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Jul/Aug 2014 Fiction

Poppy's Got Priors

by Joanell Serra

Image credit: Darryl Leja, NHGRI, Digital Media Database, www.genome.gov

Image credit: Darryl Leja, NHGRI, Digital Media Database, www.genome.gov


That night, sitting outside smoking Poppy's last cigarette, I saw things moving in the water surrounding the deck of the floating shack I sometimes called home. It could have been currents underneath the Bay, shifting the world that rests on top: the boats, the pier, the ropes and floaters that look like enormous necklaces thrown out onto the salty bay. It could have been ghosts of old drunks who fell in one night, not missed by anyone, washed up bloated in the morning. Or the ghosts of families, women and children who have come back to haunt us here, the place in this world where they were most unhappy.

It ain't that bad, Jose. You'll figure this out. You got this. I could almost hear his voice in my head, as if he was whispering through the bars of his cell and the words were finding their way out of the jail, up and over the hill, into the valley, riding the thick California fog to where I sat on his deck in Sausalito.

"Who lives on a Gate?" I asked Poppy the first time he gave me his address. "No street? You live on Gate Three?"

"Not on it, by it. It's not like a street or nothing. It's where we get our mail. It's how it works with boats and stuff—you got gates."

I'm used to it now that I'm down here all the time. House-boat people, sailors, and the guys like us that serve them—there's a language they all speak. Poppy could guess where someone lived after he'd poured them a glass or two.

"Single Dad, lonely, but got some dough. Gate 6 and ½," he said one night, nodding towards an executive type with an expensive tie loosened and his jacket on the stool next to him.

"There's a gate called 6 and ½? They don't even get a full gate?" That seemed shady.

"Yeah. They're all divorced guys. Get half of everything."

We laughed quietly, backs to the customers. Poppy was alright. And it was crazy what he could do with that little hand.

We'd met at a party about a year and a half earlier. I was pouring in St. Helena, the 40th birthday of someone with money, an evening party with lanterns strung through the trees, surrounded by vineyards, Chinese acrobats dancing around the whole affair. I'd catered in Napa for a few months and was getting used to the lavishes the rich bestowed on one another.

Poppy was a guest that night; he'd tagged along with some city girl he'd met at the bar the night before. I went to hand him a glass of Cabernet and realized his right hand wasn't where you'd expect it to be. I quickly handed it to his left hand instead, but he caught me staring. So he lifted his right arm, about half the usual length of an arm, with a small hand where you'd expect an elbow, and wiggled his fingers at me. They were tiny, like someone had switched his hand for a child's and some child was walking around the world with a full grown man hand.

Heat went up my neck, afraid I'd offended someone important and could blow the whole gig. I needed the money.

"Sorry," I mumbled.

"No problem, hombre. It does what I need it to." I hate when white people speak Spanish to me like I don't fucking know English, but when I looked closer, I saw Poppy was probably Latino, too, just a light-skinned guy.

"Iraq?" I asked, glancing at the hand. Christ, my idiot mouth was operating before my brain could intervene. Of course it wasn't a war wound; that hand was tiny, probably born that way.

"No, but that's what I tell the chicks. They love a war hero."

We both smiled, and a momentary bond was formed. He circled back to my station a few times that night, explained to me he tended bar, too, even grabbed a bottle and poured a few glasses for me when I ran to the makeshift kitchen, a tent set up mid-vineyard, for more wine.

"You ever eat escargot?" He asked me, between courses. I said no.

"I just did. That shit's nasty."

Then he wandered back away. Right from the start, we were like that. Could talk or not, make observations, crack each other up, making fun of the rich folks we poured for. He got me a job at the wine club where he worked, tending bar Monday through Wednesday. They were the worst nights for tips, but it was a foot in the door. I slept on his couch most week nights, usually went back up to Sonoma on weekends for catering gigs, crashing with my brother.

Poppy's place was a few blocks from the wine bar—a tiny two-room houseboat tied up right next to a shop that fixed exotic cars and motorcycles, so it always smelled like oil. Poppy answered the phones for the mechanic in the mornings, from 8:00 to 11:00 a.m., until the guy rolled in. Because of this, Poppy's rent was cheap. He had a three-foot deck, where we often shared a joint before bed, and a rickety bridge to the pier. I'd fallen right off the bridge once, down ten feet to the freezing water, Poppy laughing his ass off. We were pretty drunk that night.

