We were visiting Grandma in Orlando. The last time I’d seen her was when my brother Jeffrey was born. Four years prior.
We’d gone out to Denny’s so that Dad could rest his patience. Mom was talking about how much of a dump Texas was. She hated it there because it was a cultural backwater. And also poorly manicured and dry. The only reason we were there was because Dad was working his dream job at NASA.
She wanted Dad to transfer to Florida, post haste. Cape Canaveral or Titusville or Orlando. Anywhere, so long as it was peninsular Florida. Because Florida was paradise. And Grandma agreed.
During the discussion, Jeffrey was making faces through the window. He was a gifted facial contortionist. Spent hours making faces in front of the mirror, everyday. At four years of age he was already on par with Jim Carrey.
Took me ten minutes to realize that he was actually mocking a pair of Denny’s employees on a smoke break right outside. I egged him on. The smokers noticed him and laughed and made faces back.
Somebody behind us cleared her throat loudly. Like she was hocking a loogie. Or trying to get our attention.
Mom, Grandma, and I turned around. There was a mountainous woman in an Orlando Magic shirt glaring at us. She put on her glasses to get a better look at Jeffrey. Her twenty-something daughter sneered.
I found the girl’s appearance frightening. Namely because she was wearing a leather jacket and not at all because she was cockeyed. Jeremiah Palmberg had told me that the Hell’s Angels wore leather jackets at all times. I should always mind my Ps and Qs around leather jackets.
I’m not sure who fired the first shot. Grandma said something like, why don’t you ladies mind your own business? Which enraged them.
Magic Lady said Mom should learn how to parent. Mom retorted with, I do know how to parent, thank you very much! Magic Lady chortled. Hell’s Angel flexed her muscle.
All the while, Jeffrey continued making faces at bystanders through the window. Puffing out his cheeks. Pulling the skin under his lids to make his eyes bulge. Baring his buck teeth.
I begged them to disengage but they didn’t hear me. Grandma was too busy telling them about Dad’s brawn. Mom said she wouldn’t hesitate to call him. Magic Lady kicked her head back and guffawed.
The waitress came to check on us but nobody paid her any attention and she left.
When it became clear that there would be no resolution to the discussion, Mom announced our departure. Pulled Jeffrey away from the window. Paid at the front.
We got out unscathed and made our way to the parking lot. Magic Lady glared at us through the window. Mom stopped in her tracks. Kissed her fingers. Planted them on her rear end. And cackled whilst wiggling her butt, back and forth and back and forth.
Grandma laughed. I was horrified. Jeffrey was oblivious.
Hell’s Angel shook her fist, leaped to attention, and made her way out of Denny’s. Magic Lady squeezed her way out of the booth and ambled after her daughter. We about-faced. Mom told me to take Jeffrey by the hand and lock ourselves in the car.
Hell’s Angel ran up to us with Magic Lady in tow. Mom spun around on her heels and told her to back the fuck up. Her keys were nestled between her fingers like claws. Hell’s Angel noticed the weapon and hesitated.
I got Jeffrey safely inside the car. Tried to distract him by commenting on the humidity. He ignored me. Plastered his face to the glass and blew raspberries and puffed out his cheeks and flicked the bird.
Grandma was screaming at the women. Pointing and screaming. Spraying saliva. Eyes red with rage.
Mom tried to get into the car. Hell’s Angel grabbed the door and slammed it shut, right onto Mom’s hand. She howled in pain. Grandma grabbed Hell’s Angel by the hair and yanked her head back.
Magic Lady, who’d maintained a safe distance, called off the assault. Hell’s Angel walked back to her mother, gingerly pulling torn hair from her scalp. They paced the parking lot as we drove away.
Jeffrey was awestruck by the fight. He went on and on about how exciting Orlando was. I told him that I found it to be a cultural backwater, albeit well-manicured and humid.
We moved there three years later.