The Subaru screeches onto the top level of parking garage B-8. It pulls to the far end of the structure and parks near the elevators. The report slides to the far-right end of the dashboard. An Aldi’s flyer slides on top of the manila folder. The report enjoyed the slide but was perturbed to find itself almost eclipsed by the flimsy ad. The report doesn’t like this new arrangement; only two lines of its address label are exposed to the windshield. The California sunshine is glorious.
The report knows the word glorious because it has heard the couple say it many times during its time with them. Glorious. What a word. It was not a word used much in the place where the report was born.
It’s going to be lovely in Fiji. The report knows it’s sunny there also. It knows this because that is all the couple has talked about for the previous three months.
They park in the general area they had planned. Their neighbor Tim (the Tim with the azaleas, not the one with the barky poodles) will pick up the car later. He purchased it for his nephew Stephen, who is in his last semester of seminary school.
The couple takes a quick inventory of their belongings. Their big bags, they had already checked with a skycap. All they had were their two carry-on bags, their passports, their phones, and chargers.
“You have the tickets?” Susan says.
“E-tickets, silly,” John says, tapping his iPhone.
John raises his eyebrows comic book villain high, before pulling the hard copy printouts. They always brought hard copy backups, just in case.
Despite planning to bring it along, neither bothers to extricate the report from beneath the grocery flyer.
The report lay forgotten on the Outback’s dash. It grew restless and concerned. For months it had been inseparable from the couple. This wasn’t their plan. They were supposed to be on their way to Fiji now, all three of them.
After the pilot turns off the ‘Fasten Your Seatbelt’ sign, Susan realizes they forgot the report in the car. There were several stains on it. Susan knows several of them are tears; some were hers-more were his.
The previous night, after making love and two bottles of wine, they had reconstructed the road their life had taken since they had sat together in Doctor Steinheider’s office three months before. It shocked them at how fast the months had passed.
Using a pencil, she had lightly connected all the envelope’s stains into a single narrative of their previous three months.
Three months! Why had they taken so long to get this journey started?
But six months was only a ballpark figure. They frequently reminded the other that ‘six months was only an estimate.’ As if repeating it would make it truer than it was or wasn’t.
On the flap near the brass closure were two small stains: ketchup and grease, both from their trip to In and Out. The grease stain was from either his or her burger, the ketchup was from a fry he dropped while gesturing with it. Neither of their diets included fatty, greasy foods. His reflux kept him up if he consumed such things. Her new dietary recommendations were stricter than his. They had carried with them everywhere in the manila folder.
In and Out Burger had been their first stop after leaving the doctor’s office.
There were three drops of blood (his) from where he had punctured his thumb tip with a corkscrew. They had been sitting in the front seat of what would soon be Seminary Stephen’s Volvo, drinking merlot and watching the sunset over the bay. That was the evening of the day they got the report.
To their credit, they didn’t waste much time working through their separate and individual stages of grief.
“What do you want?” he said as he topped off her plastic wineglass.
They were well on their way to being inebriated. The view of the sun over the bay, they both agreed, was glorious.
She dried her eyes on his shirt and said, “I want to live.”
The manila folder contents, two stapled printed pages of instructions and recommendations, were a weapon they used to discern their truth, a compass they used to navigate their way forward into and through this time. Her time. Their time. The only time they would have. In their twenties, time seemed to stretch out endlessly before them. But now fate had stamped her with a “Best used by date,” and they were moving fast, to catch up with their plans.
He’d already missed three weeks from the law firm where he was a paralegal, but everyone loved Susan. They told him to take all the time he needed.
“You want to live,” he said, weighing her words carefully.
“Yeah, I don’t want to die.”
But that wasn’t the same thing. And he helped her see that. He’d always helped her see things. As she had with him.
“But we all die, Susan…,”
He sees his error immediately. She slides into his arms, crying. They no longer have the time for amenities such as anger or conflict.
“How about this? How about we live until.., until we die?”
But ‘they’ weren’t dying. Only she had received the death sentence that they carried with them everywhere in the manila folder.
