Depression Glass (part four)
“Oh, that’s pretty. Is it, like, a fern?”
“It’s a poisonous plant called hemlock.”
“But, you mean, hemlock? How’s it growing here?”
“You got me. I can look it up.” He patted his phone pocket.
They were under hot sun, on weedy gravel, moving down from the lot to the bike path’s start. A few pines shaded the limo, and Keeks, who’d said, “Yeah, nuh,” when asked along. “I’m snoozing.”
Merrilee thought of a Jate story. “He told me he wants to buy a claw machine, so he can practice every day. I said, and…? And he said, just amaze people.”
“I’d be amazed.”
“I said, oh, you’re gonna meet women that way? It was like…like I hurt his feelings, like claw machine hustler could be a thing…”
“Growing pains,” Jonah said. In a few minutes, when they were under shade, on a bridge built of railroad ties, he said, “Look down there. Lots of ferns.”
“What kind are they?”
“Christmas ferns, male ferns, maybe lady ferns. You think I’m pulling your leg.” He pulled out his phone this time, and showed her.
“Male ferns and lady ferns… What did the people who named them think was going on?”
“Trouble. So. You’re bad for Jate?”
“Why isn’t he looking for a job?”
“I don’t like to repeat myself. But it’s a new experience, being out of school.”
“Why isn’t he an adult?”
Jonah grinned, lopsided. “You’re blaming my family.”
“I didn’t meet his parents at Tabitha’s wedding. Or your brother, I guess…Jate’s dad.”
“No, his mom wasn’t coming. And Carl didn’t know he could meet you.”
“Well, it was your sister’s day…” She spurted a laugh.
Charitably, Jonah laughed.
“Nothing,” she told him.
“I was just listening to myself.”
“I like the habit.”
“So, all the teams, the pro teams, have their own film crews, right? So Jate ought to be…”
“Looking for work is like the most dismal thing in the world, I know.”
“You want me to have a session with him, give the kid a kick in the pants? Even allowing you guys are the same age, about?”
“I would love that. I wasn’t even thinking of favors. It’s because… I told him, you’re not really with me. We just haven’t been dating that long, why can’t we be straightforward? I mean, I said the one thing to Jate. I’m saying the other thing to you.” She put her gesturing hands in her pockets. “He needs to go live wherever he has to. I want us to stay together, but.”
“Has he been looking local?”
“He’s been sleeping late, and smoking weed, and bumming around on my sofa. He vacuums.”
They walked, in a murmur of nature, fragrant with rain on leaves, and Jonah said, “You’re probably killing him a little, with so much common sense. He wants to love you.”
“Um. Sorry. I’m not…”
He swung back to her, then, from his few paces ahead. “Poor editing. I’m sorry. At least, you sounded needled. And I don’t mean anything, except…you see how he can rule out most of the jobs he’d, realistically, get a ‘thank you for your interest’ robo-sponse if he applied. So why apply, if the job can’t be right because he has his girl to look after?”
“I should break it off.”
“Why do that? Or are you asking?”
“But…when you talk to him…” She felt needled now. “Are you going to say, you don’t really love her, you’re just making excuses? Or get a job before anything…”
“Yes. To the second. I’ll even point out it’s your advice, and a guy who loves his girl should appreciate a smarter take.”
“Then, what we’re saying isn’t really private.”
“Ha.” Jonah shook his head, in a conveying way; he acted his contrition for her. But this was humor, and had its charm. “Well, I did say smarter. I would never betray a source, Ms. Nixon. More editing…”
She cut in, “Sometimes I think, what if I picked him up at the airport, when he was visiting from…I don’t know, California…and we met that way, then. And I see him looking at this dumpy girl behind the wheel, and being sober, having places to be, knowing people, and it seems impossible…”
Her fingers idly brushed a wildflower, and she picked it. Waiting, wandering parking lots, where cornflowers sprouted from cracks, Merrilee had got the habit—
She gasped. “Don’t call the cops on me!”
“Here.” He snapped the stem, stuck the bloom in a buttonhole. “Let em prove I didn’t wear it on the way over.”
I disagree, he had said…the only time a man had ever used that tone with her, that made her feel championed. And afraid, and never wanting to hear it again.
(2022, Stephanie Foster)