Parker knocks on my door at eleven the next morning. “Dunn, old boy, you're back. How's tricks?”
I let him in and we sit down facing each other across the kitchen table. It's got a blue and white checked tablecloth that is freshly washed.
“Hey,” Mimi says. She's come down the hallway and is leaning up against the wall.
“This is Parker,” I say.
“Hey, whattya got here?”
“Parker this is Caroline.”
Parker gets up and offers his hand to her. “You got a friend here, Dunn?”
“Yeah,” I say.
Mimi sits down between us at the table and we sit there for a bit. Parker keeps looking at her like she’s fluorescent.
“Parker, you want a beer?” I say.
“Don't mind,” he says.
I get up and Mimi follows me into the kitchen. “Who's tubby out there?” she whispers to me, reaching past me for a candy bar that's been in the fridge for months.
“Manager,” I say. “Sort of a friend.”
“I didn't think you had friends,” she says, patting my head once.
“Just you,” I say.
Parker has moved out to the living room and is changing channels on the TV. When I hand him his beer he turns the TV off and looks at me. “What do you do for groceries?” Parker says.
“I shop, Parker. I go to a grocery store and shop.”
He laughs. “No, what I mean is where? You know, which one?”
“I go to different places,” I say.
“Well I've got this plan, you see,” he starts. “Me and Trish have been talking about these apartments, you know. We've got this one, and two more like it. But they're all right here. You know what I mean? All in the city. We're getting out, Dunn. We're moving to the suburbs. You know, you go about twenty miles out there and it's a different world. There's an independent co-op out there. Biggest goddamn grocery store in North Texas, and I want to buy it. Not tied in with those big franchises or nothing. No union. Just happy employees who wear hemp vests and drink herbal tea.” Then he winks at Mimi. “Hell, Dunn, you’re the guy I need to seal the deal.” Then he laughs.
I don't have any idea what he's talking about but he gets up and says, “Get ready to go,” he says, rubbing his hands. “You too, kid. You can be in on the deal, too.
Parker drives us in his van. It's one of those family vans. It's a Ford. He plays country music on the radio and drives very close to the right hand shoulder. He tells us that Trish is at the complex office doing some work.
“What's with the suitcase?” Mimi says from the backseat.
“Oh, well, I'm spending a little time out there at the Quality Inn. It's about a mile from the store.”
“What for?” I say.
“Well,” he says. “Little bit of trouble on the home front.” He tries to swerve around a pothole but nicks the comer of it.
“Dunn, leave the poor guy alone. She kicked him to the curb, don’t you get it?”
I look back at Mimi and she's giving me her ‘boy-you're-dumb’ look.
“Sharp kid,” Parker says. “Truth is we're trying it, you know. A little trial basis thing we got going.”
We're shooting up the Expressway now and Parker is driving about seventy.
“This thing really goes, Dunn. We should get one,” Mimi says. “And this crazy music, what is it, Parker?”
“That's Chesney. Are you kidding me? You never heard of Kenny Chesney?”
“He sounds like he’s in pain,” Mimi says.
“Oh, darlin’, you don’t know the half of it,” Parker says.
We take an off ramp and drive through some very quiet residential areas before Parker pulls into a perfectly smooth, black parking pad. There are pylons everywhere. Half of the lot is still open. Cars fill about half of it. I can see people going in and out of a single set of automatic doors.
“Re-lining it today for the new owner,” Parker says, thumping his fist against his chest once.
“You already bought it?” I say. “More or less,” he says. “But I told the owner I wanted to have a security check done. I was going to hire some guy to do it, but then I saw your car. Say, where the hell were you anyway? You can't pick up a phone?”
Parker drives up by where they keep the carts outside and puts his four-ways on. “We're going to leave her right here,” he says and gets out.
We all get out and Mimi and I follow him into the store. He stops after we're in and the door has closed.
“What about those locks?” he says.
I look at him for a second and then at the locks on the automatic doors. I don’t know anything about them. “Standard,” I say.
“Hmmm. I figured as much. Upgrade. “
He walks and we go past about ten checkouts. Three of them are open. Young kids are running the registers. One small girl wearing a red beret is sacking a larger order. Some kind of weird music is playing over the unseen speakers in the ceiling. There’s a rainforest theme going on at the end of each aisle. Different animal cutouts and fake palm trees crowd the openings of lanes to the goods.
Parker takes us through the produce section, where two kids with beards are wetting down a gigantic pyramid-shaped display of kiwi and grapefruit. We get to the back of the store to a door that is designed to look like the rest of a wall. Parker knocks and a woman opens it up. They seem to know each other a little and after he says hi he introduces us.
“Dunn, Caroline, this here is Bonnie. It's her store.”
“Hello,” I say.
“Dunn? Now that's an unusual name,” she says. It looks like she's going to say something else but Parker stops her.
