Authors: Chris Lynch
To my lovely wifeling, Julie Blue Eyes
The problem, or thrill, depending
on how you choose to look at it, was that our relationship was practically
on an enthusiastic mendacity. Her nickname for me was Lyin' O'Brien. Mine for her was Sweet Junie Blue Lies.
She told me in one of our earliest conversations that her mother had died in a plane crash. And that she had an airplane tattooed on her hip with her mother's initials on the wings. Then I ran into her at CVS four weeks later, where I was cheerfully introduced to her living, earth-walking mother, as well as her sister, Max, who I had been led to believe was her brother, Max. Oh, not an actual plane crash, she said. That was just a metaphor for the marriage. Then after another six long weeks I finally met Junie's hip. There was, in fact, an airplane tattoo. The origin of the initials changed every time I asked. I stopped asking.
Still, thrill is how I choose to look at it. She made lying exciting, and sporty, and really I picked up the habit only when she got me hooked. It was our bond. Then again, we're
not together anymore either, so my assessment could be open to question.
June Blue. A guy does not break up with that name lightly. Or voluntarily, as it happens. I was dumped.
She says that her grandfather is a rabbi in London, and I have no reason to doubt her. I told her my grandfather was a bishop in Waterford, and I have no reason not to believe me, either. I've been to his grave, and his headstone is shaped like one of those hats. There you go.
Right? So if that's not soul-matey enough for you, there's our fathers. No, not “Our Fathers,” like that moan prayer they used to push in the church, and which would not ever have crossed Junie Blue's puffy orange lips. Our actual fathers. Mine is a robber baron and hers isâwhatcha know?âthe regular kind. And don't go thinking I mean “baron,” all right, since what in the world would a
baron be like?
And they both sell, among other things, insurance.
Before I met him, she told me her father looked exactly like John F. Kennedy. Then I met him. If you dug Kennedy up today, he'd still be better-looking.
Yet in spite of all that, June and I are as honest as the day is long. Unless you count lying, which, really, nobody does.
Honest day's work/honest day's pay, we have no quarrel with that business at all. She works two jobs too, one having grown out of the other, and both legitimate. She works
evening and early morning and weekend hours at the corner-store that is about seven corners away from her house. It's in a neighborhood where all corner-store counters would be bulletproof Plexiglassed from the criminals, but for the fact that all their criminals are
criminals. And all of
criminals are operating under the benevolent eye of One Who Knows, who does not like his neighborhood being dirtied up by petty crime and unwholesomeness that detracts from his sepia view of life in the microclimate that extends four miles in every direction from his modest not-quite-beachside house. You wind up with kneecap and testicle troubles if you screw with One Who Knows and the sepia view.
Junie's humor, right? It's like this. Everybody knows One Who Knows as One Who Knows, except, when we would talk about him, it bothered her to have to sound so, you know, reverential to the guy. Even though she has met him on many occasions and likes him fine enough, she's got her principles still. The guy even has the tattoo down one forearm, the initials stacked like a totem pole,
. “Owk,” Junie said one day, calling me from the store just after he left. He bought a loaf of Wonder Bread and a whole roll of scratch cards and as usual tipped her with ten of those cards. “I mean, thanks for the cards,
, but, really,
? It's not even a word or a decent acronym or anything. It's like you asked an owl, âHey, what kinda bird are you,' and just when he goes to tell you,
you punch him in the stomach. That's the noise he would make, â
I laughed, like I did almost all the time when she talked, but then, also like usual, I began the reasoning process. “So, nobody asked you to call him that. Just use his proper name. One Who Knows.”
“Aw, shit to that. I'm not calling anybody that.”
“Why not? It's got a ring. Listen,” I said, and ran through the full phrasing several different ways, slow and fast and articulated and mumbled andâ
“Hold it,” she said.
“That last one. Do that last one again.”
“As I recall,” I said, “it went a little something like thisÂ .Â .Â .”
“That's it,” she said.
What I did was rush the three words together, with an opening flourish and a gentle fade-out at the end. Nice work, but nothing special. I do stuff like that all the time.
“Juan Junose.” She said the
sounds, and I could hear her smiling. She has big pearly teeth with a middle gap you could park a cigarette in, which she does sometimes, and it's heart-flutter stuff. Smoking and hearts, eh?
“Juan?” I said.
“From this point onward. Or, Juanward.”
I loved the Spanishness of it. Particularly as our Mr. Junose
is the type of guy who, if he found himself being any kind of Spanish, he'd shoot himself in the face.
“Juan,” we said at the same time and in the same key. Soul-matey, right?
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We did stuff like that regularly, at least until school finished and we unfortunately did likewise. We graduated a month ago, and everything was sailing along like a happy horny boat like always until we hit the reef. I never saw it coming.
“Why?” I asked, and the only reason I didn't sound like a complete weenie dog was because I was taken so entirely by surprise. Given even just a little bit of advance notice, I would have worked up a whimper that would still be singing today if you walked down to the beach and put a seashell to your ear.
