When things got bad at home, Creamy could usually be found sitting on the pier at Echo Bay, her legs dangling over the filmy water. Echo Bay always had a stink. If you swam there, you came out fishy. During low tide was the worst. In rolled the really ugly seaweed that snagged you around the legs like a net.
The first time I ever saw Creamy she was sitting on that pier kind of leaning forward looking down. She had on a green skinny top and orange shorts. I thought she looked like a funny parrot so I made what I thought was this bird noise to get her attention, though actually I’d tensed up a moment, telling myself: parrot-girl might be a jumper. Even at a distance she looked too pale. Too white for summer.
When she did turn in my direction, acknowledging my stupidity by puckering her lips in a mean way, then getting up slowly, like a coil unwinding, she did so like she still wasn’t sure which way was up, or down. And I saw she was really tall. I saw she had a few inches on me, and I’m six-one. This girl is a monster, I’d thought. A freak of nature.
After a few more bump-intos at the pier, a few nods then some small talk, we got around to being friends. Eventually Creamy telling me about her life with the circus in France (not the one with the fancy French name on TV) but some smaller tent type deal that folded up and traveled. She told me about her father and the knives. Nothing like my family. At first I thought she was making it all up, but she threw a lot of long sentences at me that sounded like true fluent French.
She told me her father was a Master Knife Thrower. That he did the best tricks of any knife thrower in the world. He could hit any target precisely, even when it was moving.
“What do you mean by moving?” I asked her in the café.
Because she missed her life in France, we had started going for coffee at a small café with a striped awning. She said, “Picture a bulls-eye target with a woman strapped on.”
I could feel my own eyes bulging.
Creamy said her mother did the act first, before she had to take over, when her mother got fat from eating too much brie and other French cheese, and the act began looking unattractive. I could see that. I could picture a fat French woman on a moving target looking pretty grim to the spectators. But I couldn’t picture Creamy strapped on it, either, hard as I tried. Those long legs of hers flapping in the breeze. It felt wrong.
Ever since they’d moved back from France, she told me, her father had a hard time adjusting, but eventually got a job as a butcher. Being that he knew his way around knives and all, she said, looking scary around her own eyes.
But we were getting along great, and that was all that mattered. We started meeting at night to see French films at the art movie house near the waterfront. Mostly they were in subtitles. I didn’t mind because Creamy was so happy listening to all that French being spouted. Even when the actors argued themselves into a lather screaming back and forth, Creamy would sit there and smile. She wore a long scarf draped around her neck whenever we went to the films. “French women always wear scarves,” she told me.
Even to bed? Sex was on my mind night and day. Creamy was larger than most girls but damned she was sexy. Men stared at her, and you could see their neck veins popping. I had tried with her a few times, but each time she said wait.
“How will I know?” I asked her.
“When I say maintenant.”
I scratched my head which for me is a stall tactic. Creamy could see the top of my head, since she’s a few inches taller.
“I will never remember that word,” I said finally.
”Tod, you’ll remember.”
In the fall she took a job at the dry cleaners in town. She said she could get her clothes cleaned at a big discount. I never saw her wear much more than shorts and cotton tops, but with winter coming I guess she had a point.
“I can get you a discount too,” she said. “Anything you need dry-cleaned, I can get you a discount.” She seemed a little feverish on that point, a flush coming into her snowy cheeks.
“Dry cleaning for jeans?” I said.
“Don’t you have sweaters for the cold weather?”
“Nah. Sweatshirts. They get washed.”
“It’s important to have your clothes crystal clean,” she said.
Then I wondered if her father had ever drawn blood with his knife throwing? Did he ever knick or wound Creamy or her mother? I scanned her arms for marks, but she just looked creamy.
She talked about her new job incessantly. It wasn’t very interesting. She basically took in dirty clothes and gave back clean. What could be interesting in that? For the first time I found my mind wandering to other things while she chatted on about the dry cleaners, the owner yelling at the guy who ironed the shirts, the owner yelling at the girl who ordered the sweater bags; a lot of yelling. I wondered if maybe they yelled in French? With the incoming cooler weather, my feelings toward Creamy were cooling off, too.
“Boy that button box really stinks,” she was saying, “I hate to have to look for lost buttons. It’s really gross.”
We were sipping café aux laits in our favorite café, when my interest peaked a little. “What’s a button box?”
“It’s the part of the cleaning machine that catches stuff that falls off, you know, buttons, lint, the metal end of the zipper. It smells horrible.” Creamy made a face.
I had never thought of a dry cleaning machine smelling of anything other than chemicals used to clean the clothes. “I’m glad I wash my stuff,” I told her pushing back a little in my chair. “Well how come the clothes don’t stink when they come out?”
“The smells get trapped in the button box.” She laughed. “It’s a dry cleaning mystery, I guess. But I don’t like fishing around in there. I’m scared my arm might get caught and ripped off.”
Jesus! She let her father throw knives at her while she spun on a bulls-eye, but she’s worried about a button box.
“Creamy,” I said putting my cup down. “We need to take a break.”
“What do you mean?”
“My old man wants me to help out in his accounting office. He wants me to learn the business before tax season.”
Her eyes got big, and the pinkish color seemed to flow out of her cheeks like blood down a drain. She yawned. “How mainstream and totally boring.”
Like dry-cleaning isn’t! I could hardly believe this. “I’ll be in touch,” I said getting up.
A week went by, and I was feeling buried alive in the accounting office. My dad made me wear a tie. I got to thinking about her long white swan neck, how much I’d like to nibble on it under her scarf. And how maybe I made a big mistake. So one night I stopped by the dry cleaners. A woman who was nothing like Creamy stood behind the counter. She was small and pudgy, one of her eyes badly crossed. She got impatient with me, drumming her fingers on the counter when I didn’t have any dry cleaning.
What is this, a cult? I was thinking, when she said she didn’t know anyone named Creamy and what kind of crazy name was that? Working here three years, she said, she should know.