Good Luck, Harriet (Not That You Need It)

Good Luck, Harriet (Not That You Need It)

I had just circled an ad for an “entry-level communications specialist,” whatever that was, when I heard a pair of flip-flops earning their name up the drive.  The wearer of the flip-flops stopped about ten feet in front of me. “You job hunting?”

It was a girl, seventeenish, wearing a pair of mirrored aviators, her copious black hair tucked into a cheap looking baseball cap with the word HOSS across the front of it.  She wore cut-off denim shorts and a tight black pocket-tee.  Her smooth-looking skin was tanned to a perfect cocoa color.  Her body was lean and athletic. I did not respond.

She sighed.  “I’m looking, too, but I haven’t had much luck.  You had any luck yet?”  She shifted the weight of her upper body from her left leg to her right and put her hand on her hip.  One of her flip-flops issued a strained squeal.

“No,” I finally said, “Haven’t had much luck yet.”  …Or ever, I thought. I figured since I’d been busted red-handed, I’d fess up.  I put the newspaper and pen down on the ground and picked up the can of beer that had been languishing next to my chair and took a sip of its lukewarm contents.

“I’d like to be a lifeguard,” she said. “At a pool.  It’s like my dream job. It’s a noble thing to be, too—like a firefighter, or a doctor…or an  EMT.”  She stopped talking and glanced to her left, down the street.  “My name’s Cherri, by the way.  It’s not a name I’d have picked myself, but it’s memorable, I guess.  I feel more like a Samantha, or a Harriet.  I’ve always liked the name Harriet.”

“I’m Bruce,” I said.  “But I’ve always liked the name Jack.”  I hinged out of my chair and stretched.   “You live around here?”  I was curious because in my five years at Joe River Plantation, I’d never seen her—or anyone like here—before. The Plantation, as most called it, was like one of those creepy horror-movie communities that the viewer eventually realizes is devoid of young people.

“We just moved in three houses down on the right.  Seth’s a chemist at Hybrilabs.  My mother’s dead.  Are you drunk?”  She took off her sunglasses, stuck them in her shirt collar, and moved closer to me, looking at my eyes.  Her irises were dark brown, so dark that it almost looked like she had no irises, just really large pupils.  I stepped back.

“Do I look drunk?”  I stepped around her so that I was outside the garage.  She walked around me, into the garage.

“Awful lot of bottles and cans in your recycling bins.”  She picked up a can.  “This one still feels kind of cool.”  She dropped it back into the bin.  “Do you have a pool?”

“Nope.  No pool.  I don’t remember seeing anyone moving in down there.”  I walked to the end of the driveway and, sure enough, a beat up grey Volvo lounged in the drive of the house she’d said they moved into.  I’d always wanted a Volvo, but Lucille had hated them.  While we were married we bought a new Mustang every two years.  Now, post-divorce, I can barely afford the upkeep on the ten-year-old Civic that sits in my driveway.

“We moved in at night—last night, actually,” she said, still standing in my garage.

“Your dad a spy or something?” I made the assumption that “Seth” was her dad. I walked over to the refrigerator and pulled a fresh beer.  “I’ve never heard of people moving into a place at night.”

“No, I just told you—he’s a chemist, at Hybrilabs.  You are drunk, Jack.  I think I’ll call you Jack from now on, okay?”

“Sure, Harriet,” I said.  “And I’m not drunk. Not yet.”  I took a sip.  “Hybrilabs.  Where’s that?”

She walked over to the fridge, opened it. “It’s over off of Marion Street, on Francis Avenue.”  She pulled a beer.  “It’s a lab where they make cosmetics and stuff.”

“So why did you move in on a Saturday night, if your dad’s not a spy?  Help yourself, by the way.”

“It’s an experiment—and thank you, Jack, I will.”  She sat down in my chair, took an adult sip of the beer.

“What do you mean?”  I finished my beer.

“Seth is conducting an experiment that disallows him from going outside during the day.”  She burped loudly.

