Pears in June Showers
Dim, compressed light shined on the venue, lit and full of people. A young woman removed my plain water glass. She wore a clover green spaghetti strap mini dress and walked over to the round table closest to me and reached for two glasses with only ice left in them. Was that Perry?
“Harry?” she said.
Perry Jones caused me more than a bit of trouble. In our brief period of high school romance, she took me through a rocky first relationship. It finally culminated with her showing up uninvited to my family gatherings around Christmas time and stealing from my family’s jewelry shop, making my uncle look wide-eyed at me like ‘good choice, kid.’
“I’m surprised to see you,” I said to Perry.
“Me too!” she said.
I doubted that.
“It’s good to see you, Perry,” I said.
“You too,” she said. “It’s been too long.”
“Can you get us something to drink?” I offered.
“I don’t usually serve drinks and am not supposed to drink on the job.” She glazed over the room. “But I think I can make an exception.”
“Okay, great. Get some of the good stuff,” I told her. “I’m feeling a bit left out. See all the other glasses. They’re monogrammed. And here’s me with a plain one.”
“I’m not sure what to say,” she said. “I didn’t see any Harry’s on the table out back. Sorry about that. But I can grab two glasses and any whiskey you want—? Oh, yes! I saw a bottle of your favorite in the kitchen. No, it can’t be here. Meet me over there after I run these glasses back.”
She motioned to a dark hallway by some stacked tables and chairs.
My date, June, had signaled to me that she was going to round up her friends and let them know the limo was leaving shortly and would be back in a minute. This was about ten minutes ago.
It was easy to disappear as I felt my way through the dark back hallway. Perry didn’t say anything and came closer to me until we were within the space of slow dancers. She pulled two drinks up from behind her hips and handed me the one in her right hand. I took the one in her left hand and said, “I’m heading out.”
“With June?” she asked.
I was proud to be associated with June.
“You two were always so friendly,” she said.
“Friendly?” I said.
She took a long sip of her drink.
“Better not get me in trouble for drinking on the job,” she said.
“I’m not the one who usually brings the trouble,” I said.
“Especially since it could be more than a one-time thing.”
My phone vibrated in my pocket.
“This guy I’m seeing got me the opportunity,” she said. “It’s pretty cushy.”
She looked out over the stacked chairs and tables, which moved.
“There you are.” A voice came from behind the stacked chairs and tables.
June Albright stood in fashionable heels and looked her best while Perry and I slowly turned in her slight shadow.
I definitely need to explain who June is and why she is looking for me.
June, my childhood best friend. That June. Have you really not heard of her? I’ll give a refresher: June had this voluminous sandy blonde hair. She made you feel warm and attended to. Anyone could be a pretty girl and appetizing on the eyes, but she had one facial feature that drove everyone wild.
As a child I knew that June never liked-liked me, so I became unattached to the idea of ever fulfilling that crush. But as I went through high school and college, I noticed that a few girls who were not interested in me at first came up to me and introduced themselves and gave me a chance to win them over. So by the time I graduated from college in a little city while Junebug steered elsewhere, I didn’t completely rule it out.
I heard she was asking around for me since she moved back home for the summer through my sale of a necklace to one of her longtime friends. One thing led to another and June and I went on a few dates. It was like we were getting to know each other really well again. I eventually saw the same look in her eye of a girl saying, “Hey, you’re not so bad.”
We came to this fundraiser together. June Albright, a contributor. Me, her +1.
There she was. Busting me for talking to the girl who once stole from my uncle’s jewelry shop—and some would say was the bad half in an emotionally abusive relationship. But June embodied a calm and centered manner, standing there, slowly walking closer until it felt like there was no light at all in the dark back hallway.
On the ride to the fundraiser June and I were a shape two make who are clearly not just friends. Some upbeat, rhythmic, and repetitive music played while she returned glances to our fellow limo-riders, old high-school friends who were jubilant and crazy around us. On the ride after the fundraiser, she was a friend’s length away from me and didn’t return the glances of anyone else either.
The limo came to a stop. Everyone scooted out and hurried onto the sidewalk and in through the wooden doors to the once dive bar converted into a drinking and socializing establishment. Every time the door opened, three bells rang in a minor chord that resolved when the door closed with a major chime. The dimensions were wider than they once were. Legal-age, dark-shirted bartenders hurried glasses around affecting calmness while they took orders and picked off goblets and wine glasses one by one.
June dispersed with all the others who sailed in through the doors. The feeling that she was too pretty for me always held me content with not being a brave soul and ‘taking her hand’ (like a man) but now the transcendence I thought I felt was already slipping away and losing its ability to morph further into what I wanted.
This building had a tri-facade structure. There were three main socializing areas, one of which was a Fake Brewing Tank Display. The other two were a Top Golf Simulation and a Mock Vacation Suite Balcony overlooking the ocean—which was a one-hundred-by-thirty-foot virtual simulation display with a curved screen so that when you walked out onto the balcony you could turn almost 180 degrees and still completely see programmed ocean water and sand. The balcony was about as big as a waterpark wave pool. Each area branched off from the small bar that once was the entirety of the dive.
