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   by Josh Capps

On the morning after her birthday, Shannon lay asleep on Jon's apartment floor. Jon yawned and looked carefully at his ex, then went to the open balcony door, passing an empty pie pan and half-empty glasses from the night before. He stepped outside to stretch, despite the rain.
     Jon had scored a little coke and surprised Shannon on her birthday. He'd picked up an Ohio State sweatshirt and a book she'd appreciate. He had dialed her phone number from a gas station near her apartment and said, "Hey, there. It's been a while, birthday girl." She'd sounded uncertain, at first, and Jon had told her that they should get together. That it had been too long. Eventually, Shannon had agreed, but she'd warned him, too. She'd given him the business about not causing any trouble.
     After an awkward hug, they had sat in her living room. Jon gave her the package with her sweatshirt. She took off the ribbon and pulled out the shirt, glanced at the front and the back, smiled. He saw her check the size and glance at the Buckeye emblem again.
     "Thanks for remembering," she said. "My birthday, I mean."
     "I remembered the team, too," he said. "Of course I'd remember."
     "Of course," she said.
     Before Jon could give her the book, Shannon stood up and offered him a soda. She said, "There's not much in my refrigerator, though. A few beers, maybe, and the Shastas." From the kitchen, she said, "And the boxes, of course. I haven't even mentioned . . . but you can see the boxes, I guess . . . I'm moving."
     Several boxes were stacked in the corner of the living room. There was also a roll of packing tape. A black Magic Marker. Scissors and packing foam.
     Jon said, "I sort-of figured that."
     "Cincinatti," Shannon said.
     "Well, I sort-of figured that, too."
     "At the end of the month," she said. "Until then, I'm moving in with my aunt. I'll save rent if I move out before the end of the month."
     "Sounds about right," Jon said, and he took the soda. "A soda's fine," he said.
     They sat and looked at the near-empty book shelves a while. They didn't bring up too much, at first. They mentioned her family in Ohio, and then they mentioned the strange July weather. Shannon tried on her sweatshirt and said it was great. At some point, Jon offered his help with the boxes. "I could help you pack, or move things. Whatever you needed," he said. "Unless you've got birthday plans tonight."
     "I've got birthday plans tomorrow," she said. "Tonight I'm just boxing my clothes and books and dishes. Exciting, I know."
     "So I could help you," he said. "I moved about a month ago, so I know that drill."
     "You're at a new place?"
     "I'm between a new place and my old place," he said, glancing at a few of the boxes stacked in the hallway. He saw one marked, Silverware. Another was half-open. It read, CDs. Jon said, "I'm living with Alan. And his little boy, Jesse. When Jesse visits."
     Shannon laughed and made a face, scrunched up her nose. She said, "You and Alan and a kid." She said, "That's an interesting household, I'd guess."
     Jon smiled and tried to laugh, too. He said, "It's quite a little kingdom, when we clean up after ourselves. But it's not something I ever expected to be a part of, anyway. That's the way it goes, right?" He picked up the can at his feet and saw the package containing the book. He said, "Oh, shit. There's this, too."
     Shannon stood up and straightened her shirt, then sat back down. She said, "Another present? Wow."
     As Jon shifted, he felt the two grams jiggle in his shirt pocket. "Well, yeah," he said. "It's your birthday."
     He handed her the gift and took his empty can to the kitchen trash. He heard her saying something as she tore off the paper, opened the box. Then she was quiet. Jon walked back into the living room and saw Shannon holding the book in her hands, eyeing the cover and thumbing through the pages. She turned the book over in her hands. To Jon, it seemed like Shannon was between saying something she was convinced of and something she was clueless about. And her eyes were moist.
     She said, "Well, I didn't expect this," and Jon couldn't decide if she was talking about the book, or the tears he believed he saw. Her voice cracked when she repeated herself.
