by A. LaFaye
Sitting on the pier, her feet dangling over the water, Ginny watched a fish poke at a torn leaf on the surface.
“Sorry, pal. No food here,” she said. “Or Wi-fi.”
There’s no way her mom “forgot” the phone charger. Her mom packed like a commanding officer prepping for a mission. No essential could be left behind. And cell phone usage was clearly not an essential. Buying a new charger was out of the question. The creaky-floored store ten miles down a tree-lined road carried only dusty packages of cellphone accessories that became obsolete with the death of flip phones.
Stretching out in a chair on the deck of their middle-of-no-where lakeside cabin, her mom kicked off her boots and rested her head in her hands. With a belly-deep sigh, she said, “Who needs a phone in a place like this.”
“Yeah. The bugs will make you too deaf to hear anyone,” Ginny said, sluffing off the deck on her way to the dock across the lawn.
Didn’t take a genius to see a back-to-nature plot brewing like the thunder heads inching over the lake. Her mother probably read about it in one of the seven parenting magazines she was always reading at breakneck speed while they waited in the doctor’s office.
Either that or she’d picked the only place on earth Ginny would have nowhere to go. Guess she was sick of yelling at her only child for staying out all night. Ginny spent her nights wandering the streets. Her mother yelled herself hoarse about risking her life.
What life? Ginny wondered.
Did her mom mean the one where she skipped play practice to sit in a clinic waiting room for her 137th blood test? Or the seventeen-hour car ride on prom weekend to see a specialist in a town that smelled like dirty gym socks? Maybe her mom meant the time Ginny actually made it to a second date and barfed on the poor guy’s shoes because she stood up too fast when it was time to head out. Was that teen movie gone horror flick the life her mom was trying to save?
Ginny was just fine with skipping that life.
Fading into the darkness each night diluted all the tension building inside her. Wandering without destination made the voices in her head fall silent. No matter where she started or what path she took, Ginny always ended up in Oak Street Park. Her dad had played ball there on the weekends. If she closed her eyes, she could imagine him jogging to the field, shouting over his shoulder, “Keep your glove up, Gin. There’ll be plenty of balls flying when I get to bat.”
“Keep your glove up.”
You should’ve listened to your own advice, Dad.
Her last night in the park was like most. Dropping the rest of her snack cake onto the merry-go-round, she slumped into a swing to watch the evening critter show. Holding her three unlucky nickels in her palm to see them glint in the moonlight, she waited.
After a few minutes, a raccoon showed up to clamber onto the merry-go-round creating a tiny echo as it moved. She gave the ride a nudge with her foot. He nibbled at a slow spin in the center of the merry-go-round while his buddies gave him a push when they tried to jump on and missed.
Sitting in the dark, watching the moonlight turn her skin blue, knowing she wasn’t any paler than anything else in the park tonight.
That’s the life.
But cruddy thoughts always creeped in. If Becca Marshall offered to let her use some concealer one more time, she was going to shove that compact between that girl’s pretty little teeth and leave her looking like a choking platypus.
She hated the “How are you feeling today” chorus that played through her days at school.
She felt like shouting, “Just fucking awesome folks!”
Or saying, “I burst blood vessels in my eyeballs when I sneeze!”
But if she did, she wouldn’t stop there. She’d just keep shouting, saying shit like…
“My nose bleeds are a twice daily event!”
“And no one has a good goddamn reason why!”
And this damn lake was no Oak Street Park. Not even after her mom warned her to stay warm and went inside. All the fussing just made her madder, so Ginny flung her useless cell phone into the water.
“Pity. Party of 1. Your table is ready.”
A voice drew her attention to the shore. A tall kid stood by a tree, his hair as pale as his skin.
“You’re…you’re…” Maybe she should’ve listened to her mom, ‘cause now the chill went right down to the marrow. All the rubbing in the world wasn’t going to help.
“Look who’s talking.” He leaned against a tree, the pattern of the bark visible through his clothes. “Not like you’re living it up over there, Miss Doom and Gloom. Heck, those thunder clouds have more life in one cubic centimeter than you do.”
“I…” Blinking didn’t make him any less there.
“Have a speech problem?” He stood up and took a step toward her. “Don’t sweat it. There aren’t any entrance exams where you’re going.”
