A Crown of Condoms

It had been years since he’d slept more than six hours so it took Rudy several seconds of studying the time and date to understand what had occurred. He’d come from the police station to his hotel room in the afternoon and stretched out on the king bed. It was now morning. He’d slept the entire time. Seventeen hours of oblivion.

First, a shower and fresh clothes. Then something in his stomach. He found a seat on Sunset Pier under the same faded green umbrellas they’d seen from the ferry and ordered good sipping tequila. He shot it, dropped a twenty on the table and walked the five blocks to the Green Room where he paused long enough for a Liquid Marijuana and a beer chaser. He drank it without enjoyment, wondering what Carter was up to at that same moment. He’d be having a field day with this. He’d warned Rudy about her. Predicted that she and Lili had been up to something. Carter had been right as usual.

Pushing south, Rudy ordered a mimosa at Lucy’s Retired Surfer’s Bar. At Caroline’s he sipped a Lazy Way IPA. Next came Willie T’s for a mojito. He told the young, busty bartender at Cowboy Bill’s to surprise him. She brought him a Budweiser with a pink umbrella in it which he drank in one tip of the glass. At Mangoes he took matters back into his own hands. He sat under a turquoise umbrella in the patio, ordered a French Mule and gave serious thought to the question of whether or not a French mule would bray with a French accent. In five hours he’d worked his way as far south as he could without a liver transplant.

Five young women crowded around the next table, busying themselves with an arts and crafts project. They opened a box of condoms and freed the latex contraceptives from their individual envelopes. While two of the women inflated and tied the rubbers, two more twisted them together to fashion a crown for the fifth woman. A bachelorette party. A night they’d partially remember for the rest of their lives.

He told himself not to do it, but couldn’t help pulling up the Keene-Temple wedding announcement on his phone. Why was he doing this to himself? Before he could read it again a greeting from the sidewalk invaded his thoughts. 

“Ah, mein freund.”

It was Hermann. The German. From the walk to the hotel when Rudy arrived with Kak. Dressed as before, he leaned his rusty bike against the fence separating the patio from the sidewalk. The basket mounted on the bike handlebars was filled with a fresh load of the same odd bananas.

Hermann leaned forward. His arms dangled free but his head was locked down in preparation for his next shot. He gripped and swung his imaginary club, sending a phantom ball soaring north, high over Duval.

“Nine iron?” Rudy asked.

“Eight. I wanted to make sure I carried the tobacco shop.” Hermann admired the fictional arc of the nonexistent ball. “Where is your beautiful girl?”

Rudy didn’t feel like answering.

“I see,” Hermann said. “Everything went north.”

“What? Ah. South. You mean everything went south.”

“North. South. It isn’t good to drink on an empty stomach,” Hermann said. He tossed Rudy one of the short, squat bananas. “On the house.”

“Thanks. I’m not in the mood for food.”

“You’re in the mood to forget.”

“Yes.”

“With some food in your stomach you can drink more.”

“Maybe.”

“And forget better.”

There was a certain cockeyed logic to it.

“Eat the banana,” Hermann said.

“It’s just a banana, right? I’m not going to see Jesus or Elvis.”

“Reactions vary.”

Rudy broke the peel and took a bite. Maybe it was just that he hadn’t known how hungry he was. Maybe it was the alcohol. The creamy fruit melted on his tongue and a sweet hint of vanilla filled his nostrils. It was so good he didn’t want to swallow it. He shoved the rest of it in his mouth and chewed. Slowly.  

“I know,” Hermann said.

“Shut up,” Rudy said, around the glorious wad of banana mush in his mouth. Reluctantly, he swallowed it.

“It’s an old story,” Hermann said. He selected another invisible club and faced south to line up a shot over the intersection of Duval and Petronia Street. “Boy gets girl. Boy loses girl. Boy eats banana.”

“Another,” Rudy said, digging in his pocket for a single to pay for it.

“I know a better idea,” Hermann said. “You like the bananas. I need to get rid of them before I go home. They’ll be no good tomorrow.” He struck through another nonexistent ball on the sidewalk in front of him. “I’ll make you a deal you can’t refuse. The entire load for ten dollars.”

In less than a minute the bananas were piled on the table and Hermann happily mounted his bicycle, headed for the nearest liquor store as far as Rudy knew. He pedaled north on Duval until he melted into the traffic.

“Sir?”

It was the guest of honor at the next table. The bride.

“Sir?” she repeated. “Is there any way I could have a banana?”

Rudy gave each of the young women a banana. It would lighten his load. To carry the rest, he tucked his shirt into his shorts and dropped the fruit through the neck hole into the pouch he’d created.

He pushed out onto Duval and headed south, bulging like some third-world Santa. The alcohol told him not to care. The alcohol told him that somewhere on Sanibel Island the girl called Kak prepared for her wedding. Like the women to whom he’d just gifted the bananas, Kak was embarking on an evening she’d remember for the rest of her life. For all he knew she was wearing a crown of condoms right now.

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