Quite the Perfect Day
Jeremy just found it lying there, trapped under a spindly chair leg of the neighborhood café. The paper looked so vulnerable, just staying where it was stuck, flapping against the wind the occasional exhaust gas passed to the air. Jeremy could fancy the scrap was staring up at him, the picture of the young man-was he a policeman? It looked like it-imploring him to be saved with its large brown eyes. Jeremy however just looked at it. He looked at it some more. He continued looking at it, until he was practically staring at it. The photo was begging him to be noticed at this point, and Jeremy could not help it. He picked the paper up.
The paper turned out to be a newspaper clipping with an article torn halfway through a sentence. Jeremy tried to read it; it said something like "Officer Peddington received the Young Academics Award yesterday for his outstanding perf—" and the rest was unknown. He held the paper between his thumb and index fingers, lifting it up at its corners and peering at it at eye level. He tried to read the sentence again, but it still made no sense to him. He rotated the paper around, still holding the clipping like a rag ready for his inspection. He kept turning it, slowly at first, and then faster and faster until the words and the picture were becoming blurs in his eyes. He stopped this motion just as the paper had gained its own momentum, swinging to the base of his palm and hitting his wrist, and he looked at the officer's picture. He tilted his head to the right, then to the left, just gazing at the photo, locked in a staring contest with the picture's eyes. For a while this battle of wills went on, and Jeremy would not relent to the picture. Finally he could feel his eyes hurting and he admitted defeat, but pocketed the clipping anyway.
Happy that he had found something interesting, he continued on his evening stroll around the neighborhood, humming to himself. Suddenly something shiny caught the corner of his eye; he stopped and looked down to his newfound trinket. It was a plastic card, lying right in front of his left sandal, the picture staring right up at him. He picked up that little treasure as well, peering at it over his sunglasses. He turned it over on its side, inspecting its slight width, and then flipped it over to the back.
NEW YORK STATE
ID: 592 568 102
4507 LESTER RD
SPRING HILLS, NY 87963-032
The card's title, New York, spread across the card in a bold and large font, as if stating its importance matter-of-factly across the expanse of the driver's license. Jeremy looked around, saw no one frantic or upset running around in a state of panic, so he simply pocketed his newfound treasure and continued walking down the sidewalk towards his house. Maybe he could find the owner of the card and give it back…but he would keep it for a while first. To celebrate his victory over the forces of hiding, he decided on a cigarette. With a cigarette comes fire, and with fire comes a lighter. Ah, where's that lighter?
He began his excavation in his front pockets. Nothing there. Damn.
He continued in his front jeans pockets. Nope, nothing there either. Double damn.
Maybe it's in the back jeans pockets. Aha! He produced a cell phone lighter and a Camel cigarette packet from his front jeans' pocket. He pushed a button and made the tip of the cell phone's antenna create a small flame. He pulled out a cigarette with his teeth and brought the edge of the cigarette to the flickering fire. Almost there, just going to light it up…
And then they hit him. The raindrops, that is. He first felt them on his head, streaming and trickling unobstructed to his ears and his eyes. Then he felt them on his nose, forming miniscule trails until they finally reached the bridge of his sunglasses and fashioned a small pool there. His glasses became foggy with condensation and Jeremy shook his head vigorously; rain could be so annoying sometimes. He took off his glasses, shook them from excess droplets and wiped them on his mustard yellow T-shirt with an irritated facial expression. Great, now he can't smoke. Stupid rain, ruining his private celebrations. He kicked a stray can dejectedly. Oh well, perhaps he could celebrate when the storm stopped; he thought he saw lightning. The rain was falling harder now, motivating Jeremy to move.
Jeremy strolled at a leisurely pace towards his apartment. He really did not want to go back up on the sixth floor, not when the spectacle ahead of him was so entertaining. Women were running as fast as they could while clutching at their handbags above their heads, their heels clicking against the cement sidewalk. Young children were either laughing or scared of the few claps of thunder, and a group of boys continued to play soccer apparently oblivious to the oncoming downpour. He could hear voices from the apartment complexes, yelling to "bring the clothes in" or beckoning their children with their high-pitched squeals of "Tommy/John/Billy/Chris come inside this instant!" Finally, the young man reached his apartment building and sighed. Great, now his good mood was totally ruined. He mentally prepared himself for the ultimate trial of handling an apartment: paying the rent. Not that he had a financial problem; his job as Chief Editor of the Fantastic! Magazine produced a great income. It's just that he kept forgetting the deadlines to pay, unintentionally of course.
