Sunday, January 10, 2010

The Green Fairy

public safety
This story came from a recipe:

Absinthe Margarita

2 oz absinthe
Sour mix
1/2 oz Gran Marnier or triple sec
Lime juice
wedge lime
Splash tequila

Just substitute absinthe for tequila. Salt the rim, fill glass with ice. Pour in the absinthe and sour mix. Splash in some tequila just to kill the odor and taste of the absinthe. Float the triple sec. Garnish with lime.

It's not technically a drinking story, but there are drinks and a business deal gone wrong.

The Green Fairy

Sometimes it was useful to have allergies.

Got me out of staying at creepy Aunt Ruth’s house with the peeling wallpaper and six cats when I was a kid.

And if I wasn’t allergic to cats I never would’ve asked.

It’s like those conversations that two people with glasses have. Are you nearsighted or farsighted? How old were you when you first got glasses? How far can you see? Can I try your glasses on?

A person without glasses doesn’t ask questions like that.

And if I didn’t have allergies I never would have asked Joe about his. How old were you when you found out? How many scratch and stick tests did they do? How bad was your worst reaction? Did you really get an EpiPen?

Did you really almost die that time?

If I didn’t sneeze every time I came near a cat. If I hadn’t been through all the tests. I wouldn’t have asked.

And I would have never found out about occupational allergies.

“Florists,” I said to myself, shaking my head. The thought of Joe as a florist was baffling at best and at worst I found myself thinking of him skipping through rows of flowers with an orchid in each hand like a deranged horticultural Willy Wonka.

I shook my head to clear it. He was in the living room in that ridiculous purple suit, ready to talk business. As if anyone did business in a pimp suit. Even my business. I took a deep breath and wet the rims of all three glasses with water, resisting the urge to lick Joe’s instead. I flipped them quickly into the salt and then back up. The two most perfectly crusted ones were for Joe and Allen. I put ice in all three glasses, careful not to disturb the salt. I eyeballed the sour mix and the absinthe, knowing that I’d probably put more absinthe in Joe’s glass. It was the good stuff, a verte vintage absinthe that had aged to a pleasant amber color. I put in just enough vodka to kill the smell and hopefully the bitter taste. The triple sec was next and then a lime wedge on the rim of each glass to finish it off. I had thought about cutting spiral wedges but it didn’t seem quite right. Too much effort would look suspicious.

With years of practice behind me I hefted the tray with the drinks in one hand and the plate of empanadas in the other, moving smoothly into the living room without spilling a drop.

There was a second when I rounded the edge of the sofa when I saw myself tripping over the edge of the carpet in my heels. The drinks flying like something from a carpet cleaning commercial, liquid smoothly evacuating from the glass to land in an impressive green stain on the carpet. While I completed the part they never show on the commercial where the woman carrying the drink lands chin first on the carpet because her hands were full, biting her tongue and coughing bright red blood next to the stain.

None of that actually happened. Allen moved to help me with the drinks and I swung the empanadas toward him instead.

“They smell great,” he said, settling them on the coffee table while Joe just sat there like a lump looking on with his business face.

I always thought his tough negotiator look seemed a little constipated, but it had worked on others before me. It always seemed to work on Allen. If it hadn’t we wouldn’t have been sitting in my living room discussing the details. The last thing Allen wanted to do with his retirement fund was sink it into a restaurant. I had a certain amount of sympathy for that. “Taste them before you pass out the compliments. And don’t spare my feelings; I want to know you believe I can put a menu together.”

Joe leaned forward, one elbow on his knee, the other absently toying with his glass. “One meal doesn’t prove you can lay out a whole menu,” he stated impressively in his deep voice. He took his glass and sat back like he had just passed judgment.

Allen was there to keep him out of trouble. He was always the peacemaker between us. “She has worked as the lead chef in three restaurants now. I think we should have a little faith.”

I kept my face impassive, almost forgetting that I was supposed to be angry with Joe for doubting me like that. Especially when I was laying out half of the funds for the restaurant, and all of the culinary ideas. “The food will convince him. And the margaritas,” I said with the casual confidence in my work that drove Joe crazy.

He sniffed delicately at the drink, his pinched nostrils dilating.

My teeth set and I swore at myself for needling him. I was used to the smell of the absinthe. What if it wasn’t all covered by the vodka? I took a healthy sip of mine, covertly sniffing, and tasting carefully. There was the faintest trace of bitter, but it blended smoothly enough with the sour mix that to Joe’s palate it would all seem the same. “These are a great summer drink.”