“I’m confused, Harriet. Disallows?”  I grabbed a folding lawn chair, unfolded it, put it next to her chair and sat down in it.  “Do they do tests on monkeys and rats and bunny rabbits where your dad works?  At Hybrilabs? Is it like The Secret of NIMH?”  I burped, but not as loudly as she had. I almost said, “And why do you keep calling your dad by his first name?” but decided I liked her and didn’t want to scare her off.

“Look, it’s complicated, and you wouldn’t understand.  Don’t ruin our fledgling friendship with too many questions, Jack.  It’s all so tedious.”


It turned out that Cherri’s dad, Dr. Seth Newsome, was in fact a chemist at Hybrilabs—not a spy at all—and was indeed conducting an experiment that “disallowed” him from being outside during the day.  He was developing a special “sunless tanning lotion,” something you could apply to your skin that would give you a natural looking tan without your having to lie out in the sun for hours. In part, the experiment is why they moved to Florida from Upstate New York, where they had been living in a small town called Waterford. Waterford, and its six-months of overcast drear had given him the idea to develop the cream, but Florida, he’d decided, would be the ultimate testing ground.

“All the lotions and creams on the market now are a joke.  They turn your skin various shades of orange.  They don’t give your skin an authentically tan look.  What I’m working on will.  But a key factor will be how it interacts with natural sunlight—lots of it.”

The trick to the whole thing, though, was that the experiment, in the first part of the testing phase, called for no direct sunlight, which would prove that the results of his tanning lotion were 100 percent legitimate. “If I go outside during the day at any point during the testing period it will ruin the whole thing.  It’ll throw off the whole experiment.”  He slept during the day and stayed up all night.  He got up at sunset and rubbed the stuff on his body and went to work at Hybrilabs and he made sure he was home before dawn.

I had learned all this and scant other details about the father and daughter when they had me over for dinner one night not long after they’d moved in.

Cherri looked curiously motherly as she made us baked Cornish game hens, homemade organic mashed potatoes and fresh green beans—and she knew what she was doing. The game hens were moist and had a wonderful rosemary-garlic flavor.  When I asked her how she’d seasoned the potatoes, which had some kind of remarkable garlic-lemon thing happening, she refused to tell me.  “It’s a secret,” was all she said.

We had a very dry white wine after dinner and sat around in their living room and talked.  There were still unpacked boxes here and there, all over their house, and no TV to be found anywhere.  I figured they didn’t have one at all.  Anyway, I couldn’t judge them too harshly because I had next to nothing in my own house.  Lucille had taken just about everything in the divorce, which was fine with me.  I didn’t want any of it.  The more she took the better—less to remind me of her, of us.

“Because of the work I’m doing,” said Seth, “evenings are my and Cherri’s only real quality time together.”  Seth had on a faded red t-shirt with small holes in it here and there, cut off shorts and leather sandals, and he did, I had to admit, have a remarkably real-looking tan.  To me, he didn’t look like a chemist.  He looked more like a writer, someone who worked form home, someone who probably didn’t stick to schedules too well, someone who was always late for appointments.  In a word, he looked irresponsible.

“Seth, I’ve got to admit,” I told him. “You have a great tan.  That stuff really works.  It looks real—like a real tan.”

Seth looked over at his daughter with raised eyebrows.

“Oh God,” she said.  “Don’t encourage him.  Trust me, he doesn’t need any of that.” After a tense pause, she added, “We don’t even know if it’s safe.”

They acted more like a married couple then they did father and daughter.  I wanted to know how the mom / wife had died, but was afraid to ask, figured it was a secret, like the recipe for the mashed potatoes.  If I waited, eventually, I’d find out.  Information like that usually surfaced after you’d known someone for a while.

He sat back down.  He moved his hands over his arms and then his chin and neck.  “I believe it’s safe.  I feel good, and everything seems fine, and none of the…ingredients by themselves are harmful to any of the body’s systems. Anyway, we’ll soon know the answer to that.”

