Julia's Angel Hair
Margot Douaihy

Of course I took leftovers home. Customers leave — sorry, left — whole plates of food at Tommy’s. Pastrami with one bite. Full bowls of fries. Club sandwiches intact, toothpick and all. Waste is a sin — right? — so, when I worked at Tommy’s, even after he and I started dating, I took leftovers home. He would have lost his damn mind if he knew. Not that he had a right mind to begin with. It didn’t matter who left the leftovers: kids, regulars, tourists stumbling from Bourbon Street, or, get ready, Julia Roberts. That’s right, Julia Roberts. I know your type. You’re the I-Don’t-Have-a-TV literary type, right? Still, you know Julia Roberts. It was a month before Katrina, and Julia was in town shooting a movie. The actors and crew couldn’t have their “craft services” outside on account of the lightning, so Tommy shouted and cleared out the diner, and the cast and crew poured in. There she is, Julia Roberts, walking into my diner. She wore all black. Black linen pants, black belt, black blouse. She was Together. She sat alone at table seven. “Angel hair,” she said. So elegantly she spoke. Even her voice was smiling. My hand shook as I wrote Angel. Hair. Julia. Roberts. I must have drawn ninety-three exclamation points after her name. Tommy made the dish himself, pushed Crow away from the stove so hard poor Crow fell into the sink. I plastered on the calmest smile you could imagine as I walked out with Julia’s food, because, you know, I’m no braggart, but I’m a bit of a recognized actor myself. I wanted so desperately to tell Julia about my portrayal as M'Lynn in our local production of Steel Magnolias, because of course Julia was Shelby, my daughter, in the story. I had two standing ovations each night. That Christmas dinner scene, when Shelby shares she’s pregnant, but I — M'Lynn — am too mad and worried about Shelby’s diabetes to share in the blessed joy, well, it could make me cry right now. I didn’t say a word to Julia though because Tommy’s wild eyes were on me. Anyhow, I felt that she felt our bond. Julia looked at the bowl of piping hot pasta and said, “Wow, thank you.” From behind the counter I watched her every move. I tracked the arc of her wrist as she picked up her fork, but, like most Together People, Julia Roberts hardly ate. Not me nor any waitress asked Julia for a picture because Tommy said that the first employee to ask her for a picture would be fired faster than he could break a rat’s neck. Julia stared off in the distance, playing with her perfect hair-hair then her angel hair, twirling the pasta around her fork. After she left, Tommy nodded to me and bussed Julia’s table. When he wasn’t looking, I slid all of Julia’s leftover angel hair into my purse, bowl and fork and all. I got home before him and put the whole deal in the freezer. I rarely opened the freezer for fear of it defrosting, but every day I put my hand on the door and talked to Julia’s angel hair. I recited the scene in Steel Magnolia after they take Shelby off life support and M’Lynn howls like a gutted fox: “It's not supposed to happen this way!” I really killed the supposed. Tommy was furious when I ‘fessed to what I’d done, but then he got a smile, that crazed TomTom smile I’ll admit I love. His rat eyes narrowed. He said he’d auction the angel hair for a million bucks on the Internet. Sure, a million seems like a money bucket, but a lot of people would pay a money bag for something that touched Julia Roberts’s lips, was even down her throat. That's how it is with angel hair: one very, very long noodle in a knot. You can’t tell where it begins or ends. Weeks later, when the rains started, the wind sent the lime tree through the eaves and Tommy shook me awake. “It’s on, Baby! It’s on!” He was squealing like a cherry bomb. We ran barefoot, just our keys and his wallet. Not even a photo album. It rained so hard I felt thrashing inside my lungs. Navy clouds were writhing and lightning split the sky. I cried and cried, but Tommy wouldn’t let me back into the house to get the angel hair. He dragged me to the car, held my wrist so tight I thought it’d crack. Miracle the car started. Julia Roberts must’ve known how much I cared for her, in the deep way, like M’Lynn loving Shelby enough to cut out a kidney, because after Katrina, Julia Roberts came back to host her Telethon. You saw it? Naw, you don’t have a TV. She came back and cried real tears during her Telethon, telling the world to call! Donate! Rebuild! I was a right mess in that motel. Tommy next to me on the edge of the bed, rubbing my shoulders, chain-smoking Pall Malls. He snapped his spine straight. My toughie. How hard he tried not to cry. We listened to the body count tick up. Watched the police on TV lying, lying, lying. They blamed us for looting, killing after the storm, but they’re the ones who let us die, rotting on our own roofs in the heat like perfectly good food after the power goes. Demo crews gutted every house in the 7th hit with sewage, throwing fridges into dumpsters. I never did see the angel hair again. I learned what M’Lynn learned the night Shelby stopped breathing: the only way to keep something close, to keep it forever, is to watch it get ripped away.

Margot Douaihy is the author of Scranton Lace (Clemson University Press) and the Lambda Literary Award Finalist Girls Like You (Clemson University Press). She serves as the editor of the Northern New England Reviewwww.margotdouaihy.com