Mel and Alma

Contributor: Eric Suhem

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Alma sat in the kitchen at the rickety Formica table, wearing a faded pink bathrobe, flicking ashes from her cigarette into a cracked cup of cold coffee, the crack running through a scenic mountain panorama on the cup. The clock said 5:38 a.m. and the crossword was half done as she stared at the tattered curtains. In a couple of hours, she and Mel would go to the coffee shop, as they did every morning. The coffee shop had a large lit cup of coffee situated above its roof, though cracked and fading bulbs gave it an odd, decaying appearance. In the torn plastic booths, she and Mel would make their breakfast orders: a poached egg, coffee, and toast for Alma; pancakes, bacon and coffee for Mel.

Alma and Mel lived in an apartment on the 2nd floor of the Palm Vista Village on a slightly seedy, wilted-palm tree street in Los Angeles. Alma griped about the neighborhood, but Mel would just smile, saying “One day we’ll go on that vacation you want!” before heading off to work at one of the El Segundo aircraft factories. Only four more years to retirement.

On a hot, sweltering Tuesday morning, Mel had a hunch. He entered the bank as soon as it opened, requesting a withdrawal of his life’s savings. After a considerable delay of paperwork, Mel left the bank with the money. He arrived at their apartment, where Alma was vacuuming the worn, faded carpeting while watching television. “C’mon honey, we’re going to the track!” yelled Mel, changing into his lucky Hawaiian shirt. Alma looked up from her vacuum, annoyed. “I got a hunch,” said Mel, giving her that light wink of the eye that she loved. He showed her the travel pamphlet he’d been reading.

They got into their battered Toyota Camry and drove out to Hollywood Park. Alma looked askance at the burlap bag Mel clutched as they walked to the ticket window. “Number 7 to win in the 5th race,” said Mel, pouring all of their money out of the burlap bag onto the scratched steel counter. The man at the window squinted briefly and gave Mel his ticket.

A creaking, rusting hulk built in the late 1950’s. The last either of them remembered was lounging on the main deck, each drinking a ‘yellow canary’, the specialty of the ship’s bar. The horse they had bet on days ago, Number 7 in the 5th race, had won, and they’d collected the winnings quickly. They’d celebrated with a couple of chili dogs at a food stand, Mel staining his Hawaiian shirt. Mel and Alma had followed the directions on the vacation pamphlet, and boarded the majestic boat in San Pedro, ready for the “vacation of a lifetime”.

Mel thought he remembered a couple of dark figures approaching him on the deck and holding a chloroform-soaked cloth to his face, but he wasn’t sure. He and Alma both awoke on the ice floe, the ship nowhere in sight. As the large chunk of ice approached land, Alma and Mel saw dozens of television screens, some affixed to the sides of buildings, some lodged in hillsides, some floating in the water near the shore. All of the television screens displayed large eyeballs staring back at Mel and Alma. The ice floe drifted to the shore. A man in a dark sweater and goggles was digging in the sand when he saw the ice approaching, he threw up his hands and yelled “Hallelujah!” He ran toward Mel and Alma as the floe slid onto the sand. “Our leaders have arrived!”

“Where are we?” asked Alma, dazed and staring at an eyeball on the television screen at the end of the beach. As Mel and Alma looked further at the hills beyond the beach, they saw numerous television screens lodged into the dirt, each screen displaying an eyeball. Mel bit his lip, thinking about the vacation they could have had, described in that other pamphlet. Alma stared into the eyeball, entranced.

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Eric Suhem lives in California and has spent a lot of time in El Segundo.
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