SETH KABALA - JAIME
Alex Trebek: “‘The founders of a charitable chain of shops whose name merges religion and the military.’”
Jaime: “Who are William and Catherine Booth.”
Jaime Robinson knew the answer before any of the contestants. She could have been a contestant if she’d had the means to get to the tryouts. Her Social Security disability and puny pension from the Oscar Mayer plant paid hardly a pittance. She didn’t have enough to buy one bus ticket, let alone two, which is what she’d need to sit comfortably on the bus and avoid crushing her seatmate to death on the 2,000-mile trip from Davenport, IA to Culver City, CA. Lord knew it was a dream, like the checkout at the Hy-Vee ringing up her 10 pounds of weekly 65% ground beef at 50¢ per. She willed the numbers to change, but they stayed the same, fixed in their milky green pixel bars at $1.93. So her telekinesis skills were not on offer. So what? She could still pull random knowledge from every corner of her fat and sore-ridden body, and she’d win.
Alex Trebek: “‘Miles-wide water hazard in the Pacific Northwest, believed to have been created by a collapsed volcano.’”
Jaime: “What is Crater Lake.”
Misplaced confidence is an American virtue, but Jaime’s confidence was true. She’d watched Alex Trebek since episode one. She had consultative conversations with him during every commercial break. She picked up the corded phone and gave him her thoughts on the wittiness of his banter, the color choices of his wardrobe, and the precision of his mustache trim.
Alex Trebek: “‘Celebrating hard work by getting paid for loafing.’”
Jaime: “What is Labor Day.”
He answered back, too. Not in the sense that he spoke to Jaime on the other end of the line. (The only thing that spoke back was the empty void of a phone line long disconnected for non-payment.) Alex spoke back through his commentary and in the tone of voice with which he chose to speak a given answer or question. These clues conveyed Alex’s undying devotion and friendship to Jaime, perhaps even his love.
Woods, Jaime’s husband, sat silently in his tweed recliner, tobacco stains at each set of carpals, sweat and bodily fluid stains at the pubis and sacrum, pus stains at the cervical vertebrae, oil stains at the parietal. He was a lazy bag of bones who never did anything. Never talked to Jaime. Never complimented her cooking. Never did anything but stare at the tube through the ring of his soulless zygomatics, ethmoids, and lacrimals. Despite that, she still brought him food for every meal. Still adjusted his lazy bones when they got out of kilter and started to look like a crumpled marionette. She endured the silent treatment because she had an on-screen paramour: Alex. It was a long-distance relationship, but they’d been making it work for years.
Alex: “‘He brought the first face to follow the sound of the masked hero known as The Lone Ranger.’”
Jaime: “Who is Clayton Moore.”
RRREECH! RRREECH! RRREECH! from the sidewalk outside, the sound like two rusty steel shafts grinding against each other in protest and agony.
Jaime hefted her considerable bulk from her recliner (three times for sufficient momentum to overcome the divot her ass had created and then settled into like a nut in a shell, a task that took so long that by the time she’d managed it, Alex had brought the blue board back with doubled point values) and waddled to the front door. She pushed open the screen door and immediately identified the perpetrator: Simon Kane.
Simon had moved to West 13th Street last week with his family. The father was some sort of high-society, white-collar type. This was her deduction after seeing the senior Mr. Kane drive away in the morning, presumably to work, behind the wheel of a car less than 10 years old.
Not that she would have reserved her vitriol if the Kanes had been from her socioeconomic rung. Any person was in her crosshairs who dared to interrupt her Jeopardy! half-hour and her conversations with Alex.
“Stop that racket!” Jaime yelled. “I’m trying to watch Double Jeopardy!!”
Simon continued bouncing and RRREECH-ing like a child ignoring a parent’s impassioned plea to wear a bike helmet. The receptors were open, but the logic gates were closed to the transmission and storage of new information.
She glanced backward to check on Jeopardy!. Commercial break. She was good for two minutes of youthful instruction. Jaime repeated her scolding word-for-word, matching tone (withering) and volume (cheer-worthy). No response. Simon continued bouncing. She set her eyes on his, but his held no recognition until Jaime crossed her threshold and started toward him.
Simon’s eyes widened and narrowed, slammed left and right, the tell-tale signs of a child caught in the accusing gaze of an adult, at the end of which a scolding was coming. Despite being 73-years-old and registering 283lbs on the scale that morning, Jaime moved with the dexterity of a ninja, surprising herself.