I liked June Blue very much. Still do.
“Because we're not kids anymore, O.” She liked to call me O, because it fit so well into most of our conversations.
O, for ChristsakeÂ .Â .Â . O, shut upÂ .Â .Â . O, God, put that thing away. There are kids in the park.Â .Â .Â .
“Yes, we are,” I said. “Don't let that graduation thing fool you. We're still kids, and will be for quite some time.”
She just shook her head at me sadly from her spot so far away at the other end of the seesaw.
“Your head's going in the wrong direction,” I said, suddenly
bumping the seesaw up and down frantically, getting her whole self into the proper nodding action.
She giggled gloriously but didn't change her mind. She held fast to the seesaw and to the horrible sad squint that was maiming her features. Confusion and panic ran through me like a fast-acting poison, and so, being a clever guy and quick on my feet, I did something.
See, probably the one bone of contention we ever had in a year and a half of going out was that my folks have money, and so I have money, and her family doesn't have anything like that. A problem for her, but I was always cool and magnanimous with it.
So I did something.
“No,” she said. “No. You did not.”
“What?” I said, removing my hands from the seesaw so I could make the ineffective pleading gesture to the heavens.
just offer me money to stay with you.”
Pleading hands were required to stay where they were. “What? No. It wasn'tÂ .Â .Â . That's notÂ .Â .Â . You just misconstruedÂ .Â .Â .”
We had the balance thing going pretty well, considering that I outweigh her by about thirty pounds, but when she flung herself backward to get off the seesaw and out of my life, I dropped like a pre-fledgling baby bird to the ground.
And if one of those nestless, flightless, awkward bundles
of patchy feather and hollow bone had been blown up to adult human size and plunked on the ground at the down end of a seesaw, he would not have looked one chirp more ludicrous than I did at that moment.
But I didn't care about that.
“Junie?” I called desperately.
“If you even dare try to follow me, I'll have your legs broken, O.”
And since June Blue is one of those rare people who can say that and actually do that and can do it on speed dial, I just sat with my bruised everything until two seesaw-deprived preschool girls came along and stared me into slouching away home.
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Her second job is dog walker. Visitors to the store started asking after she took care of the owner's mutt for a couple of days when he had a couple of toes excommunicated because of diabetes. People in June's neighborhood apparently have diabetes at such a rate that people get toes popped like having bad teeth removed, and word spreads fast when there is a reliable babysitter, window washer, or dog walker around. June is popular, and busy, and one of her sometimes clients is the man himself, Juan, who has the ugliest Boston terrier on earth, with three deep scars across his snout and an ass like a tiny little baboon.
I take walks sometimes. It's not stalking.
I don't take binoculars, or rope, or flowers.
I take hope, best intentions, and, okay, that spicy ginger chewing gum that she loves and you can only get in Chinatown, but that hardly changes anything.
“That tree isn't even wider than you, doofus,” she says.
What does one do in this situation? I'm looking a little simple here, skinnying myself behind this immature beech tree diagonally across from the house that June has just stepped out of. I'm not stupid. I know this tree is not adequate for my purpose, but I had my eye on a burly elm only fifteen yards farther, when June and that Airedale with the bad nature stepped out the door a full ten minutes before the usual walking time for a Tuesday.
“I'm not stalking you,” I say, still inexplicably remaining there, only partially obscured by the sapling. I may have lost my fastball, lying-wise.
She continues on her appointed round.
“Stalking Archie, then?”
“He's not my type.”
“Good. 'Cause he doesn't like you either.”
It's true, he doesn't, but more important, what did she mean by that, “doesn't like you, either”?
as in, Archie and I share a mutual animosity? Or she and Archie share a dislike of me? This is the kind of stupid, obsessive thought
I have now? Look what you've done to me, Junie Blue.
“Did you just say you didn't like me?” I say pathetically as she strides down the block and away from me again.
“No,” she says. And that's all she says.
“Gum?” I call after her, the pack held aloft like I am the Statue of Liberty's tiny little embarrassing brother.
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The high school we went to is often cited in lists as America's finest public school. There is a citywide exam to get in after sixth grade, and I was determined to take it even though the highly rated private school I went to had everything but its own moat. I alarmed my parents both by doing well on the exam and by insisting on going there. Rebellion? No. I'm pretty sure I was intent on meeting a greater variety of girl-folk. There were no Junie Blues in my previous existence, that's for sure.
When June and I were still students there, things were much better. We had two classes together final term, and I tell you what, in those classes I did not learn a money-humping thing.
English and history, and we clung like mutual barnacles to each other's hull for every class, making jokes and talking all manner of nonsense. We had our regular seats, and we would always make plans to meet there, as if there were any mystery at all as to where we were going to sit.
“Back of English,” she would say, pointing at me as we
passed in the corridor prior to third period Tuesday and Thursday.