He decided to take the elevator to reach his home.
After a few minutes of waiting for the contraption to descend to the ground floor, a girl walked towards his direction and stood next to him. She looked like she was in her twenties, despite what her turquoise blue T- shirt with the dark red "I'M A TEENAGER…ANY QUESTIONS?" logo proudly declared. She nodded her head at Jeremy, who nodded back in silent acknowledgment of her presence. Jeremy thought that the girl's face looked familiar for some strange reason, but he could not remember if he had seen her before. He surreptitiously looked at her with a sideways glance, but she still could not remember any details. He decided not to really think about it, so he looked away and gazed at the elevator.
He continued to stare at the numbers on top of the elevator doors, completely mesmerized at their smooth change from seven to six to five and so on, a small "ding" sound accompanying the indications. The teenage girl put her black hair in a ponytail, using a band on her wrist that could easily pass as a bracelet, and pull out her compact from a small brown bag she carried. She huffed in exasperation.
"Rain. I hate rain. It's really terrible, let me tell you." She turned towards Jeremy, possibly seeking some sort of confirmation to her statement. Jeremy indulged her unspoken request.
"Actually, I personally enjoy the rain." Jeremy replied with a cool demeanor.
"Really now? How can you like something that ruins your clothes and your makeup and your hair…but you wouldn't know, would you?" She put her compact back in her bag, a slight rustling noise following the motion.
"Pardon? Know what?"
"I mean, no offense buddy, but you don't have any hair, or any makeup."
"Ah, but evidently I do have clothes."
"Well duh, of course you have clothes. Unless, of course, you're one of those nudist people or something weird like that!" She looked at him with a curious expression on her face.
"I can assure you miss. I am not a nudist, at least I don't think I am." Jeremy raised his eyebrow at her.
"Well great, because I was beginning to think that you were, or at least you supported them."
"And how would you come to that conclusion?" Jeremy asked, an amused tone to his voice.
"Well, I mean, look at you." She waved her hand in his general direction.
"Yes, what about me?"
"You practically scream 'activist' with that outfit of yours."
Jeremy was flabbergasted. "And where did you get that idea?" he cried.
The girl looked suitably embarrassed. "Well, I didn't mean any harm sir, I was just curious. We get people who look exactly like you down at the Institute."
"Institute? What institute?"
"The Institute of Youth Groups and Associations. I thought you were a member. I'm sorry sir."
"That's quite all right. But tell me, how did figure out that I was an activist?"
"Oh, yeah. Well, that's fairly simple. You—." She abruptly cut off her speech and turned to look in front of her. The elevator finally arrived with a resounding "ding!" and a thump.
Jeremy was curious; how can a girl so young figure out his entire personality through something random he threw on that coincidentally did not belong in a laundry basket? He felt compelled to learn more, to ask the girl where she acquired all this knowledge, and if he can find anything like that written in a book somewhere, but the rush of people prevented his curiosity's fulfillment.
Once the elevator doors opened and its previous occupants exited to the ground floor, the girl rushed right past Jeremy and secured a place in the moving box. Jeremy, not wanting to look impolite, smiled at the girl and held the door open for the last person to leave, an old lady with a cane. The elevator now empty, he calmly entered and pushed the button labeled "6" on the pad. The girl leaned against the wall of the elevator, brought out her cell phone and started clicking away at the buttons, her thumbs moving across the keypad so fast Jeremy began to get dizzy. The girl, once done with her furious pounding of the phone, turned to Jeremy again and proceeded to continue the previous conversation.
"Like I was saying, it's easy to figure out you're an activist. You're wearing a yellow T-shirt. That means that you need to find something happy in life, while the dark tint to the color indicates that you know the world is bad already. You are also wearing jeans, which show that you have a certain I-don't-care attitude about other people's ideas and opinions. Lastly, you are wearing flip-flops."
