Morningwood - Ride the Lights
2621 Blairs Ferry Rd, Cedar Rapids, IA
2621 Blairs Ferry Rd, Cedar Rapids, IA
On Thursday evenings, the Taco Bell on Blairs Ferry belongs to the girls of John F. Kennedy High School, specifically those of the junior varsity volleyball variety. Reeking of stress, farts, and hard work the team descends upon tables and food alike; decidedly, if not voraciously, the girls alternate between swarming available chairs and cashiers with a buzz not unlike bees, for their purpose is to unwind, eat, and chat in singular fashion. They know where to sit, how to order, and what to say. Thirteen young women needn’t quibble about the obvious.
Hillary need not be reprimanded for showboating because she is the best player at this level, after all. Colleen, meanwhile, needn’t be admonished for a poor serve since she, like Sarah, is a libero. As with Colleen, Sarah isn’t the best at anything but that’s just fine. Brooke, a setter, need not be urged to improve for the sake of the team, as this is a collectively acknowledged fact. Carrie and Kelsey, benchwarmers, recognize the importance of dedicated bench warming. Jenny needn’t be reminded that before Hillary came along, she was the best on JV. The other Sara, the one without an h, need not concern herself with outside hitting because that is Devin’s job. Devin, of course, knows that Marika works hard to compensate for Devin’s flaws but this is an established fact as well. Jackie needn’t trouble herself with being a particularly good player because she has more than enough spirit to compensate for questionable athleticism. Anne and Erin, precocious sophomores, need only devote themselves to the experience gained from a year on junior varsity. If teams were automobiles, this would be a Toyota Corolla.
Regarding personality and proxemics, the team is defined, perhaps even subdivided; though this too remains undiscussed, and manifestly so. Anne and Erin, for instance, routinely sit across from one another so as to best chat amongst themselves while Jackie, popularity personified, positions herself in whichever seat best suits the role at hand based upon availability and mood swings. Tonight, she is situated in the middle of a three-table mishmash consisting of a booth and numerous swiveling chairs like the eye of a mild-mannered hurricane. Despite any protestations to the contrary, Sara and Sarah share more than homophonic titles, as they gravitate toward one another socially as well as culinarily insomuch that each could be forgiven for mistakenly grabbing the other’s fresco-style chicken soft taco and diet Pepsi.
Jenny, also known as Jenny Don’t Give a Shit or D-GAS for short, prefers to sit on the edge of the Tex-Mex maelstrom because she needs space for her two-handed approach to taco salad consumption, but also due to unspoken resentment of Hillary. Likewise, Marika, seated across from D-GAS, avoids Devin out of professional discourtesy and personal disdain. Having been taken under Hillary’s wing, allegedly to enhance team performance, Devin and her mentor are peas in a pod to the extent that Devin’s hair is now dyed blonde and she has graduated from decadent volcano nachos to the more nutritiously sound black bean burrito.
Not one to shy away from conversation or bovines, Colleen chatters and chomps on steak chalupa supremes without the slightest hesitation. Despite Colleen’s hatred of guacamole, Brooke, seven-layer burrito aficionado, is a constant partner in mealtime crime, as are Carrie and Kelsey. Bench warming is a tough job, and the amount of effort the girls put into practice warrants voracious appetites.
With a fork in one hand and a chunk of fried tortilla in the other, Jenny half-listens to conversations about: the forthcoming season of Glee and the viability of its star, Matthew Morrison, as a sexual partner; the cost-to-fashion ratio of Forever 21 apparel; big dogs and exercise habits; the most recent Boys Like Girls album, Love Drunk; and the travesty of Miley Cyrus’ latest hairstyle. Mildly dismissive of her teammates’ respective conversations, Jenny takes a bite from the tortilla shell now loaded with bits of ground beef, lettuce, and something best described as pasteurized, processed cheese product, hoping that the crunching will drown out Hillary’s latest declaration of love or lust for a television series’ lead actor. The effort less than a resounding success, she studies Marika picking diced tomatoes from her gordita and wonders if her friend knows that Devin slept with Brendan, Marika’s boyfriend, two weeks ago. Even if she does, Jenny reasons, she isn’t going to be the friend to bring the matter up; certainly not here, and possibly because Jenny doesn’t, as the joke goes, give a shit. She remains undecided, as the insouciance cultivated since her displacement as the best of the team has crept into other aspects of life, namely of the culture itself.
Jenny’s attention drifts from this microcosm of high-school experience toward the fast food populace at large. Like most any other Thursday evening, Taco Bell is teeming with people keen to satisfy the urge for cheap eats. Scanning the vicinity, she takes note of a few dorky sophomores from Kennedy at a booth nearest the door, probably discussing the nature of robot heaven as depicted in Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen. One of them is Bobby Connelly, with whom Jenny had a run-in during study hall last week over assigned seating. He’s a twerp, no big deal. There’s a chubby, forty-something dude stuffing his face with nachos at another table, seemingly unconcerned with the sour cream dribbling down his chin. More power to him, though if she were Jackie, she’d probably offer the guy a few dozen napkins.
