Fortunato Salazar | I Am Zelda

I am Seth Rogen’s Cavalier King Charles Spaniel, and I’m obsessed with the words “harlequin” and “inquiline.”

The caryatid stops by our table one morning and asks if she can have a word with Seth, I mean Dad. Dad cracks a joke about Austrian patronymic naming patterns and laughs his signature laugh. The caryatid doesn’t laugh. She looks downright grim…maybe what I mean is Grimm, I’ll have to check into that.

I bound into the caryatid’s lap. And immediately I can sense that something’s not hunky-dory with the caryatid, I literally can sense it, as in I’m using my keen senses as opposed to the keen intuition for which Cavalier King Charles Spaniels are renowned.

Just last week Dr. Tod—wait, I just this instant realized that his name is Dr. Tod! So much for paying close attention to names. Anyway, the vet with the unnerving surname hoisted me up on the stainless steel table and stuck his nose inside my ears: yuck. I don’t need to stick my nose inside the caryatid’s ears to make the face that Dr. Tod makes when Dad describes how he can’t break me of the habit of…let’s save that for later.

I’m sniffing and sniffing and my keen senses are closing in on…I’m not sure what. It’s just like when Dad took me to a bento joint in Los Feliz and said, “Zelda, here’s one that will stump you” and let me sip his tea. Anyway, I know I know that odor, but I’m distracted because the caryatid feeds me a chunk of her quiche (bacon!) and begins to tell Dad her story. Corn!

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Plaudits for Dr. Harlequin, a Beverly Hills cosmetic surgeon, go way back, as anyone can tell who visits his office and admires the trophies and plaques from an era long before he ever dreamed of listening to timba dance music and dancing Casino-style salsa, says the caryatid.

 

A somber young man whose parents forbade him on principle from playing Call of Duty, his life veered sharply at a high school reunion when he hooked up with Andie Walsh of all people and then went on to marry Andie Walsh and put down roots in Ocean Park. And veered sharply again on a visit to the Met when he went eye to eye with Rodin’s burdened maiden and discovered in himself a passion for unburdening maidens of their…You may as well see for yourself, says the caryatid.

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As an aside, many good friends of mine have had their ears cropped. Some friends of Dad have had their ears pinned. Many good friends of mine have had their nutsacks emptied. Dad is encouraging me to make a crass joke here. Here being where I exit the aside.

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Dad tips back his hat and makes the sound that the dog walker makes when the dog walker gets into a conversation with a nymph and forgets I’m at the park or that there even is a park and I sneak under the fence and home in on some delicious morsel of fermented…it doesn’t matter what, although offal makes a nice afternoon snack.

You see? says the caryatid. And she goes on to explain how it couldn’t be worse timing because she has a big photo shoot next week—I almost typed “neck”—and her cosmetic surgeon normally lets her waltz right in without an appointment and he’s the only cosmetic surgeon on the planet she trusts in the vicinity of her basket.

Dad laughs his signature laugh and cracks a joke about waltzing right in.

Meanwhile I’m craning my neck back because I’m about to be a toy who knows. I am so close to identifying the odor that my mitral valve does a thing where it wobbles and I get more than a little dizzy. But the look on the caryatid’s face throws me off. It’s the barista’s face when Dad didn’t have cash. The system was down again. Dad cracked a joke about the business going under soon. Later we discovered that the barista was a barista only because the production company he owned recently had gone under.

—babies! Human infants! I nearly topple off the caryatid’s lap. Luckily she’s wearing short shorts. My nails are always kept trimmed. Still, she winces.

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When she’s done wincing, she explains that the cosmetic surgeon and Andie Walsh are in Paris at a Rueda de Casino competition.

Dad says something sympathetic about burdens and vacations which I don’t catch because I’m distracted by the sight of Dad sticking his nose into the basket. Dad is cooing into the basket. He’s talking baby talk into the basket.

—brood! Human brood! It would have come to me sooner, but the caryatid has a long neck. If humans came in different breeds, the caryatid would belong to a completely different breed than Dad. Nothing against Dad’s neck, I’m very fond of Dad’s neck, but no one would ever describe it as distinguished by a quality of graceful elongated slenderness.

The caryatid says that normally the cosmetic surgeon would hop on a redeye because he owes her. But that he can’t because he and Andie Walsh have made it into the final round of the competition.

He certainly does owe you, says Dad in his AWOL-from-Special-Forces voice, given that his adorable little quintuplets are living in your basket.

This time I actually do topple off the caryatid’s lap. Dr. Harlequin’s quintuplets are the caryatid’s inquilines. Woof! You see all kinds of people chit-chatting over their coffees morning after morning and you have no idea who they are, really.

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Dad scoops me up and after cracking a joke about conjugal relations among ancient Norse seafarers, offers to connect the caryatid with his own elite cosmetic surgeon who owes him.

And so it goes. Now the caryatid will owe Dad. We’ll all bask together in the sunlight on chilly winter mornings in the plaza after the quintuplets have outgrown the basket and can bask on their own.

 

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Fortunato Salazar‘s most recent fiction and translation are at PEN America, The Brooklyn Rail, Washington Square Review, NOO Journal, The Offing, VICE and elsewhere.

2016-12-20T10:41:47-04:00