"Flap-whats?" Jeremy raised his eyebrow again. Was she talking about his sandals?
"Flip-flops. That's what those shoes are called. Didn't you know that?" She cried, muttering something along the lines of "geez, people these days" and something else that Jeremy could not catch. "Anyways," she continued smoothly "your flip-flops show that you are trying to make a statement, since you are wearing them when it's around 40 degrees outside." The girl began playing with her ponytail, winding her finger through the thick tresses while gazing at Jeremy with a triumphant expression.
Jeremy really wanted to make her quiet. He contemplated just stopping at a different floor and take the stairs or ignoring the girl and her ridiculous rant. Then he really thought about what she told him. She was really profiling his personality from his clothing, details that he had not even considered. Does everyone do that? Can he discover people's personalities from just looking at their fashion sense? What would happen if…
"So, you never told me." The girl's voice unexpectedly interrupted Jeremy's thoughts.
"Told you what?" Jeremy looked at her dazedly, his head spinning with his unfinished thoughts.
"What kind of activist you are."
"What kind of…? Oh, yes, that. Well, I am very sorry to say that I am not an activist of anything."
"You're kidding!" She looked at him, her brown eyes wide with astonishment.
"I am telling the truth, really." Jeremy was becoming annoyed. Why did she care about what he did for the planet and the beings that inhabit it?
"Well, do you want to be?"
"Do I want to be what? An activist?"
"Yeah. Duh." The girl rolled her eyes at him
"I have never really thought about it, but I suppose not. Why are you interested anyway?"
"I'm just curious. Sorry if I came off too blunt. I'm Carin by the way, and I'm very pleased to meet you."
"My name is Jeremy and I am likewise pleased to make your acquaintance miss Carin." They shook hands in the elevator. Her hand felt cold in his and he wondered why. Then he remembered her quip about his sandals and the 40 degrees and smiled.
"So, Carin, where is your stop?"
"Stop? What stop?"
"Where is your apartment?"
"Oh, me? I live in the same floor as you."
"Really?" Jeremy frowned. Maybe she was familiar because she was a neighbor? Perhaps. "Is that why you seem familiar?" he boldly asked. It is better to find out who the neighbors are through just asking them Jeremy internally reasoned.
Carin looked at him and laughed. Her laughter sounded soothing, but it bounced around the elevator and sounded loud in Jeremy's ears. Jeremy cocked his head to the right and wanted to ask her why she was laughing, but then the elevator doors opened with another "ding!," again interrupting his conversation. Jeremy held open the door for Carin and the girl marched out, walking straight to his apartment door. Jeremy followed with a bemused expression.
"How do you know where I live?" he asked, a frown creasing his forehead.
"I know many things about this floor." She replied with a happy smile on her face. Jeremy decided to test her knowledge while he dug into his pockets again to find his house key.
"Ah, so you know that Mrs. Sherring keeps her cats at the other side of the floor so that her landlady won't see?"
"Oh yeah, everyone knows that! Did you know that the landlady knows anyway, but is too nice to tell Mrs. Sherring?"
"Hmm…no, not really. Mrs. Fairthing always looked a bit mean to me."
"She's really not, for a neat freak landlady. Did you know that Mrs. Fairthing likes stuffed teddy bears?"
"I knew that. She likes them so much, she keeps a small one in her purse wherever she goes. I saw an ear peeking out of her bag last Thursday when she went to collect the rent from Mrs. Sherring."
"Huh, that's funny. I saw Mrs. Fairthing last Thursday evening and she said I was the first person she had seen all day. Are you sure you saw her?" Jeremy thought he had her now…
"Definitely!" Carin exclaimed. "She went to Mrs. Sherring's around nine at night."
"Oh." Jeremy's happy expression slipped from his face, only to let a frown replace it again. He flipped through his ring of keys. Work, vault…"You're quite nosy, you know that?" Aha! There was his apartment's key!
"Not nosy. I just like to observe and notice around me. I know things. Now are you going to let me inside?"
"I suppose." Jeremy unlocked his door and once again left the door open for the girl. She strolled in like she knew the place, a smug expression on her face. Jeremy, although thoroughly annoyed, remembered his hospitality manners.
"Would you like anything to eat?" He asked tersely.
