The sign for Gary’s Funeral Products stares at me from above the entrance. It’s June. I’ve been living with my uncle in Bridgeport, since she left on the day of my graduation. . The rumble of the motor dies off, I open the door of my rusty old Bronco, and walk through the parking lot. The concrete is scarred beyond simple repair. It was better when I first came and was looking all over for a job. It turned out that my uncle was the proprietor of the only hiring business in the city. It isn’t enough that I have to live with the asshole. The bell above the door rings as I enter. Gary looks up, his brow lowers in anger and he returns to his work, realizing that I’m not a customer. . The floor seems newly waxed, so I scan the store for Mina. Our shifts overlap, but she has a kid so Gary lets her leave early sometimes. He’ll complain later to me about her; he always does.
“Mina go home?” I ask, approaching my uncle behind the front desk.
Uncle Gary is bald with a graying goatee. He looks polished and pristine in his grey suit, which nobody dares to tell him matches his goatee in color.. The obnoxious red tint of his tie stares at me, and I just want to pluck it from his chubby neck. He’s writing in a vigorous flow and I wonder who got the short end of the stick this time: widow, orphan, or parent? Gary’s eyes don’t judge when it results in another television in the house, a satellite radio for his oversized diesel truck, or a new cherry wood backing for one of his many stuffed deer heads. “Babysitter was bitchin’ again.”. A pause, and then he looks up. When he had orders, eye contact suddenly became important. “The trucks parked out back and the driver’s waiting. Get to work so you can pay me this month’s rent, kid.”
He always used that word. Kid. I hate it more than anything.
However, drivers are the best part of this job. They rotate so frequently that I began quoting Forest Gump in my mind. ‘The distributor warehouse is like a box uh chocolates, ya never know which driver, you gon’ get.’ Of course, that’s only funny to me. Edgar smoked while he worked, which seemed odd to me. When I think of physical activity, specifically the movement of a coffin from truck to warehouse, why would I want to inhale smoke throughout the process? I didn’t know, but Edgar was a visionary. He proved it in other ways, too. ”You’re probably too young to ‘member Janis Joplin, am I right?”
I nod as we place a coffin next to its mate and lament at my uncle’s necessity to always have two of each coffin in stock. I always wish for models not to sell. Ed continues, “That’s too bad. She was hot stuff and made some real beautiful music, kid.” There it is again! And it isn’t even from a superior. Son of a bitch. “Her music is like listenin’ to drunk songbirds make love in nature, man. I used to drop elephant tabs and listen to it with my buddies in college.” Another long drag and exhale of smoke. “Those were the days.”
I could easily call him out on calling me ‘kid’. We’re in the same rank here, but he might fly off the handle. Mina told me he served in Vietnam for a time. I have little reason not to believe that. “How many of these things we got today?”
Edgar stands up on the back end of the truck and leans against the side, throwing a butt out through the docking bay, and grabbing another smoke. He lights it, inhales, exhales. “Twenty, give er take a couple, but Jimmy’ll be coming out later today with the cherry wood floor models, so there ain’t gonna be a ton of breaks.”
I sigh and step onto the truck.
There’s a hill that descends from my uncle’s house with a concrete set of stairs built in. It used to be part of a path leading to the now decaying Catholic Church down the road, and the house he has used to house the sisterhood. I sit on the steps and ease The Garcia Bowl, my glass piece, from my hoodie pocket. Before I pack it, I stare up at the sky; the stars are in their height. They remind me of the first night I went to Mina’s house.
I rang the doorbell and stepped into her living room, in disbelief that that was where the front door opened to. Mina held her daughter, Isla, in the crook of her left arm. We’d already talked about it via texts, but I was still like, woah. She said for me to come in, and I sat on a couch along the wall of the living room next to her parents. Her mother was between her stepfather and I and she smelled of alcohol and excessive perfume. She had a purple over-shirt that hugged her unsightly rolls, and black capris that led to a pair of tight sandals. She had hardened bunyans on both feet that poked from each sandal and I wondered how she could walk with them. Her stepfather was nearly bald and wore a John Deere cap so it wouldn’t show. He had a greasy five-o-clock shadow and a deflated cigarette hung from his lip. There was a movie playing. I think it was some flick where Toby Keith pretended to act. . The floor was dirty, obviously not vacuumed in a few weeks, and there were holes in the linings of the couch and recliner.
