Dave steadied himself and shook his head clean of the cobwebs that were still weaving their way through his membranes; the stubborn remnants of too many sleepless nights. And that’s when a flicker of recognition disrupted his blank stare, casting a preternatural shadow over the blank stretch of vanilla sky. Her motion was fluid as a Thelonius Monk song in the middle of the night as her lithe body orchestrated a list of wicked ideas. He tangled up inside her walk as she drew closer to him now, his desperate eyes sipping at her mad science.
She was walking along with her head down, lost in the mysterious thoughts a beautiful woman gets to keep to herself. Her feet supplied the rhythm to the crazy rhyme of legs that swept the space between; they were deliberate and honest steps of a purpose to which Dave could wholeheartedly relate. Her hair had been loosed from its shackles and it was throwing itself at every part of his most insatiable curiosities. And then she looked up and met his eyes with hers, and then Dave felt his legs go weak and his heart go fast and his world go peaceful.
Her smile. It was a miracle of impossible wishes come to life, a crush of mayhem in its galavant. Her eyes were a plunge into the deep end of the universe, tearing apart the darkness in a magical ripple. And when they came together it was in that union where Dave understood what his life meant, what it was always going to mean.
They collapsed into each other, an embrace that filled them with the wanting of forever. Each time they touched, it brought Dave back to that kiss in the middle of the street with the heavens pouring down on top of them; the night when their love had introduced its plans to stick around.
“Oh baby, I missed you.” Dave said.
“I missed you more . .” Sam said, loosening their clench just enough to grab some face time with the man of her dreams. The kiss they shared went long and true, same as always.
“So, how was Alexandria?” Dave asked, as he stole Sam’s carry on bag from her and they moved through the Hartsfield terminal to the baggage claim area.
“Ugh, those people wouldn’t know how to figure out the square end of a box if they were sitting inside of it. And sometimes, I think they’re doing just that. They’re waiting for Godot . . I swear they are.”
“It couldn’t have been that bad.” Dave smiled.
“No Dave, it was worse. And don’t think I wasn’t feeling the irony, starving for an original thought . . . inside a think tank! And the hilarious part of it all was they talked down to me as I pitched the public disclosure options to them . . as if I’m a fucking hair stylist asking them how much they want me to take off or leave on!”
Sam had spent the week at a seminar in Virginia as part of a broad, intra-agency collective headed up by Governor Phillip Blake of Maryland. Blake was busy making enemies in high places- including the White House; criticizing Washington’s lackadaisical approach to a series of seemingly random attacks across the country and around the world- the latest of which involved a passenger biting an airline attendant on an Air France flight. Sam came to learn that piecemeal truths had been doled out by Presidents and Senators and Prime Minsters alike in order to quell mass panic. She wasn’t worried about what she knew. She was worried about what she wasn’t allowed to know.
Dave watched Sam ramble on for minutes at a time without coming up for air. Every now and again, she would stop in mid sentence and apologize, but he shushed her apologies and urged her to tell him more. He knew she had to release the poison that a week’s worth of bureaucratic arm wrestling had wrought. It was this part of the job to which Sam detested- playing chess with doctorates in cardigans whose best ideas conveniently ignored the realities of an ever changing world. Recently, she had begun talking herself out of a long term future of the same. She had brought up the idea of cutting back on her workload and maybe opening a bistro with Dave.
” . . .so, this woman looks me right in the eye and says We really don’t feel as if you appreciate the disruptive nature of a completely transparent approach to an as yet unclear threat . Dave, I wanted to punch her in her self indulgent face and go How’s that for nomenclature you stupid bitch!? ”
“That wouldn’t have been good for business, babe.”
“It wouldn’t have been good for anyone . . . other than me.”
“Hey, is that yours?” Dave asked, as a black leather valise rounded the turn and came into view. And then he spotted the reggae peace sign luggage tag, “Yeah it is.” He grabbed it and they were off.
“So, what did you do while I was busy wasting my time on the taxpayer’s dollar?” Sam asked.
“Oh, you mean the strippers? We rented a hot tub and turned the washing machine into a still. I cleaned up after myself, no worries.”