The first I encountered this place was when June snuck me in late at night in high school when there were two beers on tap.
June’s lips weren’t their usual crescent smile when I finally locked eyes with her after practically following her around all night.
“I’m not the only one here, you know,” she whispered, and averted her eyes quickly and walked over to a circle of modestly dressed young women embracing in hugs and kisses.
When we were ‘just friends,’ June would be mad at me for a short period of time, but then forgive me and be her regular old self shortly after. But in the week since she and I had rekindled and taken it up a notch, things had been joyously different. This time it felt like she would never get back to her regular old self, I guess that is the gamble in this sort of thing. Joyous in the moment. But I felt her slipping into the future.
June came back over to me around a half hour later, unable to hide a smile on her face.
“Why so lonely, boss?” she said.
“Do I look lonely?” I asked.
A switch turned on in June like she remembered something.
“Not at all,” she said.
Right next to the bar was a worn-out, wooden pool table that looked like it hadn’t been played on in years.
“Let’s play pool, big shot,” she said.
We tried to put the quarters in but the configuration would not properly take them and release the balls. The bartender came over and spent a few minutes trying to fix the mechanism. June wandered over to the bar.
My first memory of June was when she moved into the neighborhood. At the beginning of summer, my uncle made me bring them a housewarming raspberry pie, and when I showed up to the door, her dad—gruff, handsome, and exhausted—asked me to stay and play with her.
June used to sit on a living room sofa that overlooked their backyard and tell me about all sorts of professional ideas she had for what she was going to do when she grew up. Which at the time: was like any other child. What was mindboggling looking back on it: when we aged and graduated college, she was well on her way to accomplishing all those big late-night fantasies.
I missed nights where she wore t-shirts and yoga pants—but that night of the fundraiser she had on glitter and long eyelashes, and I couldn’t even look at her dress, because I knew the second I did I would realize I’m way out of my league and completely blow it. My uncle once told me the best advice to showing a girl you like her, is to never let your eyes trail to her body—even when she’s not looking.
The bartender could not fix it and decided to manually bring the balls out; he also grabbed two sticks from the back.
“Two little shots for Harry in corner A!” June sang, coming back over and placing two tall thick whiskey shots on the table.
“This is pool,” I pointed out. “You’re not announcing a boxing match.”
“Since you’re way better than me,” she said, scrunching her nose and laughing, gesturing at two tall shot glasses thick with alcohol.
“I guess this evens the playing field,” I said, and popped one back.
I was waiting for her to take hers. She just watched me.
“Okay,” I said.
“Oh, they’re both for you, silly,” June said.
She satirized the motions of how a gymnast might warm up before a routine, essentially doing pirouettes and leg stretches. I had to laugh at June’s brilliance, and she could see in my eyes that I knew it. She kissed the rum off my lips and made some comment to the effect of how those shots must have not been pleasant. Then she talked for a while about the play she was going to run on the pool table.
She voiced her opinion that she would end up scratching by not properly hitting the ball and making an embarrassment of herself. But she took the shot strongly and broke the diamond.
“Those had me feeling wobbly from the smell,” I told June. “Which liquor did you pick?”
“The bartender’s favorite cheapie,” she said. “Told him I was on a budget.”
I took the stick and made a shot.
“Really funny,” I said. “You never used to lie.”
She kept missing easy shots, being goofy about them, and even blew on a ball softly rolling into the side pocket. June threw off my balance and focus by nudging me with her foot, and I hit one of her balls in.
“No, you can have a do-over. I interfered,” she confessed.
“No, how about you take it?” I offered.
June straightened her shoulders and knocked a ball into the back of a pocket. She split two balls for a one-two punch and made an offhand chipper—not smiling or letting her eyes glance over to the door where the bell just resolved.
“I love that sound,” she said.
“Happy sounds better when sad is behind it.”
She was poetic—but still not good enough to beat me. I couldn’t dare say I was as successful and well-rounded of a person as June—but you wouldn’t sign Michelle Obama up to play Tiger Woods if the game was golf and not the contest of who was a more outstanding individual.
When I made one ridiculously improbable shot, June licked her lips and looked me up and down—but other than that she watched unbiased from afar and did not graze my fingers when handing me the stick.
The game went on until all I had to do was hit the 8 ball in, an easy shot. Maybe a 3 out of 5 in difficulty. Something serious overtook me and I started to feel impending doom.
I chalked the tip of the stick. The minor ding rang out. The pool shot actually had a slight degree of difficulty I didn’t notice upon first inspection. The minor ding continued to ring and not resolve. June put her pool stick down and came over closer to me. Even though it was straight on, it was a long, cross-table shot. I took the shot. Someone wearing a green mini-dress came in through the open doors while I saw the eight-ball head into the called pocket. And as the green felt of the pool table somehow smacked me in the face, the cue ball spun toward the corner pocket with a little more speed than I would have liked.
