Monday, December 13, 2010

The First Helicopter In Canada

“What are you talking about,” Lindsay demanded. “Nobody says ‘My Stars’ anymore. What are you, Greta Garbo?”

This was said to Jaimee in person, not in text form, which served to add emphasis. They had just left class and Jaimee knew she could have felt the little vibration from under her desk at any time, but Lindsay waited because she had to, just had to, say it in person.

“I was just exclaiming about her shoes is all,” Jaimee said. She was referring to the flamingo shoes, those tacky, flashy little eyesores that Missy or Mindy or whatever-her-name was wearing. But, of course, Lindsay couldn’t just focus on the problem at hand. No. She had to go after Jaimee. After her words, of all things.

“‘My Stars’ is something you expect to hear from an old lady. Something you’ll hear on T.V. from a movie a billion years ago.” Lindsay was adamant. “It’s just so weird, you know? It’s the last thing I would have expected to hear you say. Um, text.”

This last part was Lindsay’s attempt to be conciliatory. Something being “weird” is a lot better than something being “stupid,” which is clearly what she was thinking.

But, Jaimee accepted this insult and kept pace with Lindsay’s turkey-trot footsteps over the hill that bordered the school parking lot and across the street.

“Let’s go to Randall’s and get a latte.” Lindsay decided what they would be doing and Jaimee didn’t have an opinion anyway.

They walked the two blocks from the school to the shopping center, which was older than “The Hive,” the hip young everything shopping center a mile away, but this amorphous and unnamed shopping center was closer and housed Randall’s, which itself housed a few boys in their late teens, too proud to succumb to working in one of the chain coffee houses or restaurants at “The Hive,” and whom Lindsay routinely would lasso into conversation. These boys were in college, after all.

“Now,” Lindsay began, “I’m not going to say something disparaging to you, like ‘Let me do the talking,’ but keep in mind that these are boys that are very very close to being Em Ee En. We want them to think -- actually, we want them to know that we are more mature and effervescent than the average girl.”

Jaimee didn’t think Lindsay was using that word right, but she certainly wasn’t about to point it out and start another mess. Plus, she didn’t exactly know what it meant either.

In Randall’s, you ordered at the counter, but then you sat down and they brought you your drink. This was a step over Starbucks, where you stand in a little factory farm area by the “bar,” as they call it, and when the barista comes over, they call out “doubleshot soy mocha” and everyone crowds around to see if the drink is theirs, backing away disappointed when Mr. or Ms. Doubleshot comes over to claim their victory prize. Randall’s avoided this, but added the pretention of weak customer service. Where Starbucks has happy employees, Randall’s has angry musicians or disgruntled philosophy majors. Lindsay ate it right up and, thus, so did Jaimee.
As they entered, Jaimee took stock. Three boys from their school were at a booth in the corner, dripping honey from little packets onto their table when the employees weren’t looking. Jaimee thought about this, and wondered who invented the tiny condiment packet -- someone in the ketchup business, she assumed -- and how much that idea was worth. There was a black man working on a laptop at the second table from the door. Jaimee felt bad for noticing he was black.

There was a boy with shaggy blonde hair working the cash register. Lindsay did the talking.

“Hi. Um...I’ll have a latte with nonfat milk please. Honey, what do you want?”

Jaimee shrugged from behind Lindsay and thought about this new nickname. She thought of herself being spilled out from a tiny packet by immature boys.

“Just a hot chocolate, I guess,” she said.

Lindsay turned back to the shaggy-haired blonde boy at the register. She did a half-eyeroll to indicate that she was more grown-up than her friend’s beverage order.

“A nonfat latte and a hot chocolate, please.” She turned back to Jaimee. “I got it!”

Lindsay pulled out a Visa and flipped it like a playing card onto the counter.

Jaimee looked more closely at the boy. He looked down at the card and seemed to notice, for the first time, that he had customers. He pushed some buttons and swiped the card; then, making eyes with Lindsay, lowered his neck and rolled his arm behind his back, as if he was about to ask her to dance. He extended the card forward with tenderness. When Lindsay went to take it, it dropped from his fingers back onto the counter.

The boy took two Post-Its and wrote “nonfat lat” on one and “hot cho” on the other. Then he stuck them on two mugs and passed them down to the other barista, by the espresso machines. Though there were no other customers, Jaimee moved quickly away from the counter, but Lindsay stayed, obviously irked by this affront with the credit card. Jaimee was watching the boy’s shaggy hair, hanging just above his eyes like drapes cut short with a scissors.