“Please, Jack,” Cherri interrupted. “Tell Seth the prospective names are no good.”  She put her head in her hand.

“What are the names?”

She stood up and made a frame with her hands, and announced, “Tan in a Can! … or …Tan-Can!” She dropped her hands to her sides.  “There are others, too, but they’re all essentially variations on the theme of a tan coming from a can.”

“Well…”  I pushed my wine glass around on the table.

“Come on! They’re terrible, and you know it.  Sounds like Fix a Flat, or Can of Worms….What kind of woman would ever buy something called Tan in a Can? Wait. I know. I think I see her now.” She squinted, as if an image were coming into focus. “Yes, there, do you see her? She used to be lovely. Now, she’s just tired, functionally alcoholic and desperate for attention. Poor old girl…”

“Clever,” said Seth. “But don’t you like that they rhyme?” he said with an incredulous look on his face. “And, besides—I don’t really give a damn who buys it.”

“It doesn’t need to rhyme.  What does rhyming have to do with anything?”

“She’s right, Seth,” I said.  “They’re not very… alluring sounding.  Could be more, I don’t know, feminine.”

“See?”  We all sat quietly for a moment.

“Maybe something like Essence del Sol?” I said.

“Well,” said Cherri, “that’s better.  You’re on the right track, at least.”


Meeting Seth and Cherri turned out to be a good thing for me on the job-hunting front. One Friday afternoon, in August, just after school had started back up again, I was out mowing the lawn and Cherri got off the school bus, and came walking up the sidewalk toward my house.  When I saw her standing at the edge of my yard, I stopped the mower and walked over to her.

“What’s up?”

“It’s too hot to be mowing right now, Jack.  You should wait until about an hour and a half before dusk to mow, either that or early morning.  This is the hottest part of the day. You’re gonna burn up and overheat yourself.”

When you’re unemployed, I thought, you have all this time, and not enough stuff to fill it with.  My yard hasn’t looked this good in years.

“Anyway, Seth wants to see you around sundown.  Just come over at eight.  We’re having pizza delivered.”  She didn’t wait for a response.  She turned and walked back up the sidewalk to her house.  I watched her the whole way.  As she turned onto her driveway, she looked back at me, caught me staring.  “Aren’t you gonna finish mowing?”


There were some job openings at Hybrilabs.  Most of them weren’t anything someone with an MA in English could do, but there was one.  They needed a new proposal editor, someone who could take the jargon-laden prose that the chemists came up with to submit for corporate approval and turn it into something a layman could understand.  “I could do that, I think,” I told Seth.  “Good,” he said.  “Go online and apply and submit your resume or CV, or whatever, and I’ll push it through. I’ll get you an interview.  But from there it’s up to you.  I’ll put in a good word, but you’ll have to sell yourself.”

I must have done something right, because they called me three days after I interviewed and made me an offer of $65, 000 per annum, which was more money than I’d ever made in any of my previous jobs teaching, adjuncting, or freelancing. I’d never got a job so quickly and painlessly in my entire life. Somehow is seemed wrong, too much for too little. Nothing in my life thus far had been this easy.  I’d had to fight, tooth and nail, for everything, so I’d learned to be suspicious of things like this; things that seemed like an unaccounted for gift. But this time, I decided, I’d take it, and I’d let myself believe I deserved it.  Something good had happened and I was going to enjoy it.

This time I had them over for dinner.  I cooked the only thing I could do well, the only thing I could pull off on my divorced-guy budget, spaghetti with meat sauce and a nice side salad with garlic bread.  Seth announced over our dinner that night that he was almost ready to become diurnal again. His plan was to take pictures of himself before going outside during the day for the first time.  Once he’d done that he could test the product in the sun.  He would spend the first week going outside during the day, carefully noting any irregularities and spending nearly the entirety of each day outside.  After that week, if all was well and good, if the product was safe and the results lasting, he would publish his findings and, according to him, the “offers would begin to roll in.”  To me, Seth seemed overly optimistic, and his plan seemed too simplistic, but if he was happy and excited, I was happy for him.  Plus, what did I know?  He was the scientist.  He knew what he was doing.

