from The Muu-Antiques, a novel by Shome Dasgupta
Percy knocked on Macy’s door. He wore gray slacks and a button-up, long-sleeved dark blue shirt. He held a tie in one hand and flowers in the other. He had pulled them from Macy’s garden—a collection of marigolds and roses. He loved the variety of colors—yellows, oranges, purples, and reds.
Macy opened the door—Percy was in awe of how she looked. She wore a long dark green gown and her hair was fixed in a complicated fashion. It was also the first time Percy saw her using cosmetics—though it was minimal—lipstick, a slight blush, and a tint of eyeliner. Percy was surprised.
“Penelope,” Macy said.
“Hi evening,” Percy said.
“You look nice, Penelope.”
“You look like a chandelier.”
Macy smiled. She opened her mouth to speak, but nothing came out. Percy tapped his foot to a song he was making up in his head. He realized that he should talk. He held out the flowers.
“These are for you. I got them from the front garden.”
He pointed to the area just in front of the patio. Macy looked at the flowers and then up at the evening sun.
“Thank you,” she said. “They’re lovely.”
“Thank you,” Percy said.
“I can’t believe this still fits,” she said.
“Oh, the slacks are pretty new. I got them a few months ago—I think I stopped growing for the most part.”
“I once wore this dress on a date with Zephyr. I feel like an antique.”
“A valuable one,” he said.
“Shut up, Penelope.”
He asked her if she was ready for dinner.
“Famished,” Macy said. “Where are we going?”
“It’s a surprise,” Percy said. “I’ve yet to go, but I hear that it’s great.”
“I’m sure it’ll be fine.”
As they approached the restaurant, Percy told Macy to close her eyes, and she acted accordingly. He parked and spoke with excitement.
“Open them,” he said.
There was a red building in front of them with a huge sign at the top, reading “Popeyes.”
“It’s called Popeyes,” Percy said. “They’re supposed to have really good fried chicken. Have you ever been?”
“I hear it’s good,” Macy said.
“It has nothing do with the cartoon character, though. At least I don’t think it does.”
He got out of the car and rushed over to the other side to open the door for Macy.
“You’re an old breed,” she said.
She got out of the car and spat. Percy spat, too.
“Before we go in,” he said. “Can you help me?”
He held out his tie. Without speaking, Macy gently took the tie from his hand and fixed it around Percy’s neck.
“There you go,” she said. “Dapper. You’re giving me all kinds of flashbacks, Penelope.”
They walked into Popeyes—no one else was inside, just them and the employees.
“How about a seat next to the window?” Percy asked.
“Sure,” Macy said. “But I think we go to the counter and order first, and then we sit down.”
“I don’t think so.”
They went to the counter. Percy stepped aside so Macy could order first—a three piece with a side of red beans and rice and a biscuit. Percy ordered the same, and they got their drinks at the fountain machine before sitting at the back of the restaurant, next to a window.
“This place smells so good,” Percy said. “I can’t wait to try the food. Popeyes.”
Macy pulled out a flask from her purse and poured its content into her cup.
“Adds a little spice to the drink,” she said.
Percy’s eyebrows arched, his eyes widened.
“Oh wait. I’ll be right back.”
He darted outside and came back moments later with a candle inside a glass container. Macy had picked up their orders while he was at the car.
“Do you have a light?”
Macy pulled out a lighter, and Percy lit the candle, putting it in the middle of the table as they sat across from each other. One of the employees came over and said that due to fire safety regulations, the candle needed to be extinguished.
“Honey,” Macy said. “I promise I’ll put out any fire, and we’ll take full responsibility for any damages.”
“Damages,” Percy said.
The employee smiled and was cordial, saying that it was okay.
“As long as there aren’t any other customers in here,” the employee said.
“Popeyes,” Percy said.
The employee walked away, telling them to enjoy their meal. Macy turned her attention toward Percy.
“Well this is very sweet,” she said.
Percy was excited.
“Let’s eat and see,” he said. “I’ve heard a lot of good reviews about this place. It’s called Popeyes. I think it’s a chain restaurant, too.”
He waited for Macy to take the first bite. She picked up a drumstick and bit into it. He looked at her with anticipation.
“Lovely,” she said. “Please eat.”
Percy engulfed his first piece of fried chicken, closing his eyes and sighing with every bite.
“This is good chicken,” he said. “And the red beans and rice is superb.”
“Sure is. You know, I make a pretty good fried chicken, too.”