"Not really, thanks."
"Something to drink maybe? Water, a soda, a beer?"
"Do you have any grape juice?" She asked, her face turned towards the wall with his family pictures, or the Wall of Memories as Jeremy liked to call it.
"Uh, no, I'm sorry. Anything el—"
"A glass of water's fine then. No ice please. Thaaaaanks!" She turned to him and flashed a bright and happy smile, looking like a little girl. Jeremy, surprised at the unexpected change in behavior, tried to compose himself.
"Uhh, all right, a glass of water. Okay, yeah. I'll get that in a minute." Jeremy marched into the kitchen, grabbed a glass and jammed it under the fridge tap. He filled the cup quickly and went back to the living room. "I'm sorry it's a bit of a mess, I wasn't expec—" He stopped at the doorway to the room and dropped the glass, the cup making a dull "thump!" on the carpet and spilling all its contents.
Carin was looking at the wall across from the Wall of Memories at Jeremy's giant poster. She was not just looking at it though; she was touching it. Her hand was trailing over the items on the poster, over the bottle cap and the glued twig, the newspaper articles titled "Dear Meg," a plastic spinning top, a bit of straw, and stopped at a piece of black fabric. A strange expression on her profile showed on her face as she twirled the free part of the fabric between her fingers. Jeremy could not tell what kind of expression it was though, since he ran over to the hanging poster and placed himself in front of it, blocking Carin's view. Jeremy looked stern, his lips in a tight, thin line and his arms spread out, his hands curled up in fists. He looked at Carin coldly.
"That is not for touching." He muttered as calmly as he could, a snarl threatening to escape his voice.
"But why not?" She looked at him, a fearful look about her face.
"Because…" Jeremy could not find any good excuse. "Because it's not finished yet." There! That should be enough.
"Why? What else does it need?" Her voice held a small quiver in it.
"It needs…it needs…umm…" He bit his lip. "It needs this!" He reached into his jacket pocket and produced the newspaper he found and the driver's license. Carin tried to read the license, but Jeremy waved it away from her line of sight. He turned to the poster.
"Oh really? And where should that stuff go?" Carin's snide tone cut through Jeremy's excuse. He had no idea where they should go. Besides, there was a reason he created the poster, so there was a reason he picked up the paper and the card, right?
"Where are you going to put them? The poster is full of junk anyway. What are you going to do with that stuff you found off the street?"
"I'm going to—wait." Jeremy turned to Carin. She stood looking at him, her arms crossed and her hip jutted out to the side, like a mother demanding explanation from a disobedient child. "How did you know I found these objects?"
"I know things—"
"Stop saying 'I know things' dammit!" Jeremy yelled at her. All his frustration with her and her attitude burst forward and he could not stop it no matter how hard he tried. "Nobody knows about Mrs. Sherring's cat, and nobody knows that Mrs. Fairthing likes stuffed bears! Nobody else, you hear me? No one except me!" He panted heavily, but continued his rant. "You don't know what I'm like, and you don't know if I'm an activist, and you don't know what I'm doing with this poster! You don't know why I find you familiar, and you don't know why I like the rain, and you surely don't know why I picked up the things! You are rude, and insensitive, and think you know everything! Don't pretend to know things when you really don't! You don't even know who I am!"
"Yes I do…"
".Don't!" Jeremy shouted. Carin took a step back and looked at him calmly this time.
"Yes, I do. You want me to tell you?" she said, her voice calm but her stance not changing.
"Yeah, let me see what you know!"
"Well, I know that you name is Jeremy Webber. Your birthday is September 25, 1972. You are a Libra with a rising sign of Cancer and a moon sign of Aquarius. You are thirty three years old. Your height is five feet, eleven inches. Your current weight is 161.5 pounds. You work as the Chief Editor to the Fantastic! Magazine, and everyone there likes your proposal for doughnut Mondays. Your favorite color is green because it calms you down. Your father died from pneumoconiosis when you were 18 years old, and your mother struggled to raise you and your three siblings with her job as a convenience store manager. You started working about three months after your father died to help you mother. You worked at a supermarket and you hated it. You went to college through a scholarship and graduated with high grades in journalism. You started working at various newspaper columns before you went to Fantastic! Magazine. You stayed at Fantastic! and were promoted to Chief Editor in after five years of work at the magazine. You wanna hear more? And close your mouth please, will you? It's rude." Carin huffed.
