Julie Odell

Whoa, Hey

The mail­man deliv­ers the pack­age on Tuesday. I rip open the small white Fed-ex envelope and a clear zip-lock sand­wich bag falls out from between two pieces of card­board. Inside is the necklace—a large met­al cutout of two fists side by side with pinkies extend­ed. “Too much rock for one hand.” It hangs from a cheap met­al chain. 

Doyle used to make the ges­ture when he mocked my taste in music, much heav­ier and grit­tier than his. He liked more com­plex stuff—“musicians’ bands” he’d call them, unable to resist an oppor­tu­ni­ty to play the pedant. I just liked rock. White Stripes. Old Guns N’ Roses even. Fourteen year old boy music. Why not?

Doyle always laughed when he made the two-fist ges­ture, but it stopped being fun­ny after the first time.

Still, the neck­lace is the first atten­tion I’ve had from him in years. When I pick it up and feel its cool weight in my hand, I feel a prick­ly sen­sa­tion, like I’m being stalked. How does Doyle even know where I live? Silly. It takes two sec­onds to track some­one down on the inter­net, at least some­one nor­mal, like me.

I don’t tell Mark about the neck­lace. But what I do do is pull up the band Acme on YouTube as though I’m just look­ing around, and then I casu­al­ly tell Mark, hey, wow, I used to date the new bass play­er. I can smell Mark as he paus­es behind me at the com­put­er. He’s a fire­man. His job makes him stink, of sweat, diesel fuel and, when he’s lucky, of smoke. He’s nev­er heard of Doyle before. I wait for a reac­tion.

We watch the band play a smooth, bland alt-coun­try song, the lead singer earnest with a reg­u­lar-guy voice. Doyle is off to the side play­ing bass, head low. His body jerks a lit­tle as he keeps time, and his over­ly-styled shag hair­cut flut­ters. It’s bizarre to see him, old­er now, but right there on stage. Acme is a long­time col­lege radio dar­ling, famous, and it’s a big deal to be in the band.

Those guys?” Mark says final­ly. “Yeah, I’ve heard them before. Pretty dick­less.”

Mark and I hate bands like Acme, with their easy, jan­g­ly melodies and smooth-guy blaz­ers over untucked but­ton-down shirts over black jeans. The hip dad look. “Subaru Outback easy lis­ten­ing,” Marks says.

But still. I dat­ed the bass play­er.

Mark wan­ders away, unfazed. He’s hun­gry and won­ders when we’re hav­ing din­ner.

I’m not going to actu­al­ly wear the neck­lace, even though it’s tempt­ing. It would be an iron­ic addi­tion to my usu­al yoga pants cardi­gan sweater pat­terned scarves. But I’m sure there’s nick­el in the met­al and it would raise angry red welts around my neck.

And I can’t wear it if I don’t know what it means. I’m not sure whether it’s flat­ter­ing or insult­ing. One the one hand, he’s think­ing of me. So it could say hey you, I know I’m a big rock star now but I still remem­ber how much fun it was.

Or it could say there you are. Still. I’m a big rock star now and I’ll bet you still lis­ten to crap.

I am hap­py for Doyle, I am. Seventeen years play­ing small bands all over the coun­try, and he’s final­ly hit the big-time. He’s been rec­og­nized for his musi­cian­ly mas­tery. It’s good.

There is no note in the pack­age, no men­tion of Doyle on the invoice. The stealth thing is him all over. I put the neck­lace back in the zip-lock bag­gie and stuff it in the back of the junk draw­er in the kitchen where it glows like psy­chic kryp­tonite. Mark has no idea. He goes in the draw­er to get a scis­sors. He goes in the draw­er to put the scis­sors back. There’s a mes­sage in there to me from Doyle and Mark is just obliv­i­ous.

The next day our mar­riage has a frag­ile feel. After all, it’s been invad­ed. That night I dream that Mark leaves me. “I’ve fig­ured out the length of you,” his dream self says. We are played out. Isn’t it obvi­ous?

In real life I don’t think Mark takes me for grant­ed, and I know that dreams are often the oppo­site of real­i­ty. He hasn’t fig­ured me out at all. I have a rich, com­pli­cat­ed past and Doyle still thinks of me.

But on Thursday when I take the neck­lace out of the draw­er, I know it’s meant to men­ace. If Doyle just want­ed to check in, he could have sent a card or drawn a lit­tle car­toon like he used to do, like the ones on Acme’s web­site. The ugly, cheap neck­lace is point­ed and harsh. It says you are the same. You are all you’ll ever be. I know I should just throw it out, but I put it back in the draw­er. Maybe I need the reproach. Maybe I need to think about things.

On Friday I get the email. Subject: Whoa, hey. Wrong order. The email goes on to tell me that the ebay sender mixed up the vin­tage Beastie Boys t-shirt I’d ordered for Mark’s birth­day with the “too much rock for one hand” neck­lace. If I’ll just pack it up and send it back, the sender will set it straight.

~

Julie Odell has pub­lished short fic­tion in the Berkeley Fiction Review, the Crab Creek Review, Philadelphia Stories, and else­where. She was a 2004 MacDowell Colony fel­low and has record­ed per­son­al com­men­tary for NPR. She is at work on a nov­el.