od played a joke on Lockjaw. And Lockjaw thought it was funny. But then he was always different than the rest of us anyway. He flew planes. He loved getting high.
“I think I’m speaking in tongues,” he said one afternoon.
“I can understand you though,” I said. I was sort of familiar with this term.
“No. In the shower; in the morning.”
I didn’t get it. I leafed through the used CDs bin, looking for something I wouldn’t know until I found. He leaned in and seized my distraction. “I rented The Passion of the Christ,” he said. It seemed it was a confession. We were told to hate that movie, but I forgot why. It had been so long since I’d seen it.
“Yeah. I saw it too,” I said through the lump in my throat. I hadn’t told anyone before then.
“So. Do you, you know, have a language?” Lockjaw said. I stopped leafing. “You know. In your head? Just one you hear yourself? I got to know if this is something everyone does.” I said no, at least I didn’t think I did. I really didn’t know though.
“I do. When I’m waking up. It’s just kind of there when I stand under the shower water. Sometimes when I’m up in the plane alone too. It’s just gibberish, nonsense, I thought.” He looked around at the other shoppers’ proximity and lowered his voice. He shifted his weight, turned around and put his hands on the CD bin, then spoke to me over his shoulder to shield his voice’s timbre. “They talk like me.”
“Jesus and Judas and… The movie, it was making me sick. And when I closed my eyes, I recognized something there. The words were closer, like, inside.”
“Maybe you just know the story.” He could’ve been high too, but he usually didn’t watch movies in that state. Lockjaw was raised in church. He was good at imitating languages too. He had Maryanne Schenkel believing he was fluent in Spanish for weeks in high school. And he told me once, years ago, that he would have conversations with himself in an invented language.
“It’s in there. In the Bible.” He lowered his voice again. “Those guys spoke in other languages, ones they didn’t know.”
I heard that story when I went to church with Lockjaw when we were little kids. It fascinated me. There were tiny flames and wind.
“I didn’t think I believed all that anymore,” he said. “Isn’t it funny?”
I didn’t think it was really. Hearing this hollowed out my insides in some way.
“Do you think I could’ve been speaking Jesus’ language all this time and didn’t know it?”
I said I didn’t know. I found myself holding a used copy of The Unforgettable Fire. I never really cared for U2, and now I thought I’d give them another try. This all made my stomach hurt. Maybe this was why I was supposed to hate the movie, but I still wasn’t sure.
hen there was the girl with one sad eye.
She came into the coffee shop one day a while ago and smiled at me. So I smiled back. She was wearing sunglasses then. She seemed nice, sweet and safe but not too attractive. The kind I was comfortable with during a coffee shop transaction. When she took her shades off, I noticed the one sad eye. The lower corner of her right eye was tugged down a little. A little patch of skin there was disrupted, then smoothed over.
I don’t think I really looked directly at it. I only felt her awareness of it.
She ordered a medium coffee. I turned, and then I saw myself softly kissing her eyes—the sad one, then the other. I knew this would hurt her, and I felt ashamed that this image wedged its way into my brain.
I remember the sun hanging in the sky low and orange that afternoon. It felt like early fall, but it was late April.
Her eyes would not hold steady. They floated aimlessly about. This troubled our exchange. I said, “Thank you,” that was all.
Afterwards, I went over to Sissy. “What if I had an eye injury and I looked like this?” I tugged at the corner. “Would you have talked to me ever?” I was half joking.
“Hm,” she said, looking askance.
“She felt me sensing her eye. And I couldn’t say anything.”
“I don’t get it. Who.”
“That girl had one sad eye. Didn’t you see it? Why’d I have to let it be weird like that?”
Sissy sighed, “What. You want me to chase her down, so you can hug her and hold her and tell her it’s all right? Is that it?”
. . .
A few days later, and there she was, the girl with one sad eye, shopping for apples at the grocery. She was putting the best ones gently into a plastic bag. I watched her for a little while as she made her decisions. We both knew we shouldn’t speak, not after the coffee shop, not without her sunglasses on.