Alex: “‘Velocity, acceleration, and time work together to form this body of mathematical displacement equations.’”
Jaime: “What are the equations of motion.” Science was in her correction, she thought. She would be Simon’s teacher.
Jaime bushwhacked her way through the resistance of tall grass that had gone to seed, through thistles as tall as her that looked close to sentience and the goal of rolling back time to an age where thistles roamed the planet and severed the root systems of other plants while substituting the thorns and sucking transpiration of their own. From up on her five-steps-high stoop, she’d seen Simon clearly, but down here in the jungle of her front yard, she saw only the wild growth that constrained her progress. But she fought on.
Her front yard sloped downward gradually from the porch stoop to a walk to a lower cement staircase. Prairie grass sentries extended their blades in crisscrossing diagonals from either side of the walk and staircase, barricading forward progress. At the staircase, the yard’s angle sharply increased to close to 90 degrees before flattening into an arc that traveled 10’ down to the public sidewalk, terminating at a final bushy approach of 45 degrees.
The shape of the yard’s drop-off resembled the capital letter C, but not a standard and boring Arial font at size 12. This C was elongated as though penetrated with meatpacking plant hooks at its top and lag bolts at its base, the hooks and bolts set into chain-driven production line tracks, each end diverging in opposite altitudinal directions with every chain link of forward progress. To put it plainly, it was a nasty angle, unsuitable for hiking down. But what about rolling?
RRREECH! RRREECH! RRREECH!
Simon’s racket wasn’t going away; Jaime’s trudging was failing to advance her quickly; so she tried a new tactic. She backed up a few steps and then plowed forward, pumping her arms and legs, looking like she was waving flags attached to her upper and lower extremities, her flabby slabs rustling and rippling, gained momentum on the ground on which she had formerly trampled, dropped, tucked her head to her chest, braced the top of her head with her palms, clamped her forearms against her temples, shot her legs straight, and rolled over the unmolested prairie of her remaining front yard before the crest of the elongated C.
She passed the crest. Free from the prairie’s strangling effects, her house dress opened in the wind like an umbrella, spinning the confetti pattern into a bell of vomit and yellowed yard waste. Jaime’s bulk returned to its agreement to obey gravity. Her house dress collapsed as her rotating body plowed into the overgrowth of the C, coiling and cinching around her body like butcher paper wrapping a roast, her momentum and mass solving and demonstrating the equations of motion and flattening the futile resistance of the diagonally and horizontally angled overgrowth, which failed to decelerate her.
Simon Kane accomplished what the overgrowth could not. Jaime exited the base of the C as Simon was descending to the sidewalk on his pogo stick. He’d gotten squirrelly on his last jump, so his approach vector was returning him to the sidewalk at a diagonal instead of straight up and down. His momentum moving toward the drop-off at the end of Jaime’s yard matched the symmetry with which Jaime was tumbling down the C, and as Jaime exited the C and Simon came down on his squirrelly vector, they collided. Jaime stopped in the middle of the sidewalk. Simon flipped like a carnie mounted onto a knife-throwing wheel and landed in the middle of the C.
Jaime wriggled loose from the butcher paper constriction of her house dress, returning it to a lumpy flow over her ham shank of a body, shook overgrowth detritus out of her hair, brushed it off of her house dress, picked pieces off of her skin, and tweezed them from within her flaps. She stood without difficulty, thanked her bulk for its cushioning protection, and started toward Simon.
The lesson began with Jaime seizing the pedal mounts with both hands. Simon was on his back, but because of the angle of the C, he appeared to be reclining, one hand on the pogo stick’s handlebars, the other wiping prairie dust, pollen, and sweat from his forehead, eyes blinking presto and looking around but not appearing to see. His chest was heaving.
“I’ll take this,” Jaime said, pulling hard on the pedal mounts, or at least, she thought she was pulling hard. She hadn’t expected the almost immediate resistance that Simon gave.
“What?” Simon said. “No. Stop. You can’t. I wasn’t doing anything wrong. I wasn’t doing anything wrong!” Simon shrieked the repeated sentence.
“Nothing wrong?” Jaime said. “You mean nothing right.” They tussled for control of the pogo stick.