The thermostat must have been turned all the way down, but I was still sweating. Cushiony covers and sheets cocooned me. I thought I saw June at the foot of the bed, but no one was there when I threw the covers back. The blinds weren’t doing their job so scintillating morning light came into the room and weighted my head.
Female perfume (must have been June’s) was all around. She may have even slept in this bed. Her clothes were still here: June’s jacket and dress laid out over the sofa. I looked around the room for her but only saw rays of dappled sunlight.
I left the room to find through the window that we were on a high floor in what must have been a hotel. Through lush dark red hallways with gold-trimmed designs on the carpet and wall I walked until I entered the common area where all of the hallways meet to an open breakfast room.
Someone was with June at a high-top table by a window overlooking the city. June was drinking a coffee and had a croissant on a napkin with her laptop out, sitting across her best friend from high school, Ming. (Or as I called her, Mingificent).
“Hey there, lightweight,” Ming said.
“I’m not a lightweight,” I said. My voice was croaky. “I must have been drugged.”
I sat next to June.
“By Perry?” June said.
“Yes. Even though—” I started.
Ming had on silver-framed glasses.
“Even though when she went to give me a drink I took the one behind her back,” I said.
Ming had two-foot long matted black hair.
“If she were trying to drug you,” June said. “I assume you would know to take the one she handed you.”
“And let her drug me?” I asked.
“No, Harry,” June said. “She knows you don’t trust her. She’s obviously going to think you wouldn’t accept it in the first place. So she knew to drug the second one. You knew from the beginning it was bad news.”
“I can’t believe someone would do that to you,” Ming said. “You just had one drink with her?”
“She asked me if I wanted a drink, said she was going to have one too,” I said. “She was serving, so I agreed.”
“Makes sense,” June said, sarcastically. “She poured herself a glass while working a one-time job that she surely wants to make long-term.”
Don’t be so sure June’s a genius. She could have heard us talking in the back hallway. That was right about the time before she found us.
I made a mistake, but I wanted to get back to June and me. I’d prefer to talk about something involving us, not Perry.
“I’m just glad I beat June in pool,” I said.
“That’s not what I heard,” Ming said.
“Actually,” June said. “Harry watched his 8-ball go in.” She grimaced like reporting an injury. “And then right after he passed out, the cue ball scratched.”
I leaned on my elbow and turned to her. “June, I saw it go in before I passed out,” I said. “I highly doubt I’d scratch on a shot like that.” I did remember I hit the cue ball a bit too hard. “I thought you didn’t know a lot about pool.”
“Everyone knows you lose when you scratch on an 8-ball shot,” Ming blurted out.
“Because of the state you were in, you deserve the win anyway,” June said.
“Aw,” Ming said.
I went to reach for June’s arm—at first not knowing if it was okay, but then I thought about how it’s always best to be brave and commit to what you want. She was a genius. But I wanted her to be my genius. So I put my hand on her knee, like I had done on our first date a week ago in the movie theater.
Ming slammed her hands on the table. “Shoot!” she shouted.
“What is it?” I said.
“O my god. Ming?” June said. “Is everything okay?”
“Yes.” She began packing up. “No biggie.”
She looked haunted.
“It seems pretty big.”
“Were there mystery charges on your credit card?”
“Are you pregnant with triplets?”
“Have you contracted a deadly virus?”
“You didn’t find a replacement best friend, did you?”
Ming chuckled at us, and for a second I thought she was laughing at us for being two in a shape that are more than friends. But my hand was not on her knee. June withdrew to emotional miles away.
“No, nothing like that, you goofs.” she said. “One of my old sorority sisters was driving on the freeway and her car broke down. Her triple A expired last month, so I have to go help her. Call me later for deets,” she said to June.
After Ming left we were silent for a while. This place was ominous and serene at once. Chatter from other happy couples at tables. No music. And we were so high up we couldn’t hear traffic. Just a magnificent view of the forming city buildings.
The space between us seemed so wide and heavy once Ming left. Unlike what I wanted to feel and had felt when we first rekindled. No, this was just like my deepest, darkest fears: everything that I wanted to avoid. I hate to think that if I hadn’t thought about avoiding it, it may have never been known to happen.
June left the breakfast room with her stuff, and I followed in tow. I caught up with her in the red hallway.
“Did I buy the room last night?” I mentioned.
“Excuse me?” she said.
I just got a promotion and actually have enough money on my card to afford this for once. It felt good to have that money because I earned it, and I wanted to let her know that I would be more than willing to spend it on her. Sure, it didn’t matter to Ms. Successful June—we know she can afford it.
“I did,” she said.
“Well, I just got a promotion. It’s no problem. I actually get penalized on my card for not spending enough for some reason,” I said. “Either it’s some new advanced way to contribute to the economy or my bank is just ripping me off.”
When we were back in the hotel room, I remembered being on the sofa last night talking intimately with June while she got me orange juice and animal crackers.