Jeremy was staring at Carin with an open mouth, which he closed immediately with an audible "click!" of his teeth. How did she know all this? This situation was getting ridiculous. Was this girl stalking him?
"How…I mean why…I mean how…" he floundered, astonished at this torrent of information from Carin's mouth.
"You mean how I know about you? Haven't you figured it out yet?" She stared incredulously at him, her eyes sparkling with surprise and fury. "You mean that I just told you a bunch of stuff about your life, that you told nobody mind you, and you still have not figured it out? Are you stupid or something? Think! How would I know all this?"
Jeremy thought hard. He sat down and put his head between his arms, his hands moving back and forth on his shaved head. Where would she know about him? Where would she know about his floor, his apartment, his work and his family? Only one thought came to mind, and he voiced it.
"You read up on me and you're stalking me now. Why are you stalking me? What did I ever do to you?" he asked very quietly.
"You idiot!" Jeremy jumped. "You're such an idiot, you know?" Carin looked extremely furious, her hands on her hips and her legs parted in a firm stance. She looked like an army sergeant.
"Umm…wha…?" Jeremy was cowering in front of this livid sight.
"I'm not stalking you, you mindless half-wit! I am you! I can't believe I wasted my time here! 'Is that why you look familiar?'" she mocked his voice. "Of course I look familiar, you doofus! This is so stupid! Seriously, you would've thought that the person who makes you should…"
"Uhh, excuse me." Jeremy tried to stop her rant. "Excuse me, erm, Carin?"
"Umm, what do you mean, I made you?"
Carin sighed. "Just—just look at the poster. I'm the black denim fabric."
Jeremy moved over to the poster that was hanging on the wall as though untouched. He looked at the poster, full with various artifacts he had found. There was the straw from a straw hat in a hat shop. On the far right was a soda bottle cap, the grape illustration chipped but still visible. Next to it was the "Dear Meg" column he had cut out the other day, the paper darkened at some points from the glue sticking it to the poster. Then came the doll house chair, the towel fabric, the black fabric, the cartoon of a mouse eating cheese, a part of a toothpaste advertisement…The list went on and on; the white parts of the poster were barely visible under the little trinkets that filled it. He fingered the black fabric, like Carin had before. Jeans, it was black jeans. He stroked the denim with his thumb.
Then it came to him. A swirling tornado of ideas, people, places and most importantly, things swept through his mind, leaving reality in its wake. He remembered trying to find out why horses liked to eat straw and the fact he loves grape juice. He recalled the time he went to a toothpaste factory and found a toothpaste ad. He remembered the day he wrote to the "Dear Meg" column, pretending to be a middle-aged woman, and his reply to that letter-now on the poster. He remembered when he went to the tailor to mend his torn suit, and seeing the tailor's niece making jeans out of the black denim fabric. The tailor's niece…wait! Didn't she have black hair? And how old was she again, sixteen or fourteen? Wasn't she really proud of her jeans, trying to make them fashionable and still fit her plump body? No wonder she was familiar!
"I got it! I got it, I got it, I got it! I finally got it! Carin, you're a genius! You're the best! I love you!" Jeremy hopped up and down in front of the poster, his poster, his arms swinging in the air. He turned around, his face lit up with happiness. "Carin! I remembered! Carin?"
There was no one there. His house was empty, no sign of anyone entering it. Jeremy looked around him, searched behind the couch, in the kitchen, knocked on the bathroom door, and even searched his bedroom. Carin had completely disappeared. Jeremy traipsed back to the poster and picked up the glue stick he had left on the floor.
"Carin, my dear, thank you. You have helped me so much. Now I get it. Thank you." He could see Carin smiling that brilliant smile when she had asked for water. He took the driver's license and the newspaper clipping from their forgotten place on the living room rug. He held them up against the poster and glued them on it, one next to the other. He smiled.
"This will be a story about a teenaged girl named Jane Newark. She is a neat freak and has a haughty attitude towards her parents. She decides to go to the beach to get a tan…"