Where Is Everybody?

Dad promised he’d be home
for the party. I guess
I’m not surprised when he walks in
after 7:00 with my present: a record
from some band he likes.

He met the singer at a bar
in Knoxville, and got the whole band
to sign it. I make him wait
until Harvest is done.

Who is this, again? I ask
my mother.

Allman Brothers, she says before
I can blink. He did good.

So the party goes.
Alice is in the kitchen with my sister.
My brother’s in the new room making sure
there’s no leftover cake, and some kids
from my class are tossing a frisbee
in the back yard. A woman with short black hair
I know I recognize from somewhere
is walking upstairs with a coat on her arm.

The music stops
and I have to change the record
before my brother does.
Dad asks Mom to dance.

Whoever knocks
on the bathroom door is gone
when I come out. In fact,
everyone’s gone. Jenna
is alone on the porch.

Oh! You scared me…
Have you considered knocking?

I, ah. Hi. I don’t think I have much control
over… sorry, I was just at a party.

Oh, well that sounds fun.

We sit on the living room couch.

It was. My dad was finally
home, and he was actually dancing
with my mother.

Jenna snaps her head toward me. Wait,
is today your birthday?

I nod nervously.

Happy birthday!
Get anything good?

Thanks. Yeah, the album
my dad brought home was really good.
Some kind of Southern
blues rock.

Why are you making that face?

Strange music in the future.

Ah. Think of it like a slow,
dingy Elvis.

A pause.

What’s your dad do?

He used to be in advertising. Now
he makes these drawing-books
from woodblocks. He’s made three:
they’re like novel-length comics.

Sounds interesting.

I guess. He doesn’t really sell
them. He’s always at a convention
somewhere. They take a lot more ink
than a regular novel.

Neat, though. Pat, who you met,
she’s really into comics.
I haven’t seen any that grab me.
Do you like your dad’s books?

Only the first one. It’s about an escape
artist in an asylum. He falls
in love with one of the staff.

Oh, yeah? What does our hero see in her?

I don’t really know. She’s just…
there. Like when you dream of someone
who likes you. I blush a little.
You don’t really need a reason
to like them back.
You just do.

Hm.

Yeah, I’ve been there.

She crosses her arms and her eyes furrow.
She motions drink? and goes out of the room.
The shelves by the fireplace are filled
with Rachmaninov, Beethoven, Hayden…

Hey, so. She sits down next to me.
I wanted to ask you
about something.
You seem like the perfect person,
considering.

I sit up.
Only if I get to ask you back.

Okay. But could we go on the porch?
It’s such a warm night.

We sit opposite on the swing,
her feet almost touching my thigh.

Shoot.

Okay…
what are you doing here?

Easy. I don’t know.

Okay… but are you here to warn
me about my future? Courier
a package? Stop your dad from breaking
out of the asylum?

You have been thinking about this!

I read enough to know people
don’t just pinball through time
willy-nilly. There’s a reason,
even if it’s just to explore.
Are you an explorer?

I’m probably the most inept explorer
in the history of time-travel.

She laughs. I like you, Dream-boy.
Okay. You don’t know why you’re here
yet. Maybe a future you—a future-future you—
is setting you up.

Oh, don’t look so worried!
You’re one of those people that reads the last page
first, aren’t you? Maybe
you just come here because
I need the company, Dream-boy.
And because you feel safe.

I look down the street.
I sure feel safe, I sigh.

Jenna smiles, and moves
closer to me.

Your turn, Safe-boy.

I catch her eye. Okay.
I’ve been wondering.
How’d you get into Sci-Fi?
Didn’t you spend your childhood
nuzzled up to Jesus?

She says nothing.

Hey, I touch her hand. Sorry.
I really want to know.

She sighs. A minute goes by.

You know what I just said about comics?
I lied. I used to be really into Batman.
You and Andy would’ve had a lot
to talk about.

I read almost all of them. But then
I got bored. I wanted to be part
of that world, but I didn’t want
to be a Julie Madison, so stupid
she couldn’t even recognize her lover’s mouth.
I wanted… I wanted to be Batman.

A long pause.

Pat and I used to talk about becoming
crime-fighters. Well, sort of.
She always wanted to be the Joker.

She clasps my hand.
I’ve never told anyone that before.

I think that’s amazing.

Don’t tell my dad, she says. But really, I want to study
astronomy. I want to learn how rockets break
the atmosphere. And then I want to write
stories about it. I don’t care that I’m a woman.
If no one does it before me, then I’ll be the first.

I sit up and look her in the eye.
I think you are the coolest person I know.

Jenna holds my eye for a long time
and rests her hand on my knee.

Added: March 21, 2013 | Last changed: June 7, 2014