Dustin was trying to write with his right hand while his left picked up his grande dark cherry non-fat soy latte from the table. It was a tricky feat. His pen slipped the line, and when he moved to recover, he spilled the cup over the table. He snatched the notebook away in time, but the coffee dripped onto his knee, burning and making him yelp.
“Here you go,” said a woman at the table next to him, handing over a napkin.
“Thanks,” he smiled. He stopped the flow and righted the cup, pushing the lid inside uselessly. His little round table was like a mirror of caffeine, painting a dark and mournful glimpse of the world above. He looked absolutely wretched, he thought.
A barista came by with a heavy cloth and wiped up the rest of the mess. He passed her his customer card, apologized, and asked for another of the same. She disappeared behind the counter as he waited for the table to dry.
“Student?” asked the woman, leaning over the back of her chair, her dirty blond hair weaving about in the air conditioned wind.
“Sorry?” he asked, meeting her blue eyes.
“You’re busy writing,” she said. “Are you a student?”
“Oh,” he smiled. “Oh, no. Not a student. Not for a while now. I’m a poet.”
“Poet,” she said. “You don’t hear that often. Most poets are songwriters these days, aren’t they?”
“Can’t play a guitar,” he shrugged, holding up his hands. “Butterfingers.”
She laughed, turned her chair around until it touched his, rested her chin on her palm and looked him over.
“What kind of poetry do you write?”
“Not too sure yet,” he said. “I’m just starting out. Trying to find my voice.”
“Broken heart?” she asked, taking a sip of her coffee and leaving a smudge of pink on the rim.
“Nothing like that,” he muttered. “Been a bad year, and I thought back to my college days and figured… I dunno, maybe I can sort it out like this.”
“Cheaper than a shrink,” she smiled.
“Exactly my point,” he nodded, then glanced over at the day planner on her table. “What do you do?”
“Event planning,” she said, under her breath. “I know, not too sexy.”
That word made him pause. He was about to speak when a coffee cup was placed on his table, and a heavy-set figure sat down across from him. He turned to see a man in a black leather jacket, a toothpick sticking out of his mouth.
“Good evenin’,” said the man cordially.
A second man appeared next to the woman, arms crossed over his massive chest. He kicked her legs uncrossed, motioned with his chin.
“Beat it, girlie,” said the first man. “Go on, scram.”
She looked from Dustin to the two men, and then gathered up her things and bustled out of the cafe. The second man took her seat, turning it around and leaning in close.
“So I hears you’re a poet,” said the first man.
“Th-that’s right,” said Dustin. “And who are you?”
“Vinnie Two-Beat,” he said. “And this here is my associate, ee comeback.”
“It’s un-capital-like,” said Vinnie.
“Oh, I uh—”
“Let’s see what we got,” said Vinnie, snatching the notebook and flipping to the start.
“No, wait,” said Dustin. “I’m not very—”
Vinnie leaned back in his seat, settling on the second page. He licked his lips as he read down the page, then looked up at Dustin. The scar along his right cheek reshaped into sideways “v” when he smiled.
“That’s a nice poem you got there,” he said. “It’d be a shame if something were to happen to it.”
Dustin looked over at ee, who was grinning a golden grin.
“I’m sayin’ it would be a tragedy if your poem were to befall an accident or some other—”
“No, I understand that,” said Dustin. “But it’s a poem. What could you do to it that would—”
Vinnie reached into his inside jacket pocket and in a swift motion, pulled out a black ballpoint pen. He licked the tip and started marking up the page. Dustin reached for it, but ee grabbed his arms, slammed them onto the table, squeezing wedge-like fingers into his muscles.
Vinnie finished writing, then laid the book down across Dustin’s arms, nudging it forward.
“There,” he said darkly. “Consider it a warning.”
Dustin read over the page. He’d expected the text to be scribbled over, horribly mangled, disfigured and ruined. Instead, it looked pretty much the way it had started.
“What… what did you do?” he asked.
Vinnie smirked, pointed to a line with his pen.
“Added a comma,” he said. “And right here, semicolon.”
