Columbus Day

By  |  October 10, 2016
Illustration by Tom Martin Illustration by Tom Martin

Every night at bedtime, my wife turns the channel to those cable stations that show back-to-back-to-back-to-back episodes of murdered spouses and the forensic technology that prevents questionable and error-prone outcomes. This one particular channel airs one of these program’s reruns exclusively. It’s like the Killer Channel. Sometimes I wake up at three o’clock after hearing the show’s narrator go, “They exhumed the body a second time,” and open my eyes to find Lisette sitting straight up, staring at the screen. I should mention that she leaves the house six mornings a week before four o’clock to travel down our clay, rutted, half-mile driveway, get dough in the oven at her ex-gas-station-turned-bakery, Pure Tarts, and await both locals and travelers in need of diet-regardless nourishment. It didn’t used to be this way, back when we held regular jobs—Lisette a pharmaceutical sales rep, me the owner of marketing research firm Piedmont Consumer Pulse. Before our early midlife resolutions to move out of a city, to do something that wasn’t slightly immoral, we punched 30 or 60 minutes on the channel changer and fell asleep before the local news’s sports segment. In the old days, when we were in our late twenties and early thirties there at the kitchen table in the mornings, Lisette might say something like, “That’s sad about the Humane Society burning to the ground,” or, “It’s not supposed to rain until late this afternoon.” She might’ve said, “Someone needs to teach that anchor woman how to pronounce Al Qaeda, Illinois, Guantanamo, Cairo, Putin, and Angelina Jolie.”

But now it’s all How Did that Person Almost Get Away with Murder? It’s all patricide, fratricide, matricide, filicide, sororicide, and—what scares me most—mariticide, the killing of one’s spouse. When it comes to that last one, on the TV show, inevitably the grave-voiced narrator, five minutes from the episode’s conclusion, goes, “Was it coincidence that Walter bought a life insurance policy on Doris for $600,000 only three weeks before her supposed bludgeoning while he was out of town? Hmmmmmmmm? Hmmmmmmmm? Curious, don’t you think?” And then the cops go into Walter’s computer and find that he had researched living in Borneo or Tongatapu or southern Alabama to find out that people could live in those places elegantly for a hundred years with a mistress, as long as they had exactly $600,000, plus airfare. Then the truth comes out about how Walter worked two jobs—one as a sous-chef, the other in a chemistry lab—and he folded a tasteless poison into Doris’s omelet one breakfast, she died, the coroner chose “heart attack” or “natural causes,” Walter moved to an island, and then he got drunk in a bar and blurted out a confession to an FBI agent there with his wife celebrating a second honeymoon inside a tiki bar. 

Lisette watches those shows. She runs a bakery. Almost every night she wants me to sample her latest tart. I don’t want to be rude, but some mornings I’m a little surprised to wake up without blood surging from my eye ducts.

“Did you remember to bring your Fitbit?” Lisette asks me as we drive to the mall. The mall!—some thirty miles from the outpost where we live. Lisette’s never been there, but I have during cold, rainy days when I needed to get some steps in. Usually I say, “I need to drive around and think up some ideas for a client,” but really I drive straight to the mall and merge into the stream of men and women trying to lower blood pressure, raise libido, or limber up those mechanical hips and knees. There’s a Williams-Sonoma going out of business, or moving to a place where more people actually use stovetops instead of fire pits. Lisette wants to check out their whisks, their non-stick muffin pans, their fluted tart pans—all on sale. 

I drive and say, “Yes.” I think, I don’t know why I joined the Wellness Plan. The insurance company said if I did so along with a number of other self-employed insurees, then it wouldn’t add an extra hundred bucks a month. Me, I thought, rightly, I can buy a lot of cigarettes and booze with an extra twelve hundred dollars a year.

We drive down two-lane roads on our way to I-26, which will eventually take us to an exit for the WestGate Mall in Spartanburg, an ex-textile town that dwindles both spiritually and population-wise daily, though the locals—pure Southern Gothic descendants of the once-respected, -rich, and -powerful—

insist that the town’s going through a rebirth. Listen, Spartanburg called itself “Hub City” a hundred years ago because some railroad tracks traversed the city. Then it went by “Sparkle City” because a 1950s band called the Sparkletones had a hit. I got hired out one time to help re-moniker the place, and the only thing I could come up with went “We Don’t Blow” because the city employees worked rakes instead of the leaf blowers used in every other nearby Southern town that had, indeed, reinvented itself: Asheville, Greenville, Columbia, Augusta, Charlotte, et cetera. Hell, Atlanta’d gone past leaf blowers into the realm of giant leaf-gathering vacuums, which made me think how Atlanta might consider “We Suck” instead of Empire City of the South or Hotlanta.