“Strippers are the modern day Florence Nightingales, that’s what I say.” Sam laughed. “And as long as you cleaned up after yourself, because I don’t do glitter.”
“Are you kidding? That shit never goes away.”
“Hmm, neither does alimony.” She smiled.
“Well played, Catwoman.”
“Thanks Batman. Where you taking me for lunch? Make it good . .”
“Don’t I always? Okay .. don’t answer that.” Dave smiled.
Dave steered his silver Dodge Ram onto I-75 and moved due North as Sam began turning every billboard they passed into a song. They talked about anything and everything before Sam got around to asking Dave how he’d spent his week. He advanced a few piecemeal truths of his own while navigating through the Virginia Highlands neighborhood of Atlanta before nabbing a spot right in front of their destination.
“23rd and Stanley . . ooooh, this looks adorable.”
“I was thinking smart, sexy . . intelligent as all get out, but I’ll take adorable.”
They were seated at a table for two perched by the front window. A bright yellow sunflower swam across the space between them as they slinked their hands around it and crossed them in a lover’s clench. Sam did a cursory examination of the restaurant as the waitress handed them their menus and took their drink orders.
“Baby, where did you find this place?” Sam asked.
“Love. I love.” Sam said.
“On a scale of 5 Seconds of Summer doing an IKEA opening to Jim Morrison launching a comeback tour at Place de la Concorde?”
“I would say . . Al Green at the Apollo.”
“You’re giving it a nine without having taken a bite out of it?” Dave asked.
“When it’s right, I just know.”
“No argument there.”
The space was small but smartly used. Creme colored wainscoting wrapped the bottom half of the walls while the upper half was painted in soft marigold. Black and white pictures and paintings and framed album covers wrapped the rectangular shaped space in a warm, familiar hug. Bell shaped goblets hung upside down over each table, their amber tinge suffusing a personal warmth across them. The long stretch of hardwood floor worked in concert with the tin ceiling tiles to create a gumbo of music and laughter and shared conversations.
“Remember when we were sitting in that little Vietnamese restaurant over in Duluth?” Dave said.
“Saigon Cafe . . ”
“And you looked at me and said . . Someday, you’re going to run a restaurant.”
“I knew you would, baby.”
“Well, you’re looking at it.” Dave said.
“I definitely want the Pimento cheese grits, and the . . . what did you just say?”
“You’re looking at the owner.” Dave smiled.
“No.” Sam said.
“Like . . you’re the owner, as in you own this place?” Sam said.
“By the power vested in me by Merriam Webster, I am.”
And then her eyes focused, and then she spotted her lighthouse painting, and the black and white photograph of the two of them running out of the church as newlyweds and their autographed copy of the Bill Withers classic Still Bill. Sam got up from her seat and moved into Dave’s lap and laid one on him. They settled into the perfect song and parked themselves there as the midday patrons pretended to look away and a rush of laughter and good feeling filled the place.
The pair removed their lips from each other to find their waitress had returned, and she was busily extracting a pen from her bunched up dark chestnut locks.
“Umm, the owner told me to tell you this meal was on the house.” Sam giggled.
“There’s only one girl who gets the house special . . so I’m guessing you are the much talked about Sam.” The waitress said.
“Am I much talked about?” Sam asked shyly.
“Oh . . myGod. Dave talked about three things all week. Getting the place done on time so he could surprise you .. making sure we had fresh Twinkies on hand because a deep-fried Twinkie is your guilty pleasure, and of course, he talked about you . . when he wasn’t talking about you.”
Sam gave Dave a juicy kiss before standing up to shake hands with the pretty waitress, who was worth her weight in soul.
“Where you from Michelle?”
“Mm, everywhere. For the time being, we live right here in the Highlands.”
“What does your husband do?”
“He’s an NFL front office executive, which is why we have a rotating zip code. We’re all about the Falcons, for the time being.” Michelle laughed.
“The Falcons . . way cool.” Sam said.
“Mind you, last year it was the Cowboys. Three years ago it was the Raiders, and now the Bears are said to have him in their sights. I’m bracing myself for ten months of winter. On the bright side, I would be able to see my Royals every time they come to town.”