Now Poppy was locked up, and I had to get him out. Unless he did that shit they said he did. If so, he fucking belonged there. He wouldn't do something like that though, would he? Fuck. Poppy was my best friend, but there were things I didn't know about him.

He didn't talk much about his past, except that he was from SoCal. He said once his father had scrambled over from Mexico before Poppy was born. His mother might have been white, cause Poppy was light skinned. He didn't explain his hand to me, or why he never went home. He just said he'd crewed a boat out of San Diego, and when they stopped here, he'd never left.

"Look at this place," he'd say once in a while, his good arm sweeping the whole vista out of the back of the wine bar, the blue bay, the green islands, pelicans skimming the water as the sun went down. "It's fucking paradise." He knew the names of the birds and the all the types of wine we served from all over the world. And he was smart, could add a bill up in his head and even get the tax right. But that's about all I knew about him.

I tried to explain all this to a lawyer named Gara Murphy. I wondered when she introduced herself—she pronounced it Gerra—if she knew her name sounded just like the word for war in Spanish. She had to, right?

"You've been living with this guy for two years, and you don't know where he's from?"

"I told you, So Cal. I think LA, but I don't know where. Not really living with him, either. I just crash there a lot."

I wondered if the lawyer was a dyke. She had that tough girl vibe, but her nails were done perfectly, so I wasn't sure. I'd gotten to her office for the appointment early, and she was just coming back from a lunchtime run, her red hair in a sweaty pony tail, wearing a USF sweatshirt and shorts. Her legs were nice. Not long, but muscular and smooth, like the girl jocks I knew in high school. She'd told me to grab a seat while she downed a bottle of water and wiped off her face with a towel. The "office" was more like a living room in an old wooden building in San Rafael, half a block off the main street. The main room had a desk, a couch, and two mismatched arm chairs. I couldn't tell if it was her office or her house.

"You live here?" I asked her, as she shot questions at me about Poppy.

"What? No, I don't live here. I mean kind of, because I work so damn much. What else can you tell me about your friend. How did he get that… disability? With his arm?"

"Is that relevant?"

"Everything's relevant."

"I think he was born that way. I mean, I know he was. We just don't talk about it a lot."

I pictured him sitting on the edge of the pier, one of the first nights we hung out. We shared a bottle of tequila and swapped stories. When he talked about his arm, he raised it up for a minute, stretching his tiny fingers.

"I'm okay with it. Everybody's deformed somehow, man. Mine is just more evident."

He had a way, how he moved, his chest so broad and muscular, his smile wide, eyes deep and intense, that I forgot all about his short arm. Girls did, too. People fell for him, for his jokes and easy grin, like they were falling into a feather bed. Poppy always got the big tips.

"What do you guys talk about? Since it's not anything I've asked so far," the lawyer asked me, her bright blue eyes drilling into me.

I pondered that for a minute. "People at the bar. Women. I don't know. The Giants. We talk about the Giants a lot."

"Ok. That's probably not relevant, actually."

She pushed away from the desk and walked over to her brief case. Her ass looked good in sweatpants, which is unusual. She came back with a file that she looked through before pushing a paper at me. It was a picture of a class of kids, maybe first graders, smiling at the camera next to a flagpole. Their middle-aged teacher stood with them, squinting into the sun.

"You recognize any of those kids?"

A class of children stared out at me, about half white, a few black kids, and some you weren't sure about. An Asian boy in a Batman t-shirt was in front, grinning, showing he was missing two teeth. Evan.

"I know him." I explained his family lived in one of the boats near Poppy's place. "Not a house boat, but a real boat." I saw his grandfather bring him over most mornings, standing up in a little dinghy they used to get back and forth from their boat to the pier.

"Anyone else?" The lawyer asked.

"No."

She pointed at a girl in the back row, African American, or maybe mixed race? She wore a red shirt and had a bold smile.

"That's her."

I looked closer. The girl's hair ribbon matched her shirt, and her eyes were almond shaped. A beautiful child. "I've never seen her before. Are you allowed to show me this?"

"Well, you don't need to advertise it. But I needed to know if you've seen her around, seen Poppy talking to her, anything like that."

"No. Never. But I know he sees a lot of kids at the school."

She nodded. "Apparently, that's where he met her."

Poppy went to the afterschool program once in awhile to talk about being a person with a disability. Some sort of anti-bullying, everybody's different kind of program. A customer at the bar had asked him to do it once, and he did so well, he kept getting asked back.