The mall looks a lot like Main Street, only covered, which is to say Vacant Storefront, Vacant Storefront, Vacant Storefront, Place that Sells Ball Caps, Vacant Storefront, Place that Sells Leggings, Place that Sells Tennis Shoes, Vacant Storefront, Vacant Storefront, et cetera. Kay Jewelers, New York Jewelry & Watches, Diamond Couture, East Coast Jewelers, We Buy Gold, Vacant Storefront, Vacant Storefront, Zales Jewelers, Vacant Storefront with the Piercing Pagoda across the way. A place to rent tuxedos and that place Spencer’s to buy rubber chickens and whoopee cushions. Lisette says, “You got your phone? I’ll go in the store. Take your time walking. I might want to go check out the Sears and see if they have a good cordless hedge trimmer. Our boxwoods out back have gotten out of control, in case you haven’t noticed.”

We enter by the main entrance. I check my Fitbit between Vacant Storefront and Yankee Candle—somehow I’ve put in nearly 4,000 steps already, probably pacing the floor thinking about a tiny twinge I feel down toward my appendix. The mall holds few shoppers, which is weird because it’s Monday and there’s no school because it’s Columbus Day. Don’t kids still hang out in malls when they’re not in school? Are they all at home staring at their Facebook pages, tweeting, doing Instagram, bullying others?

I don’t have my phone. I look at my wristwatch and say, “If we somehow get separated, I’ll meet you at the car at, what, three?”

“Goddamn, Renfro, how far do you plan to walk?” she says. She looks at her own watch. “You want to walk in circles for four hours?” She reaches down and practically places her elbows on the floor, stretching. 

I do not say, If this place stayed open until midnight I’d walk until then, to keep you from watching those TV shows. I say, “I’m joking. Don’t kill me.” I try not to think of ways a person could die from a cordless hedge trimmer.

 

Itake a lap at what I consider a four-mile-an-hour pace. With hardly anyone else in the mall it’s easy. I see other mall walkers—people forty years older than I—shuffling along like zombies. Most of them carry bags of jelly beans they bought over at Candy World, or hotdogs wrapped in pretzels from Auntie Anne’s. One man wears a portable oxygen tank. More than a few have canes or walkers. Except for the Vacant Storefronts, it doesn’t look that much different from the orthopedic floor of a hospital specializing in hip replacements. I’m the youngster here. If I lived in the same neighborhood as these comrades of mine, I’d be out at night with a baseball bat knocking down mailboxes. 

One lap’s 2,200 steps. They say it’s a mile, but according to my Fitbit it’s more. I do the lap, and see my wife, wearing her out-of-the-house/out-of-the-bakery attire, namely blue jeans so tight I worry about her getting a yeast infection and an Akris notched-collar long-sleeve. I know the particulars of the blouse because I said, “What the fuck?” when the American Express bill showed up.

I do the lap, passing others easily, wondering what they listen to on their iPods, wondering how in the world such old people could ever succumb to iPods, knowing that they probably keep Billy Graham podcast sermons lined up one after another. 

On the second lap I notice a man sitting on a bench across from a place called Brows ’n More—a joint where people sit in public to have their eyebrows waxed. Who does that? I mean, there’s another place down at the other end of the mall called the Relaxation Station where people get chair massages and sea salt foot baths right in front of everyone walking by. Listen, I don’t consider myself a prude. I had a cocaine problem. I’ve drunk at least fifty liters of every bourbon ever bottled. Sitting in my home office I crank Hüsker Dü, the Ramones, even Joy Division. But Jesus Christ there are some things that mall walkers shouldn’t have to encounter daily.

The man wasn’t crying on my first lap, but he’s obviously pained by the time I get right around step 6,000. I veer over and say, “You okay, buddy?” He’s older than I am, but about halfway between me and the zombies. He’s mid-to-late fifties.

“I’m okay,” he says. He wears wingtips, which means he’s not one of the walkers. “I’ve been better, but I’m okay. Better than my dad, I guess.”