     Later, after a little boxing, there was an argument or two. Nothing they hadn't already covered, at some point in their knowing each other. There was a little shouting, which led to Shannon and Jon getting around to a little of the coke. Then Jon drove them around Springfield with the car windows rolled down, the radio going. They finished off the coke in a church parking lot, and went on with the cruising.
     "Keep on trucking," Shannon said, tasting nothing but drip.
     Jon rambled about how great it was to see her again, and she told him he was stupid for saying it, but soon she took her sharp words back, and she said part of her felt the same way, rambling. Then they were both rambling, a bit.
     She said, "It's probably my nostrils talking," and they mocked themselves. But, again, Shannon told Jon it was a stupid thing to say. She said, "I'm outta here in two weeks, baby."
     "But, really," he said. "It is great to see you . . . because I really never thought I would. One more time . . . Or, however I meant to say that." And he tried to rephrase it, taking his hands off the wheel and making gestures when he spoke. These words were still a bit scrambled.
     She said, "There's been a hundred one more times. A thousand!" She said, "And watch the road . . . we'll smash into a telephone pole and have none of this to worry about."
     Jon considered the car crash, both of them flying through the windshield. Jon ending up face first in the concrete. Shannon getting rolled over by the car. Both of them. Squashed, and mangled, and finished off. He said, "Well, maybe."
     She said, "That wasn't a suggestion."
     Jon wondered if he'd have time to swerve his side of the car into the telephone pole. Saving her, maybe. He told Shannon to put on her seat belt.
     She said, "Well, don't fucking crash . . ." She clicked the belt's metallic head into its lock.
     He said, "But what I was saying . . . that this time, I swear to God, I just figured that you were someplace I'd never be able to see you again."
     "Springfield?" Shannon laughed, letting an arm dangle out the window, and she poked her head out and let the breeze hit her in the face. She said, "July, July. Birthday girl, birthday girl." Her voice was rippled, funny in the wind.
     "No, no," he said. "About never seeing you . . . I just figured it was finally over, and tonight it's opened back up."
     "When you called me, that's why it opened back up," she said, bringing her head inside. Her hair was blown and messed, and she shook it out.
     "But I don't know what got into me in the first place," Jon said. "It'd been too long, maybe. Then, boom! Out of the blue, no explanation . . . I just bought the gifts and I called and there we were."
     "Here we are," Shannon said. She rose her hand up against the wind that the speed of the car was creating. She put her hand down, then back up, then down, smiling the whole time. There were turbulent, whistling sounds. When she stopped smiling, she said, "It had been too long for a reason, Jon."
     "Yeah." He acted like was concentrating on the road. Then she said it again and Jon squinted and wiped at his nose, because things were somewhat fuzzy and because he wasn't sure what she was getting at. There was sweat, then things weren't as fuzzy. He knew what Shannon was saying. He said, "Yeah?"
     She brought her arm back into the car, touched her cheek with it, blinked a few times. She was making this humming noise, then she said, "Were you trying to break my heart with that book? Was it your goal?" She said, "What did you want to open back up? Old wounds?"
     "Of course not, Shannon. Jesus."
     "Really?" she said. "Tell me. What story is this supposed to be? Do you have a room rented so we can talk things out? Like the story? You're an idiot sometimes."
     "What?" he said. "Now your nostrils are talking." He was waiting for her to smile again.
     "You know," she said. "You do know. You know exactly."
     They were on Sunshine, near a gas station and St. John's Hospital, and when they stopped at the intersection's red light, Jon had a chance to turn and shake his head at Shannon. He said, "I don't want to fight again."
     She said, "Of course, not. That's why you whipped out your cola." She said, "What? Is there a story in that fucking book where some girl's ex solves all the problems of the world with a gram of toot and an Ohio State sweatshirt? And a fucking book? Christ on a cracker."
     "I never even suggested—"
     "You think the book's stories relate to us, is what it is. I know you. Or, you try to connect them, maybe . . . Well, stupid," she said. Now she was shaking her head at him, and she said, "Stupid. Where'd you ever get the urge to read a fucking book anyway?"
