A first date at a gun show didn’t seem normal to Beth. But she was determined to have a date for her sister’s wedding and with only 49 days to go, she didn’t have time to fuck around with her liberal, or as her co-workers’ called them, “snowflake” assumptions making her judgy. Just because Jason wanted to meet a gun show didn’t make him a bigot. But she did have to keep in mind that it definitely helped tip the scales in that direction. Not because his interest in guns, non-racist white people (do those exist?) and people of color also enjoy guns, that alone was just an interest that signaled a propensity to aggressive and controlling behavior. But that intense interest to have a first date at a gun show combined with the confederate flag decal on his truck and one or two of the jokes he told at the bar the other night did, together, scream intolerance. They met at the bar near her work and he asked her out and he had a job so she said sure, why not. Again, she was under a deadline. It was her younger sister getting married. She can’t be unmarried and also not have a date. She was almost 29.
Beth wore a lightweight and pale yellow dress. Not too tight fighting, but tight fitting enough. Tight around her chest and free-flowing and flouncy at the skirt. It was perfect for a springtime gun show. She didn’t notice the bullet hitting her in the chest at first. Beth and everyone else in the hall heard the bang and she noticed her pale yellow dress had a red stain spreading over her chest. She noticed the old man who had accidentally shot the pistol, (it was later ruled an accident, one was in the chamber, safety wasn’t on, something fucking happened that someone should have fucking double checked! It’s a gun. Show! Everyone there knows about guns!) staring at her, pale as a ghost. Jason looked at her in horror and before she felt the crushing, stabbing pain of the gunshot wound, she was mortified. He just watched her get shot on a first date. Who gets shot on a first date? So embarrassing.
As Beth was wheeled off to the ambulance, Jason didn’t hold her hand all the way. It was a first date after all. Maybe that was too much commitment. As the doors to the ambulance closed, Beth wondered how this could have been prevented. Maybe she should have trusted her instincts and possible check her priorities. But now the wedding was 48 days away and she had a gunshot wound. She was totally going alone.
This damn dog always thinks something’s wrong with him, the mean lady thought. She had woken up that morning to incessant whining on the other side of the bed. Knowing it wasn’t another human being, because she was dead inside, the mean lady rolled over and saw big brown eyes, watery with pain. “Goddamn, Grover.”
To be fair, Grover’s hypochondria was usually substantiated with actual physical symptoms, further solidifying the mean lady’s meanness. That’s what the vet kept telling her, this ailment and that disease, blah blah blah. Fuck that guy. He just wanted to make money and Grover was his favorite. You could just tell. Grover practically tackled the vet with kisses. He knew better than to do that with her. “Goddamn vet.”
She stood in the corner of the vet’s office as goddamn Grover slobbered love all over the goddamn vet. She was miserably hung over. After being stood up for the latest time last night, she got hammered at the bar. Then she got more hammered at home. She was always stood up. One time it happened on a camping trip – that was the best one, she thought. Who gets stood up on a camping trip? “Goddamn camping.”
She blamed her best gay friend – so much so, he ended the trip early. The last time she saw him, the afternoon they packed up the camp site, he gave her some advice. As he stuffed sleeping bags and supplies angrily and hurriedly into his Subaru, her gay friend told her, “You’re the suitcase that goes around and around the carousel. The owners’ plan on getting the suitcase, but at some point in their trip, they realize it’s full of useless crap. Crap that’s going to weigh them down and they don’t need it. They thought they needed it, but they really don’t. You’re the unclaimed baggage. Change yourself.”
She pulled her sweater tighter and sniffled.
After the plant explosion, Matt took off. He didn’t stop to try and explain. He just ran. Ran as fast as he could. Ducking under tree branches and leaping over logs like he was in an action movie. After awhile, he had to stop. He was out of breath. If he was really in an action movie, he wouldn’t have run out of breath.
Matt leaned on his thighs, palms sweaty, everything was sweaty, including his sweaty muddy work khakis. Whip marks from tree branches covered his arms, marring his sleeve tattoo of the phases of the moon. He rubbed the wounds, like they were marks he could wipe away.
“Fuck,” he said. “Better not scar.”
Matt stood straight up and looked around. He could see the smoke from plant – still behind him, but now slightly to the left. Apparently, he hadn’t run in a straight line, like he thought he had. He walked through the dark woods. It was fucking hot out. Indian summers can suck my dick, he thought. He lifted the bottom hem of his tattered work shirt to his brow. “No go, my man,” he mumbled. Too fat. His white belly flesh hung over his belt. He took his sleeve, stretched it to his brow and wiped the sweat off of his brow.
What now? What the fuck do I do now, he thought. I can’t go back. I go back, I’ll probably go to jail. And then Matt’s self pity was interrupted by a sudden and very large rustling. Just ahead of him, bushes swayed and it felt like the ground shook.
“Oh, Jesus!” Matt yelled. A fucking bear, probably! In his panic, Matt didn’t run. In fact, he didn’t even move. Matt’s survival skills went from flight, skipped fight and landed on frozen. He curled into a ball, tucked his arms over his head and cowered.
As Matt braced himself to be eaten, the beast emerged. His white coat, covered in blood, was tattered from running in the woods. He held a pair of tongs in one hand and a terrified expression in another. His fingers curled around his face in terror. His checkered chef pants were torn and bloodied at the knee, as though he had fallen.
The cook ran the rest of the way into the clearing. He jumped when he saw Matt. Matt stopped cowering and looked at the cook. His hands fell away from his head and fell to his side, palms back.