I should say, “All right.” I should say, “Glad to hear it,” and get on my way as if I’m in need of Squirrel Nut Zippers and Mary Janes over at the candy store. But I care about my fellow human beings—which should keep me from getting poisoned, right?—and say, “Are you saying that because your father never had to sit outside a waxing place while your mother got her unibrow eradicated?” It’s what came out.

He shakes his head. “It’s stupid,” he says. He crosses one leg over another—polyester pants—in a way that makes me think he might have gas.

I get passed by the second-fastest mall walker, Pete, an eighty-year-old man wearing those red-and-black golf pants going about 1.5 miles an hour. That bugs me a little. Pete brought his son with him a couple times and said his name was “Re-Pete,” like some kind of Bazooka Joe joke. I say to Crying Man, “The economy will rebound. As a matter of fact, I hear that it’s rebounded just about everywhere else except here. And Alabama.” What else can I say? 

“My mother and father used to bring me here when I was a kid. My father had two broken hips because he fell off a three-story roof. He was a roofer. Anyway, we came here, Mom shopped, and my father would make it this far and sit on this very same bench.” The man bends his head toward the waxer and waxee. “Right in there used to be an organ store, organs like the instruments. Keyboards and organs. Maybe pianos, though I remember only organs. This old guy working inside would always be playing, and my father would sit here and sing loud if he knew the song. Big fat man named Joey, though everyone called him Blowey. Great man. Everyone loved him. Worked as the organist at First Baptist, and no one ever asked why he never got married.”

I think, I need to get out of here. I think, I need to go and walk around the parking lot of the mall instead of the inside. I say, “Yeah,” like an idiot.

“Wiley Rose Jr.,” says the man, sticking out his hand to shake. Now he’s blubbering. I say, “Renfro Truluck,” and hope that he’s never worked for a company that makes products I’ve intentionally and wrongly hammered in order to get my clients’ merchandise advertising-worthy. I’m not proud. Anyone who’s ever seen one of those “Nine Out of Ten Pepsi Drinkers Like RC Cola Better” has me to blame. Easy to do: Bring in taste-testers, make sure the Pepsis are flat, et cetera. America. “Nine Out of Ten Pizza Hut Lovers Choose Deno’s Greek-Style Instead.” Close down Deno’s for the day. Have their best chef make perfect pizzas. Order twenty Pizza Hut Meat Lover’s pizzas hourly, during lunch, when their workers are frenzied anyway. Offer two slices to stooges. Deno’s wins. Marketing research.

“I’m waiting on my wife,” I say. “She’s buying a baking sheet, or something.” I start cataloguing in my head everything Lisette could purchase on sale if she held a secret wish to murder me: Knives. A high-speed hand-held mixer. Ice picks. 

Wiley Rose Jr. says, “I am the exact age as my father when he died. Exactly. He used to sit here and sing along with Blowey and make me sit with him while my mother shopped. I was so embarrassed, ya know? I wanted to hang out with my friends, maybe get an ICEE, or at least pretend to be smart and hang out at Waldenbooks.”

I think, That’s what’s missing: there’s no bookstore in this mall. I think, Is there a bookstore in any mall? I say, “What was the story with Coke-flavored ICEEs? I mean, there was cherry, and then Coke? Who got Coke?”

Exactly his age. I figured it out. Fifty-two years, ten months, eleven days. If I live until tomorrow, I’ll live a day longer than my father.” Wiley Rose Jr. turns toward me, then back to the waxing station. He says, “It’s not right, this sacred spot being used for whatever they’re doing in there.”

I nod. I nod and nod and nod. I think about where there might be a place in the mall that sells Kleenex or handkerchiefs, but know there’s not one. Maybe in the old days when they sold musical instruments where a gay Baptist organist moonlighted, but not now. 

 

Istand up to leave—I want to pass Old Pete—and get enough laps in to clear 10,000 for the day. I visualize the mall’s tentacles and try to figure out how to avoid walking past Wiley Rose Jr. another three times. Lisette walks up, though, lugging two paper bags with raffia handles. She says, “Are you okay?” She sees Wiley Rose Jr. crying. To me she says, “Are you having heart palpitations a twentieth time? Did your back go out again?” To Wiley Rose Jr. she says, “I get allergy attacks in here, too. All that perfume clouding out of the entrances like evil specters.”

He says, “Yeah. Just allergies.”

I say, “You ready?” and try to make some wide eyes so she’ll know I want out of there. I figure I can go home and walk the yard, the driveway, the adjacent pasture where my neighbor Sutton Glane keeps two pet heifers, Helen and Totie, both with withered legs, their manure somehow a veritable magnet for psilocybin mushrooms. I say, “My heart and back are fine.”