The maid service must have opened the doors to the balcony. A warm breeze came in.
“Come look at the city,” I said. “Wow, June.” The view was of newly-formed corporate buildings and on the outskirts the nearly-finished neighborhood communities.
June didn’t hear me tell her to come on out and witness this view with me. When I came in through the open doors she claimed to have a meeting to get to across town. I heard thunder and the sky got darker.
“So unpredictable,” June said.
“Summer showers,” she said.
Rain pellets started to patter on the balcony. They sped up until the rain was pounding on the stone of the balcony and lightning flashed behind the city’s growth, temporarily put on pause.
We made our way down to the lobby. She held her purse and had her dress folded over her arm.
“Alright, Ms. Albright, you’re good to go,” the clerk said.
June let me know again that she had a meeting to get to.
I held my sport jacket. I felt a pain—like a mental stinging. Every cell of my body felt weighted and drowsy.
“Already?” I said.
“The city’s growing,” she said.
This type of distance I felt open up between us only happened one other time that I can recall in our twenty years of on and off best-friendship back when we were twelve. It was a verbal slippage on my part. I knew I shouldn’t have said it once I did.
To make this make sense, I have to backtrack and let you know what happened to June’s mom when June was seven. Well, I guess it wasn’t that anything happened to her; it was the absence of her that stung. On a night in November she ran away and hasn’t contacted anyone in the family since. She disappeared. Something that unfortunately a lot of people claim to have seen coming.
What ties this story all together for those who are confused on how a person can just up and leave her family (though it happens) is that June’s mother had a different set of morals than the average person. A very successful model-turned-businesswoman in her younger years, becoming a mother changed her. She took a long leave of absence to tend to her child and could not find the same type of work five and a half years later when she eventually hired a full-time nanny. Unhappy with the life of a stay-at-home mom, her marriage broke down and she began seeing other men.
She always had a partner in crime. It was her ex-husband for so many years, but when he wouldn’t agree to hide some of their incidental earnings in an illegally influenced non-taxable bracket—and many continuous adult differences—it couldn’t be anymore. And Ms. Albright was a woman fueled by passion. She hardly had her most productive days when alone. June’s mom was looking for somebody new.
She apparently had a thing for the meanest of men. (Because, think about it: they weren’t mean to her and were very powerful—and what’s danger if not to heighten romance?) She began taking international trips with them (and allegedly became a kind of mob boss muse, though the men she was with weren’t exactly immersed in criminal activity—they were the corporate version of mob bosses). Every time she disappeared for a full week, June’s dad said—even after they were happily divorced and cordially managed custody of June—he always felt a small chance in his gut he’d never see her again. And even though she was a despicable woman at times, he had no problem letting his glorious daughter, June, take her mother’s maiden name as her last name in honor of her.
Well as for the other time I inadvertently created this much distance between June and me, we were pre-teens in the stages of goofy jokes that are only for fun. It was a weekend night around 10 p.m. and June and I and bunch of other neighborhood friends were gathered around in a driveway. We were all hyped up on sugar, finishing a game we used to play called Celebrity and Paparazzi. The girls played celebrities and had to evade the boys, who played paparazzi, chasing after them snapping iPhone pics (the most experienced of players even brought Nikons). The winner might not be who you expected in a game like this. The winner was not the girl who appeared the least frequently in photos, but it was the one who made it seem in the low frequency of photos she appeared in that she looked important and self-confident, which almost translated into the teenage comic affectation of royal and fabulous.
We were all comfortable with each other, being goofy, joking around, and having fun. Blurting out anything. I can’t believe I didn’t think ahead and prevent myself from saying this. I knew the tragic story of her mother at this time, but it just snuck up on me and the whole thing was terrible timing.
But yes, I am ashamed to say in the heat of the moment, my sugar-filled hyperness overpowered my logical mind that overrode anything which would vaguely hurt June—easily my best friend out of the whole group—and I did, when she asked me who was picking us up to take us home (we lived in the same cul-de-sac), I said, in a joking manner, as many other children do with each other daily at this age (for harmless fun), with a raising voice and on the crescendo of a laugh, “Your mom is.”
It was maybe the seventh your mom joke said that night. I had heard it so much it just crept into my vocabulary. If you hear something enough, you are bound to repeat it. It was the first ever your mom joke directed toward June by anyone who knew her. And I knew I should be crucified for saying it.
Everyone said, “that’s not cool,” and “c’mon, Harry, you dumbass,” in the startlingly strange mixture of a serious tone with the whiny and high characteristics of a prepubescent voice, and then everyone looked away from me. All my friends got chilly and distant and went home in their rides—until it was just June and me, riding home. She left me there in silence, heading into her house across the street. While the others’ distance was temporary, she continued to ignore me for three months.
It haunted me. Having her be literally so close that I passed her house daily (she must have taken great caution to avoid me) and theoretically so far.