Seth decided that his first day out would be spent at the beach.  That was where he wanted to spend his first day out-of-doors, sunning and bathing and walking up and down the beach.  Cherri was going to go with him and they invited me along too.


It was hot and humid, normal conditions for a late-August Florida day, and stepping on the white beach sand with bare feet was like walking on the hot points of thousands of sewing needles.  We found a spot just ahead of the stretching tide and sat up our chairs and large beach umbrella.  We had a cooler with beer and snacks in it.  Cherri poured two beers into red plastic glasses and handed me one.  Seth announced that he was going to go for a walk.  He took off his shirt and took a deep breath.  “This is fantastic!  I’ve been dreaming about this for months.”  He scratched at his right shoulder and then turned and began walking south down the beach.  “I’m going to walk to the pier and back!” he shouted and pointed at the long, spindly spine of the pier, stretching out to sea.

“It’s so hot,” said Cherri. She took a large drink of beer.

“Take it easy on the beer. Seth said you can only have a couple.”  I dug my toes into the sand.  Beneath the top three or four inches, the sand was cool and damp.  It felt good on my heat-exhausted toes.

“I’ll drink as many as I want, Jackie-boy.”  She took another sip.

“I think I’ll take a walk myself in a little while.”

“I’ll go with you, if you want.  We can finish these beers and then pour two more and take them with us.”

“That sounds good.”

We sat there for a while enjoying the relaxed quiet of the beach.  I closed my eyes and listened to the waves breaking—rhythmic, calming, meditative—and the occasional caw of the seagulls as they floated and careened in the wind, and then some completely unpleasant third sound broke in.

“Let’s go! Pack up! Let’s go!”  Seth was running toward us, still quite far away, and I squinted to see what was wrong.  I could see that he was sort of patting wildly at his torso. He looked like a man on fire, but without the flames.

“Get it all up!  Come on!” He fell as he got about twenty yards from us and he rolled around in the sand.  He moaned and got back up.  “Fuck!  Let’s go!”  Finally Cherri and I got up and started getting everything together.

Seth’s skin was very red, and it was burned through in a few places.  The burned-through spots, like cauterized holes in his flesh, were not bleeding.  He ran up, snatched a towel and wrapped it around himself, and kept running.


I drove and Cherri sat up front with me.  Seth lay spread out in the back seat, hissing and moaning.  Every few seconds he arched his back and screamed in extreme pain.

“Where are we going?”  I pulled out of the parking lot and drove out into the street.  To my left, a car screeched to a stop.

“Shit, Bruce!” said Cherri.

“Dumbass!” yelled the driver.

I waved, looked both ways, and then accelerated.

“Where the fuck are we going?!  The emergency room?”  I was shaking.

“Yes!” said Cherri.  She reached over and touched her dad’s arm gently.

“No!” screamed Seth.  Then he hissed, again. “Shit!”

“You’re nuts!” yelled Cherri.  She looked at me and then back at her dad writhing in the back seat.

“Seth, she’s right.” I said, calmly as possible.  “I think we should drive to the emergency room.  It’s only about 2 minutes from here.”  I swerved to the left to avoid hitting a small girl on a pink bicycle with training wheels.  She’d appeared from nowhere.

“Just drive me home,” he said.  “I know what to do for this.  They won’t know.”

I looked at Cherri.  She was scared.  She nodded.

“All right,” I said.


We pulled into the driveway. Seth was shivering now.  His skin was red and there were large lesions all over him.  Where there weren’t lesions he was beginning to blister.  He looked like he’d been close to a large explosion.  Except for the shivering, he wasn’t moving.  Cherri got out of the car and opened the door to the back seat.  “Come on, Dad.  You can do it—just make it into the house.”  Seth was wheezing now.  He slowly got out of the seat.  Cherri closed the door and guided her dad, Shrouded in brightly colored beach towels, towards the front door of their house.  As he walked, hunched over, he moaned. I couldn’t help fixating on the fact that she’d called Seth “dad.” It was the first time I’d head her do that.

