ÂŠ 2008 by M. Thomas Cooper All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording, or by any information storage and retrieval system, without permission in writing from the publisher. Cover photo by Gary Cowles Ooligan Press Department of English Portland State University P.O. Box 751 Portland, OR 97207-0751 www.ooliganpress.pdx.edu ISBN: 978-1-932010-24-4 Printed in the United States of America by United Graphics, Inc. Ooligan Press wishes to acknowledge and thank Tin House Books for their sponsorship of this book. For information on Tin House Books, visit them at www.tinhouse.com.
The First Incident:
Saturday, March 20, 2004
“Destiny?” I ask my daughter quizzically. Not because I wasn’t familiar with the concept. I was; I was simply curious why an eight-year-old would be asking, particularly at the end of a frozen food aisle in a Portland, Oregon, Costco. “Yes,” Mirabella says, nodding her dark tresses, “destiny.” “Why?” I ask suspiciously, sure she’s got some wicked eight-year-old subterfuge hidden behind her mother’s brilliant brown eyes. “Because Momma said you and she were destined to be together. So, it’s destiny to be here.” She, I think, means “born” and not “at the end of a frozen food aisle in a Portland, Oregon, Costco.” “Oh, I see.” I glance down the crowded aisle to where a woman dressed in running shoes, black sweat pants and top, dark hair pulled through a baseball cap, searches for salmon fillets. Francesca, my wife, Mirabella’s mother, turns her dark eyes toward us and smiles. She gives a thumbs-up and dives between two carts to grip the silver handle of a freezer door. Quickly she opens it, withdraws two packages of salmon fillets, and ducks back into the chaotic flow of seething shoppers. I watch her gradually make her way toward us. “Papa?”
“Destiny, Mirabella, is....” Already my explanation tastes sour and stale. I’m sure it has everything to do with my clandestine meeting that morning with X----n.
“Honey, I’m heading off to work for an hour or two,” I hollered, almost through the door of our museum-immaculate home. “Going to try and get caught up on the shareholders’ brochure. Okay?” I work in the Black Box, a building downtown at the corner of Third and Market. The insurance company I work for is on the seventeenth floor. We cover everything, from homeowners to life to health to travel to pets. We like to say, “God won’t, but we will.” An inside joke about assurances in life—the only two supposedly being death and taxes. My company will insure anything between those two, between death and taxes. I run the publications department for the entire company, nationwide. The overseas branches take care of their own materials. Too much can be lost in translation, particularly between British and English, or, as they say, “Americane.” That’s another stupid little joke we have. Anyway, I had my car key in hand and Francesca was de-hairing the couch with one of those hair-removal–roller-things. “Honey? Okay?” “Okay,” she said from the living room, running the roller over and over the couch. She peeled a hair-covered strip off. “But you can be back by one to watch Mirabella? ¿Sí? The ladies, we are going for a little run. Okay?” “Sure. Oh, are we still going to Costco?” “Later. After the run.” “Right. I’ll be back by one.” And I left. And instead of going to work, instead of working on the preliminary proofs for the shareholders’ brochure, I went to X----n’s loft. “Papa?” Mirabella tugs my sleeve and pulls me back into the present. “Oh, right. Sorry.” I notice that Francesca, halfway through her migration, has scooped up four packets of frozen fish sticks. “Destiny is the idea, the concept, that certain things— actually most things—are preordained.” “Papa?” “What?” “Smaller words. Remember?” “What?”
“Pre—or...or—” “Preordained, it’s a synonym for destiny.” Mirabella scrunches her brow accusingly at me. “Sorry, sweetie. Preordained means basically the same thing as destiny.” “Oh. But what’s that mean?” Breathless, Francesca arrives and unceremoniously drops the salmon fillets and fish sticks atop the miscellany crowding the cart. “Your daughter has a question for you,” I say in an attempt to extricate myself from between the bull’s horns. “Does she?” Mirabella nods and smiles. “Well?” Francesca asks. I push and follow, while Francesca, explaining destiny, gathers and places items in the cart. As she does so, I attempt to ignore the glare of the ruddy captain on the packets of fish sticks. Francesca, I must admit, does an admirable job with her explanation, even though her statement, “Destiny is Life’s way of giving hope,” leaves me perplexed. I’d like to ask for clarification, but the captain’s stare bores into me. It’s as if he knows (all four of him) of my morning’s indiscretion. “George?!” I look up. Francesca is ten feet away, hovering on the edge of the wine and bakery section. Mirabella holds a bag of spinach that’s as big as she is. “What are you doing?” I push the cart to them. Mirabella muscles the bag of spinach into the cart. “Maybe you should go get some wine?” Francesca knows my predilection for the grape, which she occasionally guides me toward as a general panacea. I shake my head. I’d much prefer stabbing the captains blind. “I’ll wait for you out front.” “George?” I stop and turn. People mill about. A chubby, elderly man carrying a giant picture book of World War II walks between us. “Are you alright?” It’s as if I’m in the café scene from one of Francesca’s favorite movies, Abre los Ojos. Everyone is looking, staring, peering at me. Knowing something I don’t, but should. “George? Are you alright?” “Yes. Yes, I think so.” It’s just one more lie. I think—hope— this one will matter less than the others. I give Francesca a quick kiss on the cheek as she takes over the controls and makes a beeline for soups and pastas.