It was one thing when someone June didn’t know very well said a your mom joke—she could dismiss them for not knowing her situation and taking it as something that just happens (plus, can’t get truly mad at people you don’t love). But this time it was me saying it. Right to her face. All up in her ears. Absentminded and not thinking about the power of words. Even as slight and unintentional as those suckers may be.
Looking back on the night of the fundraiser, one of the things I think about is the difference in Perry. Though she was still trim, she used to look bulimic in high school. Now she looked like an ordinary person who will have a second donut on cheat day. The old Perry wouldn’t even have one. Her skin used to be splotched with red seemingly every day. Now it glowed. Not in like a cheesy way where I have nothing else to say about her so I’m saying she glowed—but I swore she was a bad writer’s warm white moon in a crisp low sky.
Which is why it was so weird that she went out of her way to drug me and then show up during our pool game. Thankfully June was with me and took care of me all night. I could see the young, redskinned, misunderstood Perry doing something like this. But this new Perry didn’t have any visible lust in her eyes. She was the most whole I had ever seen.
I remember that young, red skinned, misunderstood Perry. Like the evening I met her: She sat on the couch drinking soda between two tattooed teens smoking hookah. She eventually went out to get some fresh air, making it away from the second-hand smoke. I joined her, asking why she was even at this party; it didn’t seem like her type of dig. She said, funny enough, it was her apartment. Her roommate always had her friends over and it was nonstop chaos. She said she liked this though because she was able to sell her antidepressants and ADHD medicine in high enough demand to make money for rent and food. She just turned eighteen and moved here from a poor rural town down the backroads.
I hadn’t ever even kissed a girl. But I took her on dates riddled with kisses and couldn’t believe the luck I had of running into her. Almost hysterical, I was so lucky to be in her arms.
A couple months into my relationship with Perry, my first ever relationship, she started coming with me and my friends when we went to an action movie; then she came with us to a blizzardy football game in the northeast; and she was planning to come with us on all-boys trip abroad the summer of senior year. So because it was my first relationship, I thought that she liked spending time with me and I liked her for it.
Until one day, June, who was in most of my classes, texted me for school notes. (She started to miss a lot of school when her internship was underway.) Perry intercepted the message. She said she always suspected this and here it was: out in the open like an elephant in the field (clearly her analogy).
When I saw Perry next (weeks later, since she did not go to my school, or any school) she had been crying and was a mess, red skinned and detrimentally thin. She spoke in quick spurts. Her brown eyes were dark beads with no vision. She showed up in front of everyone in my uncle’s foyer. Everyone was just leaving for the night. The lampposts behind Perry were turned on and well into a night’s worth of shining by the time she caught my uncle’s family and closest friends just as he was telling them goodbye and Merry Christmas and to see them real soon after a warm quiet evening.
She said she was sorry I did this to her, but that I was what she deserved. She told me that she’d seen June text me before and always ignored it—even though I’m fairly sure June was always texting me about something in relation to our final senior classes. Perry said I looked through her, when she could barely see at all.
A month or so after this Perry broke into my uncle’s jewelry shop. Well, she entered by using a key-pad combination she learned from me. She was careful to take small, high-priced items so she wouldn’t have to carry anything larger than a backpack and make out with enough to validate stealing at all.
Heroic June was just heading home from tough after-school internship hours. Some enigmatic woman she worked for became a motherly figure in her life and got her a job after three quick years in college as well. I’ve never had the pleasure but heard she has an aura of mystique around her.
June, putting a pile of manila folders on top of her vehicle, spotted a redhead saucering down the boulevard in the upper district a block away. June figured Perry had no reason to be in this area; plus Perry was carrying a backpack downtown far enough from any campus to rouse suspicion; and finally Perry was walking at something above a casual pace and kept checking the corners and rooftops. June knew coincidence can be overruled with a group of three.
The way I met Perry way back in high school was a complete anomaly. I mentioned I was at an apartment party the night I met her, but I did not explain why my high school friends and I decided to go to a party, as we did not usually attend parties in an apartment of someone we didn’t know two hours earlier.
I guess it all started during a game of Friday flag football at recess in middle school, almost time to head back to class for the afternoon when we had one more play. My friend ran for the end zone with the ball. I tracked him down and knew I wouldn’t be able to grab his flag in time—all I could do was push him out of bounds and not allow him in the end zone. So I pushed him right before he crossed the goal line. I directed him to the metal fence. He ended up running straight into the pole of the fence and smacking it real hard with his head. Whack! Thud! He fell to the grass, pale and still.
He couldn’t look into the eyes of the people running to help him. There was mud he fell in. His khakis were soaked poo-dark and he was unsteady standing up, unable to cry, absolutely shocked the life had been smacked out of him.
Eddie eventually dropped out of high school due to his mental incapability. I was on the way to June’s for a study session when I found out this news. I remember I turned the car around and drove straight home and cried and turned my phone to silent.
