I was eating cherries out of a jar when Denis Johnson died, my fingers sticky with the slime. Their red syrup coating my teeth, I could feel a cavity forming already. The back tooth, it was always the back tooth.
Still, I was fingering the jar with one hand, checking the internet the other and Denis Johnson had died. He really was Jesus’s Son after all, as far as I was concerned. I went into your room to tell you the news, but you were in the shower—your framed picture of James Joyce staring at me, his dot eyes almost popping off the paper. I put it face down before getting back to the cherries.
When you got out of the shower smelling like peppermint soap, you asked me why I had finished all the cherries. I said it was because I was hungry and they were so good. You fixed me a mustard tuna sandwich and it was the best of my life, better than anything I had eaten at any restaurant.
“We need to go to the hardware store,” you said as you finished your own sandwich. “Can I have another sandwich?” I asked. “The bathtub needs caulking,” you said.
“Doesn’t the landlord do that?”
You shrugged and said, “I never met him.”
In the car, the tuna started to churn in my stomach. I felt like a giant soda can being shaken, ready to burst at any moment. I lowered the window and you asked me if I’m alright. At the red light, I yanked the door open and puked on the corner of Fourth Street and Orange Avenue. The vomit was yellow from the mustard and pink from the tuna. Molted chicken of the sea as far as I could tell. I said I felt better already so you just kept driving. You were so quiet, I just felt that I needed to apologize so I did but I felt worse when you didn’t say anything.
We get to Frank’s Hardware and you asked me if I wanted to stay inside the car and I said I wanted to go with you; we go inside and we don’t hold hands. I’m sad about that. I’m still sad about that. You looked for the brand of caulk that you have a coupon for, that you tore from the back of the local magazine I wrote in at the time. I thought about Denis Johnson again and made myself gloomy.
Determined to cheer myself up, I go to the gardening supply side of Frank’s. I texted you to inform you where I’d be. There’s all these ceramic garden gnomes and frogs holding flowers or sitting on lily pads. Tin watering cans in every shade you can think of. Big pots, little pots, long pots, short pots. It smells like wet earth and I wonder if that’s what people used to think about as they died, knowing that the wet earth would swallow them back up soon. I wonder if that’s what Denis Johnson thought about when he died, and I hope not. I hope he thought about something nice, like a giant teal lake all to himself, full of fish on an empty afternoon. A car ride in the amber mountains. A pink flamingo standing on one leg in a marsh or swamp, wherever it is that they live.
The body was made out of plastic but the leg it stood on was a thin metal pole. Part of its red eye was chipped, exposing the pink shell underneath, all of it fake, illusionary, a mirage of the real thing. I wanted it. I wanted it desperately, more than anything, more than the expensive cherries I swallowed earlier, whole, with the pit intact.
It was the last flamingo and I knew that because of the chip in its eye. The flightless bird was destined for the discount aisle. Next to all the world’s unbuyable broken hardware. I wanted to buy the flamingo and show it to you, to tell you that this was what the house needed, more than the caulk. I could see it, you in those summer shorts your ma got you at the fancy mall, weeding your tomato plants; me bringing you a glass of lemonade ‘cause it’s so hot. The flamingo, our pink son with a keen eye all over the garden, its bad eye scaring away all the bad spirits that would ever want to spook us. You texted me that you were at the car already and I was scared of you leaving so I left the flamingo there, alone with only ugly gnomes to keep it company.
You caulked the bathtub while I napped, keeping out of the way. When I woke up it was dark but you were smoking a cigarette by the window in the purple twilight hour, looking like Ethan Hawke in the ’90s.
“Sorry about earlier. Hope you’re feeling better,” you said.
“You’re right, I shouldn’t be caulking anything.”
“I’m glad you agree,” I said.
We walk to the restaurant in Downtown because we want to eat something nice, but we just don’t want to make it. You make sure that we have enough cash to leave a decent tip. We did so we went. I was ready to order water at the restaurant, y’know, trying to save some coin and leaving enough for the tip and all that. But you eyed the bar and all the bright bottles sitting under the warm light and asked me if I want anything real to drink.
You emphasized the word “real” and it made me laugh so I said sure. You told the waiter that we wanted something real to drink, so he left, and another waitress returned with a burgundy cardboard square. On it were all the things “on tap” or whatever. You looked at it so intently, the little space between your eyebrows suddenly became canyons of concentration. I looked at the menu and knew what I wanted right away—a Tart Simpson. We ordered and the waitress, Daisy, lingered and spoke only to you. I swore, she was flashing her wrists and collarbones at you, and I couldn’t blame her, I couldn’t even be mad. My Tart Simpson was sour, I felt it eat away the enamel of my teeth. I loved it. I wanted to toast to Denis Johnson, but you were looking at some place far off and I didn’t want to interrupt.
We get home and on the steps of the porch was a dead parakeet, just laying there. It was frozen still and deeply blue, a sapphire shade; I started to cry. You stepped over it to get to the door and left me alone with it in the light of the porch. A moth was fluttering around and I saw its body burned up by the lightbulb in one zap. Hell is only a hot lightbulb. The sun is only a hot lightbulb and we are all moths.
You came back with a trash bag and you used it to pick up the small body of the bird. The black bag was too thick and too big for it. It wasn’t a parakeet anymore, it was just a ball of black plastic, tossed into garbage. The parakeet stuck inside, the wings glued shut on either side of the feathered body. I told you that my period was late and I cried all over again and all you did was leave me again on the porch alone. You went to bed and I followed a while afterward.
I wake up the next morning, sitting on a Japanese flag. A pool of blood like a wine stain staring up at me from your bed. I went to the bathroom and sat over the toilet. Another red eye staring at me from the seat of my lacy underwear. I wiped and there on the toilet paper, was a large black blood clot the size of a dime. I poked it and curled it around my index finger like chewing gum, admiring that this was something my body built to eventually eject, full moon after full moon.
I washed up and placed one of your towels, a dirty one, over the “wine stain” and laid back down next to you. You were awake already and told me that while I slept deeply in the night, you took the parakeet out of the trash bag and buried it underneath the blue hydrangeas of the neighbor’s yard.
Jacqueline Linares is Guatemalan-American writer from Los Angeles, California. She studied literature and film at Long Beach State University. She enjoys walking her dog Molly, and drinking beers that taste like summer.