As I head for the exit I overhear Mirabella say, “Papa needs a unicorn.” I, unfortunately, don’t hear Francesca’s reply, though I do know exactly what Mirabella means. I contemplate sitting in the car and listening to the radio, letting the car’s dull warmth, like an Easy-Bake Oven, slowly cook me clean. Or maybe I’ll read a few pages from Francesca’s traffic book. She always has some trite pulp book under her seat in case she’s caught in traffic or has to wait for Mirabella at school. I believe her current selection is Ghost Lights, a sordid tale of murder and mayhem in a big city theatre. Exiting into fresh air, I realize I’ve only a vague and shadowy recollection of where we parked. A doll of Mirabella’s had lost an arm; while Francesca parked, I attempted to return the limb to its designated socket. Thus distracted, I only remember that she parked the car somewhere on the east side of the building, probably in quadrant F, G, or H. Maybe even as far as I. Rather than aimlessly wander the parking lot, which I’ll admit I’ve done once or thrice before, I sit. I prop myself against a pillar near the exit, where I can’t miss the ladies leaving. The exiting crowd flows past me as the sun’s spring rays seep into me, slow and steady. Rivers and streams have always fascinated me, particularly on the hottest summer days. Especially mountain streams. Watching them flow ceaselessly without end perplexes me. It seems at some juncture they should stop flowing. Rationally, after a few weeks without rain, the rivers, the streams, should slowly dry up, and then disappear. Sitting, watching the masses move in, move out, I’m struck with the same fascination, though somehow more so. First, I’m struck by the amount of people, all seemingly identical and faceless, flowing in. It doesn’t cease. There’s one after the other after the other. Second, I’m struck by the amount of products (which also seems to be endless) being removed from the warehouse by the identical faceless masses. It seems logical that at some point along the chain of supply there’d be a gap, which would affect things here. That the store would eventually run out of products, of things, of stuff, and be forced to close. When I consider the number of people going in and coming out, this eventuality seems inevitable. And then, to think about all the other Costco’s and big-box stores, it boggles the mind, at least mine.
Waiting for the ladies, I ponder. And while pondering, I intently watch the masses go in and come out. Come out and go in. Niagara Falls pours over seven hundred and fifty thousand gallons of water over its cliffs every second. Though the numbers aren’t as large here, I swear it’s just as staggering watching the people come and go. Go and come. I’m as diligent as I possibly can be in watching for Francesca and Mirabella, but after nearly twenty minutes I begin to wonder if I missed them. I might miss them, but I should think they’d see me sitting in the sun, smiling benevolently as Buddha. Another ten, fifteen minutes pass. Okay, assuming they’ve escaped the building, I missed them. They missed me. Somehow we missed one another. Another ten minutes pass. Maybe I should go ask someone to make an announcement over the intercom? No, that would be ridiculous. How could a grown man lose his family? No, that’s ridiculous. Another ten minutes go by. Something nearby begins to ring and ring. Something so close it’s practically inside me—my cell phone. “Where are you?” I ask. “Where are you?” she asks. Her tone is as cold and annoyed as mine. “Exactly where I’ve always been. Right by the exit,” I say, looking around, confirming that’s exactly where I am. Francesca doesn’t say anything. “Where are you?” I ask, almost afraid of the answer. “Turn left.” Through the flowing throng I see a dark-haired, dark-eyed woman in a black jogging suit. She is not smiling. During our walk to the car, she’s adamant that I’d gone somewhere. “Nowhere. I went nowhere. I stayed right there.” I stop and point to the exact spot. “In the sun. Waiting.” She shakes her head. “Mirabella looked. I looked. You were not there.” She begins to add something, but stops. I believe she wants to say something about my not being here, in the marriage, for years—thankfully she doesn’t. “Where would I go?” I ask. “I do not know. We waited.” “So, why didn’t you call sooner?” I hear her Spanish Inquisition sigh. The one she uses when I’m being obviously,
blatantly stupid and won’t, for my own salvation, confess to my failings and shortcomings. “I did. And I left a message.” I look at the blank face of the phone. There’s no blinking message indicator. I pull a packet of yellow sticky notes out of my pocket and scribble,
Contact cell company re: messages on one. The yellow sticky notes are my external hard drive, a place for miscellaneous information, tasks, and questions to be compiled. “Well, I didn’t get it.” She sighs again. Again she gently turns the thumbscrews. “We even went home and unpacked. And, for some reason, we’ve returned. It’s been over an hour, George.” “What? You went home?” “Yes. And back.” I notice Mirabella in the backseat of the Eurovan, waving, smiling. I do the same in return. “Francesca, I was right there the whole time.” I too am insistent and adamant. “Besides,” I say, hoping repetition will sway the jury, “where would I go?” She replies slowly for emphasis, “I do not know.” “Nor do I. But....” We realize we’re simply lighting matches in a wind tunnel, getting nowhere. “I can go home with you, right?” Inquisition eyes, stern, disappointed, stare at the poor, lost soul strapped in the chair. Finally she sighs a yes, knowing there’s time enough to coerce a confession.