“For someone writin’ in the freeform style like yourself, a semicolon’s just embarrassin’.”
“I don’t know,” said Dustin, reading it over. “It actually improves the flow of the—”
“Hey!” snapped Vinnie. “You want me to get iambic pentameter on your ass? That last line ‘bout the fallin’ rain’d get real hokey as a rhyming couplet, doncha think?”
“I guess, but I still don’t—”
Vinnie popped the lid off the drink and guzzled it. When he finished, his mouth was dripping brown, quivering. He took the notebook back, scratched a few more markings, and turned it over to Dustin. ee squeezed the arms a bit harder.
“I don’t see what you did,” said Dustin.
“Right here. Added a period. Makes it look like you’re a queer.”
“I’m sorry, what?”
“A homosexual,” hissed Vinnie under his breath. “Yer talkin’ about a girl, but with the period, it changes the subject of the phrasin’ to imply yer talkin’ bout a guy. Which makes you a homosexual.”
“Oh,” said Dustin. “But I am gay.”
ee let go of the arms.
“You’re… you’re a fag?” stammered Vinnie.
“Yeah,” said Dustin. “Is that a problem?”
Vinnie wiped his mouth, pushed the drink closer to Dustin. He closed the book, pushed it across the table and stood up, phone to his ear before he kicked open the door and walked into the street.
ee looked over at Dustin nervously, up and down.
“What’s the problem?” asked Dustin. “I don’t have cooties, if that’s what you’re worried about.”
ee looked over at Vinnie, then back to Dustin.
at all,” he said in a quiet, lowercase voice.
“it’s just that
is bigger and
Dustin shook his head to undo the odd line breaks in his mind.
“So wait, you’re saying there’s a gay mafia? A real gay mafia?”
ee nodded solemnly.
“And you two are—”
“Right,” said Dustin.
“Hey, ee!” yelled Vinnie from the door. “We gotta go!”
ee gave Dustin a surprisingly apologetic look and darted for the door. It closed with a bang, and within seconds the cafe was back to normal. Dustin asked for yet another drink, and then opened his book to write again. He had just uncapped his pen when a well-manicured hand turned his notebook around and started flipping through the pages.
Dustin looked up to see a young man with expertly-coiffed hair and a hint of eyeshadow reading his poetry. He decided to drink his coffee in silence. Finally, the visitor looked up.
“Oh, darling,” said the man. “This is awful.”
“Sorry, who are you?” asked Dustin, bristling.
“I am Jean-Paul Simmons, head of the Gay Mafia’s Poetry Branch. And you, darling, are not leaving this cafe with your so-called poetry intact. It is an abomination.”
Dustin reached for his book, tried to pull it back, but it wouldn’t budge. “Thanks for the input,” he grumbled. Jean-Paul glared at him with intense eyes.
“You write about love, but leave so much ambiguity in your phrasing that I can’t tell if you’re straight or queer. We have special exemptions for hidden subtext with closeted poets, but according to our file on you, that doesn’t apply. Honestly, I haven’t been this offended since Ricky Martin was popular.”
“I don’t see how this is any of your business,” said Dustin. “I can write whatever I want, can’t I?”
Jean-Paul took Dustin’s hand in his, caressing it gently.
“Oh, poor dear Dustin,” he purred. “No, no you can’t.”
Dustin rolled his eyes.
“Or else what?” he scoffed. “You’ll switch all my pronouns?”
Jean-Paul smiled sweetly, then broke Dustin’s index finger.
“Art has no rules,” hissed Jean-Paul as Dustin held back a shriek, “but we do. If I don’t see more flamboyancy in this notebook by Friday, the only poetry the world will ever associate with you will be on your gravestone. Do I make myself clear?”
Dustin nodded, wiped tears from his eyes with his free hand. Jean-Paul let him go, patted him on the cheek.
“Very good, darling,” he smiled. “Now do order me that drink you’ve got there. It looks absolutely scrumptious!”
This Topic Tag was created for the fabulous Gabriel Gadfly when he asked for "Poetry Mafia." I got a bit sidetracked at the end, sorry.