Cherri sat Seth down on the reclining chair in the living room.  He sighed and slowly curled up, pulling his legs up onto the chair.  He looked terrible.  I didn’t want to say it, but he looked like he might not make it.  I’d never seen someone so damaged before.  I’d never seen a body so hurt.

“Go to my office,” he whispered, “and look for a white five-gallon bucket with ICE written on the cap.”  Cherri got up and did as he said and came out of his office with the container.  Cherri strained as she waddled the bucket over to the chair her dad was sitting in. “Open it and start spreading the cream over my skin.  Do it liberally. There’s plenty.  Just rub it in.  Quickly.” Cherri looked up at me. I was standing next to her.  She was gauging my reaction—seeing if I was up to the task. I nodded, knelt down next to her and gently took the towel off of her dad.  “It’s okay,” she said.  “This is going to help.”  She lifted off the lid of the bucket.

“Please,” said Seth.

“You fucker!” she said, and her voice cracked.  “I told you this was not safe. I told you—I always tell you and you never listen.”  She collapsed to the floor and hit the carpet a few times with her fist, and then she started pulling at the fibers as if she were pulling at someone’s hair.  “I wish mom were here!” she said loudly.  It was the only time, except for that first day, that she’d ever mentioned her mother around me.

I helped her back up onto her knees and took her hand and put it in the clear cream and then put her hand on her father’s leg.  “Come on.  You can do it.  This is serious,” I said.  She straightened up and looked intently at her dad.

“Okay, okay,” she said in a whisper.

“Hurry,” said Seth.

I dipped my hand in too and started on his other leg.

After a few minutes, Seth had calmed; his entire body, layered in the clear cream, relaxed and he eventually fell asleep.  After washing our hands and making sure Seth was as comfortable as possible, Cherri got us beers out of the cooler that we’d left in the car and we sat at their dining room table and drank.

“What am I going to do, Bruce?”  She looked over at her dad.

“Well, let’s just wait for him to wake up and discuss it with him.  I don’t see getting around a trip to the hospital, though.  He’s in bad shape.”

She said nothing.

“Cherri, he’s really hurt.  I think we’ll have to take him to the hospital.  We probably should have from the beginning.”

Cherri said nothing.  She sat there resting her forehead in the palm of her hand.  She was crying quietly.  Her shoulders twitched.  She put her arm down on the table and put her head behind it.  I wanted to do something.

“Cherri, he’ll be all right.  I didn’t mean to upset you.  It’s not good, but he’ll get better.  It’s just a matter of getting him better as quickly as possible.”  I drank the rest of my beer, and then sat there nervously for a few minutes, wondering what to do.  I got up and walked over to where Seth was.

He was curled up in the chair with a blanket over his body.  Sores were on both his cheeks, and one was right in the middle of his forehead.  The top few layers of skin on his face were beginning to separate from the rest.  I knew that in a day or two he’d be one big blister.  It was going to be a long, painful recovery.  For some reason, I started thinking of names:  Sunburn-in-a-Can, Third-Degree-Burn-in-a-Can, Near-Death-Experience-in-a-Can, Canned Coma, The Napalm Treatment, Poor-Useless-Bastard-on-a-Couch-in-a-Can.  Seth moaned.  I turned back to where Cherri had been sitting, but she was gone.

I got up to leave and, on my way out, I found Cherri back with Seth. She sat next to him, on a stool, smoothing his hair back and singing. I couldn’t quite make out the song, but it called to mind “You are My Sunshine.” I paused, told them I’d check on them later. Neither responded, and I left.


Seth recovered without any official medical treatment.  He’d refused to go to any doctor. According to Seth, going to the doctor or to the hospital was completely beside the point.  He kept rubbing the mysterious cream on his skin and after about three weeks he was in pretty good shape—not completely better, but no longer red—and his sores were healed enough for him to return to work.

