Just Outside the Business District of Chicago...

April 9, 2008
By Sarah Hunter, Saint Paul, MN

Just outside the business district of Chicago is a 24-hour convenience store. At odd hours of the morning, Edward bought stale packets of Oreos and bottles of cheap champagne under half-hearted florescent lights, the smell of orange cleaner, and the heavy-browed glare of a tea sandwiched sized clerk. This particular morning Edward was interested in celebrating. He was unsure of what he wanted to celebrate, but that was of little concern to him, as something worthwhile could always be found.

Two people swung open the door and squeezed between the bowed shelves. It didn’t appear that they were headed in any particular direction, but Edward suspected they always got there anyway.

The man had height on the woman with him, and was a decent bit taller than Edward; he had his arm slung over the woman’s shoulder and his head bent down, whispering into her ear. The woman was too slight, as though she hadn’t eaten enough during a growth spurt. The man wore a tuxedo, the bowtie unhooked and dangling loose around his neck; the woman wore gray and pink plaid flannel pajama pants, an oversized Macalester College t-shirt, and her companion’s tux jacket.

Edward cleared his throat. “I’m sorry, but I have to ask,” he said. “What’s with the clothes?”

The man tugged the woman tighter into his side. “I skipped out on best man duties the second my old man kissed the bride. It’s not like I would’ve been missed.”

“Then headed straight for Rapunzel’s tower.” Edward took another packet of stale double stuffed Oreos off the overcrowded shelf. He watched the blush paint the woman’s cheeks as she turned her face into the man’s chest.

The man chuckled softly. “She keeps putting her cell phones through the wash, so I threw rocks at her bedroom window. I didn’t want to wake anyone else.”

“I’m Edward,” Edward said. He stuck out his right hand.

“Tackett. And this is Layla.” They shook. Layla extended her hand and Edward was pleasantly surprised to find she had a strong grip.

“I’m also celebrating. Oreos and cheap champagne if you want to join me.”

Edward proceeded to search out bottles of cheap champagne that were never in the same place, but always lost in a layer of dust. Tackett and Layla discussed the matter in hushed whispers looking both interested and wary. And as sorry as Edward was to break up their early morning stroll he hoped they would accompany him, for they were beautiful.

He found the champagne behind canned crab and refused the debit card Tackett offered.

Outside the convenience store the street was lit up with streetlamps and neon signs, and streetlamps and neon signs reflected on the puddles of rain in the cratered pavement. Edward breathed in until his lungs ached from the action. He sent the air out in a whoosh and breathed in again. The damp air tasted like summers in Grand Marais and summers in Grand Marais reminded him of Cal. He breathed in again.

They settled onto the single bench at the bus stop at an intersection, opened packets of Oreos, and popped the cork on the cheap champagne. As they passed around stale Oreos Edward thought about Cal and about Cal and him eating Oreos on the streets of Grand Marais.

“So, what exactly are you celebrating?” Tackett asked, talking around an Oreo.

“I’m not sure yet. But something can always be found.” Edward said. “What shall we celebrate?”

The intersection was silent and Tackett and Layla were silent and so Edward was too. At a bus stop in the business district of Chicago, in the earliest hours of morning, Edward wondered if he had made a mistake. He wondered if he had imaged seeing something in the way Tackett and Layla walked and looked into each other that had him believing they understood the beautiful and the ordinary in a way so many people did not. Then Layla stopped nibbling on a double stuffed Oreo.

“We should drink to love,” she said from Tackett’s shoulder. Her voice sounded like Bach, like Handel’s Messiah.

Tackett raise the bottle of cheap champagne into the damp air and Layla and Edward placed their hands over Tackett’s fist.

“To love.”

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