It was a Friday so my friends were out and about and anxious. They showed up to my house and rang the doorbell like boomers and said to hear them out about this party they found. We were juniors and hadn’t been to one yet. The way they found this one was that they were in CVS using tip money to buy soda and candy when an attractive hippie girl came up to them. When she let one of our nerdier friends know she had access to a new study aid three times stronger than the last, she convinced them to come over. She turned out to be Perry’s roommate.
That was also the night I called Eddie and we all went over to his house and did the same thing to him that my friends had just done to me.
Maybe it was from the accident in middle school that made him think it was a good idea to climb through a vent on a routine delivery. What happened was before he entered the vent, his phone had showed that he was right outside of the apartment, which he was, but he was at the back side of the building (there was a service access door that he opened from the outside, and a set of stairs he walked up, and then only a large vent). It ran along the vaulted ceiling of the apartment.
Maybe this wasn’t the best idea of all time. Maybe Eddie was struggling with little things like this since middle school: Riding out the pathway of a vent thirty feet above a luxury apartment to save a few extra steps. Leaving the lights on at night. Putting the trash in the recycling. Taking the freeway to an unfamiliar town. Parking in an illegal spot. Waiting for the light to turn green to take a right. Answering the phone upside down and complaining about the signal. Eating 215-degree soup. Wondering why the end of a movie felt familiar. Realizing at the end of a movie that he had seen it before. Entering the wrong address on the GPS (something he had improved on once delivering for Dine and Dash). Crying after running over a squirrel. Eating pudding with a knife. Letting his cereal get soggy. Contaminating a wound. Breaking an electronic device. Getting bitten by a small dog. Thinking he had the state-wide winning lottery ticket when he actually had the three-figure county-wide 3rd place sweepstakes ticket. Getting the wrong color of a bath towel his girlfriend preferred and then having her break up with him over it. Stepping in dog dung. Signing up for a new mail service that includes tracking down lost mail but losing that registration paperwork in the mail.
Intending to dial a number from the 910-area code, but in an honest mistake pressing the call button prematurely after entering the third digit as a 1 instead of a 0. Being unable to kill a deer when hunting. Taking a by-foot shortcut across a frozen lake to a delivery spot. Skipping out on taking medication. Applying for a program to be a welder. Stepping on an ant hill. Driving off road. Sleeping alone. Renting a book from the library that turned out to be a children’s coloring book. Misplacing a renewal ID. Wiring the television poorly in the common space of the living room and having his closest friend knock all the plugs out of the sockets. Burning a chunk off his wrist in his first and last welding class. Cannonballing in the shallow end. Staring too long when handing smokeshows their food. Not flirting back when an average woman brushes fingers on the passing of a pen for signature. Following a pretty barista home on a whim. Leaving his phone in the car for the night in a sketchy downtown parking lot.
Freaking out thinking he’s lost a cat in a girl’s home, telling her that the cat is missing and how sorry he is, having her leave early from her in-law’s house and then using the hallway bathroom where the light purr of an all-white long-haired Polynesian cat curled up in the sink startles him. Using the wrong lane on a running track and colliding with a Division 1 athlete preparing for regionals. Crawling through the vent of a Ms. Powell and praying she won’t hear him and maybe get him arrested for trespassing or something ridiculous yet realistic in that a thing like this would happen to him.
Using the wrong parking pass when delivering to the routine apartment complex that has given out special parking passes to avoid the issue of tickets on delivery cars for the apartment complex since some new apartment complexes were so big they took the same amount of time to get into as an airport. Not hanging the proper parking pass to hang from his rearview mirror to assure him no penalty for parking in a specific area. Hanging the wrong one instead. Having the one he hung be the old parking pass that allowed delivery persons only fifteen minutes max to leave their car on the curb or in a restricted parking lot. Having the parking pass he meant to put up be these parking passes that are part of the new benefits of Dine and Dash Chef service, where a person would not just bring the food to your door but would actually come in and cook the food for you. Not taking part in the Chef service. Using the wrong parking pass and getting towed and going on a $300 cross-city debacle to get it back.
Sleeping for a full day after the boys claimed a light beer and cigarette would do wonders for the getting dumped problem, having dreams of two opponents running at each other on a large playing field. Trying with his everything to forgive his friend but just knowing he will always be the guy who took his life away. But then being thankful of the life he has and realizing it is partly that friend’s acceptance that gets him through each day.
As Eddie continued to crawl, someone walked directly underneath, so he had to stop. The end of the vent was so close.
“You’re marvelous, dear” a woman said. “Don’t pout.”
“I’m a timepiece’s reflection,” another voice said, this one younger, sounding like it could almost be the daughter.
As Eddie kept crawling quietly in the dark, the end of the vent came closer and closer until it was on his fingertips. When he opened up the vent cover he was careful. It mattered to him to be quiet and not make a loud bang. But when he unscrewed the last screw, the vent cover keeled straight back and fell toward the ground.