“Dunn's in security,” he says. “Professional security officer. You know, got his own cruiser and everything.” He winks at me. “I'm not even thinking about a deal until Dunn says 'go.’”
Mimi is staring at me, motioning with her eyes something.
“What?” I say to her finally.
Parker looks over. “Oh hell, she doesn't want to sit here with us. Listen, here's the keys to the van. Go ahead and take her for a spin. Check out the neighborhood for us.”
“Wait, she can't drive,” I say.
“Of course, I can drive,” Mimi says. “I drove Big Ed, right?”
“What are you, sixteen, seventeen?” Parker says.
“Seventeen,” she says and takes the keys. “I'll be out front when you're done.”
“And listen, don’t change that radio, okay?” Parker gives her his wink again. Mimi rolles her eyes, smiles and leaves.
“Loosen up, Dunn,” Parker says after the door shuts. “Let her live a little. “
“That your daughter?” Bonnie says to me.
“Yeah,” Parker says. “She's a sweet kid, but let's get this show rolling. Dunn wants to see the place.”
Parker slams me on the back and we all stand up.
“That seems reasonable to me,” Bonnie says.
We leave the office and I think to myself that Parker's a little bit sweet on this Bonnie. She looks to be about thirty and she must be loaded to own a big store like this, even though I don't have any idea how much a store costs. But Bonnie is pretty. She's got platinum colored hair, bangs, wavy. She's wearing jeans and a nice sweater. When she walks, she looks like a million dollars.
As we go down the aisles, Bonnie's leading, Parker next, and then me behind. She stops once and talks to a stocker. She tells him something about a big box of dented cans that they took in from a distributor. We’re headed to the far side of the store now.
“Let's go to the meat locker,” Parker says. “Dunn, you won’t believe this locker they've got in back.”
So we look at the locker for a bit. Then we stand and watch some shoppers fill their carts. Bonnie gets us a free sample of some tofu bacon that tastes like foam.
Parker makes me touch every lock in the place. I lock and open them all. Bonnie gives me a set of keys and Parker wants to know which locks are good ones and which ones he needs to upgrade.
They take me to the back entrance, where the deliveries are made. It's a loading bay with a metal door. Parker and Bonnie go outside and they tell me to lock it from the inside. I watch as Bonnie shows me how to lock the door and then they go out, close it behind them. It's suddenly dark. There's a moment of quiet when I’m alone there, and I breathe in a deep smell of the place. Then the banging starts. The noise is terrific. It sounds as if Parker's hitting the door with a piece of iron.
I hear Bonnie saying something to him, but I can't make it out. I can just barely see things in the dim light from an exit sign. When the noise finally stops, I open the door from the inside. Parker is standing there, sweating, with a big chunk of wood in his hands. He drops it and winks at me.
“Dunn, let's go see those front doors again.”
“He's going to buy it,” Bonnie says, standing right beside him. “If you give him the thumbs up, he's going to buy it.”
When Parker and I leave the store, the van's gone. We wait a minute and then it comes into view. Mimi pulls into the lot and stops right in front of us. You can hear the radio all the way out here. She tries to get out and let Parker drive but he just motions her back in. She sticks her tongue out at me.
We pick up a six-pack of beer on our way back to the apartment complex. We sit in the place and Parker and I drink it pretty quick, talking about the grocery store and where he can get some good locks. He calls Trish once and tells her that he's seen the place. It seems to me that she’s yelling at him about something because all of his answers are short and quiet.
Finally he just puts the phone down on the table and as the three of us sit there we can hear Trish's voice coming through the line, little and full of static.
“How's things there?” Mimi says, pointing at the table.
“Not good. Listen, Dunn, could you talk to her for a second. I gotta go to the little boy's room.”
Parker goes down the hallway and I look at the phone. Mimi reaches over and hands it to me. I can hear Trish's voice calling for him over the phone.
“Dunn, here,” I say.
“Hello, Mr. Dunn?” she says. “Where are you?”
“Uh, Parker is here with me at my apartment. “
“I thought you were out of town,” she says.
“Got back yesterday,” I say. “We've just been out to the grocery store.”
“Grocery store? What? What are you talking about?”
“Well, Parker said you were buying this big co-op out north of the city.” All I hear is silence from the other end and finally Parker comes back.
“Trish wants to talk to you,” I say.
“You didn't say anything about the store did you?” he says, cupping his hand over the phone. I motion for Mimi to follow and we go out onto the patio and look out over the parking lot.
“Weird people,” she says.
“I know,” I say.
“You know him long?” she says.
“Couple of months, that's all. “
Mimi leans up against me for a second, looks up, right into my eyes. “I'll look after you,” she says.
“Hey, buddy,” Parker says. “Trish is on the way. She wants to get some New York strips from the store. Hell, she’s with us. She wants to check it out for herself.”
