Chasing the Ethereal, Part Four: “Zuzu’s Petals” and Pete

by Shaun Terry

Part one
Part two
Part three

The next afternoon, Jennifer called Lexie. Lexie pulled out her phone. Her eyes shot from one side of her head to the other. She looked up and pressed the green orb on the glass screen. “Hello?”

Jennifer apologized to Lexie for having been unfair. Lexie apologized to Jennifer for having been unfair. Jennifer hadn’t meant to tell her about Justin’s crush. Jennifer was “really stressed” about him passing and about school, and she should’ve thought about it. Lexie wasn’t very considerate, either, and she should’ve been more thoughtful. They thanked each other and hurried off the phone. They each had a lot to do that day.

Lexie drove to the steakhouse that her mother always likes to meet at and looked around for her mother. When Lexie walked up, her mother, Susan, sat at the table, sipping a glass of red wine. Susan showed surprise as she saw Lexie walk up, and she quickly set down her glass, spilling some wine on her mouth. “Oh, baby! How are you?” she asked, as she wiped off her mouth and stood up.

Lexie came around the table and hugged and kissed her mother, before sitting at her side of the table.

“How’s it goin’, baby?”

“I’m okay.”

“You’re ‘okay?’ What’s goin’ on?”

Lexie wanted to avoid talking about what was on her mind, but her mother wouldn’t let her. She knew better.

“Well, everything’s going fine, but apparently, this guy died.”

Susan recognized the “apparently” as s sign that she might not have been very close to him. “Oh, no! I’m so sorry, Lexie! Are you okay?”

“No, no. Mom, I didn’t even know him.”

Susan’s face scrunched up. “Oh. Well, are your friends okay?”

“I think that everyone’s fine, yeah.”

Susan was even more confused. She looked down at her menu. “Hey, so I wanted to ask you something. What does this little face here mean? The one with the drop going down his head.” Susan handed her phone across the table to Lexie.

“Huh? Little face?”

“Yeah. The little smiley guy or emoticon or whatever.”

“The emoji?”

“Yeah—little face, smiley, emoji, whatever.”

“It’s an emoji, mom—not a ‘smiley.’”

“Okay, honey, but what is it? Like, what does it mean?” They stared at each other with dead faces for a moment. “You know it’s supposed to be like a little face, right?”

Lexie’s head tilted to the side. “A face? No, mom; it’s just how you express emotions through texts. It’s not a face.”

“Okay, hon.”

The waiter came to the table, but the two ladies needed another minute. They had a fancy meal and enjoyed each other’s company. Lexie was a little distracted, but she always seemed a little distracted. When Lexie left, Susan sat at the restaurant’s bar. She orders another glass of wine.

“Mister barman, how old are you?”

“Well, normally, I don’t tell, but for a lovely lady like yourself, I’m glad to let you know that I’m 31, and you can call me Pete.”

Pete’s parents and some of his grandparents and great-grandparents had attended Vanderbilt. He’d entered school to study Physics, but he’d grown up in a strict Christian home and when he’d been freed upon the world, alcohol, drugs, sex, experimentation, self-expression, and seemingly unlimited possibilities had determined an alternate path for him.

“You know, my 20-year-old daughter today didn’t know that emojis are little faces?”

“Bullshit. Of course she did.”

“No, I’m serious! I tried to ask her what this one emoji meant, and she got so confused when I referred to it as a little face. I guess I’m just that old. Or she’s that young, I mean. She grew up in a world where emojis don’t really mean faces, anymore. Isn’t that wild?”

The bartender looked at the ceiling for a moment. “No. I still call bullshit, but let me tell you why: people find faces where there are none. In pieces of toast, in loose shapes in constellations, in patterns of cat drool, you name it! People don’t fail to see faces where faces are intended; it’s the other way around. So maybe she’s young—and despite your good looks, she’s not that young—but my point is she still sees faces where there are faces. Ain’t no way she doesn’t know what emojis are supposed to be.”

Susan was a little drunk at this point, but she realized that the bartender seemed to be right. Why wouldn’t Lexie know that emojis were faces? Of course she should’ve known. And Lexie’s smart and pretty honest. Could she have been playing a trick? Lexie didn’t usually do that to her mom. Susan thought about it some more before calling her husband to pick her up.

“Maybe your daughter’s tricking you, and maybe we landed on the moon. This reminds me of this song by this band,” the bartender said.

“What song? What band?”

            “‘Zuzu’s Petals’, but it’s by a local band.”

“‘Zuzu’s Petals?’ Isn’t that from that Movie? Yeah, Jimmy Stewart, right?”

It’s a Wonderful Life. Yeah, the song’s like that. It’s about memory or something.”

“Yeah, right.” Susan smiled at Pete.

Part five