He was able to grab onto the smallest portion of it right before it crashed. It did skid up against the wall making a small thump like a car door and leaving a gray scrape mark on the white wall and a cut on his wrist (tiny spurts of blood got on the wall); but he managed to get his body out of the hole in the wall while putting the vent cover back on with little to no detectable noise ending this whole ghastly situation and just delivering the food for Pete’s sake. Once he was out, he was able to screw the vent cover back in tight enough. He was just on time—who knows?—maybe he would have surpassed his allotted parking time if he went all the way around on foot.
“Can we reverse and go in slo-mo?” I said. “There’s no way you saw her at the door?”
On my uncle’s doorstep Eddie was bleeding from the wrist.
“She wasn’t at the door—” Eddie said.
“See, there you go. It wasn’t her.”
Eddie spoke a little louder, “She was behind the woman who answered the door.”
“It was some woman—but as the door was shutting, between this woman’s torso and the door closing—”
“You were checking her out?” I said, handing him a band-aid.
“No, I saw June walk by inside the apartment.”
If what Eddie is saying is correct: June had found someone to confide in about our ‘break-up.’ Was this the woman whom she worked for? If so, it was Lacey Blankenship, executive manager of June’s worktime. June let it slip one night that the woman has other aliases she goes by as well at times—all within legal lengths of the law, but nonetheless, intriguing. Her companies are made up of mostly women and are run on some very effective neoliberal western traditions. But to say I could tell you about the half of it would be a lie.
So assuming that Eddie is in his right mind, then it makes sense it was her, venting to the motherly figure who stepped in. But to be honest I bet Eddie wasn’t in his right mind, since that didn’t sound at all like June.
“This was in the month of June?” I said.
“Yes, it so happens to be. But about thirty-five minutes ago I saw June Albright.”
“She’s going through a lot because of me,” I told him.
“It didn’t sound like something personal or romantic. I never saw you two that way.”
I threw down Eddie’s water glass and asked him why not. He tried to calm me down as I bolted to the garage. I grabbed my uncle’s Cartwheel chainsaw and ripped it out of the mess of other tools and boxes and strode across the driveway to the yard. I secured the little handle and yanked it back as hard as I could, firing up the blade and chain. I sailed by the ligustrums and potted plants to a big oak tree at the back of the yard. I wound back with the chainsaw revving. I cut through the bark of the tree and lost grip as it sawed through. The chainsaw went ricocheting over at the fence while the top of the large oak came down on top of me. I fell to the grass and rolled over while getting pricked by dozens of small tree limbs and hard leaves. I had nothing but pins in my back and grass in my mouth as the chainsaw still ripped and sputtered across the yard.
The following are all the details I know of what happened the night my parents had to go away to witness protection. This was when I was five.
All I know is that there was a woman my parents were therapeutically and secretly trying to help with some very heart-crushing issues involving a powerful (and criminal) boyfriend. One night in the building where they held their sessions, there was a candle to window shade incident in a room on the same floor by the stairs. My parents went on the first elevator down to safety while the woman claimed she had left something important in her purse concerning her daughter.
This powerful man blamed my parents for her death; he needed to retaliate somehow. So he sent all sorts of ghostly armed figures to visit my parents in parking lots and driveways multiple times a day before my parents decided—without the company of me, their child settling in with his peers in Kindergarten—it would be best to get authorities involved and leave the city.
I received a call from a government number. There was a trespasser caught with an over-the-counter bear-killing spray that has the ingredient dubbed Morbidine (highly-poisonous, known for being extracted from the bottle and used for contaminating water supplies) near the house and farm my parents live on under witness protection.
The trespasser was being held in the living room. She had on a bodysuit the same green as the fields outside on which her blonde hair fell. On the wooden table was a chipped brown enamel decorative mug with dense steam leaving from the brim.
A former alcoholic and divorced security guard on the last few months of his contract of employment saw this young woman in some sort of sinister crouch on the final rounds of his early-evening patrol. When he furtively went to take a picture of her making these kind of movements, his phone’s flash was on and lit up the shading forest, so, he claims, the malevolent young woman transformed into a cute, innocent single hiker doing the ridge.
The guard was livid and persuasive enough to convince a sketch artist to draw her exact movements and facial features when he saw her. When the sketch artist heard the guard’s proposal, he made it clear that what the guard wanted to have recreated was not just one facial expression, but an amalgamation of them. So this wouldn’t take days—it would take months; and the final product would be like a cartoon flipbook.
The interrogation was pointless. She was saying: “So in certain areas there’s these big black bears. They’re not evil creatures—what they are is hungry and scared. We waste so much food in the US that could potentially be going to these animals. But they will claw you in the heart so that they can eat—not just for themselves, but for their family. In a matter of life or death, we are advised to spray the bear with Fifty-Fifty. It immediately shuts down the nervous system of the bear and puts them into a lethal sleep. The mortality rate at 50% is lower than all of its less-successful competitor products. Hence the product name: Fifty-Fifty. Because we don’t want to kill the bears—we just want to get away from them. In a matter of fifty-fifty life or death, you’ve got to choose yourself. Go buy some now—if any of you or your relatives plan to do any hiking soon.”
She seemed about as intelligent as June, which was rare for me to find in someone.
