18
Feb
09

Fate Pays The Rent (Sixth Installment)

As they drove to the office on 164th that evening, Clement reflected on how different the neighborhood looked in the twilight than when he had last seen it. The Bi-Lo parking lot was full and he saw mothers going in and out with their children, older kids with their younger brothers and sisters. Some of the children were sharing cans of soda. One girl had a long cord of licorice around her neck. The construction site beside the store, that might have been haunted the night before, rang with the calls of the workers parting for the day. The girders themselves were beautiful, their edges sparking the soon to be setting sun. Even Jeff, sitting in the driver’s seat looking as if one side of his face had been bronzed rather than pasty, appeared less evil than he had earlier in the day.
“So, how did you meet Mari?”
“Huh?”
“How did you meet her? She doesn’t seem like the kind of girl you’d go for.”
“She shot me in the eye.”
“What?”
“With cologne. She had one of those jobs where you show people how great the stuff is by spraying it on them. Brutus sat on my glasses. I was killing an hour while I waited for the people at Binyon’s to fix them and I thought, ‘Well, why not get some of my shopping for Christmas done?’” That was stupid, of course, because I could barely see two feet in front of my face. So I decided to go over and see if I could find this bottle of perfume my mom was hot for. I figured I could at least tell the colors of things and that would help me narrow it down.”
“And?”
“And a whole bunch of other people had the exact same idea because when I got to that part of the department the counter was packed. Some woman with sharp elbows who didn’t have eyes in the back of her head- or maybe she did and just didn’t care- jabbed me and stepped back in kind of a one-two maneuver. She got some space all right because I backed up and almost fell over. I grabbed a table and turned around on my way up and Mari missed a lady’s wrist and got me right in the eye.
“Geez, that must have hurt.”
“No kidding. It was fate though. See, if Brutus hadn’t have sat on my glasses then they would have been in the way of the cologne or maybe I would have been in the bookstore and never have gotten sprayed at all.”
“Then you said, ‘Come with me and let me fulfill your wildest dreams’? And that was the beginning of everything?”
“No. Not really. I mean, yeah. She felt really bad that she shot me in the eye with this stuff so she put the bottle on one of the counters and took me to the Customer Service department and there was a lady there who had a First Aid kit and wasn’t really a nurse but she knew about things. She dragged me off to the break room and Mari sort of trailed along behind us and kept saying, ‘Omigod! You’re gonna be blind and it’s all my fault. I really suck!’ This lady turned on the water and shoved my head under the faucet and kept moving my head around so the water got in both eyes. My whole head was getting wet and I had water down my back and I think I even coughed a little bit because she finally let me up. She gave me a paper to sign that said I wasn’t going to sue the store and then she gave Mari some money and told her to go get me a hot dog or something and not to come back in less than an hour.”
“Did you sign it?”
“Yeah, of course.”
“Idiot.”
“Why?’
“Had you seen a doctor? Did you know if you were going to be blinded for life?”
“What’s wrong with you? Obviously I wasn’t going to be blinded for life. That woman practically drowned me right after it happened which is what all the books say that you’re supposed to do if you get something in your eye. I could see her and I could see Mari and the refrigerator and the microwave. Well, I could see them as well as I can see anything without my glasses on. But I knew I wasn’t gonna be blind.”
“That’s not it.”
“What?”
“You didn’t sign it because you knew you weren’t going to be blind for life.”
“Oh, yeah?”
“You signed it for Mari. You sap. You signed it because you were afraid if you didn’t sign it she was going to get fired. Admit it.”
“Well-“
“You were willing to sacrifice your eyesight for this girl you just met. You’re an idiot.”
“Well, I wasn’t going to sue them anyway. Sure, I didn’t want her to lose her job over something she did by accident. I mean it’s not like she spotted me coming in and said, ‘Boy, that guy sure deserves to be blind for life.’ I’m the one that was down by the floor.”
“So did you sign that paper before or after the woman gave Mari the money to buy you off with lunch?”
“You know, I am really starting to be sorry I said I’d come over here with you. I didn’t know you were gonna spend the whole ride telling me how stupid I am and trying to convince me that my girlfriend isn’t really interested in me.”
“You’re sorry? You came over here with me because I didn’t want to have to waste another whole night doing something really stupid that you asked me to do. If anybody’s stupid, it would be me for even being here again.”
“You know what? Let’s just go home. You’re right. This is a stupid thing to do. I’m an idiot for going out with Mari and I’m stupid for asking you to help me. I should just tell her to get the pictures herself if they even exist. I mean, why the hell should you do this? You had a terrible night last night and you’d probably like to be in bed or soaking in the tub or watching CNN Headline News or something with a Hungry Man Salisbury steak dinner on your chest.”
“First of all, that’s totally uncalled for. You know I do not eat Hungry Man dinners. I do not watch NASCAR. I do not have a fantasy football team. I also don’t enjoy women’s mud-wrestling. Second, I don’t understand why you’re taking your insecurity about your relationship out on me. I’m sorry you and Mari are having problems.”
“I told you we had a great time last night.”
“Yes, you did. I’m sorry you have so much trouble accepting that she had other people in her life before you. Maybe you should pay some nuns somewhere to raise a girl for you specifically the way you want.”
Jeff pulled the car over into an empty spot in front of a record store. He put the car in “park” but didn’t shut off the ignition. “You’re crazy!”
“I don’t think she even cares about the pictures. I think it’s all you. I think you can’t stand the idea that somebody saw her naked before you did and you want to eliminate any evidence that proves it. I’m surprised you’re willing to stop at getting and destroying the pictures.”
“Why don’t you stop?”
“Come on, Jeff. Tell me you really want to track this guy down and kill him. Beat him to death with your shoe.”
“Beat him with my shoe? What kind of a person does that? I don’t think you could even really hurt someone like that. I mean, you could mash a spider but a human being? I don’t think that’s even possible.”
“It doesn’t matter if it’s possible. You want to kill this guy. Right?”
“No. I just want the pictures if they’re in there.”
“Right?”
“No. Just the pictures.”
“Admit it. You’ll feel better getting it out.”
Jeff buried his head in his hands on the steering wheel. The engine revved and he turned it off. “Okay, maybe I do. I know it’s stupid and sexist but it just kills me. Every time they’re on the phone and she starts laughing and I think, ‘My god, do I make her laugh like that?’”
“I’m sure she laughs with you.”
“I don’t think it’s the same.”
“Of course she does. It’s probably not exactly the same but they have a different history together. They had different experiences.”
“Do you have to say ‘history’? It makes it sound like they were together for years and years. Like they were the sweethearts of the Elizabethan Era or something.”
“Were they together for years and years?”
“How the hell do I know, man? I didn’t ask her that. I didn’t ask her very much. She was the first thing I saw when that woman finally pulled my head out of the sink and I knew I wasn’t going to be blind.”
“So you imprinted on her like one of those baby ducks.”
“Why are you going on about this? Why does it matter if I want to kill that guy or how Mari and I got together in the first place? Am I the only one who’s done something stupid because he liked somebody and they were fun to have lunch with?”
“Obviously not.”
“Okay, wise ass.”
“That’s not what I mean. I was talking about me. Aren’t I out here? And why? Because I like you and you’re fun to have lunch with.”
“Do I make you laugh?”
“Yes, you make me laugh.”
“Do you smell my cologne even when I’m not around?”
“Is it possible for you to shut up? Are we pulling this caper or not?”
“Yeah.”

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