Friday Night: A Vignette

A few interesting people I’ve seen in Chicago this week.

  • Tuesday after work, a lady talking on the phone walked past me. I heard her say, “I’ll do anything to keep my mind off of what’s going to happen on Friday.”

  • Thursday night, a man carrying a to-go container dropped it on the ground. His chicken wings and parmesan brussels sprouts spilled all over the sidewalk.

  • Friday afternoon, a well-dressed man sprinted into a busy street, chasing a balloon. His seven-year-old daughter, wearing a flower crown, waited patiently on the sidewalk for him to retrieve the balloon.

  • Friday evening, a biker cut through a line of parked cars to the sidewalk. Miscalculating the three-inch curb, he flew over his handlebars and barely caught himself on his palms.

Four seemingly unconnected events—but if they were in one of my stories . . .

You have six months to live. The voice screamed in her mind the whole way home. Staring at the garage door, she gathered her courage and reached for her phone.

“Hi, Saul? It’s Jenny. Wondering if we could meet on Friday.” Her stomach turned to lead as the words left her mouth. Two hours later her phone rang. After forced pleasantries, she said,

“There’s a new place downtown we could go. Will you bring Jemima?” Long pause, until she whispered, “Please?” He said yes, they hung up, she put her head in her hands and started to weep. It was only Tuesday—three days to dread Friday. She called her sister to tell her the news and tell her about Friday. That night, the next night, and the next night, she walked past the new restaurant they’d be eating at and looked into the window for a long time, doing anything to keep her mind off the scenario that would play out there soon. Thursday, turning away and stepping forward absently, she put her foot right into a pile of brussels sprouts and chicken wings.

Groaning, she shook her head and mumbled, “Uncivilized buffoons.” A wave of grief rolled in on a memory; Saul had always made fun of her disgruntled vocabulary choices. I wonder if he’ll ask me how many ways there are to say death.

On Friday she couldn’t concentrate at work and instead spent the entire day checking her watch and the weather. Mid-afternoon she stepped out of the office for a breath of fresh air just as Jud, the evening security worker, rode up. Swearing vehemently, he pulled his bike up to the rack, hopped off it, and walked over to her, still cursing under his breath. He stopped in front of her.

“What’s the matter?” Shaking his head, he said,

“Didn’t see the [expletive] curb, and I [profanity] flipped over my [obscenity] handlebars and there were [vulgarity] like seven people [curse] watching me.” Frowning, he shook his head. She plastered sympathy onto her face. I’m going to die in six months and he’s angry because he hit a curb on his bike. All she said was,

“Sounds like a rough start to a Friday night. Glad you’re okay.” He shrugged and turned toward the doors. I’m dying and he didn’t even ask me how I am. She stood out in the sun for a few more minutes before going inside.

Meanwhile, north of the city, Saul picked Jemima up from the elementary school. It was “Dress Like a Fairy Day.” Saul forgot until the night before, when Jemima reminded him and he frantically bought a flower crown from Target and told her it would be good enough. When he arrived to pick her up, she was waiting for him with a gigantic balloon in each hand. Neither one was on a string, and when she saw him she grinned.

“I blew both of these up myself.” He took the balloons and her backpack and held it all in one hand, reaching for her small fist with his large one. Two blocks down the street, one of the balloons caught a gust of wind and slipped out of his hand into the street. Jemima screamed,

“Daddy! My balloon!” He sprinted into the street, chasing the balloon. Jemima stood watching anxiously on the far side. When he returned with the rescued balloon, she said, “Thank you.” Beaming up at him, she continued, “I got two because then we could keep one and I could give one to mommy.” Saul winced.

Two hours later, Jenny sat alone at a table in the crowded restaurant, nervously rotating her water glass and checking her watch. Waiting for Saul and Jemima, waiting to die. All I do is wait. She stared mindlessly at her glass and fingers, abruptly pulled from her reverie when she heard,

“Mommy!” Jemima rushed toward her, hair flowing behind, balloon forgotten, flower crown knocked crooked in her eagerness to hug her mother. Jenny slid from her chair onto her knees and opened her arms for her only daughter. This is why people hate to die. They ordered and ate, both Saul and Jenny making awkward casual small talk and trying to focus on Jemima to keep the conversation going. After the meal, Jemima said, “Daddy, can I go look at the fish?” There was an enormous tank near the front of the restaurant. Saul nodded and Jemima slipped away. Looking at Jenny skeptically, he asked,

“Now, why did you want to see us?” She cleared her throat, unwilling to speak, unsure of what to say. Nothing prepares you for this. No one told me this was how it would happen.

“I have . . . “ The words stuck in her throat. She cleared it again and started over. “I have something . . . ” Another failure. Cleared it one last time. “I have something to tell you.”