“Do you want anything to drink?” Mina asked with a smile that showed her embarrassment. She told me that she didn’t want to meet at her house, but I insisted.
“I’m fine. Thanks,” I replied, being immediately followed by her stepfather ordering a beer.
Apparently he had finished his last one. Mina didn’t question him but carried Isla into the kitchen to grab him a Budweiser., After Mina had left, her mother smacked him on the back of the head, “You should fuckin’ say thank you. What the hell’d I marry ya for if you can’t even say thank you to my daughter?” The flannel-clad man smiled and cracked open his beer. In response, her mother crossed her arms, scooting an inch away from him and from their cuddle position. . That sure was some serious punishment. . I think she was drunk, too. Her face was reddened and she slurred her speech just a little.. She slipped occasionally. When she did, she’d concentrate real hard on her next try, her brow lowering, her lips tightening.
“What do you do, Nick? How’s your summer?” Mina’s mother asked, and the fact that those two consecutive questions were pretty unconnected didn’t bother me. “Have you ever ettin’Cajun food?” she sat back, retried, “Ee-tun Kay-jun food-uh?”
I collected my monologue for the string of questions. “I work for my uncle at his funeral product store. It’s the same place that Mina works. . The summer isn’t going too bad, but I can’t wait until college.” I watched her sit back again, possibly offended by my college aspirations. “Actually, I haven’t had Cajun food. Why do you ask?”
She stood up, already halfway to the kitchen, when she said, “I made some Cajun food last night, kiddo. You’ve got to try some.” Kiddo. Was that better than kid? I agreed to try some of the spicy vegetable and sausage dish. I wasn’t sure if it was actual Cajun food, but I could tell she used Cajun seasoning. Alas, the American way.
Later that night Mina put Isla to bed, and we drove back here. She held my hand on the center console of the Bronco, as I drove with my left. The night was chilly, but we sat outside anyways. I had The Garcia Bowl that night, too, but I was too nervous to come right out and show her. She knew I smoked, and she’d said she’d smoked before as well, but I wasn’t that forward enough of a person.
“I’ve been listening to Modest Mouse a lot,” she opened. “That CD you gave me had some good stuff from them on it, but I like their more experimental songs.”
I was about to commend her on her discoveries, but I didn’t want to sound too into her, even though I was. “I think Brock’s musical patterns in his more experimental music don’t match up to his great music like Third Planet and Life Like Weeds.” It was bullshit. I knew it. She knew it and reveled with a smile..
“Uh-huh,” she said with a push to my shoulder. We laughed a little and then sat in the resulting silence for a moment. She followed with, “So, do you have any weed?” I knew I loved this woman. I smiled, immediately showing the fact that I did indeed have said bud. She expelled a timid laugh , and Garcia got his first female kiss.. The first two of hers and mine were long, one right after the other; the last happening when I took her home a couple of hours later.
The grass I smoked on that night was a similar, passionate high to the headies I smoked tonight, and I missed her.
“Heave!” Carlos exclaims, as the two of us throw an oak coffin into its section of the warehouse.. He wipes his forehead with the back of his hand, “Phew!”, but it’s only the first coffin.
I’d worked with Carlos several times before, and his excessive use of the word ‘heave’ made me want to refer to him as one of the seven dwarves. However, he was Mexican, and besides his rather odd, repetitive obsession with that word, he was pretty racially confused. He came into work every time with baggy gray jeans with gold patterns on the pockets, a long white shirt under an obnoxiously colored basketball jersey, and a flat-brimmed cap with dollar signs all over it and the manufacture sticker still on. The second day we worked together he told me the story of his father and mother having a baby together, and how his father couldn’t handle that pressure so he left town. That baby was him. He said his four sisters came after that. Two were with a travelling salesman that his mother met at an AA meeting; one was with the neighbor’s brother, reportedly a pot dealer; and the last, one that he named as Jura, was a mulatto with a one-night stand. He told me that as soon as he was sixteen, he was out of there. Carlos said his mother didn’t cry but threw things at him, saying he was a failure to the family. He said he looked down from his mother’s gaze to see his sister, Jura. She was smiling wide, unperturbed, walking through the living room with her heavy diaper all but falling away. At that point of the story, Carlos paused and stood halfway between the truck and the warehouse. I didn’t even feel the weight of the coffin, but his story was heavier. After a moment of silence, I talked him into finishing the carrying of the coffin. I never mentioned it again and neither did he.