All in all, he seemed pretty unfazed by the whole ordeal; he didn’t seem to care that his initial product had failed miserably, and that he’d nearly killed himself.  In fact, his resolve seemed stronger than ever.  He redoubled his efforts.  He was back to the task of creating a tanning lotion that gave your skin a real-looking tan with a vengeance.  This time, though, he’d decided not to submit himself to a nocturnal lifestyle.  He’d created a new product and used it just as someone would who’d bought it off the shelf.  “That was a huge mistake,” he said.  “This way, I can monitor the effects of direct sunlight on an ongoing basis.  This way is safer.  I’ll be able to make adjustments as I go.  By the end, it’ll be a perfect product.  This is…ideal.  This is the way to do it.”  He didn’t talk to me about it much.  He, I’m sure, could sense that I wasn’t as enthusiastic about his scientific endeavors as he was, and didn’t bother me too much with details.

Anyway, I wasn’t worried about Seth anymore.  I was worried about Cherri.  She’d quit coming over and sitting with me in my garage, clandestinely drinking beers. Eventually, I never saw her at all.

One night I went over to their house to check up on them.

It was now mid-December, and their house, inside and out, was still just as devoid of adornment as always.  Outside, no Christmas decorations.  Inside, still boxes here and there. Still no TV.  Still nothing on the walls—not a painting or a photo, or anything.

Seth let me in.  He was wearing his uniform of denim shorts and a ratty t-shirt, and acting strange, jumpy, which didn’t really worry me because he’d always been that way.  Matronly Cherri, quietly washed dishes in the kitchen. Seth was now standing in the living room, polishing something small and round with a white rag.

“What’s up, Brucie?” he said.

“Nothing.  Just thought I’d come check on you guys.”

“Oh,” said Seth, “that’s nice of you.  Cherri, honey!” he yelled.  “Bruce is here.”  He walked down the hall, towards his office.

Cherri walked out of the kitchen.  She was wearing an apron and was holding a hand towel with a picture of a rooster on it.  “Hey, Jack.”  She dried her hands with the towel and folded it in half long ways and stuck the end of it in her apron.  “How have you been?”

“Fine.  How about you?  How’s school?  How’s swimming?  You guys make it to nationals?”

“I’m not in school anymore, Jack.  Seth and I have decided that that’s best. I’m homeschooled now.”

“What?  Why?  You enjoyed going to school.”

“Maybe.”  She crossed her arms and then uncrossed them and snatched the hand towel out of her apron.  “I was way ahead of all the other kids—academically.  Plus, Seth needs me here.  He’s on the verge of completing this thing and he needs my help.  I need to be here.  I need to make sure this thing gets done,” and then she added in a whisper, “safely,” and widened her eyes at me.

“Well, maybe you’re right—about being ahead in school.  I’m sure you’re right.  But, it’s not really your responsibility to cater to your father while he carries out his crazy experiments, is it?”

She threw down the towel and walked closer to me.  Her eyes were wide and serious looking.  She whispered intensely.  “Jack, you don’t understand.”  She looked down the hall, and grabbed my arm and guided me into the dining room, where the towel was on the floor, next to the dining room table.  The towel had fallen so that you could see the rooster’s head but not the body.  “I can’t lose my dad.  I almost lost him that day at the beach.  If I were to lose him, I would have no one.  No mom.  No dad.”

Seth walked into the dining room. “What are you two talking about so emphatically?”

Cherri looked at me.

“I’m just a little bothered that Cherri isn’t in school anymore, Seth.  I know she’s smarter than all the other kids, but what about the swim team?  What about just being a normal kid?”

Seth forced out an uncomfortable chuckle. “Well, Bruce, that’s just it.  Cherri isn’t a normal kid.  She is much too mature for all that.”  He put both of his arms to his side, and then awkwardly put his hands on his hips.

