A jazz band plays as we wind between the crowded booths of the Brannon Century Mall’s bi-monthly crafts fair. June, wider than me, makes way through an ocean of artsy types, and by artsy types I mean hipsters. They watch her, awed of the real deal. God, I’ve never seen so many dory t-shirts!
“Opie rides his bike to the camper sometimes.” June says, sucking Dr. Pepper from her McDonald’s cup. “He gives Sunny updates on their fish.” She shakes her head, “F***! El pescado, por el amor de Dios!”
She drains the last of her soda and tosses the cup into a garbage can. The deal is for a cheap fast food lunch and then a good dinner at Olive Garden. She’s never been and still believes the commercials, unique Mediterranean food at a bargain. I’m sure most of it comes frozen from a monstrous food factory in Kansas City.
“They seem to get along.” I say, “Mom doesn’t like it though.”
I move to a table covered with a thousand handmade necklaces. Behind them sits a grey haired woman in a plastic chair. She looks at me then eyes June Bug. I suppose f-bombs don’t endear one to grannies.
“What does your mom like.” June says, a statement not a question. She moves to the large selection with cross necklaces and picks one made of three small nails wired together. “How much for this one?”
“Six dollars.” The woman says. Her voice is raspier than Dad’s and I wonder what brand she smokes?
“Four-fifty-three.” June offers. “It’s all I got.”
The woman nods and June pulls a Ziploc bag out of her back pocket. Inside are a few dollar bills and a mountain of change, mostly pennies
She catches my look and shrugs. “Yeah, this beaner’s been holding out on you. Its my Doomsday Fund. Every girl needs one.”
She pays and the woman, her is Beth, recounts every penny. Hag.
“It’s just some s*** for Sunny” June says as we walk to the wind-chime booth. She makes and effort to tap every single one, creating a beautiful crash of sound. “He’s doing well and has to know there’s some type of reward for hard work.”
The bridge, a short, decrypted two lane over the Sangamon River, appears rusty gold in the sunset. I look at the dashboard clock before shutting off the engine. “It’s six-thirty. You have fifteen minutes.”
“I’ll take as long as I want pan blanco!” June laughs, almost giddy from a belly full of noodles and bread sticks. She has trouble unfastening her seat belt.
“Fifteen.” I repeat, unbuckling it for her and pushing her out the door. She lands with a fart.
We walk onto the bridge, keeping to the side rails. Beneath us, the Sangamon is low, showing more sand and tree stumps than water. At the far bank, a group of boys swim beside a concrete boat ramp. They don’t notice us.
“There, graffiti!” Grinning, June Bug points to an I-beam above our heads. On it someone has sprawled The End of the Line in sloppy yellow paint. “Better art than that crap in Brannon.”
Looking around I see that every I-beam, every hand rail and support, everything is covered with spray paint, Sharpie, knife scrapings, pencil, pen and above all else, an unbearable need to be heard.
June slaps my back and runs down the walkway, laughing as she echo’s the scribbling around her. “Cobain lives in McCain! For Free P**** call Susie! Go Coleman Tigers! F*** Nixon!…”
The boys look up, one yelling something about Nirvana. June ignores them and continues to the end of the bridge before circling back. “Class of 97′ Rules! Fiona & Jim Forever!…”
I look down. On the hand rail beside me someone whispers, James D. I Love You. I wonder if he ever knew.
The boys on the bank yell louder. One pulls down his shorts and moons us. Another, a fat, butter-ball, bellows before flinging off a rope swing into the water. Droplets nearly hit my feet.
June returns, sweat pouring from her forehead. I point to the boys.
Unimpressed, she waves the two hairy cheeks away then pulls a jack knife out of her back pocket.
“It’s our turn.” Her voice is hoarse and somewhere she’s lost her ponytail holder. She looks around for a few minutes before finding small bare spot on a vertical beam near the center of the bridge. “What will it be?”
“June and Mable were here 2014.” I think for a second “wuz here…”
June rolls her eyes. “Hey, calm down there gangsta.”
She begins working on our inscription with her back turned to me. “Thanks for picking me up today. I was kinda worried you’d just drive past.”
“Why?” I ask, feeling insulted. Does she think I kick puppies and trip old ladies too?
“I just did.” She moves and lets me see our inscription. “What do ya think?”
June y Mable dicen que engañan al mundo!!! June a Mable say screw the world!!!
“Kinda vulgar…” I give a sheepish smile.
“B**** this whole world is vulgar!” She turns and begins working on the inscription again. The sun is almost down and the boys at the boat ramp begin working on a fire. They’ve already forgotten about us.
“There.” June points to her creation.
I look and she she’s etched a heart around our names.
“That make it ok?” she asks, closing her knife.
It does. It really does.
We drive home in the twilight, with only a few purple clouds above us. June, nearly asleep in the passenger seat, offers more burps than conversation. I tune the radio through several different station, hoping for Taylor Swift or Brad Paisley but find Keith Urban.
“No, not that crap.” June says, rubbing her eyes. She leans forward and turns the receiver herself, settling on something depressing as hell. Hello? Hello? Hello? Is there anybody in there?…
“It’s been a good day.” She says, leaning her seat back further than I ever thought possible. “Are your parent going to give you the van?”
“Probably. They’ve already picked out something at the Toyota dealership, a Camry for Mom’s commute. If it goes through, the vans mine. Nothing official yet.”
“They will.” June smiles a dreamy smile.
“Yeah.” I grin, giving way to hope. The dashboard clock says a quarter till eight and over us, a slim sliver of September moon lights the clouds. “Maybe they will.”