Lisette says to Wiley Rose Jr., “I watched this show one time about a woman who was deathly allergic to perfume. So her husband took out a gigantic life insurance policy on her, then at night when she slept he opened up bottles of Chanel all over the bedroom.”

I say, “Nice to meet you,” to Wiley Rose Jr. and take Lisette’s bags from her.

“The coroner said she died of natural causes, you know, but her parents always questioned the report, and sure enough they exhumed the body and found a swatch of Chanel under her nose. Well, the parents said, ‘She would never wear perfume—she was deathly allergic to it.’ Next thing you know, the husband’s got a life sentence. Big dickhead. He had out a million-dollar life insurance policy on her. They had two kids, so for a while everyone thought a million dollars was about right. It wasn’t! It wasn’t!”

I say, “Is it ‘swatch’ or ‘swath’? I’ve never been able to remember that word.”

Wiley Rose Jr. stands up and says, “I’m fifty-two years, ten months, and eleven days old,” then says his name and sticks out his hand to shake my wife’s. Me, I take the time to sneak a look in the bags, but sure enough Lisette had bought up only a bunch of spatulas and non-stick pans, plus two Yolk Magic Egg Separators. 

I say, “There used to be an organ store in here. Wiley and his folks used to come here back in the seventies or whenever and his father sat right here on this bench and enjoyed the organ stylings of a man they called Blowey.” I find myself walking in place, like some kind of marching band member. Like I play the fucking clarinet.

Lisette says, “Are you sure you’re okay, Renfro?”

“I wouldn’t mind taking a lap or two with y’all,” Wiley Rose Jr. says. “That would do me some good. Make sure I live to see tomorrow. Hey, if I have a heart attack, I ain’t got one of those Do Not Resuscitate provisos. And I’d rather you perform the duties,” he says to Lisette, though he slaps my back.

“You got it, Wiley,” my wife says. She’s not nonplussed, a word I know but notice how everyone uses wrongly. 

I look at my wife and say, “I’m only doing another half-lap,” which wouldn’t have been true had I not been an A-one marketing researcher, able to foresee both complications and dilemmas.

She says, “I heard a good one in Williams-Sonoma. Hell, if I’d known that the employees there knew such great jokes I guess maybe I’d’ve shopped here more often, and then they wouldn’t be out of business.”

Wiley Rose Jr. waves goodbye at the wax technician, but I can tell that in his mind he’s waving at Blowey playing for immobile listeners. I say, “What?”

“Are you a really religious man, Mr. Rose?” Lisette says.

We bend around a sign that reads yep: youth escort policy and details, in small print, how everyone under the age of eighteen needs an adult with them on Friday and Saturday nights after 6:00 p.m. I say, apropos of nothing, “Lisette here owns Pure Tarts, Wiley. You probably haven’t ever been out to this area they call Pure only because there used to be a Pure gas station at the crossroads. This is out past Pauline. Kind of between Pauline and Cross Anchor. East of Forty-Five. West of Calloustown.”

We pass three or four Vacant Storefronts, then a place where kids can get their photo taken with Santa from the day after Halloween until Christmas Eve. We pass Finish Line, Foot Locker, Lady Foot Locker, Journeys, Payless ShoeSource, Rack Room Shoes, and the Army/Navy/Air Force/Marines recruiting station. We walk toward the food court. Wiley Rose Jr. says, “I used to be religious, up until today. My daddy died way too young.”

I nod. Lisette says, “You know why lesbians always buy their weight-lifting needs and hiking boots at Sports Authority or Cabela’s or Academy Sports?” She doesn’t wait for us to offer an answer. “Because they don’t like Dick’s.”

I laugh, certainly. I think it’s one of the funniest things I’ve heard since moving to Pure. Wiley Rose Jr. walks a little quicker than us, which makes me think that maybe he’s offended, but he slows back down and looks at both of us. Then he says, “I got one. Hope y’all ain’t all political correct. Listen, a lot of people remember that Yogi Bear had Boo Boo for a pal, but then they forget about his little black friend. Know what his name was?”

I can’t imagine. I get ready to say “I don’t know” right away. Lisette does say, “I don’t know.”