I walked closer to him.  His skin was still somewhat pink and shiny.  There were still whitish scabs where there had been sores and peeling skin where there had been blisters.

“I agree,” I said.  “But I think you might be denying your daughter some pretty basic experiences.  Namely, just being a teenager, who goes to school, and makes friends, and goes to the Nationals with her swim team…. You’re letting your bizarre life overshadow and distort hers, my friend.  Let your daughter have a life.  Let her be a kid, instead of trying to make her replace your wife.”

The moment I uttered the word “wife,” he put a pretty impressive haymaker across my jaw and left cheek.  He’d seen it coming, had anticipated it, the dreaded word. I fell sideways to the floor.  Cherri ran over to me and helped me up.

Seth stood there, wide-eyed, shaking his hand and hissing in pain.

I stood there for a moment, stunned. Cherri’s hand was on my back.

Seth was breathing hard now and looking wildly from me to Cherri.

I touched my jaw.  It hurt, but it would be fine.

“You know what?” I said. “I just thought of something.”

“What?” said Seth.  “You just thought of what?  What the fuck did you just think of?” He took a couple steps closer to me and looked like he was ready to hit me again.

Cherri’s Secret Recipe.”  I made a frame with my hands, the way Cherri had that first night we all had dinner together. “How about it? Seems just about perfect, doesn’t it? Appropriate, I mean.”

Seth looked at me funny, and then crossed his arms.  I picked up the towel with the picture of a rooster on it and threw it at Seth.  He caught the towel and started twisting it.

He moved closer and got in my face.  He glanced at Cherri who was still standing next to me.  “It sounds like a fucking condiment,” he said.  He flung the towel onto his shoulder and walked away.

“It’s fine,” said Cherri. She walked over to me and put a hand on my shoulder. “It’s fine,” she repeated, this time she closed her eyes and smiled.

I left their house that night, after saying goodbye to Cherri, giving her a hug, and wishing her well, and went straight home and sat in my driveway and drank a beer.  It was a quiet, cool night, and I was alone again.  I wished Cherri was with me.


They moved a year later. Cherri had been accepted at a very good private university in Southern California.  She’d told me about it one day a month before they moved, when I’d seen her at the Come ‘N’ Get It, the grocery store close to our Neighborhood.

“They have a really good swim team,” she said.  I told her I was happy for her.  She smiled and thanked me in her too-mature-for-her-age way. I wanted her to be excited, but I couldn’t help asking about Seth.

“How’s Seth? How does he fit into all this? Is he going to move with you to California?”

She straightened up a bit and took a deep breath. I shouldn’t have asked, I thought. I was being nosey. It was none of my business, really.

“He wants to,” she said. She absentmindedly handled a box of macaroni and cheese in her cart. “But I don’t think I want him to.” She looked up and she seemed to be fishing for advice.

“If you don’t want him to go—tell him that.”

She smiled a little, let go of the box of macaroni and cheese.

“I will,” she said, almost whispering.

I didn’t believe her, But I let it go. I told her that I missed hanging out with her in the garage, drinking beer.  She told me that she missed it too.  We hugged each other and smiled and went our separate ways and I never saw her again. I walked down the aisle where the sun blocks and tanning lotions were. They all had pretty forgettable names.


About the Author

Steve Lambert was born in Lousiana and grew up in Florida. His writing has appeared in The Pinch, Broad River Review, Emrys Journal, BULL Fiction, Into the Void, Cowboy Jamboree, Cortland Review, and many other places. He won third place in Glimmer Train's Very Short Fiction contest. In 2018 he won Emrys Journal's Nancy Dew Taylor Poetry Prize. He is the recipient of four Puschart Prize nominations and was a Rash Award in Fiction finalist. He is the author of the poetry collection Heat Seekers (2017), the forthcoming chapbook Eynsham (2020) and the forthcoming fiction collection The Patron Saint of Birds (2020). He lives in Northeast Florida, with his wife and daughter, where he teaches at the University of North Florida.

Photo by Marcus Lenk on Unsplash.