“You’re crazy, lady. Let go, or I’ll tell my dad.”
“I’m crazy? I’m a little old lady trying to watch Double Jeopardy! with her husband and her boyfriend. Your noise-maker here is making that impossible. I just want quiet. I want you, young man, to respect my property rights and my rights under the neighborhood governance ordinances controlling behavior in this city. If I have to confiscate your toy to do so, so be it.”
“It’s mine. I paid for it with my own money. From my paper route. Stop! You can’t have it. You can’t!” Simon’s voice was ascending in pitch and descending into hysteria.
Simon was eight or nine-years-old, Jaime guessed. He appeared not to have heard or understood anything Jaime had said. She could deal with the high and mighty Mr. Kane, if it came to that, but right now, the priority was separating Simon from the pogo stick so that she could watch the remainder of Jeopardy! in peace.
“Enough,” Jaime said. “I’m taking this. If you want it back, tell your dad to come see me.”
Simon was out of words, but he still had tears and grip strength. He stood and anchored his red canvas Converse’s on the sidewalk, angling his body away from Jaime. Jaime guessed she outweighed Simon three or four-to-one, but he had better grip strength. She watched his knuckles whiten as he further contracted his grip.
Jaime felt fright infect her resolve as she watched Simon’s pug face scrunch in determination. She, too, doubled down on her grip of the pedal mounts, but she could feel it slipping from her fingers.
Since bulk had gotten her down here, she thought, bulk would have to win this tug fest. She wrapped a flap-enclosed elbow around her handle and began moving in a circle as though she were trying to whirl a merry-go-round. Simon’s expression remained set for the first couple of rotations. Then she saw it crack as centrifugal force worked to her advantage.
On the seventh rotation, Simon lost his grip and went sprawling down the sidewalk. Jaime noted this win and felt glee for another half-rotation. Then she realized she couldn’t keep a hold of the pogo stick. She hadn’t been prepared for the increase in force that had accompanied Simon’s release. She completed the seventh rotation and continued her pirouetting solo, looking like a top losing the integrity of its spin and about to topple, and the pogo stick escaped her grasp, flew upward, and crashed through her living room window.
Jaime stared up at the remnants of her window. The pogo stick had passed through cleanly, leaving behind shards that were clinging to the wooden frame like teeth that had met the fist of a bully and refused to back down. Jaime’s expression might have been described as pensive, stunned, or confused, but it was actually calculation coupled with the abandonment of lucidity.
From her side-eye, she saw Simon stand, mouth open, panning his gaze back and forth from her to the window like a mouse looking at the cat across the room and the cheese in the middle of the room, trying to decide if one could be separated from the other or if the best course of action was to retreat. He chose the latter, backing away slowly, a chortle escaping his lips every few seconds, as though he wanted to say something but had decided the chaotic hilarity of the situation was sufficient.
About ten feet away, he spun on his heels, recovered his speech, and said, “You did it! You! You, you, you, you, you!” He bounded up his own front steps and porch and, echoed off of the exposed wood of his tall and wide covered porch, he called, “Da-ad,” his tone reminiscent of carnival music that couldn’t maintain steady RPMs. His voice portended report and discovery and investigation and accusation, and Jaime could stop none of it, but she could be on her own floorboards when the inquisition in the form of Chuck Kane arrived at her door.
Jaime started toward her stairs that, somewhere, were set into the C-shaped drop-off, but she could find neither visible stair tread nor purchase up the C. What comes down the C, stays down because that’s how gravity, and severe neglect of lawn maintenance, work, so she turned, went around the block, and entered her property through the alley.
God bless poisonous buckeyes, she thought as she walked through her backyard. In places, her yard looked like the rainforest, like murderous savages could have used the thick, tall grass as cover for stalking their prey, one Jaime of the tribe Fatslabians, especially prized for their lard that would crisp up Amazonian bacon to perfection. Other sections, however, were down to the dirt, unrecognizable as such because of the antifreeze green mold the moldering buckeye enzymes had spawned, but dirt nonetheless and suitable for passage without impediment.
Jaime charted a course over the mold, banked away from the salivating savages--No Jaime fat slab for you, she thought--and entered her back door.
