December 1, 2014 by The Citron Review
by Matt Jones
An oversized blue suit jacket and black pleated pants. That is what I wore. And for the most part, that is all I remember worrying about that day.
My friend had given me a yellow oblong feeling before the service, or by that I mean, she had given me a yellow oblong pill that made so much of what I was feeling feel like less.
I asked her, ‘Do you think anyone will notice?’
‘Notice what?’ she asked.
‘The jacket,’ I said. ‘It doesn’t fit quite right. I borrowed it from my dad. And its blue.’
She glanced over at me in the driver’s seat and swerved slightly across the centerline. ‘So?’
‘My pants are black though.’
She produced an orange bottle with a hushed rattle, dumped some of the hush, a little piece of the quiet into her hands, and said, ‘Here. Take this.’
There were so many people there. My blue suit jacket stuck out in a sea of black. We entered the church and I felt everyone looking. I might as well have been wearing a back brace like a shark cage wrapped up my spine and over my chest that squeaked and cried for oil with every lurching step I took. People could swim up and bare their teeth and scold me about my jacket and I could tuck my arms behind the bars. The pill was making me smile a lot. And I was nervous. I smile when I’m nervous.
There was a slideshow from his sister that featured songs from Boston, Journey, and Kansas. I can’t hear those songs any more. Well, I can hear them; I just can’t listen to them. Not in the same way at least, but maybe closer to the way in which they were meant to be heard. Still, I prefer not to share the artist’s state of mind.
After the service, I realized that I hadn’t really heard a word of what was said. I’d focused on the muscles in my face, keeping them at bay. My lips quivered and people came by and said hello, people that I did not want to run into.
‘I wish it were under better circumstances.’
‘(Teeth. Hungry, hungry white teeth so my gums go dry)’
I saw his mom in that same sea of people. I watched person after person after person approach her, hug her, comfort her, kiss her cheek. Her eyes were manic, brilliant hollows encased in plumes of what must have been burning red. I watched her for a while with the intensity of another version of myself, a version only found at house parties, half-stepping toward girls throughout the night and then rerouting because of turbulent air, headspace, treading the same ten feet of carpet back and forth until I’d dug myself into a fibrous trench, stuck.
We left without saying hello. Or goodbye. Without saying, ‘I’m so sorry for your loss,’ or ‘We were good friends, at one point,’ or ‘Hey, do you remember me?’ or ‘I know what you’re thinking. The jacket. It’s not mine. It was just all so unexpected.’
We drove to a taquería afterward. We were eighteen. The server asked us through broken English if we’d like a round of margaritas and we told him ‘Yes,’ yes in the way that only hungry hearts can muster. He stared at our faces. Had it not been for the pill, my jawline acne would have lit up like an electronic billboard advertising one of those adult megaplexes along the highway. An arrow made up of blinking bulbs, of cystic feverish pustules pointing directly inside my mouth. In here, it would say, come on inside. See everything you thought you never wanted to see before. It happened when people stared. The pimples, they flared.
We drank. We paid the check. We tipped him well, as well as any of us could afford.
He carefully collected our glasses. He cleared our table. He smiled at me with lips like salted slugs, chapped and raw.
I said, ‘I know what you’re thinking,’ and I leaned in close to read his nametag, ‘Eliseo.’ I grabbed my lapels and pulled them out in front of me. The alcohol made my vision blurry. The fabric sloshed around on my chest an open deck like salty waves. ‘The jacket’ I said. ‘It’s not mine. It was just all so unexpected.’
Matt Jones is a graduate candidate in The University of Alabama MFA program. His previous work has appeared in Paper Darts and Whitefish Review. He is currently at work on his first novel.