“Are you from Missouri originally?”
“I am. And I tell hubby all the time that he picked the wrong sport.” She laughed.
“He picked the right girl, that’s what counts.” Dave chimed in.
They placed their orders and then Sam had to know the details of the week her husband spent in stealth. He told her how his sister Mary had found the place a month ago when scoping out possible locations for an art gallery. When she took a closer look and found a working kitchen, she put in a call to Dave as she wrote the check.
“Mary is our not so silent partner and we’ve been getting the place ready for close to a month now.” Dave said.
“That explains all those late nights . . and here I thought Vera Farmiga had finally come to her senses and I was gonna have a fight on my hands.”
“The official grand opening is next week, Sam.”
“I have to call Jennie. She has to be here for it.”
“She already knows.”
Jennie was Sam’s friend. She had introduced her to Dave back in the day, which guaranteed her free meals for life and Godmother status should it ever come to that.
“I changed my mind about that rating.” Sam said.
“This is Jimi at the Fillmore on the world’s last day.”
“Now that would be a beautiful fire.” Dave said.
“I do believe Imma have my way with you tonight, bossman.”
“I do believe you’re right, Scarlett. I do believe you’re right.”
Dave woke with a start. He allowed his brain a few moments of muster before opening his eyes and taking in his surroundings. He was tucked into the corner of the treehouse he had borrowed for shelter the night before. And then he heard them, the dead, rousting about below his perch. Their inhuman moans had most likely dislodged him from his sleep.
The reality of this cold and brutal world began to seep into his reality with each crackling synapse. Rebecca and the loss of every good thing . . the walk to Sam . . . the desire for some little sign of hope, a sliver of mercy to show itself.
He thought long and hard on the secrets to survival in this place, and he realized how similar it was to the world it had replaced. Back then, it was all about believing that the daily trudge possessed transcendent gains. Dave knew his walk wasn’t just to Sam, but to everything they had come to believe. Together.
He gathered his things and steadied himself until he was back on solid ground. There were two of them. A man and woman, both had been in their early twenties from what he could gather. She had been wearing an indigo blouse and jean shorts and he a dark brown t-shirt and slacks. Dave wondered if they had been a couple or if they had ‘met’ on this forgettable B side of things.
Once they saw Dave, they began making up the twenty five or so yards that separated them. Dave could see how so many of the living had gone victim to these creatures because their lumbering efforts were a deception to those who didn’t understand the danger they presented, or who didn’t take it seriously enough. For one thing, they probably walked faster than the average Walmart customer. And the fact it was easy to get caught up in their Frankenstein march didn’t help either. He took turns putting them down and then he wiped his blade on the grass and placed it back in its sheath.
As he made way for the treeline that stretched out in front of him, his eyes locked into a billboard playing scarecrow over a vacant parking lot. Billboard watching was a habit he’d picked up from Sam, one of the many things that became a part of his everyday thanks to her. The billboard had been left to die, just like the rest of the world. It had been a sell for West Pine Toyota. Most of the come on had been weathered badly and some of it had been completely disappeared by weather and time, but Dave was able to piece it together again from old memories of a road trip, with Sam.
Because life is one big road with lots of signs . . . you want to make sure you choose the right one!
And then his eyes settled on how the sign read in its present state. It was so obvious, now that his eyes were no longer jaded to the piecemeal truths of a buttoned down existence.
life is one big road with lots of signs
Bob Marley’s Wake Up and Live coursed through his veins. What a thing, to be in the middle of nowhere and to know it was the somewhere he was meant to see. His brain contained a million different images of Sam, where that song had served as background music to a world they were busy making. There were the lazy mornings and the last call dances, the car rides and ski trips and the beach getaways. And to each one, his brain fixed itself on that smile of hers; the one that could light up the moon all by itself. The one that convinced him to pay attention to signs and to believe in magic and to never quit on love.
A million different images to a million different memories of the one true thing. As Dave started walking again, he knew there was no quitting that. Not now and not ever. If the lighthouse didn’t pan out, he was gonna turn the world upside down to find her. And if that didn’t work?
There was always Jimi at the Fillmore.