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Lila and JJ in the Fall, Part 2: A Close Call

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Except for an increasing rain, the omens seemed to stay at bay. They ran, holding hands and laughing, from the car to the porch and entered the house.

“This is awkward,” JJ said.

“Just kiss me,” Lila said. So they kissed right there in the kitchen. So far, so good. They parted, hands held between their bodies.

“Come upstairs with me,” he said.

“Let me go to the bathroom first.” She pulled away and turned with a sassy skip, looking back at him over her shoulder as she walked down the hall.

When the bathroom door closed, JJ turned to lock the outside door and something caught his eye in the sloping field. There was a group of wild turkeys in the grass. A gaggle? A flock? They were strutting and pecking their way across the field, taking their time. This farm with no crops and no animals. It’s a farm of the world, JJ thought. It’s just here and the turkeys are here and this is the way it’s supposed to be. “And I’m here with Lila,” he thought. “Finally. And it’s all ok.”

To the right he heard, then saw, a car coming up the road. It slowed and turned into his driveway. A black BMW, like an adder entering a henhouse. Alarmed squawking in JJ’s brain.

“No. No. No.” He didn’t recognize the car but he knew who it was. “No,” he said again as he watched Betty, his sister, emerge from the driver’s seat. She deployed an umbrella and peered around at the barn, field, and house. An intruder in nature. The land itself seemed to grow still, aware of this foreigner, knowing that people from Away never brought glad tidings. Betty started walking toward the porch.

The sound had all sucked up into JJ’s head and he was frozen by her approach. A sense of being the prey shuddered his body back into movement. She hadn’t yet seen him yet. His hand was still on the lock bolt and he turned it, the click breaking the spell. He moved quickly away, down the hall, crouching, and pushed his way through the bathroom door.

Lila was rising from the toilet, pulling up her jeans. “JJ, what the…”

“Shhhh. She’s here!”

“Who?”

“Betty.” JJ jostled past to the little window and pulled the curtains together tight. The bathroom was only a WC, just a toilet and a sink. He shifted back to the bathroom door and latched the hook into the eyelet.

“JJ, really.”

“She’s here to ruin my life.”

Then came the knocking, four hard raps. He could picture her there, all consternation and intent. He quieted his breathing and waited.

“JJ,” Lila whispered.

“Shhh.”

Then, his sister’s voice, muffled but too close. “Jason!” For a moment he thought she was already in the house but, no. His mind was messing with him. They stayed quiet, waiting it out. JJ’s phone vibrated in his pocket. Caller id: “Betty (Satan)”. He refused the call. Four more hard raps on the door, a turning and shaking of the doorknob, (“Thank God I locked it”).  Silence for a moment, then steps retreating, car door chunking shut, the engine, tires on gravel, and an acceleration down the hill.

He realized he was clutching Lila’s hand. He was clutching her whole arm.

“Kiss me again,” Lila whispered. “She’s gone.”

“But she’ll be back,” he said. He looked at Lila’s wry smile, the twinkle in her eye, and realized she was amused, enjoying this. Then he kissed her, cowering in the little downstairs bathroom of the farmhouse he bought with his lottery winnings. He felt they were in a sanctuary, spared and chosen, the overlooked survivors of some freak disaster. A close call and very exciting

He pulled her closer and let his hands roam down to her waist and hips.  Her noticed her jeans were still unbuttoned from when he barged into the bathroom. He never wanted her more.

But a voice, insistent, in his head. “She’ll be back,” it said.

“Oh shut up,” he said out loud.

“What?”

“Come on,” he said and led her into the hallway and up the stairs.

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The End of a Season

JJ just watched his nephews lose a soccer game.  The end of a season.  “They expected to win,” his sister said and JJ heard a voice in his head.  It was a guy named Doc the Painter from an AA meeting in Sacramento who said, “Serenity is inversely related to your expectations.”  Man, that recovery shit never leaves the brain.

A couple kids on the team cried, at least those kids with the congenital drive to win and step on the necks of kids from other towns.  Most kids seemed relieved and wore rueful smiles.  Lollipops had appeared from somewhere and JJ thought, “That was me.  I would smile and cry later, alone.  Then resent the whole thing for the rest of my life.”

His sister came over and put her arm around him, drawing him into the family.  “Well that’s over,” she said.  People were milling, saying farewell and have a good winter.  November was here, hibernation coming soon, and JJ could feel it.  The sun was warm but the breeze came from somewhere with real cold.  Like Canada.

“Aren’t you sad,” JJ asked.

“Nah,” she said.  The kids approached, sheepish but not defeated.  “It’s all in good fun.  Sports are fun.”

Not for me, JJ thought.  Never for me.  I like Wiffle Ball in the yard and football on Thanksgiving with the cousins.  I like watching on TV.  Or seeing the lights of a night game from the highway, a world illuminated as he passed in the dark, there and then gone, not too close.

“Hi, Uncle Jason.”  Nephew One said.

“Thanks for coming.”  Nephew Two said.

They came to JJ together and gave sideways hugs, one on either side, pressing their heads briefly against his ribs.  “You guys are fantastic,” JJ said.

“Coach said we’ll get ‘em next year,” Nephew One said.

“Let’s get something to eat,” Nephew Two said.

JJ bought hot dogs and sodas for his nephews as his sister talked with some other parents.  Nephew One said, “Can we come to the farm for Thanksgiving?”

Nephew Two said, “I want to play football in that side yard.  We were talking about that.  Can we do that?”

“Yes.”

“And don’t you have a turkey on your farm we could eat?”