I told Sissy about this when I got to my apartment. Sissy was sweet and said nothing until I finished, only nodded while she balanced her checkbook. She said finally, “It’s no accident she won’t hide herself. She gets your immediate sympathy.” I couldn’t tell how she intended this to be taken.
I hoped to see the girl the next day. But I wouldn’t. I wouldn’t see her for almost two more weeks. When she came into the coffee shop again, I noticed her face was wet with rain. “I didn’t notice it started to rain,” I said.
She was very content with this. “It started a few minutes ago.” As she got her money I looked at her damp cheeks and her light freckles. She felt this. I sensed it. I kept looking as she put the change in my hand. She said, “Thank you,” looked up and smiled.
I walked to the back, to the restroom. I stood in front of the mirror and stared into my own eyes. They had dark circles around them. I looked at them longer until I saw an asymmetry to my eyebrows, my jagged eyelashes, until I saw the tiny lines already forming in the corners and underneath. Then standing there a few seconds longer, this all blurred together. I noticed for the first time my eyes were ugly.
he gave me that look. I didn’t know what it meant. I didn’t know what anything meant yet. Treasure Island, Florida was a place that lay very tired under layers and layers of paint.
Sissy’s brother Lockjaw decided to get married that weekend on the beach. He was just about to start flying for missionaries in Central America. His new wife Bunnie was part of his fresh start. I had never seen a bride’s veil flow so honestly in the wind as I had that afternoon. Later Sissy needed to walk outside. I understood. She hadn’t taken her shoes off as she lay on the bed, so I grabbed my keys. It was getting late, but we were still on Seattle time.
“This time it’ll be the right place. Promise,” she said. She stumbled once to the mirror and checked her hair. It was vibrant burgundy. The cut across her palm was bandaged. I could’ve done more to prevent that the night before, I guessed. But last night’s place had a weird vibe, and the bartender was drunk. It could’ve happened to anyone really. I remembered seeing the broken glass on the counter and didn’t do anything about it. I had failed. The bandage helped her look more herself in that expensive dress anyway.
Lana’s Tavern promised “the Coldest Beer on the Coast” in neon. There was no kitchen but we weren’t hungry, so we settled down on a pair of stools. The cigarette smoke was a blend of ancient and new, as was the tough bartender with a bleached mop of hair—short in front, long in back. She gave us the beer list starting with Michelob.
“Any microbrews?” I asked.
She smiled, but not politely. “No hon. No microbrews.”
“I’ll have a whiskey rocks,” I said. Sissy got a whiskey Coke because she thought the caffeine counteracted the way whiskey made her feel.
Some local sat next to me who said his name was Marcus but I could call him Andrew. He was having trouble lighting his cigarette until the bartender steadied his lighter. He told me he was the mayor and could speak no softer than a shout. He insistently kept no farther away than a couple of inches. I saw hundreds of tiny capillaries at the surface of his cheeks and nose. He kept hitting my back and nudging me. “Let me buy this guy here another!”
“You don’t have any more money,” the bartender said more than once.
I was really hoping to talk to Sissy about what happened to her hand. I had been looking out for her since Lockjaw and I were kids. Marcus Andrew wouldn’t leave though. That’s when the power died.
I was afloat in silent blackness, slow motion like peace, for two seconds. Sissy put her hand on my thigh. I touched her bandage and looked toward her but saw nothing until people started murmuring their not agains. Then I saw her face. She gave me a look. It was one of receiving sanctuary after much pleading. I had hoped this would happen since the airport in Seattle; I had hoped it would happen since we were in high school. She had never let me feel her hand that way before.
“Holy hell! You ever see such a thing in your life?” Marcus Andrew said with a hoot, palm flat to my back. He labored at lighting another cigarette. Sissy steadied his lighter with her bandaged hand, and kicked her shoes off. I was sure this meant we had chosen the right place.