The celestial traveler returns to tell a tale of wickedness and bigotry.
It was a small, ancient cafe. Its wooden floors creaked and bowed with every step, as the tall, slender man approached the counter. He was shifting the strap of a battered leather satchel across his shoulders, trying to find the most comfortable place for its weight. Overhead ceiling fans spun slowly, lazily, setting a solemn pace to the movements below. Summer was a giant blast furnace roaring just outside town, constantly venting its hot breath through the streets and windows. Every back was marked by a streak of sweat, and every armpit reeked of the heat. The slender stranger put his foot on the worn brass rail, grabbed a handful of napkins from the dispenser and patiently wiped the back of his neck dry. Shadows in the shape of the cafe's front windows crawled torpidly across the dusty floor, spurred on by the gentle glide of the sun through the sky.
A buxom, plump woman dressed in a tacky polyester uniform threaded her way between the tables and chairs, her eyes on the stranger's back. Behind her, a handful of men dressed in jeans and plaid cotton shirts tipped their battered Stetsons and nodded their heads together in hushed palaver, their eyes suspicious. They eased back in protesting wooden chairs without arms, and pushed their warming beers around in pools of condensation. One would say something inaudible, a few of the others would laugh in response. Then another would add something else, again inaudible to the stranger, and the laughter would rise up once more.
The tall man's neck burned where he had wiped the perspiration away, but he didn't turn around. Bursting through a double hinged door, the waitress raised and lowered a section of the counter, letting it slam down with a loud CLAP! But the stranger didn't flinch. He only wiped gently, slowly, lazily at the beads of shining liquid gathering on his upper lip, his cheeks, his jowls. The napkins made a sandpaper sound over his uncut whiskers.
Her nametag spelled out the name 'Myra'. The stranger drank this in with his eyes, even as he admired the woman's ample cleavage. Where must that lovely crevasse lead, he wondered? He smiled.
"'N I help you, mister?"
"I want something cold and wet. Something my thirst will find satisfying."
Myra's eyes wrinkled with delight. Her cheeks swelled with pressure before the laughter escaped. It was a short, barking display of mirth, but it spoke of Myra's lust for life. "Why sure thing, sweetheart. It's a tall order, but I think we can fill it."
"What would you suggest?"
"How 'bout a soda? With lots of ice." Myra beamed her best tip earning smile at the man.
"No. I don't think so." The stranger returned the smile absently, his eyes drawn away from Myra's cleavage to seek out a menu. He continued patting at his face and neck with the now soggy paper napkins. "Too sweet."
The waitress' smile dropped slightly, almost imperceptibly. When she spoke again, her tone had a cautious edge to it. "Well, then, we also got iced tea, orange juice, and just plain ol' water. Hey!" Myra snapped her fingers, "Wait a minute. I made a big pitcher of limeade just this mornin'. What do you say?"
"Excellent. The largest container you have, please."
"I don't know 'bout containers and all that, but we got a mug the size of a small tub." Myra reached down underneath the counter and drew out the object in question. "It holds forty-eight ounces, you know. That's a quart 'n' a half!" Myra lowered the hefty glass onto the bar with a dull thud. "You like it? We use it on Saturday nights when them oil riggers hit town and wanna see how much they can drink before throwin' up."
"It will be sufficient, I'm sure."
"Okay," Myra returned brightly, lifting the mug once more to fill it with ice and limeade. "Say," she said over her shoulder as she continued to work, "You sure do talk funny. Where you from, anyway? Not from Texas, I don't imagine."
"No. Not from Texas." The stranger didn't add anything more. He wadded the napkins and deposited them on the countertop before him.
"So? You gonna make me guess, or what?"
"Hell, Myra, he ain't even American!" shouted one of the men at the crowded table. "Can't you tell when you're hearin' a foreigner talk?"
"You shut up, Milt Bonner. Ain't nobody yanked your chain."
The slender stranger laughed delicately, another wad of fresh towels in his hand. "I'm afraid Mr. Bonner is correct. I'm not an American. And I'm certainly no Texan. This heat . . . it's stifling. Where I come from it's much, much colder."
"You mean, like it snows all the time?" Myra stirred several large chunks of lime and a few cherries into the stranger's drink, then turned around to serve it. "Hmmm. Must be one of them European countries. What are they? Switzerland? Netherland? Something like that?"
"Haw, haw," guffawed one of the rowdy cowboys. "You're one dumb broad, Myra! It's the Netherlands. And Switzerland is way down south, kinda close to Italy. Besides, all them countries speak a different language. Ol' slim, here, don't talk English so bad. Naw, I'll bet he's Canadian, or something."
"Canadian, yes," offered the stranger quietly. Myra slid the huge mug of limeade in front of the man, who produced a five dollar bill from the buttoned breast pocket of his shirt.
"Well, shoot, I know some good ol' boys from way up north," called the loud cowboy. "Why don't you come sit yourself down over here to drink that brew? We might stink a little, but none of us bites."