Jessica Johns | Fiction

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Good Bones

When my sister finds her eulogy, she’s really not impressed. And she should have been quite happy, I think, considering I managed to come up with so many nice things to say about her. She squints into the paper like she’s having trouble seeing it. “Why are you writing my eulogy? I’m not dead. I’m not even dying.”

“Why are you going through my stuff?” I am quite upset with her. It is a nice eulogy, probably one of my best.

“It was on your table.”

This is my fault. It should have been filed away with the others in the closet cabinet. The blue folder, for family. Yellow post-it note denoting the latest revision.

She had been hovering in the kitchen where I left it out. She wouldn’t sit on my bed even though it’s the only seat in my apartment other than the kitchen chair currently covered in bone-thick yarn for a blanket I’m knitting for Marv. It’s mustard-coloured, like his hair. She has this thing about boundaries. What I’d said in the eulogy was that she was a protective sister. Growing up, she had always made sure to turn off the lights of our bedroom when she’d sneak her boyfriend in for sex. She’d also given me pink and blue earplugs. See, boundaries.

She’s already putting on her boots and I wonder if I should try to explain or if she’s already filed this away as just another weird thing. I offer her a banana before she leaves, even though I’m still mad, and she takes it.

Yeah, okay, so I go to the bar afterwards. Not The Archer, the one I work at, but the one further down Jasper ave with the Jurassic Park pinball machine and Tapper. I’m only there for a few hours – until I run out of loonies and beat my own Tapper high score, twice.

I walk home like I’m being carried by a swarm of bees. The woman walking in front of me has one of those plastic umbrellas you can see through, so her hair looks wet even though it isn’t. On her black tote, a Rod of Asclepius pin. Public Servant. I think. Poisoned by improperly prepared Fugu Puffer Fish. Only ate the yellow jellybeans because she believed the rest gave you cancer. Even after I offer her a spot in the bee swarm, she gets mad when I reach out to touch her wet-dry hair. That’s okay. I want to stop at the 7-11, anyway.

When I get back to my apartment building, Marv’s on the front steps. I’m munching on a chicken wing and catching my heels in the dirt. I tell him about my sister and then about the eulogy cabinet, for context. He asks for a piece of chicken and I give him a drumstick because I hate the drumsticks. Marv is homeless and marvelously huge, filling space like a balloon.

“Write one for me.” Chicken skin hangs from his mouth. I feel honoured that he would even ask and rush upstairs to do just that, deciding to use the black fountain pen and put him in the green folder, marked friends. Loved animals. Held fear gingerly between two fingers. His mouth wet like a teardrop.

Okay, the drunken eulogy wasn’t my best, but I haven’t really thought about Marv’s death yet. I have imagined the deaths of almost everyone I know. My dad dies in weird ways. He’s murdered with a samurai sword on a busy street, or his parachute malfunctions while skydiving. My sister gets swallowed up in things. An open manhole, quicksand, the ocean. I have imagined the deaths of people who only imagine their own, and I wonder if they’d match up – our versions of the most horrible thing that could happen.

I can’t imagine Marv dying, that’s the problem. I can’t imagine him not on the stoop, or feeding rabbits in the side alleyway, or at the back of The Archer by the grease trap.

I file the drunken version away to think about later and then run down to give him the rest of my 7-11 Pepsi. He’s gone, so I leave it for him in the shade of the step. I hope it doesn’t get too warm. If it were winter, this wouldn’t be a problem. The pop would stay ice cold, freeze maybe, make a slush. Edmonton summers are just as depressing as the winters, but nobody says so. They’re almost worse because everyone truly wants them to be good. But just because something is no longer terrible, doesn’t automatically make it good. People don’t like to admit things like that, though. It just depresses them more.

*

Mom calls the next morning. I knew my sister would tell, little snitch. My phone has a crusted circle of 7-11 nacho cheese on the screen and I try to wipe it off as we talk.

“Is this because of your co-worker dying?” she asks.

Safe assumption, I suppose. Though I started the eulogies long before Duncan died, and I’m glad I did, too, because now I have his eulogy all ready. Red folder, marked miscellaneous, because I don’t yet know where he belongs. Or rather, I still don’t know where he belongs.

Before Duncan died, he’d disappear into himself every now and then – go on benders or road trips to somewhere with sand. I used to picture him dead in side-road ditches marked only by numbers, on white-tiled bathroom floors, cold on a friend’s sofa cushion. I never imagined his deaths as violent. They were lonely ones though, and I think that’s worse.

When he came back from wherever he’d been, he was good as ever, holding on tight to some hanging thread. He’d wear his banana shirt, freshly washed, and kiss people he just met on the mouth. Loud laugh at any small joke. Slowly peel the lint off his bones.

