Kim Chinquee

Nuts

I picked up the remains from the funer­al direc­tor, signed away and put the box up front, giv­ing it a seat belt, going miles across the coun­try, back to my apart­ment. During the trip, I talked to the box as if it were my father, ask­ing are you tired? Are you hun­gry? Want to stretch your legs some? And I pic­tured the ash­es, poof, a cloud around them. I wasn’t sure what to do.

Someone had found him in the hall­way. He’d lived alone, and most­ly stayed in his apart­ment, except when a work­er took him to get gro­ceries. They said it was their job, he was easy and pleas­ant enough. He wasn’t pleas­ant to me those few times I had called him. It got hard to tell what was real­ly him, what was med­ica­tion. It was kind of impos­si­ble.

When I got the box home, I put him on the desk by where I’d put his type­writer, along with the lamp that used to be his mother’s.

I took off my shoe and found a peanut.  I couldn’t remem­ber the last time I had nuts in my apart­ment. It hap­pened on the next day, then the next day, in those same old shoes. I checked the fridge, looked under the bed, the desk, the sofa, and I didn’t find nuts any­where. I start­ed keep­ing my shoes upside down, then away in Baggies. After a while I threw them away, and bought a pair of new ones, but that didn’t solve things. I didn’t have a lot of shoes. I was par­tic­u­lar about my feet.

I put the new shoes up on a shelf, and looked over at the ash box. I was per­fect­ly square, the size of a jew­el­ry box I had once. I opened the box and looked in. It was noth­ing but ash­es. I said to the ash, Hey Dad, and I won­dered how he was now. I’d got­ten a report from his last psy­chi­atric vis­it, the hear­ing of the voic­es. I’d known about it, kind of, but this was offi­cial.

I sat on the floor with the box and shut it. My father used to be a farmer. He wasn’t a nut per­son. I could eat a nut, though it wasn’t my favorite. I start­ed to draw on the box. I start­ed with a stem, but that was as far as I got.

 

Apron

I went to John’s par­ty, though he’d told me not to. I knew where to go, from the time before the race, his wife gone and the two of us get­ting down to busi­ness with the door not even closed yet.

I called his friend Rex, who kept try­ing to date me, which was how I met John in the first place. I asked if he was going. I was con­vinc­ing.

He had to get direc­tions.

There was a Mediterranean theme, and Rex wore a shirt with palm trees. He’d been court­ing me, off and on, for months now.

There were cars all over John’s dri­ve­way. We went through the back. People were every­where, in their suits and splash­ing.

I spot­ted John right away. He was grilling with an apron.

His wife wasn’t so pret­ty in per­son, though I could see the attrac­tion. Her hair was in pig­tails, she wore ragged cut-offs. Her legs were skin­ny.

Rex left his hands in pock­ets, did that hunch­ing thing he did when he was ner­vous. He went to say hi. John was in his apron, flip­ping.

Hey! Rex said.

John gave me the evil eye when he saw me.

John’s wife came up with a kid on her hip. I knew it was the youngest. Hello, she said to Rex. They shook hands. I felt like I knew her. The kid cried and she bounced him.

We min­gled and I saw anoth­er guy I’d met at Rex’s cel­e­bra­tion. He was also from their high school, which was over two decades ago.  Like we were still in high school and I was the new girl all over again.

I had a beer right away and took off my top. I was wear­ing a biki­ni.

I sat in the hot tub. C’mon, I told Rex. He said he wasn’t ready. When he looked at his watch, I said, You on a time clock?

There were most­ly wives in the tub. We made small talk, most­ly about babies, how they loved their hus­bands.  I didn’t talk about their hus­bands or my ex, who I thought I loved until his mis­tress got preg­nant. I thought about my son, away in col­lege, how it used to be the two of us, mov­ing all around the coun­try.

I remem­bered being there before, bent over on the sofa, look­ing at the shoes in the cor­ner. The wife’s red ones, a kid’s red and pur­ple san­dal. In the cor­ner was a dust ball. John beat me at the 5K, but I still got a tro­phy because I was fast for a woman.

Rex brought me anoth­er beer. He’d been with anoth­er guy, laugh­ing. John’s shirt was off. He didn’t seem so hot any­more.

After a while, his wife came in the tub, talk­ing of holy hell, exhaus­tion. I was sweat­ing and it felt good on my mus­cles. She sat next to me.

Far off, some­one burped loud­ly. This group wasn’t the bright­est.

Still, the wife had a nice voice. She told me she was also a teacher. I said, Special Ed? John had prob­a­bly told me more than he should have. She seemed pleas­ant. I guessed she was a good wife. I felt kind of sor­ry for her. I liked her ear­rings.

We talked for a long time. Every now and then, we toast­ed.

***

Rex took me home after I com­ment­ed on the dust ball. It wasn’t the first time—at least for John and me fuck­ing. There were a lot of races for us to meet up at.

John was eat­ing grits, when I’d said to him, hey, and he looked at me hol­low. Nothing seemed Mediterranean. I’d heard about Cyprus more than once from an ex-boyfriend who was from there.

I asked Rex again about his time clock. He got qui­et. He looked like a stat­ue.

John’s wife seemed more gen­uine than he did.

His wife and I had talked about meet­ing up on Sunday. John could babysit. I imag­ined her out, him con­nect­ing with some­one else on myspace, face­book, some woman at a 5K.

I wasn’t sure where I belonged, but it prob­a­bly wasn’t this place.

Taking me home, Rex said I was fun.

I was pret­ty sure he was jok­ing.

I said, John? He’s kin­da cool, huh.

Rex sped and swerved, which didn’t seem to suit him.

I laughed and said, Can you just go a lit­tle faster?

He dropped me, said he’d see me lat­er.

Hey, I said, get­ting out. I peeked in and said, Don’t sweat.

He looked every­where but at me.

I even thanked him.

I went up to my apart­ment. From his only vis­it just last week, my son had left his shoes there.

I put one pair on my feet, and walked around trip­ping.

~

Kim Chinquee is the author of the col­lec­tions Oh Baby and Pretty. She is an asso­ciate pro­fes­sor of English at Buffalo State College.