The other barista was fat and hairy, and he started making the drinks without a word.

Jaimee made her way to their “spot,” which was in the corner, next to the table with the milk and napkins and things, on a maroon L-shaped couch. She studied Lindsay’s shoes -- which were a bit tacky themselves -- and how they weren’t moving at all. Nothing seemed to be moving.

“Have you ever been to Canada?” The boy at the counter said this quietly to Lindsay. Jaimee shouldn’t have even been able to hear it but she could.
“You’ll bring the coffee to us, right? We’re sitting over there.” Lindsay didn’t gesture or point back to the couches.

“I asked if you’ve ever traveled,” he said, then paused. Then: “To Canada.”

“I’ve never been anywhere,” Lindsay said, and turned and shimmied back to the couch as would a starlet at a movie premiere. Jaimee saw the boy looking after her, but Lindsay couldn’t know that, with her back turned. Jaimee tried to think of a way to use that information to her benefit.

Lindsay sat down and folded her hands in her lap. Jaimee looked into her eyes and saw sadness. The exchange at the counter had obviously excited her more than she let on, but she’d expected more from it.

Jaimee looked out the window. It was beginning to drizzle.

The drinks were ready. The shaggy boy gave a pat on the back to the barista who made the drinks, to indicate that he’d be making the delivery. Lindsay sensed his arrival and pretended to be in conversation with Jaimee, though they’d been sitting in silence.

“--finished reading ‘Brave New World’,” she said. “Everyone else in the class thought it was boring but honestly I don’t even think they’d finished it. It’s not even that hard. It’s just because people in our class aren’t up to the Advanced Placement reading level. It’s a shame really.”

By this time the boy was standing in front of them. He held the drinks until Lindsay stopped talking. After she said “shame really,” the boy looked down to verify that he had the right drinks and placed in front of Lindsay and the hot chocolate down in front of Jaimee, Post-Its still attached.

“So, neither of you have ever traveled to Canada?” The boy was standing perfectly still, but not rigid. Jaimee looked down to see if he was in danger of swaying. There was no swaying, but no rigidity. It was as if he hung in midair like a scarecrow, neither in danger of falling to the ground or sailing off into the air.
“I told you. I’ve never been anywhere,” Lindsay said. “Except here and Virginia a few times because of my cousin.”

“What about you?” the boy turned his head to Jaimee who was still looking down but not really at his shoes anymore.

“I was born in Winnipeg,” Jaimee said. “In a museum actually. It was my parents’ anniversary, and my dad was taking my mom on a scavanger hunt.”

Lindsay took a sip of her drink and Jaimee just stared at the great globby mountain of whipped cream on top of her hot chocolate.

“It’s an aviation museum and if you go there you can see Canada’s first helicopter. From the 30s. The very first helicopter in all of Canada. It may not seem like a big deal, but they actually had helicopters in the 1930s!”

“Why do you ask?” Lindsay tapped her fingers on the side of her mug and stomped her foot to make sure the boy looked back her way. “Do we look Canadian?”

“You look,” the boy closed his eyes to think, “perfectly, fundamentally, normal.”
Jaimee stared up at the boy who stared back at her. Lindsay took a sip and used her lower lip to get foam off the top one.

“I ask because of the moose,” he said. “Every once in a while, you can see a moose in the states, usually the Pacific Northwest. But the moose here are nothing like the moose you see in Canada. Did you see moose growing up in Winnipeg?”

Jaimee didn’t answer for a while and eventually Lindsay kicked her shin under the table.

“No,” she said. “It was a city, really. And I was young.”

“But, you live here now,” the boy said, and he finally was moving his limbs again. His hand went through the brown-blonde locks of hair that hung over his forehead like well-groomed pig tails. “You live here and there is certainly no moose here. There’s plenty they don’t have in Canada, sure, but one thing I can assure you they have up there is moose and that’s something you’ll never find down here.”

Jaimee dipped a pinky in whipped cream. “Maybe I should go back? Like, there’s more life there than here?”

“That’s not what I said. I just asked what I asked because it looked like neither of you had ever been to Canada. I’m often wrong, though.”

Lindsay asked questions: “Do you go to college?”

“Do you play sports?”

“When you travel up there, do you fly or drive?”

Then she started making statements about the questions she asked.