“Does it make you think about Rhi?” Mom asks, even though I haven’t answered the first question.

Rhi and I used to live together. Before going to work one night, she had a brain aneurism in her car. Slumped over the wheel, seatbelt fastened, keys in the ignition but not turned on. I told her dad later that she looked peaceful because I thought it would make him feel better. At Rhi’s Celebration of Life, her fiancé, or ex I guess, read out a very touching eulogy, which during some later research, I found on wikiHow. I wondered how many people could fit into the same template.

Rhi was the first real death. Duncan was the second, and he did die lonely, after all. I asked him after our bar shift if he was staying over. He’d had one shot for every one he gave to a customer and on those kinds of nights he was too bright and warm to take himself home. His long black hair had come loose from its bun, but he didn’t seem to notice. It was 3 am, meaning miles of time left for drinking, but he said he’d come over after; we couldn’t be seen leaving at the same time anyway.

When Duncan’s roommate found him in their garage the next morning, the car parked at an impossible angle and the hose in the window, he told everyone he looked peaceful, too. It didn’t make me feel any better, but I guess it was because I knew he was lying.

“Maybe you should go back to see Dr. Boxma,” Mom suggests. Dr. Boxma was a wonderful woman who really tried her best, but you just can’t admit weird things to a person with a perfectly symmetrical face.

“No, I’m fine,” I tell her and then rush off the phone on the pretense of cleaning out my fridge. Mom’s died a hundred times since Tuesday. It’s always her mind that goes first.

Okay, I do clean out my fridge, but I only just did it a couple days ago so it takes no time at all. I shove my latest draft of Duncan’s eulogy in my back pocket before I leave, grab a pomegranate for the road.

I check downstairs for Marv first, but he’s not around. I hope I see him later, at least after Duncan’s Celebration of Life, a term that has now, at my annoyance, become a trend. I can’t stand around and wait for him though, because the cracks in the road are extra wide and I might sink into them if I don’t keep moving. Plus it’s being held at The Archer in an hour, so I should probably go early and have a drink. Hope to get swarm-carried again.

Fine, so on my walk over I stop at the liquor store. The Archer is only three blocks from my apartment but three blocks is a long ways if you want to loop through the alleyways and take a break at the park.

The mickey of Jack Daniels Fire is cheaper than usual, so that’s nice. The store clerk’s nametag says Allen, and he takes his time ringing me through. Trampled by wild horses. Diverted awkward conversations in large crowds. Kissed his reflection in every mirror he passed. As I wave away the paper bag and shove the bottle in my purse next to the pomegranate, he smiles.

The park is the most beautiful thing about my area and it’s still ugly as all hell. Two basketball hoops face each other across a patch of grass, rims bent at upwards angles. A square of gravel looks like it tried to be a playground but gave up. Two-swings, a giant abacus, one metal slide.

They are going to play Duncan’s recording of a Lumineers song over the loud speaker, the one he always sang at karaoke nights. Everyone will listen and quiet cry into their beers. He hated that song, only ever sang it to pull girls, at least before he started dating Jane. When he came over one night, slipping in quietly at 4 am, he played his recording of Famous Blue Raincoat that he learned for her, because of her name. It was beautiful, better than the real version. He learned the guitar parts for it and everything. I guess I should have been jealous, but I wasn’t. Mostly, I was envious that anyone could love like that at all.

When the song had finished, he turned his phone off like he always did. His breath smelled like whiskey and something earthy, like dirt. “Marv is downstairs again. I gave him my toque, he looked cold.”

“Stop doing shit like that or he’ll never leave.”

“You owe me five dollars for that Cavaliers win,” he said, pulling the blankets tighter around us, cocooning in the cold from outside.

I slipped my feet under his. “I wrote a poem for you today.”

I read it to him off my phone. It ended something like “the sound of soldiering air / through a window crack.”

“You’re the most goddamn sentimental person I know,” he said. “Always busy looking at what the light shines on instead of where it’s coming from.”

I liked the way he spoke. The way his mind worked around things. He hooked his hand in my underwear and pulled me towards him. “Send it to me with the five dollars.”

They should play one of his Leonard Cohen recordings today. That’s what he would have loved for real. I take a sip of Jack Fire, but that’s all I want. It doesn’t taste right for today, and the pockmarks in the metal slide are warping my reflection, so I can’t stay for too long. I don’t want to slip into them, either.

I loiter in The Archer’s back parking lot between a civic and a rusted jeep the colour of sawdust. Counting the people going inside, I guess it’s pretty near full and only 2 pm. The bar is going to make a killing today. Nothing makes people want to drink more than celebrating a marriage or mourning a death. Trying to act happier than you are is hard work.

