june is story time
Kim moves her stuff down to the basement. It’s cooler down there in the half-finished room beside the old washer and dryer. Maybe ten years ago her dad had used it for an office, he was always saying he was going to start this business or that, one year it was real estate and the next it was an ice cream truck and then it was 3D cameras, there’s still a desk and a blank notepad and a cork board with a small red poster tacked to it which reads MAKE IT HAPPEN in gold-coloured lettering. Kim can tell its age just by looking at the font, it’s all fat and funky like the sixties. Kim takes the desk apart, packs everything under the stairs. She thinks it’s probably better that her dad is dead, because that way he’s escaped having to follow through with anything.
Kim’s new set-up is simple: a mattress, a fitted sheet, a comforter, a pillow, a small pile of clothes, a little reading lamp and ten books she is determined to finish. If I’m going to suffer then I might as well enrich my mind, she thinks. She puts Catch 22 on top and Middlemarch right below it. She likes her new setup; it is suitably spartan. Dark and cool with fake wood panelling, just enough room to exercise, nothing to interrupt her reading. Soon she would emerge literate and thin and then her life would begin all over again.
That night her sister Hope comes by in her truck and they drive downtown to find a restaurant patio by the river so Hope can smoke menthol cigarettes while they drink Cucumber Mojito Crushes. But it’s cold out and the wood smoke from the outside braziers keeps drifting around their faces so after the chicken wings – which are almost burned and not very good anyway – they go back to a dessert place in the suburbs for coffee and sweet, sweet cake. Hope doesn’t want to talk about her husband but ends up talking about life with him anyway, how happy she is now in a lot of ways and how she’s earned it and how she fully expects it to get even better. I mean, that’s what life is about, right? she asks. It’s the same question she’s been asking for years, only Hope keeps getting smaller and thinner with the asking. There’s so much of herself buried hard and flat within that question, two marriages and and a half-finished course at community college and a girl and twin boys with identical personalities and a house with good neighbours on one side and bad ones on the other. At least you got to finish school, Hope always says.
The next day Kim sleeps in. She doesn’t do any exercises. She does have a fight with her mom when asked if she’s going to look for work today and Kim has to tell her, tell her for the millionth time that she there’s no point until she loses some weight. But she does read forty pages of Catch 22 and she does actually enjoy it.
Hope calls. She’s had her own fight with her husband and wants to go out again. I’ll walk over to your house and we’ll go from there, Kim says.
Kim waits by the front door while Hope puts her daughter to bed. Her husband is smoking dope in the basement. The boys are in the living room. Ricky rocks back and forth with the controller of his Playstation, working his way through some Japanese castle in a game called Righteous Sun 2. Randy sits on his haunches and stares at the screen, unblinking. Ninjas drop from the ceiling, wave their swords theatrically before Ricky mows them down with a machine gun that never seems in need of reloading. Just when Kim thinks that he’s done – there’s a door straight ahead, with a blinking light marked ‘Exit’ – Ricky turns around and slowly stalks through the maze all over again, hunting down and killing the few ninjas he’s missed. He’s ruthlessly efficient, checking the map screen over and over to make sure none of the little red dots are still moving.
Boy, you sure like to get all the bad guys, Kim says.
Oh, says Ricky without looking at her, were they bad guys? He hands the controller to Randy.
Neither boy turns around when Kim slips out the front door. Halfway down the sidewalk she’s well into a jog.