Wiley Rose Jr. says, “Shit, y’all, you ain’t thinking. Little black friend. Ends with ‘boo.’ Think hard, now. This one ain’t hard. Where y’all from? Goddamn. You don’t get this one, you can’t be considered one in the club.” He says, “Blank-a-boo-boo,” and holds his mouth open and head sideways in a way to let us know that if we don’t know the answer, then we might be outright do-gooders from north of the Mason-Dixon line.

 

Isay to Lisette in the car, “Goddamn. I was feeling sorry for the guy until he told that racist joke. Jesus Christ. I wonder if he kept on walking around the mall in search of a place to buy a white robe and hood.” After Junior told the punchline, my wife and I veered right to the first exit out of the mall, which happened to go through the middle of a Belk department store. Then we wandered around trying to figure out where we’d parked and ended up going about seven-eighths around the exterior of the mall in the wrong direction. In the end, I got over 10,000 steps.

In the car, Lisette clears her throat twice. “Tell me again why you were hanging out with him?” 

I shake my head and take a wrong turn out of the parking lot. There’s a series of back roads we can follow to get home which will take twice as long but take us through some beautifully dilapidated countryside. I say, “I can’t believe we still celebrate Columbus Day, can you? I mean, he didn’t land on North American shores. There seems to be enough evidence that Vikings did, right? And maybe some Scottish people?” I don’t want to talk about what made me stop and check on Wiley Rose Jr. I’m thinking about how I’m past the age of my father at the time of his extremely early and unsolved death. I’m guilty for not having considered, back on my thirty-seventh birthday, that this was as far as my father made it in life. I say to Lisette, “He was getting nostalgic. And then he got racist, I guess. Those two things go together often in the South, if you ask me.”

I don’t know if Lisette can read my thoughts, but she stares at me for a good five seconds, then turns her attention to the road. We go through Spartanburg, pass city workers who didn’t get a holiday—all of them raking leaves on the Square—and turn right onto Union Street, which becomes Cedar Springs, which becomes Highway 56, which, eventually, reaches near-Pure. 

We get to a section of the road where houses and trailers stand a good hundred yards apart, small pastures in between. It’s bleak. Lisette points to the mouth of a gravel driveway and says, “Those people haven’t been home for more than a week.” Then a half-mile down she says it again, pointing to the other side.

I ease up on the accelerator and notice a yellow, rain-damaged bag she’s pointing toward. I say, “How do you know?”

Lisette reaches into the backseat and retrieves a spatula from one of the bags. She inspects it, looks out the windshield through the holes. “We got our telephone directory flopped out at the end of the driveway a week ago. You went and picked it up, remember?”

I remember. Because of my paranoia I thought that the plastic bag at the end of our own rutted driveway might contain a pipe bomb, a dead cat, a bag of excrement unworthy of the compost pile. At the time—I poked the bagged telephone directory with an available length of bur oak branch—I thought about how I hadn’t really used a telephone directory in some time, that a telephone directory might be going the same route as the Sears catalog of my parents’ generation. I say, “That’s good thinking. Thieves could roam around here, notice how people didn’t pick up what’s at the end of the driveway, then go right inside and rob the place.”

“At least steal their heat pumps for the copper,” Lisette says. “I read an article the other day that the average heat pump costs way more than a thousand dollars, but there’s only about sixty bucks’ worth of copper inside. And all these sad-ass crackheads and meth addicts are going around, probably spending more than sixty dollars’ worth of gas in their trucks. You see a for sale sign in somebody’s yard? There’s a meth addict that’s eyed the heat pump out back, that’s what I read.”

I get about three miles from our house. I say, “If Columbus hadn’t gone back home and said he found our continent, then those pilgrims might not have taken off for here. If they hadn’t shown up, then England wouldn’t have gotten all pissed off. Then there wouldn’t have been the Revolutionary War. There wouldn’t have been the Declaration of Independence, followed by the Constitution. Slavery. Jokes like the one Wiley Rose Jr. told us. There wouldn’t have been the Second Amendment—which probably made some sense two hundred and fifty years ago, but I doubt those old boys had automatic weapons and hollow-point bullets in mind back then.” I slow down to about twenty miles an hour seeing as we’re closing in on Pure. For some reason I want to finish this conversation before we hit our property.

Lisette says, “The speed limit’s fifty here.”

I say, “If Columbus hadn’t said he found us, we wouldn’t have had genocide in regards to the Indians. No Great Depression. The Civil War. Vietnam. The insurance, pharmaceutical, and medical industries holding so much power that they can keep me from trying to live my own day the way I want because I have to go get ten thousand goddamn steps in a day for some fucking Wellness Plan.”