While the six people in line to order have their backs to Jenny, she can tell that impatience is in the air. The woman at the head of the line, bearing a mane of black hair with streaks of gold, most likely a Hawkeye fan, points a finger toward no menu item in particular, much to the dismay of the haggard cashier who, from the look on his pimply face, is struggling to interpret the order for whatever reason. The group behind the woman, two ladies and a guy, is clearly agitated yet remains composed despite foot-tapping and crossed arms, whereas the couple behind them have elected to play on their cell phones to pass the time. Conventional fare, really, yet something captures Jenny’s attention.
At a table no so far away, there is a boy with curly blonde locks, maybe six, possibly seven years old, seated by himself. Lying upon the otherwise empty table is a closed spiral notebook with a navy blue cover. Alone, this would not pique curiosity but the boy is gazing at Jenny or the JV team in general, which does just that. If he were older, he could be mistaken for someone awash in adolescent fantasies but he’s a kid, so that option is out, although the mere notion prompts Jenny to smirk at its foolishness. The boy sheepishly smiles in return and offers a meek wave, to which she gives him one of her own, albeit with a shred of tortilla in hand.
“What are you doing, Jen?” Brooke inquires.
Jenny shifts her head toward Brooke and shrugs. “Just waving to some kid,” she responds, not knowing what else to say.
“Okay?” says Brooke with rising intonation, herself at a loss.
Jenny’s gaze realigns with the boy, who now holds the notebook in his petite hands. Cover flipped back, the page reveals something written in red crayon which reads:
hi my name is Uriel
Okay, Uriel, hello, Jenny muses while chewing on a forkful of salad. She has no vested interest in this strange child, yet she doesn’t have much else to do, so it works out. Jackie, obviously aware of Bobby Connelly and his dorky crew, busies herself with speaking rather loudly about the definitive grodiness of certain sophomores, much to the restrained amusement of Anne and Erin, but Jenny doesn’t give a shit about Bobby Connelly and the boy is a curious distraction. As she studies him, the boy identified as Uriel flips to a new page.
I know a women
Don’t we all? Probably one too many, in fact, Jenny considers, keenly aware of the effect that Hillary, a recent transfer from Jefferson, has upon team dynamics. An unfair assessment, perhaps, but that’s how she feels. Brooke asks Colleen for a spare napkin, and Colleen offers one so long as there isn’t a drop of guacamole on her friend’s fingertips.
her name is Too Tuco she says
For some reason, the name sounds vaguely familiar to Jenny, yet it does so in a murky, abstract sense like a name she’d seen or heard on television sometime long ago, back when she’d spend Saturday afternoons watching old movies on TNT. Tuco, Tuco... The name rolls around inside Jenny’s head, lost and waiting to be found.
she kept me from the cat man
Although flummoxed by the text of this latest page, Jenny regards the crude sketch beneath the perplexing phrase with the utmost concern, for it depicts, however unrefined, a stick-figure humanoid with an oversized cat’s head; but it isn’t exactly catlike, as the exaggerated curvature and gaping maw suggests less a cat than something larger, something Jenny has seen before on numerous occasions. It resembles the headpiece of a suit worn by the Kennedy Cougar. Not the current suit, but the previous incarnation, the one used by Beth Lexington, who had been in possession of the suit up until the day she was found in her 2002 Nissan Sentra, skull bashed, suit missing, and questions unanswered eight months later.
“Hello? Jenny, hello!” Kelsey practically shouts, breaking Jenny’s concentration.
“Wh-What?” Jenny manages despite her addled mind. Kelsey looks at her expectantly.
“Do you want a refill or not? I’m getting up.”
“Yeah, I guess. Dr. Pepper.”
“What’s the deal, anyway? Are you on Saturn or something?”
Jenny’s brow furrows. “I...don’t know. Dr. Pepper, yeah.” She watches Kelsey saunter off before returning to the boy, who has since flipped the page.
she is my frend
she is’nt yours
Yeah, whatever, kid, I have plenty of friends, she reflects, vexed by the boy’s demeanor, meekly at ease as only a child or psychopath can manage. Some unregistered comment about an equally obscured remark elicits Sarah’s trademark bellicose laughter, further accentuating Jenny’s bewilderment.
she made my mom into hambrgr helpr
“What’s that supposed to mean?” shoots Marika, and while Jenny doesn’t usually give a shit, she’s honestly relieved to learn that she isn’t alone on this one.
“No idea,” Jenny mouths, unabashedly disturbed. Marika begins to respond but falls silent for reasons, Jenny surmises, similar to her own.
“Here’s your Dr. Pepper, you spacey slut,” Kelsey chimes, placing the bubbly drink next to Jenny’s taco salad.