I tried to imagine Poppy doing anything like what he was accused of. I couldn't.

"It's a small community," the lawyer said. "You stay down there with him. You sure you haven't seen him with this girl? Or any children for that matter?"

"No. I'm telling you, Poppy isn't like that. He can't be guilty of this."

She sat back, her red hair picking up the sun from the window. "Well, that's why God created lawyers." I couldn't tell if she was joking.

Before my shift at the bar, I went out to the pier, looking for Evan's grandfather. Sometimes he came in for groceries during the day, and I'd see him, pushing a little cooler of food back down the pier. I asked the security guy, the mechanic, and Little Lisa, which is what we called the enormous woman who lived in the first house-boat. No-one had seen the old man. I was walking to work in my black and whites a little later when I heard the mechanic call out to me.

"Jose, hold up," he said. "I just saw the the old Chinese guy. Went the other way with his laundry cart."

I hustled down the sidewalk, water on one side sloshing up near the edge of the path, pulling in garbage from the bay. The other side was clean.

"Mr. Sing!" The old man turned and eyed me, then nodded and stopped once he recognized me as almost a local. He wore loose, pale blue pants, like hospital scrubs, that hung on his hips. In the cart he was pushing, I saw Evan's small t-shirts and ninja turtle underwear.

"Sorry to bother you, Mr. Sing."

"No bother," he said, giving me a wobbly toothed smile. I often chatted with Evan in the afternoons when his grandfather walked him back from the bus stop. He was one of those kids who ran up to strangers and showed them his art work or his new sneakers. I usually had a piece of gum for him.

"Poppy's in some trouble," I said, wondering if the other parents knew what Poppy was accused of, hoping not. His eyes narrowed a bit.

"I need to talk to this girl's family. I think Evan knows her." I pulled a copy of the picture I'd gotten from the lawyer and pointed at the little girl, whose name I still didn't know. "Do you think Evan knows this girl? From his class?"

Mr. Sing took the picture and looked at it more closely, his finger pointing out his grandson instinctively, then moving upwards.

"That girl?" he asked, looking up at me. His eyes were shiny black rocks in a wrinkled landscape. "Jessica?"

Jessica.

"You know her?"

His eyes passed over my face briefly, seeming to decide whether to help me, then he lifted his hand and pointed at the sign for Gate Three, across from Poppy's place.

"She lives right there, not far from you, in the yellow houseboat, with her mother."

He nodded as I thanked him, and he turned away, pushing his cart towards the Laundromat. His sneakers were too large, and his feet shuffled in them as he walked.

I looked down the pier at the house-boats, most of them looking like they were cobbled together from shoeboxes and plywood, some higher-end models with wood siding. The yellow one had blue shutters on the windows and floated on the water about 50 feet from Poppy's door. Damn. I turned and headed back towards the bar, a little late.

I was pouring a glass of Zinfandel for the owner, a pot-bellied guy who only came in for about an hour each night but made the whole place smell like his cheap cologne, when the lawyer showed up. Dressed in real clothes now, wearing a deep green sweater, her red hair even more pronounced. She was prettier than I'd realized. I introduced her to my boss as she pulled up a stool.

"Gara? What kind a name is that?" Before she could answer, he added, "You're the lawyer for Poppy, huh?"

"Maybe," she said cryptically, and stared him down. After a minute he wandered outside to talk to the customers huddled around heat lamps.

"Glass of wine?" I asked her.

"Do you have real drinks?"

"Only wine and beer."

"Beer, then. I don't care what kind. Surprise me."

I poured her a local brew, Red Rocket, a deep amber with a thick head.

"That's delicious," she said after taking a pull.

"Yes. What's going on?"

The two of us owned this end of the bar, a quiet Wednesday night. Little Lucy was on the other end, nursing a chardonnay and playing scrabble on her phone.

"I wanted to ask you again about what you know about Poppy's background."

I dried a wine glass with a towel, trying not to squeeze it, feeling scared of what she'd come to tell me.

"I told you, not much. From Southern California. I really don't know anything more than I said earlier."

She spun the beer around a little, watching the bubbles rise.

"It's important you're telling me the truth. If you're not, you could get into some trouble, and if the two of you are involved in something together, I don't want any part of it."

