“I’ll See You in Reality”

Fiction by J.B. McGeever

Every June, Jameson celebrated the end to another school year by waiting in line for Shakespeare in the Park tickets. He had an entire morning to stretch out on a newspaper and consider a new life. He received his tickets by noon and then wandered the city until the evening performance at 8. The summer was his until the first back-to-school commercial cut him down in July and dragged him into Labor Day.

Tickets were distributed at random so it was nothing more than pride that made him arrive earlier each time, marching in step with the others, counting off heads as they made their way from 81st Street to the theater. The line formed quickly, a cottony haze drifting over the Great Lawn. He was delighted to crack the top-20 last year, all the way to number 12, near enough to hear cellos playing in the foreground while Belvedere Castle loomed over Turtle Pond. A pure white Great Dane broke free from its owner, galloped down the path, and sniffed Jameson’s hand. He patted its head and settled in for the wait.

He came to know her as Agent Eleven because she was one person ahead of him in line and refused to give her name. She necessitated beauty, nature, and makebelieve at all times. Anything less was an abomination to her senses and a danger to her being. City parks were her safe havens, as were museums, churches, and theaters. Her dilemma was arriving safely to each one, with harrowing tales of mayhem and intrigue that kept her mind and body sharp — a field mouse in a valley of hawks.

Although she wasn’t born there, she claimed New York was the only city in America where she could survive this way. She’d been to Las Vegas once and her heart nearly exploded in her chest. “No one jaywalks there,” she explained. “It’s insane.”

He couldn’t decide if she was homeless royalty or a stubborn holdover from the ’70s, a debutante of Studio 54 or a habitué of Max’s Kansas City. She must have been in her 50s but looked 30. She was smart and kind when she wasn’t being insane, and Jameson tolerated her madness because it never conflicted with his own.

There were those in line who were able to fall asleep immediately, as if they’d zombie-walked to 81st Street to resume slumber in a Shakespearian field of dreams. Agent Eleven was among them. She hadn’t even set her blanket before she was sitting on a patch of grass, her head listing to one side. Jameson sat beside her, his fingers trembling from some unholy concoction he’d downed at a bodega. He’d spotted her the moment he’d exited the cab, her posture straight and elegant in a Tshirt and cutoffs, with thick, ropy braids down to her waist. She had lovely points at the tops of her shoulders and a dancer’s taut hamstrings. Her face was defiantly American, the eerily consistent good looks of the biracial in a country that got together occasionally to love.

“Don’t do that,” she said, opening her eyes. “Don’t do what?” “You’re leaning against the fence so I’ll topple into

your lap. Don’t do it.” “I’m not doing anything,” he lied. “You’ve been studying me this whole time, my appearance, the way I move, the curves of my . . .”

“Miss, I don’t care anything about you.”

“It’s perfectly fine,” she assured him. “I know who you are. I’m the one who sent for you.”

They considered each other’s faces. She had remarkable eyes, bright green and probing, a retroussé nose, and harp’s bow lips. There was a perfect divot in her chin, of course — a preternaturally attractive woman. She must have been bothered by men her whole life and had fashioned some kind of game to amuse herself. Red-faced and humiliated, Jameson got up to leave and headed for the end of the line, already 200 twisting yards down the path.

“Where do you think you’re going?” she said. “Come back and carry out your assignment.”

Of course he returned. Women like her had been quietly ruling empires since first dawn. “You’ll be my companion today,” she said as he sat back down, “and my escort this evening. I’m assuming you have no guest, correct?”

They spoke for hours when she wasn’t asleep. She had chips and dip and a fetching plaid blanket arranged for them. Their fingers bumped occasionally, which electrified him. She kept mentioning that the guacamole was homemade so he ate heaps of it, seeing her nude while mashing it in a bowl, her braids splayed atop the counter. It sunk his spirit when he realized she was crazy. He continued to root for her, but she couldn’t help slipping, the sinister “they” and “them” of the relentlessly pursued, the kind of suspicion that would drive away the most desperate of men. This exotic fruit was crawling with spiders, and there would be no romance at the Delacorte that night, only a mission to serve.

“I need you to walk me across the street to the museum,” she said after receiving tickets. He could see that she was tired again, the sun flicking jabs at her through the trees. “I’ll rest there awhile and then move on.”

He continued to play along. There was no other way to handle it, asking how she made it without getting caught, hopping from stone to stone all over the city. “Oh, there’s plenty of wonder to go around,” she said. “Plus, I carry an ample supply of these.” She held up her tickets, fanning them across her face like a shield. Somehow she had four instead of two. Jameson checked his pocket to make sure his were still there.

“You had tickets this whole time?” “Of course, sweetie.” “Then why did you wait on line for six hours?” “The more I have the safer I am. When I arrive at a

destination I sell what I don’t need . . . for guacamole money.”

“Where did you get the first two?”

“I’m afraid that data is above your pay grade. I’ll see you tonight.”

TO BE CONTINUED


 


J.B. McGeever’s stories have appeared in The Southampton Review, Hampton Shorts, and Writer’s Digest, with nonfiction in Newsday, The New York Times, and The Christian Science Monitor. “I’ll See You in Reality” is an excerpt from his novel in progress, “The Last Days of Gothic High.”