Joe had the glass to his lips and lowered it at my comment. “We’re not ready to open for the summer. I’d suggest you find some good fall drinks.”

My toes were curling in my shoes in frustration. I wanted to shake him and pour the damn drink down his throat. I held my hands up innocently. “Then try the empanadas. I tried something with a creamy cheese sauce; they’re very warm and filling.”

True to form Allen nodded compliantly and reached for an empanada while Joe took a swig of his margarita.

Time froze after that. I was sipping my drink. Allen was chewing his empanada, trying to mumble appreciation through his full mouth. Joe was looking sternly down at an empanada he’d just taken a small bite of, wiping his fingers repeatedly on his napkin, telling me by mime he thought they were too greasy.

My chest was tight, was it possible it wouldn’t work? Was it too diluted?

Joe’s rattling cough startled me so much that I almost dropped my glass. I set it on the table at the same time he tried to set his down, managing only half the base on the table, the glass tumbling onto the floor in a commercial perfect display of stain.

He followed the glass down, sliding out of his chair to his knees, hands at his throat, eyes bulging in his red face.

Allen was pounding him on the back, his face white.

“He’s choking,” I said, sounding panicked. I had expected it to start faster, but I hadn’t expected it to go so quickly after it started. I stumbled around the edge of the carpet to get behind him. I had to kick my leather armchair out of the way and heard the painful sound of the legs, no longer shielded by the carpet, digging furrows into my hardwood floor. I knelt down behind Joe, pushing Allen out of the way. Joe was waving his arms, trying to motion something. Probably for his EpiPen. There was a small chance Allen knew about that. I put my hands around Joe’s waist, made a fist with the right, gripped it with the left and found that hollow under his ribs. I jerked my fist in as hard as I could, rocking both of us, lifting Joe higher on his knees. I did it again and again, losing count, my arms getting sore stretched around his belly.

Finally he stopped flailing. I let go and let him fall backward. His face was still red but his eyes were closed. “Call 911.” I looked up at Allen who had half his fist stuffed in his mouth, tears streaming down his face, knuckles red from chewing on them. “I’m going to try CPR. 911, Allen. Now!” I barked when he still hadn’t moved.

Allen jumped like he’d been hit with cold water. He nodded around the hand in his mouth and ran for the kitchen.

I laid Joe out the best I could, one of his legs wouldn’t straighten but I got his head tilted back and felt for his fluttering pulse. It was still going faintly so I stuck to mouth-to-mouth, putting my lips over his while I held his nose closed. I did a little test breath into him that just bounced back at me. His throat was completely closed. Glottal Edema, just like before. After I was sure I just went through the motions, letting the air out of my nose, a show for Allen who was standing over us babbling into the phone.

He nudged me hard with his hand and I looked up to see him holding the phone out. “I’ll do that,” Allen said raggedly, his wrinkled face looking like a stark white mask.

I nodded and took the phone, getting up and stepping back. My knees felt raw from the carpet. “Hello?” I watched Allen bumble the mouth-to-mouth, forgetting to close Joe’s nose.

“Were you able to find the obstruction?” the tinny voice asked.

I shook my head. “No, I couldn’t find anything, he just started choking.”

“Try and stay calm, a unit is on its way. Do you know if he has any allergies?”

I shrugged, shaking my head again. “Not that I know of. He wasn’t sneezing or anything,” I said, sounding convincingly confused.

The voice continued its stock questions. “Were you eating or drinking anything unusual?”

“Uh...” This was deal time. If I said no and there was a criminal trial I’d be on the stand with some hard assed prosecutor asking me why I didn’t think that absinthe was ‘anything unusual’. If I said yes then I would get nailed for possession, and possibly for bringing the bottle into the country. That would be bad, but admitting it was unusual would line them up to ask me if I knew he was allergic. I could just see the detective at the station leaning over the battered metal table in interrogation, giving me a hard look, asking me if I knew about Joe’s allergies. Wasn’t he my business partner? Wouldn’t I have something to gain from all of this? As if I was doing it for the money, which would go to Allen, or the restaurant, which would’ve never worked. Besides, an occupational allergy to wormwood from working with flowers was so unusual that it had only been published in a few papers and it was likely that the coroner would completely overlook it.

I held the phone in both hands, answering only a second after the voice asked, breathlessly for the recorders I knew they had on the line. “I don’t think so. Wait… we were drinking absinthe. But that couldn’t hurt him, right? It’s just alcohol.”

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