I'd found Gara online, on a website. She was listed under criminal lawyers with four out of five stars from recent customers. I'd given her all the money Poppy had hidden in a shoe box, and the little bit I had in the bank, but we were still short. She took the case anyway. I wondered if she was backing out.

"What happened?"

"Nothing on the case. This case. But we won't be getting him out anytime soon on bail."

"Why?" I thought of the little girl in the picture and put the wine glass down on the counter, a little too hard.

"Poppy has priors."

Poppy has priors? Fuck, Poppy. Why didn't you tell me this shit?

"He served his time down south, but he broke parole by leaving the county. Hasn't been in touch with the authorities for a couple of years. I assume he's working here under the table?"

We all were. Even though Poppy was born here, legit citizen, he worked off the books. I never thought about why.

She took another drink of her beer. "I don't care about that. I'm not the cops or the INS or IRS... whoever cares about that shit. But he'll need to go back to Riverside county, once we're finished here, whether he's found guilty or not. He broke parole. They'll put him back in for a few months at least."

I tried to picture Poppy doing time in a ten-foot cell and couldn't. He always said he had to live on the water, hated to be hemmed in.

"I like looking at the bay and thinking I could row a boat from here to Hawaii. Nothing in between," he'd say to customers.

Gara stared at me hard, her one eye a little larger than the other, an intense blue, cerulean. "If you knew he was on the run, you could be accused of harboring a fugitive."

"I didn't know anything. And I wasn't harboring anyone. He harbors me, if anything. It's his place. But he never told me this shit."

"Good. That's your story, and your sticking to it. I like that." She gave me a quick smile with bright, white teeth. They looked clean. Her hair, parted on one side, was down, falling over her shoulders. It looked freshly brushed. She wore no make up, though, just a few freckles and those eyes that seemed to see right through me. If I'd been lying, she would have made me nervous.

"What are the priors for?"

"I'm not really supposed to tell you any of this."

"Okay. Can you tell me anyway?"

"B and E. He broke into a house that had camera's everywhere. Took some girl's watch. He shouldn't have gotten much time because it wasn't worth much. But he already had some stuff on his record—drunk in public, underage drinking, that kind of shit. The judge went heavy on him for the B and E. Did almost a year for it."

I placed the glasses in the rack above the bar, thinking of all I didn't know. "But nothing like this? Nothing with kids?"

"No, nothing with kids."

She stayed for another beer, asking me more about myself, my family. Telling me about her father who was a hotshot lawyer in Chicago.

"Legalese was my first language. I was nursed on it. My father worked at home, always pacing up and down in the kitchen, on the phone. I think I was five when I told him to give back my "aforementioned item." I was talking about a milkshake."

I smiled. She was funny, not bad company. I went down to refill Little Lucy's glass and took another order from a tourist. Gara waited.

"You didn't want to stay in Chicago and work for him?" I thought of her rundown office building in San Rafael.

"Nah. Dad's kind of a dick. Plus, Chicago's frigging cold. I came out to USF for law school. That first winter without shoveling snow—I knew this was home."

Was this home for me? I missed the mangoes they sold on sticks on the street corners in Guatemala City. I missed the sun. I left there when I was five, and I still wasn't sure this was home.

She said she would call me, once she had more info. As she left, she grabbed a worn out briefcase stuffed with papers.

"My Dad's first briefcase," she said, as she hefted it onto her shoulder, a little pride showing through her toughness.

In the morning I made sure to be standing on the corner as the parents went by with their kids to the school bus stop. The girl, Jessica, walked by in a purple sweatshirt, skipping, her hair neatly done in little braids around her head. Her skin was the color of light coffee. She wore a skirt, her little stocky legs stuck in fuzzy pink boots, making her look like a Dr. Seuss character. Her face glowed with a particular kind of beauty, a vibrancy that conjured up island sun, parakeets, sunflowers.

A white woman walked next to her, with short hair up in a grey knit cap, just pieces sticking out like straw. She was wearing jeans and a blue, wool pea coat, like she was about to set sail. I approached her on her way back from the bus stop, alone.

"Excuse me, can I talk to you for a minute?"

She stepped away from me, backwards. I'd made a point of putting on a clean t-shirt and jeans before I came out, but clearly she was still wary.

"I live nearby, just wanted to talk to you for a minute. Really. My name is Jose."

"What do you want?" She looked like I was selling something.

"I just need to talk to you about…" About what? "I think you're Jessica's mother?" She pushed her hands deeper in her pockets, then nodded. Her face was angular, and pale.

