Chili is the Cure
After walking across the seemingly infinite school grounds at Altre Deorum, Ivan found what had to be the cafeteria. Cafeterias at schools and businesses all had the same look to him. Large glass buildings that draw you in with their pristine exteriors, but become disappointing upon entry when one notices that it is a spartan slab built to feed people shit food and get them back to work. Luckily, shit coffee was exactly what Ivan was after, hopefully, they had some that was still hot this late in the day.
The floor was reasonably populated, all with girls, of course, being a girl’s school. Ivan thought it was funny how they all wore the same little suits. He checked himself, making sure that he remembered that a little conformity to get what you want in this world isn’t a bad thing, but still it brought to mind old pictures of the Hitler Youth program.
He strolled through the cafeteria knowing that all eyes were on him. Not only did he have some equipment “downstairs” that was not common in these parts, but he was sure that his attire of all black also drew their gazes. He also figured that he must look like death warmed over, which probably wasn’t helping.
Ivan walked up to the empty counter. He gingerly tapped the bell and pulled his dark sunglasses down to scan the back. Nothing. He waited. Still nothing.
Between the combination of time and caffeine dependence, he decided to take this situation into his own hands. He lifted up the slat on the counter and cautiously stepped to the other side. Behind him he heard the Twitter of some girls, most likely watching him and his awkward stealth. He didn’t look back. He was used to being stared at.
Ivan surveyed the scene again and eventually started his way toward the back.
He knocked on a wall and called out, “Hello?”. Again, no answer.
As Ivan walked down the glaring white hallway toward the kitchen he could hear muttering and humming. The humming was a tune he knew he had heard before, but couldn’t place.
He called out in greeting again, but still, there was no response.
He rounded the corner and the kitchen started to open up to his view. It was what he expected, clean, white, and smelling good.
As he entered the kitchen area he saw a round woman with her back to him as she slowly stirred a large pot and hummed the familiar tune.
“Excuse me,” he said gently, so as not to startle her. She gave no response, just continued humming and stirring. He walked up to her slowly as he felt a feeling of unease. He stopped a few feet behind her again and said, “Miss?” Still no response.
He reached out and put his hand softly on her shoulder. The second his hand touched her fluffy orange sweater the woman leaped to life. She spun around with a howl of fear, her eyes wide as saucers as she clutched the stained wooden spoon with both hands. She stepped back, cornered against the stove with the pot, gripping her spoon weapon until she saw the kindness in Ivan’s eyes and his defensive hands.
“Lord almighty! Kid, you scared the Bejesus out of me!” She said to him trying to shake off the adrenaline.
“I’m sorry, I tried to announce myself, several times.”
“I must have been in the chili zone,” she responded, nodding back at the massive silver pot.
“Well, it does smell good,” Ivan acknowledged as he gave an exaggerated whiff to prove it.
“Won’t be ready for a few hours though. What are you doing here, we don’t get many of… your type?”
“My type? Like not in uniform?”
“Your type, like not being a boy under the age of sixty without a cowl.”
“Looking for coffee?” Ivan responded in a politely pleading tone, pitching up at the end of the question.
“Right, I can do that, but that’s not what I meant,” she said as she set her spoon weapon down gently beside the large pot.
“I’m with the band,” he said, answering her previous question as she walked to the other end of the kitchen to a large industrial-size coffee urn.
“Ah yes, Ivan Rocker,” she touted with a finger in the air.
“Ivan Rocket,” he corrected her and continued, “ and that’s me, I’m Ivan. For going out of their way to book us there sure seems to be no one here that knows who we are.”
She spun around with two mugs of coffee. “Black?”
“Well, that’s the church for ya, trying to stay in touch while reading a two-thusand-year-old book.”
“Are you not a believer?” Ivan asked, graciously taking the cup of joe. First, he held it to his noes and then slurped with a touch to the lips.
“Oh, I am, maybe a little more new-age than most Catholics, but still a believer. But, part of my belief is that God didn’t put us here to relive the past, but to live our lives now.”