Ginny tried to talk, but her mouth was as dry as the sand between her toes. Her meds did that. Were they making her see things?
Finally, she pried out the words, “Where do you think I’m going?”
“Into the lake, I hope.” He walked up and threw in a seed pod that didn’t make a splash. “I mean why rent a lake house if you’re not going to swim?”
He stared at her, his eyebrows raised.
“Gawking at me like I should be wearing a long black robe and carrying a farming tool fit for chopping some wheat?” He took a swipe at the imaginary crop. “Yes, indeed you are.” He laughed.
Ginny could feel her jaw tighten. Jerk.
If he was her guide to the afterlife, he really needed more on the job training.
“You’re just looking at the surface again. The signs floating on top.” He cast his hand out as if he skimmed over unseen object.
If she wasn’t so tired, she’d stand up and give that guy an earful, but she settled with saying, “Oh, and you’re here to help me go deep and see the purpose of life before I …”
“Die? Croak? Kick the bucket? Shuffle off this mortal coil.”
“Whatever!” She shifted to look the other way. Her shrink had made her write down 100 words for dying like that would make it any easier to face.
And there he stood on that side of the dock. He leaned onto his toes, saying, “Nope. I’m not here to talk about ‘whatever.’” He did air quotes. “I’m here to talk about neocides and pH levels. You?”
“I’m freaked out.”
“I can understand that. I mean, when I learned I’d end up right here, right now I was …” He laughed. “Let’s just say, it’s a good thing my mother always bought a fresh stock of tightie-whities every three months.”
Ginny snarled in disgust.
“Hey, don’t judge. They say Einstein didn’t bother getting up to go the bathroom when he was on a hot streak. Know what I mean?”
Ginny closed her eyes and held her stomach.
“Changing the subject.” He walked back to the tree. “Do you remember your neighbors on Peale Street?”
“The Bickersons and the Arguables?” Ginny shredding a leaf. They were really the Dickersons and the Aarables, but their neighborhood feud was legendary on account of the Dickerson’s beehives and the Aarables loathing for the flying little honey makers.
As a single mom, it took Ginny’s mother almost a decade to afford a house. Too bad the real estate agent never mentioned the bickering neighbors.
Ginny had lived with headphones on from the moment they moved in to drown out the yard-to-yard shouting matches.
“Yep. Those are the very jerks I’m referring to. FYI. Neocides kill bees. And they are killer on the red blood cells. Turn the suckers into cups.”
Did this guy speak English?
She blinked again.
His words sifted into her thoughts and she slowly sorted them out.
Spinning to face him, she asked, “Are you saying my blood’s jacked up because my neighbors killed my other neighbor’s bees?!”
“And sprayed all three yards for weeks while you were at school. That’s right.” He tucked his hands in his pockets.
“Yep. Stuff decimated the US population. We’re going to be dealing with that screw-up for years.”
“How do you know this?”
“Same way I know you’ve got three nickels in your pocket right now.”
She gripped the coins. She carried them every day. They were the change she’d gotten when she bought a hotdog in the aisle at the ball game with her dad. She’d wondered why the vendor hadn’t give her a dime and hesitated there on the step, her dad had turned, yelling, “You’re missing it, Ginny! Come on.” And a fly ball had hit him right in the temple and he’d crumpled over the seat.
“You spoke to my dad?” She practically fell off the dock when she scrambled to her feet.
“Not possible.” He sighed. “I can do a lot of things. But I can’t do that. Just like there’s no way for you to know if he would’ve lived if he hadn’t turned to yell at you.” He wagged a finger at her. “Besides. You need to stop looking at the surface. Unless you want to talk about the surface of your blood cells. See now, there’s where I can help. Tell them to look at lower Ph level therapies to permeate the lining of your blood cells. It’ll reverse things.”
“Go see Dr. Elliot Littlefield.”
“Elliot Littlefield. Say it, so you’ll remember him.” He walked towards the tree. “I mean after all, it’s that teenage son of his who’ll grow up and get you to spend those nickels.”
He turned to face her, smiling. “Oh, and he’ll bore you with some dumb theory about quantum physics and time. You might want to listen though. Could come in handy someday.” He whispered something like “today,” then he stepped behind the tree.
She leaned to see where he went.
He leaned back, “See you around, Ginny Carpenter. And remember, look a little deeper.”
And he was gone.