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In the Supermarket Where Elton John Was Once Spotted Stealing Pears

Timothy Clinton Raymond

I thought it was the dog. I was wrong. It was not the dog. It was, instead, the infant. The infant that could scream like nuclear sirens.

Across from my window was the neighbors' window. We were both on the ground floor. On good days, when we felt strong enough to keep the blinds pulled up, we could see right into each other's apartments. On days and nights when the screaming came from their apartment, I swear that the whole foundation would shake, like God had finally decided to reach down for us.

That infant crafted screams like a blacksmith crafts swords, in fire and in pride.

What I'm saying is this was not God shaking me.

For weeks the screaming went on. I didn't know that the neighbors had a child. I thought they had a dog. We weren't on bad terms, these neighbors and me, nor on good ones. They were the Jacks, Janes, Jeffs, Jills like everyone else has for neighbors. When we saw each other across our little alleyway we did what neighbors do. That is, wave politely. See yourself in the room across the way. Make dinner there, kiss the girl, draw the shades, sleep like angels. Then go on with your somehow smaller day.

I didn't think to knock on their door. I didn't think to wait by the window to see them. Instead I summoned the courage over the course of those weeks and, early one morning when the screaming was particularly fierce, jumped into the alley and peered into their place like a criminal. Nothing in there moved. I pulled a metal grate from the alleyway and propped it up against the brick wall.

I was inside before I knew it.

I was looking around like there was something to find.

I snapped my fingers because I thought that was what attracted dogs. But no dog came. I followed the screaming until I found a side room.

And then that kid, sitting in that cradle. It was a boy. He stopped crying when he saw my face.

There was nothing else. I picked him up.

I walked out the goddamned front door.

The neighbors, they are the kind of couple that walks in the morning. The kind of couple that carries two-pound weights in their walking. Maybe they were there, walking. Though, for all I know, they were just still asleep.

Thing is, you don't ask when there is an infant in front of you making noises and looking like an angry cloud.

So I didn't ask.

I took.

Outside I walked around, carrying the thing in my arms. It didn't scream as I walked.

I had seen a child like this up close once before. My cousin, she had a girl. I drove all the way out to Adair to see her not long after the birth. There was a big deal made about the new child, this bright new life. But when I got there I guess I just didn't see what the others saw. I held my cousin's baby, her name was Marge, and felt scared. Scared, not because I might do something wrong, but because I was aware that something was expected of me.

***

All I knew was that I had this infant and the noise had stopped. The world was silent again, sunny and sublime. A dreamy sweetness laid itself down on everything so that we could imagine we were dead again.

I walked some more.

I went to the supermarket where Elton John was once spotted stealing pears. That was the place's claim to fame. The owners say that they didn't press charges because, after Elton John had left, there was a kind of aura remaining there. They thought that it would help attract shoppers.

Nevermind that it was the place, of all places, where Elton John had to stoop to stealing.

If you go, this is how it happens. You expect not to feel anything in the store. You're sure of it. You say that the owners are liars and assholes. Then you go in and you despite it all feel suddenly musical.

I went in because I didn't have anywhere else to go. I figured I could find something there.

Incidentally, the supermarket where Elton John was once spotted stealing pears has an Atari game system for its customers. No one really uses it. I set the infant down in one of the chairs by the television and the games. My thoughts were this, get a drink and watch the kid near the games.

This is not what happened.

Let me tell you what happened.

I got hung up.

Because life is an accident and little else.

I saw Frank by the cooler. I walked up to him as he was pulling out a bottle of beer. I hadn't seen Frank in some time. To be honest, I don't even remember how I originally met him.

But before I knew it I was down the street smoking cigarettes and nodding off in the corner of a bar, Frank across from me hovering around his drink like a butterfly.

Will you hate me if I tell you that I remembered the infant halfway through, and just didn't do anything, it being far too much? Because I did remember. And I didn't do anything.

It was far, far too much.

I can only tell you what I told Frank, which was this:

I'm waiting.

I can put it this way: every other day or so I drive down the interstate to the airport to watch the planes come in low and loud. They're so loud that I swear each one cracks the sky open a little bit. I'm waiting for the day that the sky breaks so completely that my eyes go dark.

I'm waiting for that time.

And then I'll watch as it all stops going round and round, all this silly wandering life, as the stars and the planets all fall through the giant hole in the sky, crumbling down around me in their own rude and glorious way, all of us imploding on and in and around each other until we're new again.

When I told Frank about this, he signaled to the waitress to bring over more pretzels.

***

Later in the afternoon he and I ran out of money and left the bar. We walked to a house that he knew, one owned by a girl who seemed to be his girlfriend. On the stoop of this house I watched Frank kiss the girl. Then she stepped down and shook my hand. Frank gave me one of his cigarettes because I was out.

That was where I left him.

I didn't see Frank again for another six weeks or so. The next time I saw him, he was at a gas station leaning against his own car, drinking from a flask and watching people go in and out of the convenience store. I gassed up my car and pulled up next to him. We talked for a little while. He told me that the girl that I had seen before wasn't his girlfriend.

"Just someone I knew," he said.

The way he said "knew" meant something, I think. We sat in his car then and finished the flask.

That was it.

That was the last time I saw Frank.

But about a year later I would hear about him. I heard he got in a fight at a bar and ended up running out when someone said the cops were coming. He ran to the Farwell Bridge and tried to jump over it. There's a path down there, under the bridge, surrounded by trees, that leads to the beach. I guess he just wanted to get away.

You ask if I blame him.

I say no.

The bridge is high, though, and Frank broke his leg. The cops found him there, strung out on something or other, and took him.

What I imagine is him screaming, despite himself. Him screaming on the path under the bridge, people hearing it above but being too afraid to look down. Him screaming with the will of a large bird.

I imagine myself there, turning away from the screams.

***

There was something that the girl said when I met her on her stoop. It's something that I never really forgot. I remember it because I think it gets at where I'm going these days.

I hope I remember it always.

It is this.

After she shook my hand, she said, "We'll see you around sometime."

As though the "we" was actually the three of us already there, her and Frank and me, already seeing each other standing in the sun. She said it as though she really meant it in her own ridiculous way.

As though the time were now, I mean, right then and there, going nowhere.

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