“Thanks a bunch.” Jenny takes a sip, her eyes fixed upon the boy and his notebook. Nickname notwithstanding, she is positively enthralled.
and she burnd but not all the way
“Okay, so,” Marika starts, whispering this time, “does he mean his mom, or what?”
“You know, that’s a good question,” Jenny posits, breaking away from the curious lad to shake a finger in enthusiastic agreement. From a table away, Sara wants to know what they’re discussing, but Jenny ignores the question, for a ruckus could derail this vile dialogue to which she has become entrenched.
“What’s going on?” Hillary calls out from the booth. Goddamn. Not you, too, Jenny bemoans as the boy named Uriel flips another page.
she is’nt your frend but
shes all you have she says
Colleen asks Hillary why she’s getting up. Kelsey wants some more appreciation for the soft drink. Jackie is jabbering about something stupid. Carrie keeps eating. Marika questions the material once more. Anne and Erin await clarification. Brooke postulates that something is amiss. Sara and Sarah squirm in unison. Devin follows Hillary’s lead. Jenny simply wishes everyone would stop, or at the very least, shut up for a minute so she can wrap her brain around it all.
becus He is swaloing the woreld
For Jenny, the cartoonish cougar keeps flashing in and out of her mind’s eye, as does the vaporous, unidentified moniker proposed by the boy. She isn’t one to believe in fate, yet the appearance of what she perceives to be a former mascot stretches the limits of serendipity.
“Made a new friend, D-GAS?” Hillary jokes, eyeing the boy and his notebook.
“A new friend? Where?” Jackie bawls, rising from her seat to get in on the action.
“He’s crazy,” Marika warns the others in a hushed tone, but Jenny isn’t so certain about the kid’s sanity. There is a serenity to his exploits which belies the boy’s enigmatic conduct, and his actions, however outlandish, are too deliberate, too structured, and too convenient.
“Shut up for a minute, you guys,” Jenny pleads even though she knows once Jackie’s on the scene, all bets are off. Seemingly unfazed by the commotion, the boy flips yet another page.
shes hungry and
her body is chenging
“Guess nobody told him about girls and puberty,” Jackie proposes, standing beside Jenny now, and giggles pierce the air but Jenny remains silent. Jackie asks if she’s going to introduce herself to the boy, make friends, and possibly go to dinner and a movie, but Jenny says nothing. Most of her teammates look at her expectantly, as if daring her to break free from the D-GAS lifestyle. Jackie flashes a mischievous grin and warns that if Jenny won’t get a piece of that prepubescent pie, she will. She turns to make her move but is pulled back when Jenny grabs her wrist with such force that Jackie stumbles.
“What the fuck, Jenny?” Jackie roars, causing other diners, even dorky Bobby Connelly, to pause and take notice. Still, Jenny remains taut and tight-lipped. “What’s your problem?” Jackie continues, still enraged, yet even with the accusatory stares and remonstrations from her teammates, Jenny endures, her eyes focused upon the kid named Uriel, as an additional page has been flipped.
“Look,” she says coolly, and for the most part they do.
shes ordring now
They watch as the woman with flowing, almost independently wiry hair dyed black and gold deposits a tray bearing a mountain of wrapped food upon the boy’s table. Picking a few items from the peak of edibles, she tosses them to the kid, who beams at her as if she were the bee’s knees. “Just meat and cheese like you said, chump,” she states, her voice at once feminine yet distorted, not entirely unlike the cautionary growl of a muzzled lioness when prodded. Standing, the woman dressed in a faded Atari Entertainment Technologies t-shirt and Adidas breakaway pants grouses that the boy had been bugging her all fucking day to share his little story with someone, to which the boy responds by sticking out a tongue loaded with mashed taco though his eyes are ablaze with the utmost pleasure. “Ah, but youth,” she muses, her words unnervingly atonal, “sweet, sensational youth fosters such indelible charm.” That said, she stretches and yawns, but it is nothing of the sort for those in attendance.
The yawn itself is the joyful yip of a coyote with its snout buried deep inside a stag’s disemboweled belly reverberating across shambolic tissue. Arms twist, pivot, and crack like tree trunks splintered as skin struggles against bones unrestrained. Fingers coil while knuckles tear through flesh unchallenged and nails creep both inward and outward, bloodied and accipitral. Within mouth agape, elongated teeth push against teeth, protruding through lips tattered and flaccid. Beneath clothing, obscured joints pop like corn in a kettle while ribs diversify, pressing against a t-shirt ready to burst. Neck craning, the head shifts to gaze upon the team, yet the face strays, sliding across eyes now blackened with ooze dripping through wayward slots. And it smiles.
For all the stuttered wails and dejected gasps surrounding him, the boy claps, utterly delighted by his friend’s display. “What, this?” the mélange responds, her face still grinning. “This is nothing, but that’s how it always begins, for the most part. Like, verily.”