I keep my eye on driveways to see if our closest neighbors’ telephone directories lay out in the open, like invitations. My wife says, “Yeah.” She says, “Outside the fact that you’re all over the place in terms of a historical continuum, yeah.” She says, “War of 1812. Mexican-American War. Hollywood. McDonald’s, Walmart, disco.”

I step on the gas and get up to about thirty miles an hour. I laugh. “Iraq and Afghanistan. PTSD. Slavery—did we mention slavery already? The poor Chicago Cubs.”

We turn left into our red clay driveway. To the right is Pure Tarts, my wife’s bakery. She says, “The Ford Pinto. That obnoxious guy who does infomercials. Reality TV.”

Our dog Myrtle, a quadra-breed, comes running toward us wagging her tail, smiling, nothing but the best greeter in the world. I stop, open my door, and let her jump in. She sits between us and licks Lisette’s face. Myrtle’s tongue flips in and out like a piece of flypaper hanging in front of a window-unit air conditioner.

“I may never go to a mall again,” I say. “If Columbus hadn’t gone back to tell Queen Isabella and whatever her husband’s name was that he found a New World, we wouldn’t have malls. If we didn’t have malls, we’d have a better economic situation on Main Street. If we had a better economic situation on Main Street, everyone would talk to one another in a civil fashion, and no one would even think to find a need to own pistols.” 

I open my car door and Myrtle jumps across my lap and onto the ground. Lisette says, “All right. That was fun. Maybe we can do this again on the next Monday holiday. When’s Arbor Day?”

I look up at the sky and see two clouds drifting toward one another from opposite directions. I think, Beginning of a tornado? I think, Is it still hurricane season? How many times did Columbus look up in the sky from either the Niña, Pinta, or Santa María and see such clouds? Did he understand what irreversible problems he set forth?

My wife says, “Race you!,” but she’s talking to the dog. They hit the back door simultaneously and go inside. I stand there like a fool, staring upward and wondering if when the two clouds hit there’ll be lightning. It’s bright and sunny outside with the exception of these two cumulonimbus clouds on a collision course. Down below the house I hear Helen and Totie mooing, both now on the ground just like the old timers say bovine and equine are wont to do with approaching storms. I reach behind the backseat and pull out Lisette’s two bags, then shuffle inside, still thinking of Wiley Rose Jr., still thinking of my own father. I want my mind to wander elsewhere, but I can’t stop from wondering if—had Lisette and I had children—my sons or daughters would one day sit somewhere pondering over their lives when they reached the age of my death. 

Lisette’s got Channel 44 on, watching Forensic Files. She sits on the couch, beautiful, with a bag of pretzels. That narrator says, “Hmmmmmmmm? Hmmmmmmmm?” as if on cue.

I say, “We’re not too old to have a baby. It’s not like you’ve gone through menopause or anything. You’re not even close.”

Lisette says, “I’ll tell you something cool: We could leave a telephone directory down at the end of the driveway so people thought we weren’t home. But we’d be home. And then, when they came up to break into the house or steal our heating unit, we could kill them. We have enough land to bury a bunch of meth heads. Maybe we could throw them down that old well, and then put a big cement pad over it, and then a raised-bed garden over that, just like that one dude did in Ohio or wherever. Or maybe not kill them, but hit them with one of those cool stun guns. At least spray them with bear repellant and call the sheriff’s department.”

I set her bags down on the kitchen table. I walk over, kiss the top of her head, and tell her I love her. She points the opened pretzel bag my way as a commercial airs concerning some kind of electronic cigarette, which is something else that wouldn’t have happened had Columbus’s fleet gotten caught in a relentless storm and drifted down toward, say, southern Argentina. I shake my head no. My Wellness Plan sends me emails about salt intake and blood pressure two or three times a day, pointing out how too much sodium might kill me—and now that I think about it, maybe that’s how Columbus got gout, or reactive arthritis, or however he died. 

Lisette says, “What? What did you say?” and curls the top of the pretzel bag. 

The show’s back on, and I sit down, mesmerized again. Later I’ll remember why we probably shouldn’t procreate, as shouldn’t most people I’ve seen or met in the recent past.


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George Singleton, a member of the Fellowship of Southern Writers, has published seven collections of stories, two novels, and a book of advice. He teaches at Wofford College in Spartanburg, South Carolina.

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