“Well, sister, I ain’t no Catholic, but I believe the words you’re preaching,” Ivan responded with a wink followed by another careful sip of the incendiary coffee.
“Well, Ivan Rocket, I’m Peggy, but most just call me Lunch Lady,” She told him as she nodded to two fold-out chairs in the corner. The chairs were obviously part of some makeshift lunch lady break room. Two chairs, a small table with a fantasy-romance novel, and a few pictures and a calendar on a corkboard that had been poorly hung to the wall.
“Don’t mind if I do,” Ivan responded as the two sat down, “and I’ll just stick with Peggy, Peggy. If it’s all the same to you?”
“What kind of music do you kids play?” she asked. Peggy was easily ten years older than Ivan, somewhere in her mid thrities, with a round body and salted brown hair. Not a typical beauty on the outside, but Ivan could see her inside, he could see her glow and he liked her.
“Ahh, the question that every musician dreads,” Ivan answered, looking deeper into Peggy’s eyes. Her glow was so bright that it almost concealed it. It was almost lost in the glare of her aura. The black spot of darkness.
“Dreads? Aren’t you supposed to know better than anyone?” She questioned.
“You’d think so. But no musician can just say rock or punk or metal or something simple like that. We all try to explain the music and hide the influences,” Ivan pulled his attention away from the black spot focusing instead on the book novel on the table. It was titled The Inn in the Field, it’s cover graced with a muscular man holding a woman as her arms pushed away and eyes pulled in.
“So you play rock?” She asked.
“Pretty much,” Ivan said followed by a chuckle that Peggy quickly joined in with.
It was not uncommon that Ivan saw darkness in a person. The darkness seemed to be everywhere now, much more than when he first started noticing it. He often wondered if there was really more of it or if he was just better at seeing it.
“That tune?” Ivan asked, “The one you were humming when I came in, what was it? I’m sure that I know it, I just can’t place it.”
“Tune? I was humming a tune? Well, it must have been atrocious, I’m known for being a terrible singer,” Peggy responded with an uncomfortable twist of her curly unkempt hair.
“No, you hummed it perfectly. It was minor and somber, but really quite beautiful.”
“Well, not perfect enough for you to remember it apparently.”
“Hey don’t blame your intonation, blame my memory. It’s terrible.”
“You’re a musician, how did it go?” She asked, expecting that he would hum it back to her.
“That’s just it, I can’t remember, but I know I know it, or at least… I should know it.”
Peggy looked at him for a moment, allowing him to think, then continued on. “So why would you want to play at an all-girls catholic school? I mean, aside from the obvious reasons?”
“Obvious reasons?” Ivan asked with a raised eyebrow.
“The catholic school girls seem to be reason enough for most young men,” Peggy said.
“Oh, right,” Ivan chuckled. “Well, I assure you that’s not why. It’s a favor to the manager of the band. He has close ties to the church, grew up at the other one… the other school. The boy one.”
“Servi Deorum,” Peggy said, completing Ivan’s thought.
“That’s the one,” Ivan said with a snap.
“Grew up there huh? I don’t think he’d be too happy if he saw it again.” Peggy’s voice was serious and quieter.
“Why, what’s wrong with it?” Ivan said, leaning in and matching her tone.
Realizing that she had gotten too serious, Peggy leaned back and tried to continue with a lighter mood. “The same thing that’s wrong here honey. I cant put my finger on it but this place is off.” But, Peggy couldn’t help it, again her tone intensified. “There are doors that are locked that were once open, corners and halls nobody visits anymore.”
“I always thought of Catholicism as being somewhat secretive?” Ivan said, trying to shrug off the heaviness of the conversation.
Peggy continued, “maybe the Vatican! But, this is a girl’s school. They just have some secret now… Some horrible secret.”
Ivan again found himself fixated on the darkness hidden in her light. He wondered how such a powerful light could have a spec of darkness. How could a spot of darkness survive at the middle of a star.
He leaned closer, still looking in her eyes, and pondered. “I wonder what the secret is?”