Rendezvous En Route

June 19, 2011
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Yet another spray of cookie crumbs bombarded my face. Sigh. Slowly and gingerly I managed to heave up my drooping eyelids only to be met with the sight of Sky shoving barrelfuls of to-be-expired snicker doodles into his mouth while reading To Kill a Mockingbird for the twenty-seventh time. He had yet to beat my delicious, enjoyed record of thirty-four, however. Sky is my best friend truly. We had met on a similar day such as this one where the sun stamped its mighty heel of piercing rays on us. I remember it well. The throwing of the mulch on the playground. The precluding of one another from going on the slide. Good times, good times.

The only difference from then to today was the eleven, incredulous years. Five years of blazing delirium and toddlerhood had become sixteen and staid. We sat at Old Joe’s Shack for the fifth consecutive summer, shiftless as always. The Shack was a ravaged, antique gas station that no one—and I mean no one—ever drove by. All summer long we would sit around on our lackadaisical behinds, reading out the entire town’s library while eating the foods which would soon turn rancid, a.k.a. what we called the vigorous exercise of the voracious, ever-ravenous mind.

We lingered inside the Shack due to the pulsating heat. There was little to see: rickety shelves held forlorn canned foods, rock-hard pastries, a variety of jerked meats, and Unidentifiable Fruit-at-some-point Objects (the U.F.O.’s we called them). Most of it was suspiciously malodorous contrary to Joe’s argument that he received supplies weekly except at rare times when we weren’t present. I had made sure to make the point that the position of the canned pineapples never moved an inch and had about an inch of dust on it.

Old Joe came in with the remnants of his gray hair flying just as Sky discovered a new meaning in some of Atticus’ words in the book. “Girl,” he growled. “Git this here sack o’ potatoes and ram it under the door.”

We loved Old Joe, and he loved us. It’s just that he never really showed it. However, he never said anything belligerent (most of the time) and gave us free food. One time he asked about our books, which stood in a few piles in the back corner, and for one second he had a countenance like admiration. It quickly smoldered before he snarled at us to “git back to work.” There was another instant when he called me by my real name, not “Girl” or “Missy.” He never said it again due to his chagrin, but well, I know he knows it.

I watched as he scowled at me, pulling his rope-like lips back to reveal crooked, yellowed teeth. We didn’t know much about Joe because he rarely talked to us about his past, but Sky had a theory Joe had been a legendary rowdy fighter in some desert land.

“And you, boy! Put that book away and be a look out!” Old Joe barked as he rummaged behind his termite-chewed counter.

“What’s up, Joe?” Sky ventured.

Joe grimaced. “We have company.”

I squealed, and Joe shot me another glare with his faded blue eyes that matched his threadbare jeans. He had a shotgun in his hands. “This ain’t funny business, missy. It might be someone dangerous.”

Sky and I exchanged glances. This further confirmed our tenet that Joe had a heroic past. A dangerous past. You know, something out of those Wild West movies. With enemies of all kinds that might just come up from behind and—

There was the sound of wheels on gravel outside the door. Joe cursed. I quickly set the potatoes in their designated location while Sky gathered some U.F.O’.s for camouflage and peeped out the window. Old Joe was stationed next to him, loading his gun.

The car stopped. Someone stepped out and walked toward the Shack. I tried to see out the window to the left of Sky but in vain. Joe cocked his gun.

Sky looked disturbed. “But Joe, she’s just…”

“Shut your mouth, boy!”

The “she” stopped outside the door. I could just imagine someone pondering whether he/she should knock or not. Perhaps she was expecting a ghost to come rushing out when the hinges creaked. That’s sure what Sky and I had thought.

“Hello?” The voice was sincere and kind. “Hello, anyone in there?”

I was getting uneasy. Allergic to the dust in the air and on the window, I was just about ready to be blessed. Before I could choreograph a signal, Joe leaped up, snagged his gun behind the counter, and kicked aside the potatoes. I sneezed.

“Hello, ma’am. May I help you?” he cooed, a disturbing sound that sound not ever again be heard, opening the entrance.

“Why yes, I just needed some provisions, if you didn’t mind.” The lithe woman had dark hair which gleamed in the sunlight.

Old Joe apparently seemed mesmerized by her glistening eyes. “Y-Yes, of course. Please step right on in. We haven’t exactly got around to spring cleaning yet, haha.”

Nor in the past five years, I thought. I could tell Sky was nervous like I was. Joe was always cheeky and cavalier. He had never cooed before; he was engrossed.

The lady didn’t step—she sashayed. She perused over the shelves. She even took a moment to take a look at the U.F.O.’s. It was a pivotal moment in my five years here, enough time for a baby Sky to grow into a rambunctious child or for Old Joe to have a toll taken on his life.

“I actually came for a different reason,” the woman stated with a solicitous frown.

Joe was shaking. His mouth was quivering like a child’s. He reminded me of Sky after I ran a swing into him on our destined meeting. “Beth…is that you?”
Tears ran down both persons’ cheeks.

“Yes, Papa,” the woman murmured serenely, “it’s me.”

Time froze, cockroaches stopped skittering in the corners, and mice held their paws steady.

Joe yelped and ran to embrace her, shouting why his little girl had left him. She apologized again and again, never convinced that it was enough. The pain in their eyes overcame the heat, and I found myself crying and smiling at the same time.

Joe and Beth walked out that day, conversing through grins only they could comprehend. “So long, suckers! Don’t drop out of school, Sky, and keep those darned books, Laura!” Old Joe had cried. He had said my name, my veritable name.

“Think he’s coming back?” Sky muttered.

“Did Pickle come back to marry Scout?”

“We’ll never know.”

We watched them drive away, out past the horizon. Time caught up with itself again, and we knew that we had just witnessed a preordained intersection of human lives by some ubiquitous force the eye cannot see and one the mind can only begin to apprehend. Pretty cheesy, huh. Was it destiny? Old Joe would always be embellished in my heart forever just as Sky would. Whether there would be another junction that intertwined the strings of life or not, one could only imagine.

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