Due to the sudden appearance on her calendar of The Spinning of the Pogo, Jaime had missed the remainder of Double Jeopardy!, which she realized as she entered the TV room and caught a nanosecond image of Alex and the contestants and the wall of blue screens before it faded to commercial. She rumbled a groan through clenched teeth, wondering how many answers she could have questioned. She squeezed her eyes and fists and scrunched her nose and pulled the skin on her face into waves, trying to remember the categories. They were there, resting on the afterimage of the wall of screens, but it was as though they had become a chalk drawing diluted with the errant spray of a yard sprinkler--still there, but only a hollowed husk of themselves, incapable of signaling that they’d once possessed the power of impression.
“The heck with you then,” Jaime said and slapped her forehead, punishing non-existent memories. Then, remembering why she’d gone around the block and through the backyard (the first time she’d done that in years), she turned to look for the pogo stick.
Maybe she could hide it and claim that Simon had vandalized her window with a rock. Maybe he was a trainer of vengeful pigeons who’d proven more than Simon could handle and had used her window to admire themselves but, being dumbass pigeons, they’d forgotten to slow down first. Crash. Shatter. Shards. The narcissistic pigeons had flown from the scene of the crime, were in the wind, and their handler, the pugnacious imp of a boy Simon, would have to answer for his negligence.
Jaime had almost finished spooling the thread for this fabulous story when she saw the pogo stick. Its base was sticking into Woods’ left zygomatic-ethmoid-lacrimal.
Incredible, Jaime thought. I am married to the most unappreciative man alive. Not even taking a pogo stick to the eye can rouse him from his meditative state. That is true Zen.
Jaime wondered if her anger toward Woods these past two years had been misplaced. He’d begun, she recalled, his Zen quest just before she and Alex had established their telekinetic connection. Wasn’t one of the categories at that time Zen Mondays? Yes, it was. Woods had remarked on it. Something about needing to be still and suffuse the silence with his solemn spirit. Actually, he’d said, “I’m tired and need to sit my ass down,” Woods having been a direct communicator, only obtusely poetic in Jaime’s memory.
“All that time you’ve been seeking your Zen Monday,” she said to Woods, “and I’ve been judging you, been having an affair of the heart and the eyes right in front of you. But you never wavered. Not when Alex brought on those super-brained people who thought they could question the answers before Alex had read anything. Pompous jerks.” She moved closer to Woods and placed her hands on the legs of his dusty overalls that collapsed over his femurs, just above his patellas. “Not when I threatened to leave you and made all those calls to the contestant casting line.”
She moved up, to the left, and spoke into his right external acoustic meatus. “I’ll tell you a secret,” she whispered. “Those were fake calls. I wasn’t talking to anybody. The phone line was dead. But you didn’t know that. How could you? You’ve sat in that chair for two years and practiced your Zen Mondays every day.” Her voice rose with soggy intensity, her tears glazing every syllable. “Every. Day. No complaints. You took all the abuse, all the flaunting that Alex and I did, and you absorbed that negativity and built this: a man impervious to pain!”
Jaime applied enough air pressure on the plosives to propel dust from Woods’ right external acoustic meatus, beyond the temporal and sphenoid wall, under the dome of his parietal and frontal, and out the left external acoustic meatus. The dust puff was gray and looked like someone had blown into a can of fish food flakes.
Alex was back to announce Final Jeopardy!.
“Let’s play together,” Jaime said, plopping her bulk onto Woods’ wings of ilium, with even distribution across the surface area from the iliac crests to the iliopubic eminences. Woods’ overalls had been tented across his femurs, had risen to a snubbed peak where the flared base of his femurs met his patellas, and had waterfalled from there down to his fibula bulbs and taluses and naviculars and intermediate cuneiforms, the lower fabric of the overalls resembling a stage curtain with only a single steel street signpost to hide.
When Jaime’s nearly 300lbs hit him, Woods’ tibias and fibulas hinged up like a cannon had been fired from beneath the recliner, and the result was the same. Woods’ tibias and fibulas, and assorted Scrabble tile bag of fragments attached below, detached at the patellas, flew up to the ceiling, leaving behind their denim sleeves, ricocheted down, and clattered to rumpled heaps to either side of the TV.
Alex: “For today, our Final Jeopardy! category is
“You should be a natural at this, Woodsy Bear,” Jaime said, snuggling a saddle bag cheek just below Woods’ coronal suture, canting her head away to avoid bonking it on the red shaft of the pogo stick. “You needed my help to release your reflexes, to really throw yourself into this game, but I think you’re a natural.”