JJ thought of his hot tub and basketball court in the barn.  He thought of the native forest he was planting in the old fields.  He thought of his lottery money and how he hadn’t thought of his lottery money during the whole game.  It was time to button up for the winter and get closer to these family people.  Thanksgiving would be a good start.

“It’s not that kind of farm.  I don’t have any animals,” JJ said.  “But we’ll definitely get a turkey.”

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Moondance Part 2, A Walk to the Graveyard

As the farm-warming party wound down, Pierre strummed and sang, “Je ne peux pas avoir juste une danse avec toi mon amour?”  Lila looked over to the fire and felt the chill of the cold shoulder from the guys over there. “They hate this,” she said to Carl’s wife, Anne.

“Yeah well, it’s good for them to see.  And it’s good for us.”  They watched JJ and Carl in the circle of firelight.  Carl reached down for a rock, showed it to JJ, and said something that made JJ smile.  Anne said, “They probably want to kill Pierre with that rock.”

Lila laughed and Anne turned back to Pierre.  But Lila kept watching JJ and Carl in the firelight.  The cold moping over there had passed and JJ was more at ease.  These days, he was able to pull out of the dark moods and be loose and funny, like he used to be.  Was it the money, the ridiculous lottery winnings?  This stupid farm that he bought?  Maturity?  What a horrible word, Lila thought.  Horrible goddamn maturity.

Then JJ and Carl were coming over and Lila thought they really were going to bludgeon this French guy and crush his little Euro guitar.  “Hey,” JJ said.  “We just came over to kick mon ami’s ass.”

“Funny,” Lila said.  “Are you having fun?”

“Yeah.  But we’re going for a walk in the woods. Do you all want to come?”

Lila hesitated and looked at Anne but Anne ignored them. Lila said, “Where did you get this French guy?”

“I thought he came with you,” said JJ.

“Are you kidding?  I’m only listening to him to piss you off.”

“What’s that supposed to mean?”

“It means, let’s take that walk and leave these bums behind.”

Carl said, “I’m standing right here.”  But then he sighed, walked over to Anne and put his arm around her leaving JJ and Lila alone on the fringe.

They walked away and the night surrounded them.  The fire and the music seemed far away as they headed down the hill.  It was another dimension out here, all shimmery silver light and shadows of shadows.  People need to walk in the moonlight, JJ thought.  It’s the world in negative, a bizarro world where things can happen and time and distance are warped and stretched like Dali clocks.  JJ felt furtive and alive.

They reached the tree line and JJ said, “The back of the South Street cemetery is down this trail.  Let’s go look at it in the moonlight.”

The woods closed in and they soon reached a small clearing where they stopped and turned to each other.  Their hands joined and they stood in the moonlight, still themselves with all their history, but also new to each other, cast in this strange light.  Nature’s masquerade.

“Well,” JJ said.  “What are we going to do?”

“I’m waiting for a sign,” Lila said.

“So let’s walk to the graveyard and see what happens.”

“Ok.  I really don’t know what we’re doing.”

“We never did,” JJ said.  And they continued down the path toward the cemetery.

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It’s a Marvelous Night for a Moondance

“Remember that time Benny was on crutches and had to hide in the bushes from the cops.  He couldn’t run.  He just kind of toppled himself into these shrubs…”

JJ, Carl, and their old friend Stevie D sat by the fire on JJ’s farm.  The farm-warming party was winding down.  The full moon was up and it was a big ol’ autumn moon to behold.  Some Euro hipster (Pierre?  Sven?) was playing guitar for a few of the ladies and Lila was eating it up, of course.  Carl’s wife was over there, too.  Their group sat apart, away from the fire because, according to Lila, the fire spoiled the moonlight.  The Euro started singing a familiar melody in French, “it’s a marvelous night for a moondance”.  All the girls laughed.  JJ wanted to find a rock that fit his palm and just club this guy, with his wispy beard and European ease, just club him into the ground.

Carl said, “And then we circle back and that sorry bastard is crutching down the road at two in the morning.  He was so pissed off!”  Carl and Stevie D laughed.  JJ managed a thin smile.

When JJ thought back to the old hijnks he didn’t feel the hilarity anymore.  He felt like he was entering a swamp, a wet sucking at his feet making it hard to move and releasing a reek of regret.  The capers, the pranks.  It was all fun, of course.  But it was tangled with the old feelings of being doomed and baffled.  Drunken escapades into the suburbs to drive on lawns and party on golf courses and beaches.  The cops came and you fled to another spot.  Always another spot and more cat and mouse.  JJ felt like he played cat and mouse his whole life with sadness and regret.  He would plug the hole for awhile with a girlfriend or city, then it would start oozing again.  He looked at Lila.  A surge of … warmth?  Longing for sure.  Caring, yes.  Then came the ooze of sadness and regret, the old resentments.

Carl leaned over and said into JJ’s ear, “Stop it.”

“Stop what?”

“Wallowing.”

“Whadaya mean?”

“Move forward.  Fuck the past.”

“I’m just…I think it’s time for bed.”

“Stay with me, man.  Right here, right now.”

Stevie D shambled off to find something to drink and JJ and Carl sat looking into the fire.  They listened to the singing and the laughing but JJ did not look over.  The Euro sang, “Je ne peux pas avoir juste une danse avec toi mon amour?”

“I seriously want to crush that guy’s skull,” Carl said.  He reached down and picked up a rock that fit his palm.  “This look about right?”

“Yeah,” JJ said.  “Perfect.”  He smiled, a real smile.  “I’ll get the shovel.”

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