The name of the Jessica Chastain type was Sarah. But that wasn’t her real name; that was her alias. Her real name was Sara. But she didn’t tell John that.
“Actually Jessica Chastain is a Sarah type, not the other way around,” she said, when John described his first impression of her. She meant Sara, but John couldn’t hear that.
“I’m the real woman who went and found Osama Bin Laden. I had to. My organization had to know how sorry he was.”
“How sorry was he?”
“He was what we call not very sorry at all. That’s a technical term you’ll learn in time.”
“Frodo,” said Sara’s little rabbitman companion, who heretofore had been content to suck his juice box in the corner.
“That’s right. Frodo.” Sara shrugged. “He had the Lord of the Rings in his DVD collection. Osama, I mean, not Frodo. I don’t know what to think about that, personally. But I think he just wanted to know what the fuss was about. He had also directed his many children and grandchildren in many community theater productions for the compound. We know because we found all of his show t-shirts. Community theater people are suckers for t-shirts, even in the Middle East. That’s just universal.”
“What shows did he do?”
“Godspell, Nunsense, Steel Magnolias. Nothing too daring.”
“Well, give them time.”
“I would have, but then the Seals got involved, and they’re much less interested in being sorry. Now, I want to hear your story one more time and see if you change any of the details. If you do I’ll kill you.”
“I told you, it was all her idea.”
“What’s her name?”
“I don’t remember her name. She’s just this someone I went to high school with. I even, I heard her name like twenty times when I went down there, and I forgot it every time.”
“Yeah. She knew my wife had left me because she got pregnant – not my wife, I mean yes my wife, not my friend: my wife is pregnant! I’m not changing details please don’t zap me again!”
The little guy had put down his juice box and approached with the cattle prod. Sara just waited.
“My wife is pregnant and I didn’t want the baby and let’s be honest I told her I didn’t want the baby, any baby, ever. And you know she used to punch holes in my condoms. I don’t mean poke. I mean punch. She used a hole punch. It wasn’t very stealthy. I think she wanted to be caught. And my money is she went off her birth control without telling me, probably without even telling herself. Anyway the gory details aren’t necessary but I don’t believe in having kids because, I don’t know, there’s nine million refugees out of Syria, how’s that for a late March morning rationale, just to pick one out of the ether.
“Now she’s gone, and I’m sorry about that. I am. Because among other things it makes me look very bad, which I am, of course, but, okay, I’m having a hard time here actually sorting out what I feel from what I have felt. What I mean is I want her to come back, but I don’t know if that’s just because I want to cling to the meaning I had in my life before – ”
“John? Where’s the Dayquil?”
Mr. Hetherington had been sprung from his chair after John proclaimed his innocence. He now shuffled back into the room, in his dad robe, and asked his question in a very stuffed up tone.
“It’s under the sink.”
“No it isn’t.”
“Then we have to go get some more.”
“I’m a little tied up.”
“That’s good, John, that’s a good pun. Sara are you single?”
Mr. Hetherington could tell that she was Sara and not Sarah. Thirty years of teaching just does that to you.
Sara blushed a bit to go with her Jessica Chastain hair. “I’m not asking for John, he’s hopeless. I’m asking because I really want to see ‘Frozen’ and John won’t take me and I figured if you’re a single girl you’ve probably already gone and seen it either by yourself or with some sad lady group, but if you’ve got a boyfriend you probably haven’t been able to drag him to it so maybe you and I could go see a matinee if John gets off his ass and gets me some Dayquil.”
“I’m single, and I don’t think it’s in theaters anymore.”
Mr. Hetherington took that news hard. John couldn’t tell if the welling in the man’s eyes was from allergies or the general injustice of the world.
“That’s John Lake for you,” Mr. Hetherington said, and sneezed forcefully. He shuffled back out of the room. “I’m just going to go lie down and die!”
“Maybe you can settle something for us, Sara!” John called out so Mr. H. could hear. “And you,” he said to the little rabbitman. “Mr. Hetherington has a young gentleman caller, and so he’s trying not to be such a pain in the ass father figure. Now, sometimes we watch TV after dinner, and I notice Mr. H. nodding off. But he never admits it. He always snaps back awake and acts like he’s following the plot of The Good Wife which by the way did you see this week’s episode?”
“Crazy,” said rabbitman.
“Yeah! So my point is, if you’re trying to not be like a dad, just admit when you fall asleep! Just admit it old man! Right? Cause the denial thing is what dads do. Thoughts?”
