He handed her the slow cooker and said, Do you want this I have to move, and he was putting it into her hands before she’d even given her response. His name was Crispy. When he’d first introduced himself a year before, she’d been carrying her old end table—the one with the three wobbling legs—up the stairs to their then-new second floor apartment, she’d heard “Crusty” and repeated it back to him. But he’d been adamant, Crispy, he’d said but this time with an extra puff of breath behind the beginning of the second syllable.
He’d been wearing that same straw cowboy-style hat that had a well-worn look but the kind of well-worn look you could buy off the shelf at stores where most men his age no longer shopped. Shortly after she and her husband got settled in, she found out that he was the local dope dealer. She found it odd to think of anyone as a dope-dealer, but she didn’t know how else to think of his trade. She figured it was something she must have picked up from her grandfather.
She’d heard about Crispy’s occupation from one of the guys who lived in the building across the parking lot from them, the one who flirted with her openly until she’d made mention of her husband, “he should be here any time now…” After that, the man across the way flirted less but was still much more talkative and friendly when her husband wasn’t with her. It was during one of these uncomfortably friendly conversations that it came up that he was waiting in the parking lot hoping to catch Crispy if he came by, that he hoped Crispy would have, or would be able to get what the man needed and by the way did she need anything, too? She’d said no but thanks and upon seeing Crispy’s tan van take the corner into their section of the apartment complex parking lot, she took the opportunity to retreat to her apartment.
Now she looked at the slow cooker in her hands. It looked brand new, wasn’t dusty or anything. It was a five quart model with a light purple (orchid? Lilac?) ceramic dish. The outer heating element had a pattern that she thought was probably an olive branch but she wasn’t sure since she’d never seen or even thought about how olives grew.
She looked at Crispy and was struck, as she had been the first time he’d introduced himself, by a sense of familiarity she couldn’t place. He was similar to the men her mother would bring home. They were sun-weathered, outdoorsy surfer-types who lived nowhere near the ocean. Their real names would be Dave, or Troy, or Rick. Or maybe something too respectable and old-timey, Walter or Bernard or Edward, names you wouldn’t have been able to call them while keeping a straight face. And so the nicknames. No explanations. Crispy.
He stood looking up from under the brim of his straw hat at her. She was standing on the second stair up to her apartment landing, where she had gotten to before he’d stopped her with the slow cooker. She was still in her uniform and could feel the sweat starting to collect in the small of her back. It would drip soon. She saw that his t-shirt with the sleeves cut off was soaked through and so said, Sorry you have to move on such a hot day. To which he just shrugged his shoulders. Well…she paused, thanks for the pot!
He laughed a laugh that was more of a bark and the surprise of it almost made her drop the dish. Then she realized why he was laughing. I mean the dish, she said and smiled back at him. He nodded at her, just a small nod, but it was magnified by the broad brim of his hat. He turned and walked toward a pathway between her building and the next one over. When she lost sight of him it occurred to her that she didn’t even know what apartment Crispy was moving out of.
She carried the dish the rest of the way up the stairs and propped it against the wall with her hip while she searched for the deadbolt key and unlocked the door to her and her husband’s apartment. He’d be home in an hour. She set the slow cooker on the counter and took another good look at the pattern on it.
She decided it was an olive branch.