Then there was more crying, followed by a second bottle of cheap Merlot. This time it was her thumb tip the cursed corkscrew punctured. After confirming they had no more bottles left to open, he chucked it into the bay.
“See you in hell, Corky,” he said, nearly falling to the grass with his comically overstated baseball pitch.
“That was our wedding gift from Greg,” she said, giggling.
“Oops,” he said, pursing his lips like a child caught in some forbidden activity.
He started to undress as if he’d dive into the bay and retrieve the thing. Playing. How easy it had been to put the childish things aside.
She wrestled him to the ground and with her familiar charms, convinced him such a course of action was unwise.
“Screw Greg and his corkscrew,” he said, surrendering to her strategic onslaught of kisses.
This caused them both to laugh. It was a continual surprise to them how they could surrender to something as frivolous as laughter. Shouldn’t laughter be something they leave behind now? But it was laughter that first drew them together. Both laughed freely and deeply. They recognized in the other a kindred spirit, fellow humans who could and did lose themselves in deep, full-body belly laughs.
When their laughing fit subsides, he rolls over and places his head against hers.
“Did I tell you about the time Gregg spilled bong water on my calculus book? Bong water!”
“Only about a dozen times. Tell it again,” Susan says.
He tells it again.
“Once, Greg spilled bong water on my calculus book. Bong water!”
That was one of their bits. The retelling of nothing stories. The laughter catches them again and they surrender to it.
There were enough tears these days. They could afford to surrender to laughter now and again. They were living on a clock now. The number of tears she would cry, the number of laughs she had left in her, were finite, countable. They had always been finite of course, but it took the report to make that fact real to them.
Her two drops of blood were on the lower left corner of the manila envelope.
“What have we always talked about doing?” he said. “When we were older?”
He can see her mischievous nature and her desire to take the query in a raunchy direction. Her libido had skyrocketed since getting the report.
She reads something in his eyes and puts a pin in the joke and the desire behind it.
“Fiji,” she said.
“Fiji,” he said.
She sees the steely resolve in his eyes and hugs him tight.
Her practical side kicked in then. She pushes him away, raises herself over him, and looks down at him, serious now.
“But can we afford it?”
“We can,” he said.
The truth was a bit more complicated. Lying there on the grass in the little park by the bay, he had worked out the math in his head. It might be tight, but he realized he didn’t care. She was only 36 years old. He was 39 years old. He would find a way to afford it. Nothing else mattered. He had enough time to recuperate from whatever this trip might cost them.
For the rest of the evening, as the sun sank before them and the full moon rose behind them, in hushed, giddy tones, they discussed how they would spend the rest of her life.
They would go to Fiji.
On the backside of the envelope was Stephen’s phone number Tom had provided them. Below the phone number, with a big red X drawn over it, was the price they thought would be fair for the trusted Subaru.
Stephen agreed that $2,000 for a four-year-old Outback was more than fair, but, in the end, Susan had talked him down to a dollar. They didn’t need the money, she explained. What they needed was time, but Stephen couldn’t help with that.
The pencil line made its way to a blackish, reddish stain, a barbecue strain from the cookout that barky dog Tim had thrown for the two of them. That had been just three days ago.
If the report could think or feel, it would wonder where the two people who had carted it around since a few minutes after it was born from the oncologist’s printer in the medical suite of offices in downtown San Francisco three months before. Today was its three-month birthday.
Happy birthday to me, the report thinks sourly.
It might feel lonely. But Tom would be there soon. In the meantime, it lay absorbing the slanting sun rays in the only corner that was exposed to the sun.
It knew they were headed to Fiji. It didn’t know what scuba diving was, but it grew envious at how excited their voices grew when they discussed the dives they would make.
By the time the sun was setting over the Pacific, the envelope had already begun the process of grieving. It knew it had been abandoned. Some vague suspicion of what it carried inside has been trying to leak out into conscious awareness for months. For months the envelope has repressed that knowledge like a champ.
But now it could pretend no more. Susan and John were gone. The envelope traces the faint pencil line Susan had drawn the previous night. It remembers how delicious and how intimate that slow pencil had felt. It quite liked the sensation, but it’s now certain that they are never coming back.