“And the answer is: ‘The doctor who performed the first successful human bone marrow transplant, and the year in which the procedure was performed.’”
Jaime drew back and looked at Woods. A fresh corpse beaten that way with a piano leg would have been a visage compared to the desiccated remains of Woods. His skull was puke shades of brown and yellow and bile black, a hunting prize a shooter had abandoned in mid-field dress and left to rot and dry.
“You know this one, Woodsy Bear. You know it,” Jaime said. He didn’t respond. The Final Jeopardy! theme reached its second variation. “Maybe you can’t see as well with that noise-maker in your eye.” She grabbed the center of the central tube with both hands. “Let’s restore your sight.”
Two measures remained.
Jackhammer knocking at her door.
Jaime scrunched her face, squeezed the tube.
Ascending major fourth timpani hits.
Jaime pulled like a lumberjack pulling on a 16-foot blade felling a Sequoia.
Alex: “Let’s take a look at our questions. Mr. Kenneth Alesina. You said,
Jaime pushed like she was single-handedly (well, to be accurate, double-handedly) holding up a quavering brick wall that threatened to topple onto kindergartners at recess.
‘Who is Dr. Emmett Brown, 1985.’ I’m sorry. That’s incorrect. Close, but the wrong branch of science. We want real science, not science fiction.”
Louder shouting at the door.
Kicking at the door.
Jaime pulled. Even though it was too late--Alex had already read the winning question--Jaime knew if she could get Woods closer to the screen, the faithful program viewer clause would kick in, and if Woods knew the answer (he’d been an Army field medic, so he ought to know), and if all the contestants answered incorrectly, the clause would create a bank transfer from the show’s financial institution to Jaime and Woods’ account at the federal credit union. She knew this as surely as she knew that Woods’ reduction to bones marked not death, but transcendence. It took two years of silence, two years of uneaten meals, two years of disincorporation for Woods to transcend his body and reach full maturity as a Jeopardy! aficionado.
Jaime pushed and pulled and pushed and pulled and pushed and pulled.
No resistance, she thought. That’s a good Woodsy Bear. Stay relaxed. I’ll have you at that screen any second now.
Alex: “Ms. Angela Hogan. You said, ‘A.’ Also incorrect. A single letter? You do realize this isn’t Wheel of Fortune? Even on that show, you can’t just say, ‘A.’ What the what?!”
Louder kicking. Rabid animals stampeding. Snarled, curse-laced threats and promises of retribution. Frame splitting. Wingtips breaching the door. Trespassers almost past the keep.
Jaime pushed and pulled and--pop. She lunged toward the screen with her husband on a skewer. “Say it, Woodsy.” He did: Robert Good, 1968. She spoke the question aloud to Alex.
Alex: “Mr. Stanley Fan. You said, ‘Dr. Doolittle, 1967.’ Also incorrect. I guess our audition screeners have decided they have job security, so fuck everything.”
Jaime didn’t care for Alex's choice of language, but he was about to announce their prize, so she forbore.
Alex: “You also wagered everything. Un-fucking-believable. Does the word dumbass appear in your mind? In any of your minds? Here’s a hint: it’s the question and the answer for all of you.”
Keep breached. Intruders over the threshold. Verbal projectiles leading the advance attack. Balled fists and huffing nostrils trailing in the second charge.
Alex: “This has never happened before, but the dumbassery of our contestants means that all the money you mush-brains had earned now goes directly to Jaime and Woods Robinson. Congratulations, Jaime and Woods.”
“Good Lord fucking Jesus,” Chuck Kane said, entering the TV room, drawing back, a disgusted look on his face as his eyes registered the leftovers of two years of Woods in his chair. Chuck’s entire body, cringing in revulsion at the look of the place, the smell of the place, was reflected in a blank TV screen. “The devil is in this place! The devil is YOU!” He sounded like a Baptist revival preacher who was trying hard to maintain the sonorous qualities of his vocal delivery while hiding that he’d shit himself.
Jaime turned to Chuck, noted Simon’s presence as a head poking around the entranceway corner just this side of the splintered door frame, the strike plate side turned from an I into a V. She advanced on Chuck, brandished her husband-topped voodoo cane, and said, “Winners!”