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, forces our way through an ocean of artsy types donning black Buddy Holly glasses and sporting every shade Chuck Taylor imaginable.. They watch her, awed of the real deal. God, I’ve never seen so many dorky t-shirts!
“Opie rides his bike to the camper sometimes.” June says. Her face contorts as she studies a terrible watercolor of what is either a sunset or a deep dish, Chicago style pizza. “He gives Sunny updates on their…project.” She shakes her head, amazed at the amount of interest any person, let alone a teenage boy, can show to a dozen thumb sized fish. I share her bafflement. Aren’t fourteen year-old boys suppose to only focus on boobs or something?
June drains the last of her soda and tosses the empty McDonald’s cup into a garbage can. The deal is for a cheap 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 some industrial food factory south of Kansas City.
“They seem to get along.” I say, “Mom doesn’t like it though.”
We move to a table covered with a thousand handmade necklaces. Behind them sits a silver haired granny in a plastic bucket chair. She glances at me then eyes June Bug.
“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 and her husband has recently been diagnosed with stage II non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, recounts every penny.
“It’s just some s*** for Sunny” June says as we walk away, entering a booth populated by flock of wind-chimes. She makes and effort to tap every single chime, 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, dilapidated two lane over the Sangamon River, appears gold in the sunset. I glance at the dashboard clock and shut off the engine. “It’s six-thirty. You have fifteen minutes.”
“I’ll take as long as I want pan blanco!” June, giddy from a belly full of noodles and bread sticks, laughs. 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 weeds than water. On the far bank, a group of boys swim beside a concrete boat ramp. They don’t notice us.
“There, words! Big words!” 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 hipster crap.”
Looking around I see that every beam and handrail, every support, is covered with spray paint, with Sharpie and knife scrapings, with pencil and pen, and (maybe more than anything else) the unbearable need to be heard.
June slaps my back and runs down the walkway, laughing as she echo’s the scribbles around her. “Cobain lives in McCain! For Free P**** call Susie! Go Coleman Tigers! F*** Nixon!…”
The words, perhaps a million of them, vary. Professions of faith exist beside crude images of erect dongs. It’s enough to make you dizzy.
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, in delicate swirling script, someone whispers “James Holloway I Love You.” I wonder if he knows.
Two of the boys on the river bank pull down their shorts, mooning us. Another, a fat, butter-ball, bellows something unintelligible before flinging himself off a rope swing into the water. Droplets land near my feet.
June returns, painting, sweat beading on her forehead. I point to the boys.
Unimpressed, she waves the four hairy cheeks away and 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. Thick black curls flow over her shoulders, reaching halfway down her back. Wide-eyed she finds 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 and begins working on our inscription. “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’m not a cruel person.
“I just did.” She moves and lets me see our inscription, out eternal mark on a decrepit bridge over a parched river bed. “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. I’d hoped for something more profound. Maybe a few words about cross necklaces or drunk driving victims. The cheerleaders’ memorial, just a few miles down the road, glowed orange in the sunset, appearing (depending on the viewers temperament) as either the gates of glory, or the pit of hell.
“B**** this whole world is vulgar!” She turns and begins working 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 see 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 only finding Keith Urban.
“No, not that crap.” June says, rubbing her eyes. She leans forward and turns the receiver herself, settling on something a depressing as autism. 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, one that embodies the day, one with bright white teeth and no lip stick.
“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.”