“I’m applying to multiple schools. I’m not sure which are my goals and which are my backups. I’m just happy to get away from my parents.”

“My brother was a soccer goalie but then he got a knee injury and had to stop.”

“I don’t see what’s so special about Canada. It’s sunnier down here.”

Another customer came in and the boy left. It was a bald man with a dog who ordered a muffin. Jaimee wondered where they got them from. Even though this place was a notch above the other coffee places, it didn’t seem like they had the resources to bake their own pastries. She looked at Lindsay.

“Do you want to go?”

“No. It’s fine. He’s cute but weird, right? I don’t mind staying. You’ll be the plane and I’ll be your wings.”

“Or I’ll be the helicopter and you’ll be my propellor,” Jaimee said.

When the boy came back, he was holding a cup.

“I’m on my break now,” he said. “Why don’t you both come out back with me. I want to show you something.”

Lindsay and Jaimee looked at each other. This was the sort of invite girls their age were advised not to take, but the mystery of it all became too much. The girls got up without saying anything. They followed the boy out the door and around the corner to the alley behind the store.

“This is a fun afternoon,” Lindsay said. “God, it’s so easy to get stuck in a rut. School, home, school, home, school, home. It’s nice to have an adventure. This is an adventure, right?”

“I guess that depends on your definition of ‘adventure,’” the boy said.

“And what happens now,” Jaimee said.

The boy led them to a row of parked cars behind the coffee shop and adjacent stores. Then he showed them the cup.

“I put honey in here,” he said.

The boy stopped at a Chevy sedan and put his hand on the trunk. The girls stopped talking and looked at him. He wasn’t moving, but Jaimee would not have been able to look at anything else if she’d wanted to. She looked at his jeans, neither overly tight nor baggy. His face showed little sign of weather, but he was still only modestly attractive to her. Though a bit older, he looked like all the boys she knew, and now she was standing behind a coffee shop next to his car.

“Last night,” he began, “I was driving home from a party at the beach. We’d brought chocolate and graham crackers and marshmallows to make s’mores. Since that’s what you do at the beach. There was volleyball, even after the sun went down. I watched my friends play and then I showed everyone how to make s’mores. Here’s how you angle in the chocolate and marshmallow between the cracker to keep it from breaking. Here’s how you get the stick through and keep it all together, and I showed them with my hands.

“Afterward, we all dragged ourselves and our sticky hands into the ocean. I thought the water would clean them off but they just felt stickier afterward. My hand tasted like a chocolate-covered pretzel.

“I drove separately from everyone else for some reason. I was all by myself, but I liked it, I think. I was driving up the hilly road away from the beach and lowered the passenger side window and tried to reach out to the right to feel the breeze. My hands were sticky and smelly but I still felt clean and free. Cleaner than when my hands are covered in coffee grounds. Cracker crumbs and marshmallow are always better than coffee grounds. The wind was great. I was on a road nobody else was on and I heard a thumpump,” and here he smacked his free palm down onto the trunk of the car, “thumpump and I stopped and pulled over to the side of the road.”

He stopped talking and tried to swallow. One of his hands held the cup and the other he used to open the trunk.

“Look,” he said.

The girls kept their breathing shallow and sidled forward. Jaimee kept her eyes on the boy as Lindsay peered in. She saw a brown-red fluff of nothing. It looked like a rug someone had ignored for months and shoved away in a closet, behind old shoeboxes and umbrellas and jeans that didn’t fit.

“They’re always out at night,” the boy said, “And I’d even seen them run across the road before. But, I was looking out the window. I was feeling the outside.”

Lindsay reached out for Jaimee’s hand and pulled her closer. The two girls huddled together like old Russian peasants and crept up to the trunk. The coyote was only bloody from the chest down. Its face was fully intact, frozen in the moment just before death.

“Do you think it will still eat the honey?” The boy picked up the cup from where he had placed it on the ground. He leaned over into the trunk of the car and moved the cup in position next to the coyote. It took no honey.

Jaimee saw Lindsay tighten her grip before she felt it. She began to feel her lip quiver and her foot tap the cold suburban asphalt.

“We have to go,” Jaimee said. “And she turned and took Lindsay’s hand and they walked briskly away, not turning back to see if the processed honey would somehow resuscitate the animal and change the physical world as we know it.

They walked and walked without saying a word. After a few blocks, Jaimee looked up and saw a helicopter circling overhead. It looked like it was falling.

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