Ben, my manager, walks through the side doors behind a girl I’ve never seen before, his hand on the small of her back. A couple months ago, I asked Ben how often we cleaned our beer lines. He was eating a piece of jerky. “I don’t think ever.”

“Isn’t there some sort of foodsafe guideline?”

He kept chewing, tried to work his cigarettes out of his back pocket with his jerky-free hand. “There’s actually no legal requirement to do it. Most bars don’t. It takes a lot of time. Couple hours probably.”

He tapped a cigarette out of the pack and offered me one, knowing I don’t smoke. This made me sad, imagining the clogged arteries of our underground machine. Poor girl. She’ll probably die soon too. Heart attack. Never let her guests go thirsty. Made sure everyone always thought the best of themselves, even if it was a lie.

That shift, it had been my side duty to clean all twenty-four beer taps. My fingers were rubbed raw and the handles didn’t look any different. That was the thing about The Archer, everything could be spit-shined, waxed, sanitized, and still always look just a little foggy, like it was smudged. Duncan used to say that it was part of her charm, our bar. She was a never-ending fixer-upper, but she had good bones.

Today, Ben will probably make a speech because Jane will be too choked up. He’ll crack jokes and not mention suicide and probably pour everyone a round of Guinness, Duncan’s favourite beer. He won’t actually buy it though; he’s too cheap for that. He’ll void it off the computer and mark it as spill, accepting thanks from everyone meekly like he’s swallowing small pills. This will go in Ben’s eulogy. Along with what is already there: Died in a bushfire of his own making while camping. Pushed his dick against women as he close talked. Filed away in the orange folder, marked shitheads.

Danielle pulls up in her pink scooter and I can’t really avoid her so we go in through the back. She only just started working at The Archer and I don’t know a lot about her yet.

She pushes me into the staff washroom right away so we avoid the mix-ups that happen when you talk to people and refer to a dead person in the present tense and then have to correct yourself. After Rhi settled comfortably into the realm of was’s and used-to-be’s, a group of us tried to celebrate her birthday, but not many people showed and I wondered what the polite amount of time would be before I could leave. I wanted to eat chips and watch TV in bed. That’s just what happens though, the sting of things eventually covers up the sting of other things and we keep having parties for dead friends.

Danielle and me do our second line of coke off the back of the toilet tank before the thought comes to me. “I bet these washrooms never get cleaned. Who knows what we’re snorting. Crusty old drugs probably. Little poo particles.”

Danielle licks the white powder off the edge of her student card. “Really? Now?”

I’m confused by her confusion, but I guess she just thinks I’m being crude. She changes the subject, anyways. Talks about the Bachelorette instead. A bunch of men lying their way through a long line of other men to get to a woman. I don’t see the appeal.

She moves to the mirror and re-applies her lipstick. “It’s kind of awkward for us, hey? Not knowing him that well.”

I rub the back of my jeans, Duncan’s eulogy crinkling under the weight of my hand. I pick through my own purse trying to find a lipstick, but I haven’t put any on today. Besides the pomegranate and bottle of Jack, I find an old tootsie roll and a green crayon. The bottom of Danielle’s lipstick says Ruby Woo, but it looks more like Russian Red, and the bathroom is too small for two people.

I go out the back again, not bothering to look into the bar because there’s no point in that. I sit next to the grease trap on a cracked concrete parking block to wait for Marv. Maybe he’ll want the bottle. I don’t think this is what people have in mind with a Celebration of Life, but maybe that’s okay. Duncan didn’t fit so easily into things anyway, and I’ve thought of a great death for Marv.

On a space expedition heading for the moon, he ejected himself from the spaceship because he didn’t want to be just another guy who went to the moon. By some magical space miracle, he and his teardrop mouth floated all the way to Jupiter where he got side-swiped by Io, one of Jupiter’s big ugly moons, and started careening toward its surface. He was terrified the whole time. He held the fear gingerly between two fingers and shit in his astronaut pants. Vomited too. But he never felt empty about being emptied; he wanted everyone to know that. A moon volcano melted his head, but the rest of his body remains protected by the cracked compression of the moon’s silicate crust. The moon has been renamed Marv after our dear friend, because he deserves it and no one liked Io anyways. Loved animals to the end, he will be missed by many street rabbits, and of course, by me. I miss him too.

.

.


Jessica Johns is of Cree ancestry and a member of Sucker Creek First Nation. She is the incoming poetry editor for PRISM international and is on the editorial board forRoom Magazine, living and working on the traditional and unceded territory of the Musqueam, Sḵwxwú7mesh, and Tsleil-Waututh peoples. She has been published inSaltern MagazineThe Rusty Toque, Glass BuffaloSAD Mag, and Bad Nudes. You can find her tweeting at @stellaabrenda.

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2018-04-23T11:15:26+00:00