The cook, who had raised his tongs in self-defense, lowered them when he saw Matt. His hands fell to the side, palms to the side.
“Hey,” said Matt.
“Hey,” said the cook.
The two suburban refugees stared at one another awkwardly.
“Let’s go!” he yells from the car. But she’s not done yet.
Nervously,she fiddles with the items on the counter. Toaster parallel to blender. Coffee maker at a right angle to the light switch. She clicks the light switch off and on – eighteen times. “One, two, three..” The car horn honks. She panics more. She’s been hiding her OCD ever since they’ve known each other. Two years of dating, eight months of living together and now one full year of living together as a married couple. He didn’t know she was crazy; he just thought she was quirky and fantastically tidy.
“We’re going to be late to this damn thing!” comes the bellow. The more he yells, the more nervous she becomes, the more urgently she needs to express her OCD symptoms.
“I’m coming!” she yells back. She flings open the pantry door and begins alphabetizing the cereal boxes. Her face crumples with emotion. “Cap’n Crunch Berry, Cap’n Crunch Peanut Butter, Cheerios, Cinnamon Toast Crunch….dammit!” Hoooonnnkkkkk! This isn’t how you’re supposed to spend your first wedding anniversary, she thinks, as the tears flow. In disgust, she throws a box of Dark Chocolate Granola cereal onto the floor. She was late to the altar on her wedding day because she had to touch each rose in her bouquet 18 times. There were nearly three dozen roses in her bouquet.
Wiping the tears away with her blouse, she closes the pantry door. She picks up her purse and takes a deep breath. You can do this, she tells herself. Just stop. You can stop. So stop. Hooonnkkkk hooooonnkkk! She bursts into tears again. She drops her purse and climbs onto a barstool that sits next to the kitchen island. Balancing precariously, she reaches up and spins the ceiling fan blades. “One, two,-“
The garage door opens and he steps into the room.
“We’re so late-,” he stops, obviously surprised, and looks up at his wife. Standing on her right leg, on a swivel stool, she balances her weight with her left index finger gripping a ceiling fan blade as her left leg and right arm stick out to provide the last bit of much needed balance. Her abs tighten in response to the awkward posture. And all these years he thought she kept in shape with yoga.
She looks down at his confused, and concerned, upturned face. Their eyes meet. She spins the blade.
“Three, four, five….”
Her Mother’s Necklace
Tiffany shifts in the chair. She smooths her black jersey skirt over her crossed knees – delicately, in her fastidious fashion. She folds her thin hands over her knee. She looks at her watch. That probate lawyer is taking a little long. The reading was to take place at one o’clock, not five after one. Some people. Of course Mother chose a slovenly lawyer. That was her style. Slovenly. Slow. Sloppy. Chaotic. That apple fell far from the tree. Tiffany moved out of their small house in the outskirts of Pennsylvania as soon as she was 18. Changed her name from Tiffany Lee to just plain Tiffany. She fashioned herself after Audrey Hepburn in Breakfast at Tiffany’s. It’s suitable. And not because her name is in the title. Tiffany is a woman of substance and style. Mother disagreed. And God, she hated being called Mother. But Tiffany was damned if she was going to call her Mama. She always brought up that movie. “Do you even know what that movie is about? She’s not a lady of substance! She was a gold-digging whore! And more power to her. I tell you what, you want to be like Hepburn in that movie? Get yourself an orange cat. That movie was a love story between a whore and a cat. It was beauty-ful.”
So uncultured. For God’s sake, her favorite pet, of the dozens of animals she had on that farm, was a pot-bellied pig named Ernest. “He looks it, you know? Ernest.” At the beginning of her battle with cancer, she had sold off the farm, made a lot of money off it, surprisingly, but still kept Ernest. Took that creature to the hospice. And everyone, staff and patients, loved Mother and Ernest the pig. Tiffany shrugs to herself, slightly uncomfortable. No problem. Ernest is loveable. So Ernest will sell at a nice price. That’s all. To a nice family or butcher, either way.
The door opens and the slovenly probate lawyer enters. Tie askew, glasses visibly smudged. And pleated pants. Jesus. How these people live.
“Hello, you must be Tiffany.” They shake hands. His palm is sweaty. Of course.
“Hello, yes, I’m Tiffany.”
“Well, Tiffany, I’m sorry about your mom’s passing.”
“Oh, you know, these things happen. She was old.”
“Yes, but still a shame. This won’t take long. She left everything to the pig.”
“Ha!” Tiffany laughs. She looks up, smiling. The lawyer isn’t smiling. Hands folded, he stares at her. With a slight air of contempt. He and Mother must have been friends. She must have told him stories.
“What? The pig? How is that even legal? It’s a pig!”
“Yup, it’s legal. Everything to the pig. Usually, it’s old ladies giving to cats, but in this case, a pig. She was uncanny, your mom. She did, however, ask that you receive this necklace.” He hands her a locket on a chain. With shaking hands, Tiffany takes it.
“Yup. That’s it. Oh, I need you sign a few documents, but that’s basically it.”
“Well, can I adopt the pig?”
“No, she requested you not inherit the pig, either. A hospice nurse has him, I believe. Are you okay?
“No…no. I could use some water.”
“Okay. You sit there, I’ll get you water and a few minutes to yourself. I’m sure this is a shock.”
The lawyer exits. Tears well in Tiffany’s eyes. After a moment, she releases a hopeless cry as the tears well over. The chain bites into her palm as she squeezes it in anger. With shaking hands, Tiffany opens the locket. Inside, there is a photo of an orange cat.