“We heard whispers that this is a drug common for poisoning water supplies?” the interrogator pressed in a tone I once considered strict that I now considered formal.
“Of course. Instead of spraying a dangerous animal, the toxic liquid inside the bottle can also be used to contaminate water supplies, rivers, drinks, really any form of a controlled liquid,” she said. “Its street name is Morbidine. I wouldn’t carry something so dangerous if I didn’t know anything about it. To be clear, that is an illegal use of it and one I would never partake in. Since we can create these amazing products that can do so much, we have to place higher moral value in whom we sell these to. If they are in street clothes and don’t look like they can hack a day of sun or miles of trails, I doubt they are making a purchase for the right reason. The ingredient in Fifty-Fifty that kills was purposefully tested in an inmate’s water, from which he immediately became sick and died twenty-four hours later.”
“However, you did have the Morbidine in a non-issue spray bottle.”
“Sometimes in order to keep my pack light, I need to transfer the Fifty-Fifty into a small spray bottle for reasons of leftover waste as well. I have the purchased bottle and the receipt at home. I’ll be sure to provide them.”
“Your attire, what is the purpose of this jumpsuit?” another interrogator asked.
“It keeps me light and agile from spot to spot. See, there’s these log-cabins I can stop and rest at, with proper equipment to last me as many days as I choose before I arrive at the next spot. The hike I was doing today involved no gear, heavy meditation—”
“Imagine meditating and having a hungry bear come up and say, ‘ready for your last day on earth?’ I would beat the odds if I were you.”
“Why not a gun?”
“Those terrible things? I told you all the coordinates already and the name of the program. You should be confirming this now.”
She checked out with every search they did. A Powell Co. funded her events to this area with a premier hiking retreat up the mountains. The hiking retreat offers this exquisite service that let hikers board in different lodges nightly all along the beautiful hill lines.
In late December—so about six months after the fundraiser with June—Perry said she must meet me in the parking lot immediately because she was moving but had to give me something before she left.
It was a warmer, bright winter day. The sun was ridiculous outside—like it had serious work to do. Perry was getting out of her car when I arrived. Her hips were even fuller and waist skinnier and skin healthier. She walked with firm, sinuous steps and had on professional black pants and a partially buttoned white dress shirt, holding a familiar looking glass. She strutted in heels across the parking lot’s black top and stopped a car’s length away from me.
“You look good, Perry, I’ve been meaning to—” I said.
“Harry, I have something for you,” she interrupted.
She handed me a whiskey glass.
“It was silly, but I took it for memorabilia,” she said, lipstick on and hair blown out.
The whiskey glass looked familiar because it was just like the monogrammed ones everyone else got the night of the fundraiser.
In tiny writing my initials were on the base of the crystal glass.
She had purple lips, darker vixen hair, and amber Ray Ban shades on. She looked to not be taking cheat days anymore. When we dated she wouldn’t have a donut based on lack of appetite; back at the fundraiser she looked like she’d be down to have two, so careless and fun; but then in the parking lot she looked like the person who has the discipline to have none—not because she didn’t want one or would become out of shape from one, but because she was at the point in her life she could convince herself she would be slower the next day for it.
This whiskey glass with my initials in beautiful cursive once had the value to make Perry commit thievery; now it was so worthless I could smash it and she wouldn’t care.
“Why are you rushing out of town? Where are you going?” I said.
“My boyfriend and I both got jobs somewhere else.”
“That’s vague. Where exactly is it?”
“I can’t tell. I don’t want you to stalk me.”
“Ha ha. And his name is?”
“Yes. We’re leaving at—” She checked her thin stainless steel Bulova wristwatch. “A couple of minutes ago actually.” She let out a nervous laugh and walked back to her car. I followed close in tow.
She twisted in the driver’s seat, lips pressing, and soothingly running a hand through her blown out hair. She adjusted the frames on her nose and smiled to a woman putting groceries in a car next to us.
“Didn’t I recommend those sunglasses, Pear?”
“You may have,” she said. “I don’t think much about our time together anymore.”
“Perfect,” I said. “I never did.”
“It is perfect,” she said with enthusiasm. “Well, I’m going.”
She backed out and kept her eyes keenly ahead while driving out of the parking lot.
I drove over to the business district and parked by the curb, where I swiped my parking pass card on the new city meters and headed away from my uncle’s jewelry shop and over to where June once worked her internship.
Walking in through the door, tons of white light flooded in from the high boards. A maternal-looking woman sat still behind a desktop computer. Two younger women stood on either side of her.
I said I’d be back in a minute. I stepped outside and voice texted June. I told her: I’m sorry if I did something wrong. That’s not the real me.
I told her one more thing: Something just reminded me of you. I’d love to meet up. Do you remember your monogrammed glass from the fundraiser? Well, it turns out you left it there. So Perry returned it to me, thinking we were still together, and yeah, it’s been a couple months because I was scared to give it back to you since you won’t talk to me. But how about it?
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