     "It's not that at all," he said. "And stop with the book. I read those stories to you because you liked them. It's just a little thing we had at one time. When we were happy, remember that? You had me read them as you fell asleep."
     Shannon looked like she was ready to tell him something powerful, something serious in their talk. She said, "The light's green." As Jon let off the brake, she said, "Gazebo! The title of one of those stories, I mean. Fucking Gazebo."
     "We had Gazebo. I remember, too," she said. "I remember the damn story. And the other stories, the whole book of stories. I remember the story with the furniture in the yard, and the man with god damn hook hands! The nut with god damn hook hands!" She said, "I remember the fishermen drowning the girl, for God's sake."
     "Good for you," he said. "But the fisherman only found that girl—"
     "Yeah, good for me. Give me the prize! I remember Raymond Carter and all those depressing stories . . . What a hero!"
     "Raymond Carver."
     "Carver, then . . . and the Ohio State Buckeyes . . . and whatever little mementos from our past that you want to bring up, Jon. Tell me something nostalgic, Jon."
     "Something nostalgic," he said, adjusting the rear view mirror.
     She said, "And songs, too . . . there's surely a few songs you could blind side me with . . . songs, and Raymond Car-ter stories you read, and blah blah blah, and whatever it all adds up to in that head of yours, whatever you think it means . . ." She half-sung, "Drove my Chevy to the levy—"
     "Cool it," he said. He let out a breath, then said, "I was wrong back at your apartment, but this is all you now—"
     "Bring up what hurts the most, Jon. There's other things we're not bringing up, Jon."
     "You need food," he said. "We should just get you some food, probably."
     She ignored the advice, shrugging her shoulders and sticking her tongue out, and she said, "Well, I fucking remember." She said, "How about January? Do you remember January? 'Rent out a motel room and we can work things out, right?' What in the hell? . . The couple in that story probably killed each other after it was over. Cheaters!"
     "What in the world?"
     "Gazebo, Jon! It was your fucking idea!" she said. "That you'd even consider that fucking idea, it makes me think you're capable of doing anything, good or bad . . . probably, fucking bad." She said, "You and Mr. Hook Hands! Ha."
     "That wasn't the point," Jon told her, and he reached out and put his free hand on her leg. She let him keep it there, or she didn't notice. Then he touched the radio dial, then put his hand right back on her leg. He said, "It wasn't my point to live out our situation like that damn story—"
     "Those stories don't relate to anything in us! Just that you read them to me. That's it," she said. She said, "You're nuts if you think they do. Sometimes, nothing in this world relates to us! But you try to connect it all!" She said, "Well, sometimes, there's no connections, Jon!"
     "Would you listen to me? Jesus. I wasn't trying to relate," he said. "I just . . . ahh, who the hell cares? Who gives a damn, right? You're fried right now, anyway. I just thought you'd appreciate the gesture."
     "You thought you could make it all work again," she said. She said, "You said it yourself, Jon. Just now!"
     "I was rambling, for Christ's sake. It was just wishful thinking." He checked the mirror again, speeding past the Camaro next to him.
     "Stupid," she said. "I'm moving back to Ohio! Didn't you hear me? Wishful, ha."
     Then Jon quickly switched lanes, cutting off the Camaro. There was a honk amid all the other traffic sounds. Jon swung his car into the Denny's parking lot and pulled right up to the front door. Shannon was saying, "I'm fried? Me?" She said, "You've fucking lost it now. That stuff's gone to your brain now."
     Jon put it into park and raced inside the restaurant, leaving the car door wide open. Seconds later, he raced out, carrying several pies in his arms. He dropped one to the curb before Shannon helped him.
     "Let's go, let's go!" he said, slamming his door and giving his car the gas. He drove wildly through the lot and out the other end. It was hard managing the wheel until he put down the pie he was still holding. He said, "They don't know what fucking hit them! They didn't even see me come in!"