"Yeah. How do you know her?"

"I live right here, like I said. The boy Evan told me her name. I just need to talk to you for a minute. I'm Poppy's friend."

Her face grew hard, the mouth turned down. She stepped into the street, around me, and kept walking, picking up speed and heading to the pier. She yelled back at me as she went. "You shouldn't be bothering me. I'll call the police. I'll get a restraining order if you come near me again. Asshole."

I pictured cops coming back to the bar, this time for me. When they came for Poppy, I'd just stood there, not helping. Always afraid to bring any attention to myself, to my immigration status. His hands pulled against the cuffs as they walked him out. They took him with his apron still on.

I tried to keep up with Jessica's mother without getting too close. "Look I don't even know what happened. I'm not trying to bother you. I just wanted you to know he's a good guy. I don't think he did this..."

She turned around suddenly, her eyes blazing. "Did what, exactly?"

"I don't know. They didn't tell me. But I can't imagine him hurting a little kid. Poppy's not like that."

She stepped closer, her voice lower, "Are you saying my daughter made this up? That Jessica is lying?"

Was I? Was it that simple? That either Jessica was lying or Poppy was?

"No. I don't really know what she said, but..."

"That a man showed her his dick. A funny man, with a messed up hand. Showed my six-year-old his dick." Her neck quivered, like the rage was trapped in the hollow, just above her breast-plate.

I breathed in, then out. He wasn't accused of rape.

"She had to go for an exam. My fucking six-year-old had a vaginal exam, in case there was more that she wasn't telling us. They said nothing happened to her. That's what the doctor said. 'Good news.' Nothing? Her childhood is screwed. A guy used her. Jacked off on her. But guess what? There's DNA. There's fucking cum all over her dress. That's how I guessed something had happened. She wouldn't have told me, she was so damn scared. So your friend Poppy isn't coming home. Trust me."

Her bloodshot eyes stared at me, spitting anger across the three feet between us. I imagined her leaping at me like a wild animal, clawing at my face with her bitten down nails. I wasn't the man who hurt her daughter, but I was his friend.

"I'm sorry," I said, shame creeping up my throat like bile. What was I thinking, talking to this woman? "I'm really sorry. I didn't know."

"Just leave us alone."

I turned and stumbled away. I sat down on a wobbly, white, metal bench outside the rundown café on the corner.

Poppy, man, did you do something to this kid?

For the first time, I believed it was possible he was guilty. And if so, I wanted nothing to do with him. Shivering, I went in and got a cup of coffee, extra room for cream, and a donut. The fog was so heavy, I could barely see the other side of the street, and the houseboats were lost in a white haze.

Did he know her from here? Had he followed her to school?

Maybe I'd quit tonight, after I did Poppy's shift. Pack up my few things and head north to my brother's place. I could do that, leave and never look back. The last year and half of my life suddenly felt transparent, like gossamer filaments, easily wiped away. I ate the donut in a couple bites, went in and bought two more. The black lady behind the counter chuckled as she put them in the bag.

"You can't have just one, can you?" I dropped a dollar into her tip jar and went back outside, using the coffee to warm my hands. A few minutes later the mechanic called my cell.

"Can you open up, since Poppy's gone? I got to get my lady to dialysis."

Can you take over Poppy's life? Do all the shit he left undone?

"Sure."

I told myself I wasn't going back to the jail to see him again, but I did anyway. I could only visit from 2:00 to 4:00 p.m. I got there right on time, signed in at the weird little office in the basement as my brother Chito. My mother had come to the states just long enough to drop Chito in a San Diego hospital, giving him the status I lacked. Then she ended up back in Guatemala a year later and stayed there for my unpropitious birth. When she immigrated again, dragging us both up to the states, I was sentenced to a lifetime of living in the shadows or pretending to be my brother. The guy who took my brother's ID had a shiny gun strapped to his belt and a few hairs left on his fleshy head. Being here made me crazy nervous.

"He's meeting with the lawyer," the cop said when he came back to the window. "I don't think you can see him today."

I stood outside where I knew she'd exit, listening to the freeway, everybody going somewhere. A white guy with a limp and a snake tattoo on his forearm came out, pulling a pair of sunglasses from the pocket of a denim vest. He glanced at me as he pulled out his cell phone and told someone to come pick him up already, then moved into the shade and lit a cigarette. Standing outside a damn jail, bound to see some folks I didn't want to see.