My frown merged with a smile at his use of ‘heave’ and created a smirk. Carlos didn’t notice, but stood wiping the sweat from his forehead with a hankie which he slipped back into the entirely too low back pocket of his jeans.
“You ready for the second one, man?” I asked and patted him on the back. He wasn’t like the other drivers. He was better.
“Sure,” he said, and we walked back to the truck.
The first time Mina and I had sex it was in my basement room at my Uncle’s. We’d drunk a little bit, her more than I, and we were watching Waiting. It was one of my favorite movies, and she hadn’t seen it. It was before I got that couch that I put in front of my bed, so we sat on the edge of the bed. I remember she was wearing a black Tragically Hip tee that hung low with a picture of a sunset on it. It was one of their album covers, and as much as I loved that band I wanted to tear it off of her. She passed me back the flask, laughing at one of Louis Guzman’s lines in the film, nearly spitting the mouthful onto the carpet. Her laugh was so cute. I listened closely to it before I took a sip. The shot was hard, a cheap liquor that my cousin had bought for me. I gave him thirty, but something tells me he took a hefty tip.
When she went to take the flask from me, our hands touched for longer than I expected. In my moderate drunkenness I’d held the flask back unintentionally. She didn’t take it, but instead slid her hand up further behind my head and pulled me in close. We kissed. I missed her mouth a little, but she straightened me. She was skinnier and took more shots than me, but I was drunk and she was buzzed. After the first long kiss, I sat back, closed the flask, and threw it to the floor. Simultaneously, she shut the movie off, walked quickly to my stereo, and put on Porcupine Tree’s newest album. It was amazing how much focus sex gave to drunken people. At least it was that way with us.
Before reaching the bed, Mina slid her jeans to the floor. White cotton panties with little yellow flowers. I could’ve called it, but for some reason I thought she’d be in black. It must’ve been a personal expectation. I nearly tore my belt, throwing my pants off, followed by the hurried removal of my shirt, but I remember placing my socks neatly, side by side on top of my pants. I still have no idea why I paid them such careful attention, but I suppose the situation needed some odd obsession in my influenced eyes. She stood before me in that black shirt and panties, and said, “Are you sure you’re ready?”
I hadn’t understood the pause she made and went to pull her down beside me, “Ya, Mina. More than ready.”
She hesitated for a second but then fell into my pull, and landed, straddling me. I flipped her onto her back and stood up at the end of the bed. I slid down her panties. It tickled her toe, and she jerked her foot back, but she didn’t laugh or smile. I slid slowly on top of her, pulling down my boxers and slid into her. She moaned slightly, pulling herself back so that we were centered on the bed. We kissed strongly, her hand returning to the back of my head. She was tight, tighter than I’d assumed a mother would be. Mina rubbed her left breast through her shirt. We moved to our sides because my face was reddening from the drunkenness. We were more relaxed on our sides, and Mina pulled me fast. It seemed like she was rushing. I kissed her again, and began to remove her shirt. Her arm fell to hit mine harshly and my arm fell away. I didn’t realize that was intentional and I tried to lift her shirt again. Mina pushed me away from her and sat up at the edge of the bed. She grabbed the flask, quickly and opened it. I was confused and sat up. I moved over to her and saw that she was holding her shirt down stiffly. When I saw she’d begun to cry, I had to ask, “What’s wrong?”
She paused for a couple of seconds, trying to control her tears. “You’re not going to want me anymore.”
“Yes, I will. Whatever it is,” I replied, denouncing her worry.
She sniffed and looked straight into my eyes. “I had a C-section.”
Mina and I kind of drifted apart from there. It wasn’t her C-section. Or was it? I couldn’t decide. I think it was the fact that she had a kid, or was it? I held her and rocked her to sleep several times. I remember my mother doing the same for me, and we could hear my father screaming from behind the bedroom door. He pounded, and my mother whispered to me about how she’d never let the big bad wolf get me. She promised. She rocked unsteadily, rubbing my back as someone would pet a stingray. The big bad wolf never got into that room, either, but mom left when I fell asleep. She rubbed my back shakier each night, except when my father never came home. Then one night, my father came home from the bar to an empty house. Mom was happy. For a while.