He's standing just inside the patio door and talking to us through the screen. I can still feel Mimi's body against mine. “It's all set,” he says.
Trish arrives around eight o'clock that night and Parker goes down into the parking lot to meet her. They sit on the hood of my car for about twenty minutes and talk. Mimi keeps peering out at them from the window, and I try to get her to come back and sit down. When the door finally opens, Parker comes in first.
“We're angry, but we're talking,” he says. “Some minor problems still hanging over us. “
Trish comes in, sets a big paper grocery sack on the kitchen table, and then looks around a bit. Parker motions her over to a chair and she sits in it. I'm on one end of the couch and Mimi is at the other. Parker goes and gets a kitchen chair and he sits facing all of us.
“This is where we're all pleasant, right?” Mimi says.
“Sharp. What did I tell you, Trish?” Parker says. “The kid's sharp. “
“You know I've never amounted to anything in this world. I haven't done one goddamn thing worth putting in a time capsule.”
Parker is lying on his back on the carpet looking up at the ceiling. Trish is still sitting in the same chair. She's as drunk as he is, but she doesn't show it.
“This then begins the time capsule story,” Trish says, raising a can of beer toward me.
“Stop it,” Parker says, sitting up. “I'm here with my wife who hates me, and I'm a little drunk, and I just want to tell a little about myself. It's not too much to ask is it, that every man should one time in his life get to tell his story. It's not too much, is it, that every man in this life be given the chance to say it like he knows it.”
We all ate steaks that Trish brought around ten o’clock. Mimi went down the hallway to bed about two hours ago, and the clock now says three-fifteen.
I'm lying on the couch, covered with a blanket that Mimi brought out earlier.
“Tell him your tombstone stuff,” Trish says.
Parker glares at her for a second, raises his hand up like he might hit her and then lies down again. “One day I was sitting somewhere and I was thinking about my tombstone, you know. I might have been with couple of friends. I said that I'd been thinking about the saying I wanted on my headstone. I told these friends that I'd been working it out for months, that basically all I’d had on my mind was the saying on my tombstone. So they sat there listening to me and I realized that I had actually thought about this tombstone thing just that minute. I hadn’t thought about it at all until that moment. So they looked at me. And they waited. Wait. Did I say that we were drunk? We weren't drunk. We had been moving furniture for a friend and we were taking a break, and then I said that stuff about headstones. So they're waiting for me to say it and I say the first thing that comes to my head. Remember, mind you, that I had just told them that I had been working on this saying for months now, and they had to be expecting something very profound. So I look at them, and I think for a second about my life and I say. ‘He wasn't as bad as he seemed.’”
Trish raises her can and then drinks from it. I start laughing a little bit because it sounds very funny the way Parker has said it.
“That's right,” Parker says. “That was the reaction I got from them. They laughed. They thought it was tremendously funny, and I guess after a couple of seconds I laughed, too. Well the day goes on, right? And we go back to this house where we're moving furniture and we move for about six more hours, and every minute that we're moving stuff I'm thinking about this headstone thing. We move and we move and we break our backs. And finally we're done. It's me and two other guys, did I mention that? It’s the three of us, and we're driving in my car and I'm taking them back to where they left their cars. And the radio is on, and now we're a little drunk because the guy we were moving got the Mexican beer out right at the end. So we're driving and I tell them that I was just joking about that headstone thing. I'd really been thinking about it, I told them. But the saying I gave them was just a joke. The real one was serious. So they looked at me, and I remember we were just pulling into the parking lot where their cars were. I pulled up, stopped the engine, and looked at them. These are my two best friends, mind you. I said, 'He never had a chance.’ That's what I told them I wanted on my headstone.”
Trish looks down at Parker and then leans over him from her chair, pats him lightly on the chest. “You're really a handful,” she says to him.
I sit up and think about going to bed, but don't know how to get them to go.
“We're really messed up,” Trish says, sitting back. “I think it's because of this place. We never should have bought so many goddamned apartments.”
“You're right,” Parker says. “We should have moved to the suburbs a long time ago. It's perfect out there, right, Dunn? Dunn was with me. Him and Caroline. We went out there and the houses are all nice, and they got big yards. No apartments anywhere. Just families, with dogs and kids and lawnmowers. None of this clutter.”
“I don't like the clutter any more than you do, baby,” Trish says, and she gets down off her chair and gives Parker a kiss on the top of his head.
Parker makes a kissing noise at her as she gets back up, and then Trish goes down the hallway to the bathroom.
When we're alone Parker looks at me. “I'll leave it up' to you Dunn.”
“Go back to her,” I say. Parker raises his can of beer up but it’s empty. I hand him mine and he drinks from it.
“We're going to sell this piece of shit complex,” Parker says. “We're going to sell it to the first guy who can come up with liquid assets. And then we'll be gone. New managers, Dunn. You'll have to break in some new folks.”