Gara's hair was back in a tight bun, and she walked fast in purple high heel shoes. Rat tat tat, she came striding out, squinting in the sun. She stopped when she saw me. A flicker of confusion crossed her forehead like a breeze, then smoothed out.

"So?" I asked her, "Any news?"

I could see the hesitation in the way her brows came a smidgen closer together.

"The charges will be cleared. But he needs to go down to Riverside and deal with his mess there."

I thought of the little girl skipping this morning on her way to school, her caramel colored legs in fuzzy pink boots.

"Why?" I heard the belligerence in my voice. "Why did he get off?"

Her mouth went down in the corners, surprised. "Why? Did you think he did it?"

I didn't answer.

"DNA. Wasn't his."

I absorbed this slowly. "Who?"

"They're looking at the mother's boyfriend. It's always the stepfather or boyfriend. Seen it too many times."

I still wanted to scream. It wasn't Poppy. But someone did this to that beautiful child.

"How'd Poppy get blamed?"

She thought about it. "I'm not sure. Mom says he was at the school the day she found the dress. Girl probably just said the first thing she could think of. She was scared. The kid's fucking six years old. They get confused."

"Yeah, they do."

"The perp probably threatened her. Told her if she told anyone something would happen to her mother, that kind of thing. They do that." She looked up at me, her eyes looking colder, icier than the night before in the bar. "Sometimes this job... It's brutal, what happens to people." She turned and stepped off the curb. "I need to go. Other clients awaiting." As she walked towards the parking lot, she added, "I'll send you the bill."

I wondered if that was the last thing she'd say to me.

Poppy called me in the evening and asked me to come the next day, before he left. I agreed, then spent the night awake, watching the boats in the harbor, smoking Poppy's weed. I wished I'd said no.

We sat on opposite sides of a piece of Plexiglas. Seemed like I could have pushed through it, but things must be stronger than they look. Poppy was wearing the requisite jumpsuit, his short arm and small hand lost in the orange cotton. His hair looked matted and unclean.

"I guess you heard I got cleared."

"Yeah, I did. That's good, man." I heard slams in the background and someone speaking loudly. Jail noises.

"Thanks for the lawyer and everything. I know you're probably pissed."

I didn't answer.

"I should have told you, about what happened down South. But it's better you didn't know. Really." He might have been right. Knowing he was on the run, would I have let myself get close to him? But I should have known.

"Why'd you take some girl's watch, man? B and E? That's serious. You'd get deported if you were me."

"Yeah, I know. But if I was you, I wouldn't have been so stupid. It was my girlfriend's house. Ex-girlfriend. Just wanted the fucking watch back. I gave it to her for our one year. Seems like crap now, but I was crazy about her then. Lost my shit when she dumped me. I was like twenty-two."

He told me he was leaving in the morning, offered me his house, his job, his things. "Sell whatever you want to pay the lawyer the rest of the money. Sell that case of wine in the closet, supposed to be good now."

"Ok. When do you think you'll be back?" I knew as I asked it, he probably wasn't coming back.

He sat back on his chair. "I don't know, dude. Soon, I hope." The lie hovered in the air. "I just have a lot to take care of down there, you know? I owe my mom some attention once I get out. Been gone a long time."

"Right."

We were out of time, started to say goodbye.

"Jose," he said, his brown eyes round and earnest, "You never thought I did it, right?"

I was standing up, so it was easy not to look him in the eye. "No, Poppy. Hell no." Another lie between us. I watched his back as he left the room, his shoulders still broad and straight, and thought of the night I met him, wearing a fancy button-down, his arm around a rich girl with that twinkle in his eye. I turned away and walked fast and hard out of there, jail dust clinging to my shoes.

Gara came by around closing, the last customers clearing out, and ordered a pint of her new favorite beer. She wore a Giants shirt and cap, her hair a scarlet braid down her back, and asked me to turn on the ball game. We watched it for a few minutes.

"Poppy will be okay," she said.

Maybe.

I wished he was here, watching Lincecum pitch a perfect inning. Wished it so much it felt like there was a solid rock in my stomach. I knew the rock would stay awhile, then crumble slowly until the memories were just pebbles rolling in my belly. I'd lost friends before.

Gara glanced at me, then back at the game, her freckles lines up on her cheeks not unlike a baseball diamond. I poured myself a beer as well, flipped the open sign to closed, and turned up the volume.

 

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