Opportunity! Did she leave it on purpose? I turned over that entire village-in-a-parking-lot — including back alleyways where grotesque carnival creatures transgressed against God with absinthe and inquired about my mission — and couldn't find her anywhere. She was gone.
You should have seen me sprinting to my car through the carnival crowd, knocking into elbows and pocketbooks, pieces of popcorn flying in one direction, Coca-Cola spraying in another, multiple mouths cussing directions about where I could go and how fast I should get there. I hurried off the grounds and started down a vacant Main Street, a suburban boulevard so cosmetically altered since my childhood that sometimes I'd wake from a nap and feel like Rip Van Winkle molested.
Here's a limbic liberal outburst, a knee-jerk obligation (when my knee works): the acres of green in my town had been bought by cloven-hoofed condo developers and strip malls; the piss-colored McDonald's arches and the mom-and-pop-killing Wal-Mart smoldered on the horizon like Chernobyl; the twenty-screen theater and the A&P so gargantuan you have to take a break in the produce aisle both replaced a baseball field where children like me went to dream and dream again. Let's not forget the sixteen new roads paved to accommodate the SUVs tanking to it all, which they have algebraic difficulty doing: just try driving through town around four forty-five p.m. on a weekday. You better bring a book, and I don't mean an audio one.
There, in front of Vinny's Pizzeria — the very place where I had been clogging my arteries since I was a freckled boy on a BMX bike, one of the only businesses in town with the Sicilian ardor to stay — there was Gillian! I recognized her distinctive walk right away and veered to the curb.
Stretched across the seat, I said through the passenger's window, "Excuse me, miss. You forgot your umbrella."
"Who's that?" she said, coming closer.
"It's me, Charlie Homar? Remember me, I saved your life? Back there on the Ferris wheel? Just now, before?"
She said into the open window, "You're stalking me now, Mr. Homar?"
Just as my viscera were about to go topsy-turvy from dejection and being made a fool of — the word crestfallen occurred to me — her cushioned mouth stretched into a grin and I nearly sighed with relief.
"Oh, you're joking," I said. "Thank God. No, I just wanted to return your umbrella. It looks like a good one."
"And I suppose you're going to offer to drive me home, too? On account of the weather?"
Well, of course I was.
"Tell me, Mr. Homar, why would a girl want to get into a car with a complete stranger?"
"Well . . . because I'm not a complete stranger? Because I saved your life? Oh, and because you've read my memoirs?" Long pause, during which I tried to recall the name of the saint who protects the half-faithful. "And, well," I ventured, "because you're lonely like me?"
"Interesting," she said, tongue jabbed into cheek to reveal a thinking gal. "What makes you think I'm lonely?"
"A man can only hope."
After a short pause, she said, "The door is locked, Charles."