Just then Trish comes down the hallway and she stops just short of the living room. Parker can't see her because she’s right behind him. She sneaks up and puts her hands around his eyes I wait for him to say something but he’s quiet, smiling.
“It's me,” she says. “I'm back.”
By the time Parker and Trish finally leave it's five-thirty. I go down the hallway and look in on Mimi. She's in her sleeping bag, curled tightly around the foot of the bed. The sun isn't up yet, but a dim light seems to be coming through the thin curtains. I go to the patio door. I unlock it quietly, watching Mimi's shape on the floor for movement.
It feels cool outside. I get out there and it's quiet. I leave the door open and just sit down out there. Through one door I see Mimi, and through the other door, the one that opens into the living room, I see a can of beer on the rug and a wet spot all around it. It will leave a stain there for whoever moves in here next.
I never understood why it always seems still in the mornings, why the wind never seems to blow. You can stand right out there in the middle of the parking lot and there’s no wind. Your feet, when you walk around, make loud crunching sounds. Everything you do seems loud. All your movements feel violent, shattering. You're moving things around out there. That's why it's best to be still.
If you sit on a patio in
at five-thirty in the morning you can realize those things. You can realize
that the stillness out there is best left alone. Your movements must be small
ones, quiet ones. It's best to I do it just in this way. Dallas, Texas
The parking lot is full of cars. The sun is still not up, but its light is quickly making the sky in front of me a light blue. I can see all these cars, every spot full. I know all these cars. I've seen them drive in here, and drive out. More than anyplace else in the world, I know this parking lot, and these people.
Underneath me is Big Red, next to it, a cab. And then the guy's pickup who lives next to me. And across from us, the big green car of the guy downstairs. There's a new couple down there, too. A white
and a brown
Oldsmobile. They're young, I think. She looks like she could be a dancer or
something, an actress. He looks like he used to be a hero in high school. Toyota
There's a brown dumpster in the middle of the parking lot, and next to it two rows of cars. A red Grand Am, and a station wagon, and then another cab. Then a blue PR Cruiser, and then a Prisu that belongs to the aerobics instructor I sometimes see, and next to it a motorcycle of some new guy.
I think about getting some coffee after I sit there. I lean back and can see my alarm clock. It's nearly six. The sky is light now, the sun, just an orange crescent above building number 19. I hear Mimi stirring, her body turning over in the sleeping bag.
Suddenly the quiet is broken as a big, white Suburban rolls in from the south side of the lot. The truck gets just about a hundred feet from me when it sputters and stalls. It rolls a while, stopping in front of me. A guy inside tries to start it a couple of times but it won't. It just turns over, spinning whatever there is in the engine that spins. The noise from it is tremendous.
He gets out. He's a kid, I guess. He has his hair slicked back, like mine sometimes, and he's wearing round glasses. He's big. He's got a loose shirt on and shorts that hang almost to his knees. When he gets out, I see the girl. He has a girl with him, his age, I guess. They're both kids, maybe twenty. The guy goes to the front of the truck and pops the hood. He calls to the girl and tells her to try it. It spins some more and he looks at the engine. He peeks around the hood and looks at the girl.
“Don’t even know what the hell I'm looking for,” he says. The girl laughs, and the guy laughs some, too. He goes and pulls the driver's door open and he reaches in, puts it in neutral. They start pushing the big, white truck backwards, him turning the steering wheel, aiming it at a big open spot right in the middle of the lot.
The truck looks heavy and they're having a hard time moving it. It's up against a speed bump and they can't get enough momentum to get it rolling. I think I could probably help them if they needed it.
When they get it in a spot the tires are right on the line, too far into another spot. The girl points at it but the guy just shrugs. She gets in the truck and hands him a baseball cap that he puts on his head. She points at something in the back and he goes back there, lowers the window, and pulls out a toolbox.
Then they look at the truck for a bit and the girl says, “It was a pretty good truck.” The guy laughs at that and they start walking away from it.
He spots me watching them and he sort of hesitates. I think he might say something, tell me he'll be back for it, or someone will come and fix it, and they'll come back, he and the girl, and drive it away. But he doesn't say a word.
Instead he shapes his hand like it was a pistol, with the index finger pointing out, the thumb back, and the other fingers curled in. And then he points. He points out toward
Oaks, out of the parking lot, out of the city, to the north, the
suburbs. He points right ahead of him and the girl, and they just keep walking.
She laughs at this. I watch them get to the edge of the parking lot and then I
stand up, to see them better. The girl takes her arm and hooks it in his. They
keep walking, alongside the outside of the complex, disappearing from my sight
into a neat row of trees. It's still so quiet I hear their voices, their feet
moving through the grass. The sun is now halfway up above the building. It's
already warming things up here.