of prickly hairs standing up from the friction of the rayon sleeves.
“I don't think my mommy is going to be out for a while. She's sick today,” Marjorie said hearing a familiar muffled flush.
“Geez. I guess I'm gonna have to come back.”
Linus swiped his bag by the single handle causing the other end to bang against his knee.
“I'd like to get something for someone special,” Marjorie said.
“You would huh,” Linus said, his eyes eager for his first sale of the week. He wet his lips. “For who?”
“Great. We have a whole bunch of stuff. How ‘bout a singing telegram. Is it his birthday?”
“No. It's a welcome home present.”
“Fabulous. We can schedule a singer at any time, but you have to pay first. We take most major credit cards – Where did I put my receipts?”
He dug through his bag again unable to find them.
“When did you say he was returning?”
“I don't know.”
“What?” Linus poked his head inside the apartment, staring at the door where the heaving coughs were coming from. “Is your mother going to be out soon?”
“I think so. But she's going to be sick all day.”
“Nothing contagious though?”
“I don't think so.”
Linus cracked his knuckles palms outward. He picked at his pinky nail, removing brown grimy specks. “I think I'll come back later.”
He turned to leave, again smashing his bag into his knee.
“Wait,” Marjorie said.
“I don't have all day.”
“I want to send my daddy a hug.”
“Figures the lousy twenty-five percent Worth A Hug commissions are the only deals I ever...,” he muttered, “Fine but you have to know what day he's going to be here in order for me to make the appointment.”
“I have money. I'll be back.”
She left Linus by the door and went into her room. Entering her walk-in-closet, she was greeted by the pungent mix of dirty clothes and mildew. Rummaging through some pants and shirts she realized that she forgot where she hid the money since she quite often found places to hide it. Finally, as she searched her dirty clothes, a torn sock, rolled in a ball tumbled from the top shelf. Inside it was her buried treasure, she scooped it off the floor and pulled out thirty-seven dollars, seventeen of which were singles that were stuffed inside the torn sock. She had been saving the money for a special occasion or for Chinese when her mother wasn't home.
When she came back Linus was scratching a paint chip on the door. Marjorie held the money tightly in her hand the way she had held onto the fortune the night before. She placed the wad of bills in Linus' hand. He cupped the hot and moist bills. Although they reeked of perspiration he took his time counting them; only thirty-seven dollars he thought.
“Tell my daddy that I miss him and that I'm going to give him a big hug when he comes home.”
“Sure,” Linus said. He didn't even bother to give her receipt.
The bathroom door opened. Linus fled the scene quickly. Near the end of the hallway he turned his head saying, “Expect your daddy by Tuesday.”
Marjorie smiled. She didn't even notice her mother hobbling to her bedroom. Marjorie sat back on the chair, listening for her mother's door to slam. After the twaaack, she scooped up the cello off the floor and began playing, holding her wooden friend lovingly. Two more days till her wish would finally come true, to hug the man who gave her the cello.
John Gorman's work has appeared in The Glendale Register, Art and Mind, Thunder Sandwich, Olivetree Review, East of the Web and elsewhere. His screenplay "For the Love of Auntie" won at the NY International Indie Film and Video Festival.