     Shannon's eyes were wide open, then she started giggling, uncontrollably. She waited for Jon to say more. The whole thing had just happened, they'd both played a part, but it was still catching them off guard. Jon laughed, too. Then, they were both hysterical with laughter, nearly. One of the pies had flipped, and there was a halo of banana filling in Shannon's lap.
     Jon said, "God dammit! Pies! How's that?"
     Shannon couldn't talk. She gasped for air, even.
     Between laughs, Jon said, "There's a memento, right?" He kept on the side streets all the way to his and Alan's apartment. He said, "How's that for a story?"
     "It was a story," Shannon cried. They kept laughing to tears. She said, "It was, it was."
     Jon said, "Can you believe it?"
     The rain on the balcony was healthy and warm, comforting, but Jon left it after a few minutes. Shannon was now awake, sitting in the recliner, tying her shoes. She said, "It's raining?" Then she stared out at the thick gray clouds and steady fall, answering her own question. There was thunder, too. Shannon leaned over and pulled the loop through the knot.
     "It's almost noon," Jon told her. He cleared his throat, and he said, "In case you have to be somewhere, it's about noon. You said you had plans."
     Shannon stared at him for a moment, then just past him, and she sucked at her cheeks. She said, "Yeah. Yes, this afternoon." She rubbed the bridge of her nose with two fingers. More thunder. She looked at her pants and said, "I've got a big banana cream stain, you know."
     She smiled, then started to cough. She caught her breath and said, "No, no. The pie was great. Worth it."
     "Well, there's probably more in the car."
     Shannon tied her other shoe and moved across the living room. She took her purse from the kitchen counter and dug through it. She blew her nose into a Kleenex and crammed it back in the purse. There was a toy airplane on a table, and Shannon had a look at it. She said, "Where's Alan? Was he even here last night? He could've had pie."
     "I figured he was asleep by the time we got in. He works early on Saturdays."
     "And . . ?" She signaled with the airplane.
     "Little Jesse? He's at his mom's this week."
     Shannon turned the plane in her hands before she put it back on the table. It was metallic, hard and cold. There were American flag stickers on the wings and a plastic man in the cockpit. Shannon bit at her lower lip, thinking. She said, "Well, whatever got said last night . . . thanks for the presents. Really." She said, "I guess it got pretty crazy, right?"
     "Not too bad."
     She said, "It had been a while . . . since I've . . . well, so I'm sure I started rambling, at least."
     Jon said, "Really, it was nothing." He said, "And, really, I wasn't trying to start something with that book."
     She said, "No, I'd say you weren't. We don't need any help starting things, right?" She said, "It's ending things that we can't seem to manage."
     Jon flipped on the television. He sat at the couch and used the remote, going through all the channels pretty quickly. He passed over cartoons, then went back, then passed them again, and the sports station, the weather station. He said, "Well, it's been over a while now." He went backwards a few more times.
     "What's that?" Shannon looking closely at the channels he passed.
     He said, "Us, I mean. We were finished way back in December, of course."
     She said, "Yeah . . ." She looked down at her hands, then to the kitchen. She looked at the toy airplane.
     Jon put down the remote, letting the television rest on a news station. He said, "But, even so . . . maybe it's that we've never had any finality, if you can see what I'm saying." He glanced back to the television. There was a commercial for Sears Lawn Care. "We keep crossing paths," he said.
     Shannon looked at the television screen, too, and she stepped back into the living room area. She sat on an arm of the recliner. She said, "We do." She said, "And you're right. There was never any finality, if you want to call it that. Nothing was so bad that we couldn't keep from crossing paths . . . which is a good thing, maybe."
     "But . . ."
     "But, you know and I know it . . . there's still no future, there's not a chance of that."
     "Of course not," he said.
