Some Severe Situations #2: “A Little Closure”Books/Art/Culture,Home,News Joe DeRosa
Wait a minute. Wait. Stop walking for a second and think about this. Sit down and think. Sit. Think. In their forty-odd years of operation, Harley’s Grill never served anything more elegant than a rack of ribs, yet today they were advertising “Chilean Sea Bass with Orange Mango White Wine Reduction.” You just saw it, written in that ugly teal marker on that dry-erase sandwich board they keep out front. Same putrid teal as always, but today it said “Special: Chilean Sea Bass with Orange Mango White Wine Reduction.” Seems like they even managed to spell it right, too. And that’s suspicious. You remember the time they were trying to raise money for the church with that hot dog stunt. “Fundraser for sant margrit’s church – frankfritter eating contest.” You laughed about that for weeks. So how the hell did they manage to spell “Chilean Sea Bass with Orange Mango White Wine Reduction” correctly? And where they hell did they learn to make “Chilean Sea Bass with Orange Mango White Wine Reduction?” The most sophisticated fruit in that sweatbox of a kitchen of theirs is maraschino cherries. And we’re not within a hundred miles of a lake, let alone a sea. And there’s no way in hell Harley’s Grill—that’s smelled faintly of urine and had a fly infestation since I can remember—started having quality seafood shipped in.
Something isn’t right. I’m sure of it now. This, in conjunction with the other stuff…no. Something isn’t right. Any one of those things on its own would just seem peculiar, but all of those things combined? Something is wrong here. Why did Dad say that this morning when I dropped off my bags? “Don’t stay gone for too long, man.” Why did he say that? “Man.” He didn’t say the word that way we all say it, to punctuate a thought. “It sure is hot, man,” or, “What are you talking about, man?” He said it like he was identifying what I was. “Don’t stay gone for too long, you MAN.” And why did he hug me hello? I know we haven’t seen each other for a while—a long while—but he’s never hugged me, except for that time my fever went too high with the tonsillitis. And why would he care how long I took to step out for lunch? As far as I knew he wasn’t even happy I was visiting. “Don’t stay gone for too long, man.” Eighteen goddamn months wasn’t too long, now he’s worried about a few extra minutes?
Dusty didn’t bark either. Why? Usually, I could strangle that thing, always yelping at me…at anybody, like a watchdog that’s set off by nothing and guarding even less. But Dusty was quiet as snow today. I need to keep a tally of this stuff. I showed up at Dad’s today, he hugged me, Dusty didn’t bark, then he did the whole “man” thing when I was leaving to get some food. Then I walked down Maple to Pizzeria-Pizzeria and it was gone. How? How could I not have known it closed? Dad would’ve told me. Regardless of the fact that I thought it was a dump, he would’ve told me out of indulging his own heartache. He loved that place. What the hell is going on around here?
Remember when Mrs. Dubrowski barely said hello? When I saw her coming toward me on Maple, I almost turned and ran the other way. It’s all I can do to not tell the woman to shut her yap any other time I see her, ever since I was a kid. Even at seven years old I knew she was a blowhard. She’d chew the ears off a chocolate bunny, then gossip to it for an hour. And her perfume could wake a hibernating bear. I always thought the local police should’ve bottled it for when they needed to use smelling salts. Better yet, bring her to the crime scene and have her talk an unconscious bystander awake. The cops could’ve have used her for all sorts of stuff. “This perp doesn’t wanna talk.” “Send Dubrowski in. He’ll talk.” But today? Nothing. Christ, she barely made eye contact with me. There I was, ready to flee, and she barely made eye contact. “John.” That’s all she said. Head facing forward, keeping a steady pace, muttering, almost inaudibly, as she passed me. “John.”
Maybe everybody around here finally sees me for what I am: a guy that looks at this town like a prison and the people who live here as too unintelligent to devise an escape plan. Maybe they finally know I look down on them; Dad, Mrs. Dubrowski, Dusty, all of them. Maybe they’re thinking, “We don’t give a shit if you want nothing to do with us, John. We want nothing to do with you. We don’t need you. We can do our own fancy, big-city-type stuff around here, and it starts with Chilean Sea Bass with Orange Mango White Wine Reduction. Out with the pizza, in with the three-star cuisine.” But seriously, what the hell is going on around here?
Maybe it’s aliens. Maybe they took over the town, like an OUTER LIMITS episode. That sort of thing always happens in a place like this. These types of people never see it coming. They’re too aloof, too unaware. They’re too uncultured to even consider the existence of people living anywhere outside the seven square miles of this hole, let alone that of otherworldly beings. Hell, I bet if some intergalactic army ever did land its troops here in Wald, they’d immediately ditch their plans to emulate its inhabitants and just move on. Any self-respecting, shape-shifting alien would be too embarrassed to wear the skin of these hicks. It’d be like Cleopatra donning a dress she bought at Target. That’s Wald; too pathetic to even be enslaved. God forbid anything ever light this place up.
An alien takeover would be great: aliens, or ghouls, or some parasite infecting the brains of the townsfolk, making them all pawns in an evil plot—and finally somewhat interesting. Maybe the end is in sight for these people. Maybe that’s why Dad hugged me. It’s almost bedtime and he wanted a clean conscience before turning in. Don’t do me any favors. And the same goes for the dog. You’re gonna show me some courtesy now? Choke on it. Both of those mutts. Maybe Mrs. Dubrowski finally talked herself out. She finally ran out of praise to give Jesus, and points to prove about the youth, and complaints to lodge against The President. The sad owners of Pizzeria-Pizzeria at long last realized their food was shit, and charging anything higher than nothing for it was grand larceny. So, in an ethical move, they closed their doors. But as for Harley’s Grill and their attempt to venture into the world of finer dining…well, there’s just no sound explanation for that. God, that fish must be awful. I should try it. Damn the stomachache and the assured vomiting. I gotta see what this is all about. I’m gonna get off my ass and head into Harley’s Grill for the most superb dish they’ve ever served up.
