When I met him, we were both squeezing melons. Ok, I know what you’re thinking; get your head out of the gutter…
“How can you tell if these things are ripe?” He wants to know.
“You have to give a push on the stem end of it. If it gives a little, it’s good to go.”
“Seriously? I see people knocking on them all the time. I usually wait around a bit to see if the melon answers.”
“HA! That’s funny.” Rolling my eyes, I giggle.
“I see you here all the time. What do you do when you’re not pushing melon?”
I smile despite myself. “Usually eating them.” I find myself gazing a little too intently into his eyes. There’s something familiar about them.
“Ah, I get it…now you’re trying to be funny. Seriously, can I take you out sometime?”
“I think I’d like that.” I answer.
“Great, How ‘bout we grab a quick something to eat at this diner I know and then hit some local clubs for Karaoke?”
“Gee, I don’t know. The last time I tried Karaoke…”
“Oh come on! It’ll be fun. I promise I won’t let you faint and embarrass yourself.” His eyes dance in amusement.
“You were there?!” Incredulous. How many other people know about my embarrassing past, I wonder? I look around to see who might be watching.
“What can I tell you? It’s a small town.” Eyes still twinkling.
Arrangements are made and we leave the food store together, both with our ripe melons in tow.
Seated in the booth-style seats in the NEW YORK DINER, the waitress with her pad and pen wants to know what my date “will have tonight”.
“I’ll have the breakfast; eggs sunny-side up, sausage-the thick logs-not those puny links you buy by the bag, home fries with onion, oh and a short stack. Please.” Looking across at me “You don’t mind the onions do you?” he whispers loudly.
“Not at all.” My eyes widen. “I’ll have the same please, but could you add a side of scrapple as well?” My gaze never leaves his face.
As the waitress leaves, “Is it just coincidence that you like to eat the same thing as me?”
“I don’t believe in coincidence.” He says.
“Hmmm. Neither…do…I.” I’m sure my furrowed forehead and arched brow are the reason for the laughter that follows.
“Thanks for remembering the scrapple.”
“Alright! What gives here?” I demand.
He laughs. “Hey, remember the Chinese store and water balloon fights?”
I’m shocked into silence. He looks into my eyes and waits for everything to register. When it doesn’t, he says “and the time we played hide-n-seek when you fell, but not before getting lost for hours.”
And that fast, I’m transported back to that fun-filled and confusing sunny day. Looking around me, I see evidence of an earlier water-balloon fight. Bright splatters of yellow, green, blue, and red rubber are left shriveling in the August heat. I’m kneeling on the hard brick walkway just 5 or so feet from the marble steps leading to my Aunt’s house and watching as blood trickles down my leg…I don’t remember…
“Hey! I’m here.” My date injects.
I’m brought back to the man across from me and I remember those eyes.
“Hi cutie.” He says
After the reunion of sorts, we find ourselves walking the boards surrounding the Inlet. Colors drift in ebbs and flows on the surface of the water-not unlike that day so long ago.
“Will you excuse me for a moment? Nature calls.”
And with that he disappears into the DEAD DOG Saloon. A rendition of POUR SOME SUGAR ON ME floats out as the door of the saloon closes slowly behind him.
Turning back towards the water, the sights and sounds of Germantown come rushing back; the scary coal room at the bottom of the basement steps, the night I lay frozen in the bed as I watched…
“OH! You son-of-a …” I look up at Don who snuck up from behind and attacked me with a half gallon’s worth of semi-cold water contained in the combustible veneer of a red balloon.
“That is for the unanswered shot to my head!” I’d forgotten how competitive he was; even at such a young age. He looked smug standing there with large hands on slender hips. My eyes traveled up the V-shape of his torso and to the shiny glow of his mischievous eyes.
“WHAT THE HAY, DONALD!” I shout laughing.
Laughing hysterically, he leaps forward and wraps his huge arms around me, lifts me and then releases. I fall, snickering, to the weathered wood beneath my feet. After a pause “What happened that day, Lynn?” There is something about his demeanor-something sheepish.
“Why Donnie? Why are you asking now?”
“Just trust me.” He says. The phrase ‘FAMOUS LAST WORDS’ springs to mind but I believe him for some reason.
I don’t respond for a long time. My mind slips back to that day and what I remember seems too strange to even mention.
After some time I say, “I…I see what happened, but it doesn’t make sense, Donnie. It feels like a memory of some other time, but I know it’s the same day…”
“Go on.” He encourages.
“There is this open field, and I’m sitting on the grass…grass Donnie; not the patches of weed poking up from the cracks in the cement! And some distance away, there is a building…I think…”
“What do you mean you think?”
“I promise I won’t!”
“It looks like a big dog house.” He stares and I just say, “I told you so.”
“Anything else?” he asks
“Well yes. There is a dog.”
“And?! Come on, Jeez. It’s like pulling teeth with you.” He smiles to break the effect of his words. But he is clearly frustrated.
“IT’S TALKING TO ME SOMEHOW!! THERE! ARE YOU SATISFIED?” I wait for his reply.
“You see his mouth moving?”
“No. I just hear the words. It’s too far for me to see its mouth. It feels so far away. But, I remember seeing other things, too… Like the inside of the house in front of me…in the yard where I hid… The real house… the widow Clancy. Don, I’ve never been inside that house…ever!” I feel the chill coming off of the Inlet and I shudder.
“And then what? Are you sure it’s a dog?”
“What?! Yes…no…I…I don’t know. And then nothing. It’s like I remember, for real, seeing the gray fence in the alleyway with the tall bush in front of it. The field was gone, the open field…vanished. I looked down at my leg and I was bleeding.”
“Did you cut yourself?”
“NO I…it wasn’t a cut. It was a scoop.”
Donald stares directly into my eyes. This is what he was waiting for.
“Lynn. There’s something I need to tell you….I work for the government. Part of what I do is fact-check cases of missing time…”
I interrupt, “YOU WORK FOR THE CIA?”
“Hush!…There’s a case I’m investigating now. Well…it reminded me of you.” He stops and just stares.
He doesn’t say anything. He just slips his hand into the pocket of his pants and pulls out a picture. Slowly, he holds it up for me to see. “Does she look familiar?”
“Yes, Don she does…That could be me!”
And with that Don replies “Was it you?”
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