“My dad used to be able to watch TV even in his sleep,” Sara said. “He’d be asleep and some big play would happen and he’d open his eyes and say, ‘Well they shouldn’t have put that lefthander in’ like he was watching the whole time.”
“Incredible. Is that what you do, Mr. H.? Can you see through your eyelids?”
There was no response.
“Just give him a second he’ll have some witty comeback. He’s gay.”
There was no response. Rabbitman came back into the room. He had slipped out unnoticed.
“That man is dead,” he said.
He wasn’t dead, in fact, but he had laid down to die. That hadn’t been just a witty gay punchline. When John got to him, he was very close.
“What’s going on?”
“Oh it’s the supercold,” Mr. Hetherington said, faintly. “You teach little kids for thirty years, your immune system gets stronger and stronger. But then so does the cold. Those kids are crucibles of chills and fever, little germ factories making more and more intricate seeds of sniffling.”
“But you haven’t taught in years.”
“No, but the seed was inside, morphing, growing.”
“I can get some Dayquil.”
“Dayquil only delays the inevitable, John, and I’m tired. I knew those children would be the death of me. But it’s not their fault, all the same. Do you understand that?”
Mr. Hetherington nodded. “I know, you poor boy.”
“Do you want me to call your boyfriend?”
“I don’t have a boyfriend, John. That was something I made up to spend time with you.”
John took Mr. Hetherington’s hand.
“Why is this the crazy room, John? You never said.”
“Oh. We called it that when we were dating. You know Gladys, sometimes, sometimes her eyes turn into pebbles. I don’t know why, but they do. And when they do, when they did, she used to come in here and lie on the futon, and I would know, that she was…out of sorts. So I would come in and slip on banana peels, or play Tracy Chapman on my ukulele, or read her the unexpurgated letters of Winston Churchill, until her eyes turned back. That’s all.”
“That’s nice, John.” He looked into John’s eyes. “You know, in this story that’s being told, by you…you’re not giving yourself a fair shake. You’re like that. So I want to include, while I still can, that time you took Gladys to the city, when she’d never really been. And you did everything she wanted. You walked the big department store windows at one in the morning because she was too excited to sleep. You surprised her with those (expensive especially for a cheapskate like you) last minute tickets when the other plan failed and she said it was alright but you could see her lip tremble. You took her to that street fair where she bought the dress that got her noticed by the firemen and you didn’t even mind.”
“I did mind. It was hard, walking the streets of the city with a beautiful woman. It was hard in a way I’d never experienced before.”
“Why was it hard?”
“Because I was scared.”
“Okay.” He patted John’s hand. “Good.” He sighed. “I wish I could have seen ‘Frozen.’ Everyone’s talking about it. The new Disney renaissance.”
“Could you sing the song? Could you sing ‘Let it Go’?”
“I’ve never heard it, Mr. H., I don’t know how it goes.”
“I don’t either, so you can’t get it wrong.”
“Make it up, John.”
John looked at Sara. She nodded. Rabbitman provided a beat.
“Uh. When I was just
A little girl
I would always hold so tight.
The end is just in sight.
So please take
My teddy bear
And all my other things.
Cause I know
I don’t need
Them where I am going
Let it go.
Let it go.
Let it go now let it go.
You did well.
For a spell.
Let it go now let it go.”
Mr. Hetherington tried to smile for John, but he knew that wasn’t nearly as good as hearing Adele Dazeem would have been.
John looked down at their hands. “I hate to bring this up right now, but…have I been exposed to the supercold?”
“We all have, John. We’re all killed by children, one way or another.” Mr. Hetherington coughed one last time. The death rattle began to twitch.
“John,” he said, and John leaned close. “The future is in eggs.”
And then he died.
They were the only three at the funeral. This is not because his little rainbows and chickens had stopped caring about him, but only because, well, who keeps up with their kindergarten teacher? If you did, you may congratulate yourself here.
John gave the eulogy.
“Those of you who knew Mr. H., which isn’t any of you, will know that he wouldn’t want us to be happy today, or for a long time after this. He’d want us to wallow in his death. He’d want us to succumb to grief and lie on our couches and do nothing until we lost our jobs and the power company turned all the lights off and our muscles turned to fat. Because he loved life so, he’d want us to waste a bit of ours in his honor, and go around with our bodies smeared in blue paint, and roll among the empty peanut shells.”
He stepped down from the podium. Sara touched his shoulder. “There’s someone you need to meet,” she said. “It’s time.”