     Jon glanced down at the empty pie pan, nudging it with his foot. Outside, there were jagged strips of lightning, nearly invisible against the gray, then there was thunder nearly overlapping the lightning.
     "Well, maybe, Toledo can be finality for you," she said.
     "And for you?"
     She sighed. Shrugged, even. She said, "I doubt it. There's mementos, of course. Like we were screaming last night."
     Jon smiled, and he said, "Like you were screaming." He said, "And I doubt your going Ohio will terminate whatever's left for me, either."
     "Probably not," she said.
     The news program was back on. A bright blue Breaking News emblem glared from the top corner of the screen, and a headline rolled across the bottom. Jon started to say something to Shannon, but he saw her watching, then reading the television. So he read, too. When he got the gist of what had happened, he turned up the volume.
     A reporter was calling it a plane crash now, not just a missing aircraft, though the headline at the bottom still read, "JFK, Jr.'s Plane Missing—blah, blah, blah" The news update cut to a shot of the horribly bright ocean, then to the waves crashing against the coastline, the white foam exploding out of the godly blue. The news update cut back to the reporter, who was taking in information through his ear-piece, a finger to his ear.
     Shannon said, "My god." She said, "This happened last night? JFK, Jr?"
     Jon couldn't answer, of course, and he shook his head and nodded at the screen while the reporter spoke up. The FAA was calling it a plane crash, but there were no signs of wreckage yet. There'd been three people on board. Believed to be three people on board. Believed to be JFK, Jr., his wife, her sister. There were a several search parties. Jon said, "Jesus Christ."
     "Can you believe this?" Shannon said. Then she had a strange burst of laughter. Her mouth looked funny. That's how Jon saw it. But then he saw that Shannon had started to cry, and instantly, it seemed, she was bawling. She was letting it all out.
     Jon stood up, half-way, then sit back down. He said, "I'm sure they're fine," though, he wasn't sure at all, and he had no idea why Shannon seemed to care so much. Then he had no idea why he'd said such a thing. He got up again, and he knelt by the recliner. He put his hand on Shannon's knee, patting it, then her shoulder, and suddenly, he felt it, too, everywhere inside him, and he was crying in her lap, smelling bananas, as she put her head down against his back, crying.
     He felt everything, too.
     Shannon tried to cough, then tried speaking through her sobs. She said, "What in the world? What in the name . . ." She said, "What is this?" She said, "They'll never find them in all that ocean."
     Jon caught his breath and sniffled. He said, "They're fine. I know they probably made it." He said, "Right? For some reason, I'd just say they probably made it," and he felt Shannon twitching and shaking and coughing, some more.
     She said, "What does this mean?" She was bawling and bawling, sobbing. She'd started to shake, almost uncontrollably. Jon had gotten a hold of himself, somewhat, and he tried to hold her. For a while, she let him take her in his arms, but then she flailed her arms, pushed him away.
     Jon went back to her, but she shook her arms at him, her hands. She put her head in her hands, wailing. Moaning. He clicked the television off and tried to get close to Shannon again. She pushed him away, until he held her shoulder with his left hand. "Away, away," she said.
     "Calm down," he said. He squeezed her shoulder until she flinched. He said, "Calm, calm."
     Shannon shook her head some more, shaking free. She said, "Can you believe it? What does this mean?"
     Jon said, "Calm, calm." He kneeled closer.
     Then Shannon made fists with her hands and pounded against Jon's chest, and when he was off-balance, she stood and pounded her fists against his face. Jon tried to stand, but he fell backwards, popping his head on the corner of the television. He rolled over the pie pans, then Shannon went to her knees, rolling him back, pounding his face some more. Several times, smashing his nose. She connected with his jaw, and his nose, again. The blood from the crack in his skin formed a pool. There was blood from his nose, too. Then Shannon went to the kitchen table, and she used the toy airplane on Jon's face.

Copyright©2003 Josh Capps


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