“I’ll have to try it,” Percy said.
His voice was full of excitement.
“One day, Penelope.”
She finished chewing.
“When we were in France during the war, there wasn’t a day I didn’t think about Zephyr.”
“Zephyr,” Percy said.
His mouth was full of fried chicken.
“It really is funny. I never really had any feelings for him while we were in Atlanta, nothing that amounted to any kind of love and affection. It’s those letters that really won me over. Through our distance, we become close.”
Percy bit into his biscuit.
“I like letters,” he said.
“He was sentimental and strong. And then when I had to take care of him, I was determined to make it through the war with him to live together when we got back home.”
Percy peeled the skin off a chicken breast and ate it.
“As you know me now,” she said. “I was once quite a different person.”
Percy could tell that Macy was feeling somewhat sad as she talked about Zephyr and the war, which in turn made Percy sad. His eyes became wide again.
“Oh wait,” he said. “I’ll be right back.”
He ran to his car again, and when he came back, he held a small boombox. He put it on the table, next to the candle, and pressed play. Jazz music started to fill Popeyes. He held out his hand.
“Can I have this dance?” he asked.
Macy wiped her chin with her napkin and took a sip of her drink.
“How can I resist,” she replied.
She took his hand, and Percy guided her to the middle of the restaurant.
“This is Coltrane,” he said. “‘A Few Of My Favorite Things.’”
“I don’t know how to dance,” Percy said. “I’ve never danced before.”
“You’ll get it, Penelope.”
She guided his hands to where they needed to be. Then she took control, telling Percy where to move his feet.
“I can’t remember the last time I danced,” Macy said.
“Me either,” Percy said.
“I know it was with Zephyr. That’s right—it was shortly before his death.”
She continued to guide Percy as they danced in the middle of Popeyes. The employees behind the counter looked at them, smiling. Macy spoke in a low tone.
“We were at a soiree, and we were both horribly bored as we sat and listened to people talk about nonsense.”
Percy stared at his own feet, trying his best not to step on Macy, or to not stumble over her.
“And there wasn’t any music playing,” she said. “But Zephyr took my hand and we walked to the middle of the room and started to dance. Everyone was staring at us.”
“Popeyes,” Percy said.
“But we didn’t care at all. We just twirled around the room listening to the music in our heads.”
They continued to dance until the song ended.
“That was lovely,” Macy said.
Percy was breathing hard, not used to moving around so much. He took her hand, and they walked back to their table, where he continued to eat his food. Macy sighed, before taking a sip of her drink.
“Thanks,” she said.
“The fried chicken is so good,” Percy said.
“For all of this. This was lovely.”
“I love the red beans and rice,” Percy said.
“I’ll make you some fried chicken one day,” Macy said.
“And red beans and rice?”
“And red beans and rice.”
After dinner, Percy took Macy back to her house. Macy was quiet the whole time, and Percy couldn’t tell if she was sad or tired or just thinking. Percy helped Macy out of the car.
“Are you okay?” he asked.
“I am. I know I was quiet. I was just appreciating the night. Thanks again, Penelope.”
After walking her to the door, he went back to his apartment and took a nap. When he woke up, he thought about his dream. He was a soldier, stationed in France during WWlI, in the same regiment as Zephyr. He dreamt that they were close, looking after each other. He dreamt that he was there when Zephyr was hurt, and he was wrapping his wounds while listening to him talk about how he was falling in love with Macy, hoping to see her again.
“You’ll see her,” Percy said. “And you two will get married.”
“You think so, P?” Zephyr asked. “You really think so?”
Zephyr’s eyes were glossy, and he was breathing hard. The sounds of war created a bubble around them.
“I promise,” Percy said.
He picked Zephyr up and positioned him over his shoulder and jogged away from immediate danger, putting him down behind a barrier they had made.
“I got to get back,” Percy said.
“Stay,” Zephyr said. “Tell me what’s real.”
“Macy is real. You’re real. And your love for each other is real.”
Percy patted him on the shoulder and ran back into a blurry vision of war.
Percy sat at the edge of his bed and tried to think about the rest of his dream. He rubbed his feet against the carpet and closed his eyes. He saw himself injured, in a makeshift hospital in France. Macy was taking care of him.
“Do you know Zephyr?” Percy asked.
Macy paused and took a deep breath.
“I do. Why?”
“He loves you.”
“I love him.”
“Have you ever been to Popeyes?” Percy asked.
“I’ve never heard of it,” Macy said.