This is going to be hilarious. This is going to be…this…wait. Wait. It can’t…this…how…the sign must’ve been different before. It must have been. It must’ve have said Charlie’s Grill all along. It must have. That’s why they’re selling sea bass…because it’s under new ownership. But no, it said Harley’s Grill. It did. That’s what was so funny about today’s special. No. It couldn’t have. It said Charlie’s Grill, but I wasn’t paying attention and didn’t realize the name had changed. I just assumed it was the same as it had always been. But, hold on, the sandwich board…the sandwich board…where’s the teal marker? Those words weren’t written in neon yellow before. And there was never a drawing—a good drawing—of a little fish jumping out of a stream and over the word “bass.” Charlie’s Grill and yellow marker.
And the street sign says “Hazel St.” This is Maple Street. This was Maple Street. The street sign changed. Within the last twenty minutes it went from being…come on…stop it. Stop it. This is ridiculous. So what? Dad hugged you, Dusty didn’t bark, an annoying old windbag had the courtesy to not waste your time, and some old stinking pizza shop closed. These are hardly examples of the universe being turned on its ear. They’re not even marginally cosmic occurrences, yet you’ve let them spin you around so much that you actually think a goddamn street sign changed when you weren’t looking. And a restaurant sign for that matter. Hilarious. Ridiculous. All is exactly as it was when you arrived in this godforsaken place this morning. Nothing has changed. Nothing ever does around here.
But maybe that’s just it. This town is so painfully narcissistic it could make the impossible possible. People acting no way in line with their consistent characters, things morphing practically right in front of your eyes. This is just the type of town where craziness like that could occur. A place so up its own ass it eventually disappeared into it. Wald. That name kills me. It should be spelled “Walled.” Always thought so. It’s amazing to me none of these people ever understood how fitting the town’s name actually was. And if they did, they never bothered to discuss it. You’d think anyone, as soon as they learned they were born into a place named Wald, would see that as the first warning sign to get the fuck out, especially if they knew their environment was capable of transfiguration. Hell of a trick. A burg so hell-bent on keeping its citizens trapped that it’ll make minor physical adjustments to give the illusion of progress. And these dolts are so dim that something like a color change in the marker on a dry-erase board would be enough to distract them from their hellish surroundings, might even be enough to keep them from leaving.
Nobody leaves, but you did. Mom’s dying or Dad’s breakdown didn’t keep you here. Because you played the game the way you wanted to play it. So then why can’t the town do the same? Why can’t the town say to hell with you like you said to hell with Dad? Strange enough, the one person I’d like to see right now is Dad. He could shed some light on this. Look at you…longing for your father. Well, that’s a first. I never needed much of the son of a bitch. Son of a bitch. That’s too harsh a term. Maybe bastard is better. No. It’s not and you know it. You father might be a rube, but he’s no bastard. Goddamn is a he a rube though. Always was. To let that woman swallow him up? Thirty-six years of marriage…to that woman…only a guy with the word “sucker” stamped across his forehead could get roped into a ruse like that.
I always found it strange that he cried when she died. She was dead when he met her. Not an original thought, idea, or dream in her corn-fed head…just a bunch of bad recipes and cliché expressions that belonged cross-stitched on pillows. What little fire he ever had got smothered fast by her wet blanket of a personality. She took him down with her. That’s what boring types do. They take you apart, piece by piece, with their plainness. People say it’s hard to keep up with a mover and a shaker. Try keeping up with a dullard. They’ll suck the spirit clean from your soul and you’ll be left standing there, an exhausted husk, unable to move. Spun, spent, and done. If Dad hadn’t had his breakdown after mom was already dead, I’d be convinced it was her insipidness that caused it. But there never was any explanation for why Dad went off the way he did for that year. Maybe it was the town’s tricks that did it. Maybe one day he bought one of those “homemade pies” they sell at the roadside produce stand and at the time of purchase it was peach, but then he got home and it was apple. And maybe he thought, “They must’ve made a mistake.” But ten minutes later it was blueberry…then cherry…then pumpkin next to rhubarb next to pecan. Then maybe he snapped. I never tried to figure out why Dad snapped until now. Is it because I’m snapping? I wanna talk to Dad. I’ve never said that before in my life. Even seeing Dusty right now would be comforting. I gotta get to Dad; to Dad and Dusty. I hope he’s barking.
Of course the dog isn’t making a peep. I’m banging on the front door and he’s not making a sound. Maybe he’s not barking because his personality changed? Maybe dogs change? People change. No, they don’t. Not here. Answer the goddamn door! Why is it locked?! Where is the dog?! Where is Dad?! I think this is the street. It might be. I can’t tell! These fucking streets all look the same! These houses, these people! They all look—
All of it’s different now. Even from before. I bet Harley’s isn’t even Charlie’s anymore. But I can’t find my way back. How did it all change here? I left. I’m the one who left. I need to get out of…no. Wait…wait a minute. Wait. Stop for a second and think about this. Sit down and think. Sit. Think.