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LITTLE CACKLES by Derick Dupre

A windy morning outside Denny’s in Carefree. Windshields and gas pumps ping with dust. Rosettes of yucca twitch and sway. Inside it sounds like a light rain passing through. A waitress saunters up to a table where three men sit. Her dirndl skirt swishes in time to the dust, and for a moment it seems like the only sound in the world. The three men are John Huston, Rich Little, and Orson Welles. She recognizes Little right away and fangirls out in front of the two older men.

Oh my god I knew it, it’s him, can I have an autograph Mr. Little? Make it out to Sue. No to Ralph.

Make it out to Ralph. Oh my god. Do Nixon. Do Bing.

Little smiles uneasily, accepting Sue’s pen, knowing that in a just world she should be asking for John’s or Orson’s hasty scrawl, not his, not that of one whose sole talent is sounding like other people. But what do other people know, anyway. The older men fidget on the leatherette. To Ralph, he writes aloud, best, wishes, always. Rich. Little slides the napkin to Sue.

Joan! It’s the man of a thousand voices! Sue shouts to a coworker. Oh my god. Do Jimmy Stewart.

Do Jack Benny. What are you doing in Carefree, Mr. Little?

Little, doing Johnny Cash, says, Well we thought we’d check up on the Carefree sundial. We were driving through and John here wanted to know the time, so I said, let’s make a stop in Carefree.

Johnny Cash! Joan get over here. Oh, we do have quite the sundial, don’t we, Sue says.

Joan saunters up and twitches a hip to the right, indicating Welles, and asks Little, So who’s your fat friend?

Welles, nosedeep in a menu, shifts his glance from Hot n Hearty to Lean n Low to Tempting Desserts.

Little, in a rare moment of speechlessness, slowly widens his eyes. Huston, not known for his whipcrack humor, clarifies: We actually don’t know this man. We
picked him up on the highway and he seemed undernourished. We were planning to feed him and send him on his way.

Little cackles.

Huston just stares at the menu, forgetting whether or not Denny’s serves scotch. Welles squirms against the leatherette. Huh. I’m not surprised. I used to work up at the Denny’s up in Seligman. All kinds of freeloaders there. So, big boy, what’ll you have? Sue says.

Peaches, cottage cheese, hold the rye wafers, please, Welles says, as though delivering a line he’s waited his whole life to give. His order has the tone of a funeral toll. An atmospheric shift disrupts the dining room, in the way it will if somebody farts or breaks a glass. Other tables are silent. Meandering jowls now pause midchew. The dust outside is again the only sound in the world. After a few moments, Joan breaks the trance. I know that voice. I’ve heard that voice. Mr. Little, who’s this friend of yours?

Little, doing John Wayne, says, This man here is the bravest man I know. This man staged an entire war. This man is as good as any general, the great Orson Welles.

Duke! Joan squeals.

Orson Who? Sue says. Oh my god I can’t believe I’m taking Rich Little’s order. What is your order, Mr. Little?

Little does Cagney, delivering his order and snapping his fingers with immense menace. Jumbo Dennyburger, got it? Hold the lettuce, I don’t wanna see no lettuce at all. Cook it well-done – bravo, you got it? There better be extra ketchup, and a coffee.

Sue can hardly contain her squealing. Extra kitchup! Did you hear that Joan? Jimmy Cagney – she winks at Little – wants extra kitchup! Of course! Well-done!

Huston sighs and says, Is there any chance you have single malt.

We have all kinds of rich and creamy malts sir, yes.

Huston looks at Welles, indicating he’s run out of fucks to give. I’ll just have a coffee, please.

Two coffees all day. And what’ll your fat friend have to drink?

Welles fidgets and thinks of Oja, of her love and cunning, thinks by now she would’ve stabbed one of these women. He thinks of something rich and creamy. A hot tea, please, with a slice of lemon.

Another atmospheric disruption befalls the Denny’s in Carefree, Arizona. The dust sings. Joan says, I don’t know who that man is but he sure knows how to talk.

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