I was leaving for college soon and Mina wasn’t going anywhere. We didn’t hang out nearly as much after that night we had sex. She didn’t like weed as much anymore either, and she took to pills. Mina got skinny really quick, and when I was around, she was always jittery and nervous when I touched her in the slightest.
Her stepfather hit her mother for the first time in the same week I decided to break it off. She came to me after it happened. Her mother was in the hospital, and she drove Isla in her car to my Uncle’s house. I was sitting on the front porch playing acoustic. She asked me for a glass of water to take a Percocet. I said our faucet was broken, but she didn’t believe me. It wasn’t, and she poured herself a glass. I heard Isla crying from the car, and I walked out from the house, leaving the door open behind me. My uncle woke up from his nap and walked into the kitchen, “Get the fuck out of my house!”
I was halfway to the car to pick up and hold Isla when my uncle stepped out of the house, holding Mina by the wrist; the glass of water fell from her hand and shattered on the gravel of the driveway. “You haven’t been to work in two weeks and you show up in my house popping pills!”
He let her go and she ran into my arms. I didn’t embrace her, but moved her behind me, away from my uncle’s rage. “You should go back to bed, Uncle Gary. I’ve got it under control.”
He opened his mouth, about to yell and heard the child’s cries. He pointed his fat finger at me from the porch, and exclaimed, “I hope so! You’re mother was the same–”
“Go back to bed, you bastard!” I yelled, my face reddened and my foot stepped forward. He turned around and went inside, slamming the door behind him.
I turned to Mina. She was crying, leaning against the car. I gave in and hugged her. She cried on my shoulder for a few minutes, shaking from something, probably the pills. I watched Isla cry and squirm in her car-seat, and finally walked Mina to the passenger door of the car. I drove them to the hospital and carried the baby inside. Mina followed timidly with occasional fits of crying.. Her mother, in a room on the third floor, was still drunk and steaming. I watched from the interception desk, as she threw anything she could grab at her presiding nurse: plastic cups, a bed pan, the crackers they’d served to sober her up, anything. The orthopedic surgeon was saying that the fracture in her arm was just getting worse, and I saw her mother pushing a nurse away from the room into the hall. I didn’t respond to the doctor but handed Isla to Mina and took the elevator back down to the ground floor without saying goodbye.
I left for college early in August. I didn’t start until early September, but I had enough money to get a place and maintain it until I could find a job. I ended up working at a corner market, a mile away from campus, and I lived at an apartment about four miles further out than that. I lived on the top floor of a three floor complex. There were six apartments, two on each floor. My neighbors across the hall were a couple. My third day there I was unpacking my Epiphone guitar and equipment, when a knock came at the door. It was the two of them, Matt and Holly, with their four year old daughter, Ann Marie. They invited me to take a break from my unpacking and to go to the park with them. I did..
The park was a ten minute walk away. We talked about what I was planning to study at college, where I lived to begin with, and what kind of music I played. It turned out Matt was in a folk band, and once did a session with Isaac Brock in California. I didn’t believe him to begin with, but a couple weeks down the line, he showed me the two song demo they made. Now, I play guitar with Matt every chance I get. It could be that I want to possibly meet Isaac Brock, but the instrumental practice is good, too.
There were kids, couples, and parents all around of different ages and backgrounds. Ann Marie was playing with two other girls on the spiral slide, and I sat on the swing set, taking it all in. Matt and Holly played with Ann Marie from the bottom of the slide and jungle gym. Like the rest of the parents, they didn’t want her to get hurt. A couple of hours later, Holly came to me and knelt down as if I was her own child. She seemed to emphasize the fact that she was older than me, that she was my superior, and I didn’t want Matt to be with her for some reason. “I think we’re going to head back to the apartment. Are you ready to go back, kid?”
I looked up from the ground to meet her gaze. “I think I’m going to stay here awhile.”
She nodded awkwardly and they left.
I stayed on the swing set. Families and kids whirled around the area all day, and some teenagers came around late to smoke some pot on the monkey bars. I watched the sun set.