Claire Hopple ~ Float

Preparation

She dri­ves past the house a third time. She wants to be a nat­ur­al. The blinds are clos­ing. Maybe that’s enough for today.

Rumors

The rumor starts out with flamin­gos. The zoo is near­by, and since their clipped wings grow back, it’s com­mon­place for them to flee and get away with it.

But it turns out a macaw had slunk out of his cage and latched onto a Westfalia’s bumper, fresh­ly aslop with vaca­tion soil. All this, despite his inabil­i­ty to fly.

Harboring a fugi­tive bird after the family’s leisure­ly enter­pris­es were fresh­ly accom­plished would’ve been a sto­ry that foamed on the driver’s lips had he been made aware. This macaw’s approx­i­ma­tion of free­dom showed up in the papers days lat­er nonethe­less.

Marleena’s House

Gretchen rum­mages through the cup­board while the dog mash­es a chew toy into her shin bone.

One thing about Marleena, she has her pri­or­i­ties straight, Gretchen thinks. She’d lam­i­nat­ed a piz­za deliv­ery fly­er and placed it over­top her activ­i­ty sched­ule on the fridge. Undisclosed oint­ments and human teeth beck­on from the junk draw­er. Plus, her front door is always slam­ming itself. And rem­nants of what appears to be a parade float line the base­ment floor.

Gretchen tucks a tis­sue paper flower into her bosom.

Protocol

Gretchen has always been afraid that once she set­tles into pet-sit­ting for a friend, said pet will sud­den­ly keel over in her care. What she isn’t pre­pared for is the death of her friend while she’s pet-sit­ting. The dog’s coat has nev­er looked shinier though.

Marleena was an elder­ly woman, so it could be worse. Her grown son calls the land­line in strik­ing mourn­ful clar­i­ty. Gretchen usu­al­ly thinks she can tell who’s call­ing by the sound of the ring, but this time she’s way off.

Some par­ents are des­per­ate to get cre­ative with the spelling of their children’s names but not with the names them­selves. Marleena was no excep­tion. He imme­di­ate­ly tells Gretchen that he is Marleena’s son, Frankk-with-two-Ks. He’ll be there soon to set­tle the affairs, quell the tide of histri­on­ic rel­a­tives, and relieve her of her dog-watch­ing duties.

Groove is in the heart, sure, but grief is in the voice. And Frankk doesn’t sound too bro­ken up about the sit­u­a­tion.

Visitor #1

Returning from a walk with Snacks, Gretchen spies a uni­formed man crouch­ing in the grass.

He’s here for the repair work on the house’s foun­da­tion.

Sorry, I got held up last week. Nice to final­ly meet you, Mrs. Stewart.”

Gretchen man­gles his extend­ed hand.

Please, call me Marleena.”

Well, Marleena, we have one more form for you to fill out. Paperwork. You know how it goes.”

He pass­es her a clip­board.

Gretchen skims over the mate­r­i­al. A bub­bled floater in her eye keeps her spot on the page like a sin­ga­long video.

Visitor #2

Frankk’s pre-dis­tressed jeans look ambi­tious.

Gretchen lets him in and offers him some gaz­pa­cho. She sits him down on the couch and heads for the kitchen.

I’m onto you,” she says into his soup bowl.

She eeks out a dol­lop from one of the mys­tery oint­ments. It makes a sat­is­fac­to­ry plop when it min­gles with bits of ground cumin and diced pep­pers.

She paws at the tis­sue paper flower melt­ing into her chest from the heat of revenge.

He’s swad­dling him­self in a dusty quilt on the couch when she enters the room.

Best served cold,” she grins.

Snacks nuz­zles at her knees.

A sub­ter­ranean clunk­ing and clang­ing begins.

What is that? Is some­one down there?” he asks.

A slight restruc­tur­ing. Don’t wor­ry about it.”

Pink Gorilla

Gretchen knocks at the door across the street. She knows Marleena was close with the guy who lives here.

He answers. As she’s explain­ing that Marleena has extend­ed her trip, that he’ll be see­ing a lot of her in the next cou­ple weeks, a tuft of pink fuzz flash­es from behind his left shoul­der.

This neigh­bor, Craig, is a ses­sion musi­cian who side-hus­tles for a singing telegram ser­vice because it pays well. The pink goril­la cos­tume is hands-down the most pop­u­lar request. He’s learn­ing to yodel so he can add to his reper­toire. Craig doesn’t explain any of this to Gretchen. He doesn’t know the costume’s in view, and prob­a­bly wouldn’t tell her even if he did.

Gretchen sidles away, a lit­tle dizzy with pink pos­si­bil­i­ties.

Badminton

Betsy was Marleena’s best friend. Gretchen remem­bers hear­ing about her before. Gretchen sees Betsy’s name pen­ciled in on the activ­i­ty cal­en­dar and gives her a call.

She tells Betsy the same sto­ry Craig received.

Really? She likes it that much? She’s not ready to come back?”

It’s plau­si­ble,” Gretchen says.

They agree to the rec league game as planned.

You sound young. You’ll add some vig­or to the court. Do some squats the day before, just in case,” Betsy says, then hangs up.

Betsy imme­di­ate­ly calls back.

Bring your own shut­tle­cock.”

Then she hangs up again.

The day of the match, Gretchen sur­veils the gym­scape in front of her.

In one cor­ner, by the vend­ing machines, is what looks to be a field trip for bankers.

She finds a bunch of white-haired ladies stretch­ing each other’s ham­strings. She guess­es which one’s Betsy, waves.

Gretchen reflects on the macaw. She won­ders what became of him. He could’ve made it to Costa Rica by now.

At Betsy’s approach, she cries sound­less­ly, mouth open.

~

Claire Hopple is the author of two sto­ry col­lec­tions and one novel­la. Her fic­tion has appeared in Hobart, Vol. 1 Brooklyn, Heavy Feather Review, Timber, and oth­ers. More at clairehopple.com.