Episodes of Sun
Today's paper predicts 'episodes of sun,'" Jerry announces with a chuckle.
"Hedging their bets," Helen says.
The newspaper's Accu-Weather diagram shows a smiley face peeking out from behind a storm cloud. The newspaper is almost always wrong, and is thus beloved by its dwindling number of subscribers.
Jerry glances from the Metro page to the clear sky outside his breakfast room window. Rosy light creeps across the table. He pours his wife more coffee. Helen prefers getting the headlines from her laptop.
Jerry says, "Can we talk?"
She slides her reading glasses down to the end of her long nose. She says, "According to the American Association of Realtors, the housing market isn't coming back anytime soon."
Jerry pushes the sugar bowl towards her. He says, "I want to talk about the holidays."
Jerry hangs their Christmas lights, interior and exterior. Jerry's art form is Christmas lights. Helen's is table settings—elaborate, ornate table settings that always include two people who never show up: Jerry's son, Jerry Jr., and Helen's daughter, Tracy.
"I want to use my grandmother's crystal this year," Jerry says.
They have never used Jerry's grandmother's crystal. Boxed up in the basement, each piece wrapped in old newspaper. As a small child, Jerry sensed there was something very special about these glasses, because they couldn't go in the dishwasher. After the holiday meal, Gran delicately handwashed each one and held it up for inspection—to the light from the kitchen window. Late afternoon rays refracted web-like across her face, creating a luminescent equivalent to the veil she wore at grandfather's funeral.
"Why do we have to go to this?" Helen asks. "You barely knew the guy."
"No, but I worked with him for twenty years. Everyone from the office will be there."
Jerry, one handed, backs the car out of the driveway and, in the glare, almost collides with a garbage truck. Helen doesn't notice. She says, "I should keep records of what I wear—what if I had this same outfit on the last time they all saw me?"
Jerry mutters distractedly, "That would have been when—at my retirement party?"
"I don't know why I worry about this crap," Helen scoffs at herself. "I spend my life worrying about such crap. And here this poor guy goes in for a check-up and—what was it?"
"Melanoma. A spot on his skin."
Jerry signals a left turn onto Eastern Parkway. Helen pulls down the passenger-side visor and peers into its small, vanity mirror.
"I have lots of spots on my skin," she croaks.
"Me too," Jerry says, "and don't forget—we just paid a thousand bucks to go lie on the beach in Florida with your daughter."
Helen experiences an Icarus-like moment whenever an airplane rises through the clouds and emerges into the glowing upper-atmosphere sunlight. Perpetually amazed at the bright, carefree, cupid world hidden above their glum city, Helen also cringes with a fear of happening upon the Forbidden.
"Do you think this is what heaven really looks like?" she asks.
"Maybe Tiepolo was onto something," Jerry says.
Helen wrote a master's thesis on 'The Skies of Tiepolo,' before getting her broker's license and selling the house in Harborside to Jerry and his first wife.
"I'm afraid," she says. "I'm afraid—of the sun burning out."
Jerry unbuckles his seat belt. "Remember what you said about worrying too much over silly crap?"
Helen corrects him. "This is not silly. The sun burning out—oh—it will happen. We know it's going to happen eventually. How long do we have?"
"Many, many business cycles," Jerry says, "You'll be moving real estate on distant planets by then."
The sun in solar system H4587 emits a curious, multi-spectrum light that intrigues NASA astronomers. Wavelength measurements indicate much more infrared radiation than expected. Atmospheric conditions on the nearest planet, three times the size of Jupiter, suggest carbon dioxide biomarkers. NASA wants a special budget appropriation to develop a mission that could come within twenty light years of H4587. Blog sites hum with rumors of inter-galactic fuel transports. None of which makes much sense, especially after the latest lift-off mishap at Cape Canaveral, witnessed by earlybird beachcombers up and down the coast.
Glowing, red specks of late light ripple across the surf. An empty purse, lone shoes, a man's leather toilet kit, the occasional shampoo bottle. Jerry Jr.—who turned 42 last week and resembles his longfaced dad, except a foot taller—walks the beach, searching for debris from the plane crash. Loose baggage has been washing up for days. Jerry Jr. seeks a sign from his father, one of his berets, his briefcase, anything that could symbolize a thread of connection across the divide of sudden death. Father and son, typical males in the communication department, left far too much unsaid, including why Jerry Jr. could never look his stepmother in the eye. Fittingly, he stumbles barefoot onto Helen's monogrammed make-up case.
"I specialize in bats," Jerry Jr. explains to Helen's twenty-something daughter, Tracy, "and knowing that bat guano is a major ingredient in eye make-up—it was just hard for me to see her lay it on so heavily."
"Do you spend a lot of time in caves?" Tracy asks.
Jerry Jr. nods, "The temperature never changes."
"Bat shit," Tracy mutters, "You're saying my mother was bat shit?"
"No, no," Jerry Jr. apologizes, blushing. "I didn't know her that well."
Tracy and Jerry Jr.—whose birthdays coincidentally are two days apart—have only met three times, even though their respective parents were married for ten years.
"That's okay. She was basically," Tracy states. "Your dad didn't know what he was getting into."
Jerry Jr. watches his step-sister, a painter, apply her mother's lipsticks and eye shadows directly onto a canvas.
"I suppose that's an appropriate memorial," Jerry Jr. comments.
"This one is called 'Sunglo Pink,'" Tracy says, reading from the lipstick cover.
"Looks like regular pink to me," Jerry Jr. says.
"No such thing," Tracy corrects him, "colors can only be defined relative to each other."
"What do you mean?" Jerry Jr. asks.
"When I was little—mom and me used to read aloud the dictionary definitions—'forest green is a shade slightly stronger than teal, but not as strong as hunter.'"
Jerry Jr. surprises himself and his step-sister with a rather expressive question, "If your mother and my father were colors—what colors would they be?"
Tracy doesn't answer. She steps away from the canvas and gestures for Jerry Jr. to leave her studio—now. Wiping away tears, she reaches for her plant mister and sprays the flowering pots lining the many shelves in her bay window.
Photosynthesis is a mysterious biological process. Most of us learn something about it in grade school. Plants use chlorophyll to extract energy from sunlight, even on cloudy days, and transform it into glucose. To the average student this lesson is more mythical than biological. It means that a whole lot of invisible stuff is happening all around us that we never notice, unless we are watching the Discovery Channel.
Viewers of the second season know that Tracy thinks her mother made a huge mistake marrying Jerry. She also suspects that her step-brother, a specialist in bats, is a Halloween junkie. As the end of October approaches, more questions arise—will she allow him to stay at her condo until Halloween? Will she reveal that she found Jerry's wallet on the beach with the missing safety deposit key? And will Jerry Jr. openly admit his firm belief that life on other planets exists in caves? And what about the box of Jerry's grandmother's crystal mistakenly mailed to the American Association of Realtors?
It arrives slightly damaged. More than slightly damaged. One corner of the box bashed in and a jagged rip underneath. The gray-haired receptionist, who has seen it all, shrugs and signs the delivery form. She reaches in and delicately extracts a shard of broken crystal. She holds it up to the bright noon sun illuminating the penthouse office. The crystal shard, prism-like, casts a rainbow across her face—on her cheek a wash of violet, slightly stronger than lavender, but not as intense as mauve.
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