DEAD IN BLUE HEAVEN • by Douglas Campbell

I’m the fry cook at Lenny’s College Café, so I occupy a humble station in this world, to say the least. But Robin loved me last summer, and that made me feel rich and famous. “Damn paparazzi everywhere,” I used to say when we went out together. Robin laughed every time.

It’s a busy place, Lenny’s. I hustle and sweat. We switched from paper plates to plastic, because grease from the fries and onion rings soaked through the paper onto the tables. Disgusting slop, but the students gobble it up. Undergrads, nitwits. I just graduated two years ago, but they already look young to me. I’m thinking about grad school now.

The grease sticks to my clothes, my car seat, gunks up the soles of my shoes. I hardly ever wash my work clothes anymore. The grease won’t wash out.

I can’t wash Robin out, either.

I’m at a party, bored, drinking fast, trying to turn my blood into beer, and here comes this big blonde goddess, and I mean big, taller than me, every inch of six-foot-two. Striding through the crowd, carving through the booze and the bullshit, making everybody wake up and think twice. I started talking to her, and right away I’m addicted, looking into those huge blue eyes jumping and shiny with life, thinking My god, I am stone dead in blue heaven and happy to be here.

Right off the bat she started throwing big ideas at me. I told her about my shitty job, and she gave me an earful.

“Intuition, instinct, dreams,” she said. “Archetypal truths tell us what we need to know. That’s where free will is, Bryan. Our conscious minds are pathetic slaves.”

Free will, that was the biggest of her big ideas. We talked about it a lot. I have my doubts, but she believed in it, absolutely. She was like that, ideas pouring off her like sweat drips off my nose when I’m working the lunch rush. I wanted to hug her right there at that party, kiss her everywhere, sweet ass included. That’s how beautiful she was. Crazy with ideas and a thousand blonde curls bouncing off her head like every screw she ever had popping loose all at once.

She told me I had “a philosopher’s soul,” and for a while we lit up this old world. Those summer nights we’d dance and laugh till we could hardly walk, then go lie in the grass in the park, talking and touching, planning fantasy lives, growing lemons on a warm, sunny island, writing scholarly books in some woodsy bungalow. Sometimes — “just for the rush of it,” she said — she’d come crashing through my door in the pitch dark, three in the morning, a hungry-for-everything madwoman rocking my bed like a hot blonde wind. Imagine a gorgeous giant of a woman slapping your sleepy face awake, coming down on you with a body to make the blood burn through your bones. Unbelievable. The first movement of our symphony was pure, sweet music.

After a while, though, she started poking me, prodding me, telling me over and over how I’m wasting my potential. What could I say? I agreed. I’m not going to make fry man my career, for godsake. I’m just not sure what I want to do. That hasn’t come clear for me yet.

“Find your passion,” she told me.

“You’re my passion,” I said.

“Don’t be glib. You know what I mean. Listen to those inner voices.”

“Now that’s glib,” I said. “You’re smart, Robin, but you don’t have all the answers.” I wasn’t turning out like she wanted me to, like she’d imagined I would. I think it shook her faith in intuition.

“I don’t have the answer for you, no,” she said. “Find your own. But get on with it. We take a short stroll through this beautiful world.”

I loved her four months and two days, then lost her in an hour that went like this: I want to walk in the park, but she wants the cemetery, which is where we ended up. It’s pretty there, but let’s face it, cemeteries are depressing. She wants to see Spain first, I vote Australia. I’m dreaming burritos for dinner, she’s tracking pizza. I want to have kids, she’s dead set against it, no way. It wasn’t like we agreed on everything before then, but somehow that evening, with those stones and ghosts all around us, things added up and got serious.

She knelt down in the twilight and tried to read a poem on an old headstone. It was worn almost smooth, and she kept running her hands over the words, trying to read them with her fingertips, but she couldn’t.

When she stood up she said “I can’t wait for you any longer, Bryan. We’re done.” Hanging around with me, she said, was making her feel old and tired and stupid.

Maybe it sounds like Robin was hard on me, but she was just honest. And so sorry. When she left for Spain she kissed me till my lips ached worse than the rest of me, even my heart. Madwoman, dreamspinner, blue-eyed sailor of the universe. If there’s another planet out there with life on it, Robin will find it, for sure, if they ever ask her to.

Quite a memory, my time with her. Sweet, yes, but it stings too, and it hangs on. That’s called the blues. That’s life too, so fucked up, completely backwards. Things that torture you, you can’t get rid of. But something good comes your way, you better lock it up somewhere, because you turn your head and — poof! Gone.

Goddamn grease’ll stick to your clothes forever. The blues’ll have you walking around like a dead man for months, years. You grab hold of love, though, watch out — it’ll slip through your fingers in a second, slick as water.

But maybe you’ll get lucky, like me. I got to kiss love goodbye.

Douglas Campbell‘s fiction has appeared online and in print, in publications such as Many Mountains Moving, Every Day Fiction, Slow Trains Literary Journal, Litsnack, and Short Story America. Douglas lives and writes in southwestern Pennsylvania.

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