Loose Lips Sink Chips

Not every piece fits in every puzzle.

***

Rain fell so steadily it seemed as if it would never stop.

Some storms bring a solution with them, their own resolve. Thick, dark clouds clump together off in the distance. As they grow fatter and heavier, they rise up like a mountain range in the sky. When the clouds can grow no more, they finally roll out over the world like a bowling ball headed straight for a fresh set of pins. These storms are big and explosive, yet they always pass a point where they are only draining themselves. As the last clouds empty and float away, all rolling and pin-knocking ceased, they leave behind them a cool quiet.

This was not one of those storms. The rain started the night before and continued into the next day. It came from low grey clouds with no visible beginning or end. Thunder would boom occasionally, but only as a roaring reminder of the pent up energy this rain came from, not as a satisfying release.

An array of colorful umbrellas raised over the ceremony was the only reminder that color even existed on this drab day. Underneath the rain shields was black attire and sadness. A brown hole opened up the otherwise grassy completeness of the cemetery. A mahogany casket lay beside the hole.

"Although he was perhaps misunderstood, he was still a good man. Heavenly Father, please walk along Jerry Chips in this final leg of his perilous journey," said the preacher. He wore a wool jacket with a thick collar. Raindrops beaded his glasses. "We ask that you keep your hand upon his shoulder and your love in his heart. In your name we pray, amen."

"Amen," said the group of mourners in unison. It wasn't a tremendous crowd, maybe twenty-five or thirty people, but still, it was a nice gathering for the dead man.

None were his family and truthfully none were his friends, but I would never say it out loud, certainly not here, certainly not now. To most, Jerry Chips was just a face in the crowd, a number holder in the deli line, a name on a "Tribune" subscription. He was an average worker and an avid drinker. He never drank to stupor, but he drank every day. I suppose he was an alcoholic by definition. Other than that, most didn't know him that well.

"Amen," the preacher said softly, repeating the period on the prayer. He gave a nod and the lowering device began lowering the casket into the grave.

I closed my cocktail umbrella and stepped forward from the crowd. The rain slowly saturated my coat, but I didn't care. I felt the need to say something. "Wait a minute. I'd like to say a little something about this..." I didn't quite know where I was going, but the urge to speak remained. "This--"

The attendants stopped the mechanism as Jerry's eternal box was halfway down the hole. Fabric groaned. The strap near the head of the coffin caught fully, but the rear strap slipped, soaked from the rain. It caught again, but only for a second. The weight imbalance was too much.

Jerry's casket tipped down as if it were trying to stand up. It slid off the straps and rolled a quarter turn. The woman behind me gasped and covered her face with a gloved hand. The coffin door opened.

Jerry Chips was not in his casket. White mop fibers sat on top of a muskmelon with a magic marker smiley face drawn on it. The fake head was on top of a large Buzz Lightyear piƱata. It actually looked a lot like Jerry.

"Lost soul," I finished.

***

My arms were sore and tired. It felt like they were made of iron as I raised them above my shoulders, lifting the last crate onto the boat. Exhausted, I sat down on the dock's edge, letting my head droop to my chest as my feet grazed the water.

"You do this all day for a living and it gets easy," said the man from the boat.

I looked up. "Screw that," I said.

He smiled. He had long blonde hair, a round face, and a muscular chest. His torso was roughly the shape of a barrel, built from years of laboring at the docks.

"Imagine if they weren't teeny tiny little crates," said Jerry.

"Obviously I'm not going to lift a normal crate. That'd be impossible, you doof," I said.

Jerry chuckled. He pulled half a cigar out of his Hawaiian shirt pocket and lit it. He puffed smoke as he leaned against the railing of his ship, looking out over the ocean. Rarely does a person look like they belong anywhere nowadays, but in that instant, Jerry looked right for the part he played. I envied that.

I reached into my breast pocket as if to find a cigar and sense of place myself. All that was in there was half a Kraft Jet-Puffed Miniature Marshmallow. I took it out and ate it. It was cool enough for me.

Jerry turned his cigar and looked into the glowing end. "The moment I get down there, now that it's all open, I'ma be a real king."

A seagull gulled from the bay. It is very hard to focus when seagulls are gulling.

Jerry was distracted by the gull, too. He threw the butt of his cigar at the bird. It sailed in the wind with a high arch, then came down--a direct hit. The seagull flinched, but not much. After a moment, a puff of smoke came from the bird's beak.

"Son of a bitch is smoking my stoge!" said Jerry, shaking his head. "Ah," he waved at the bird in dismissal. "I'll just get some real ones from some hot lady."

I could swear that in the distance, I heard the seagull go "heh heh heh" like an old medieval henchman instead of "caw caw caw" like a contemporary nowadays seagull.

"They'll probably just give 'em to me. Once they get ahold of all these," Jerry said. He stood and patted one of the little crates.

I got up, put my hands on my hips, and leaned back from the waist. I took a deep breath, then let it all out, getting a few cracks from my back. I looked at Jerry's sea vessel.

It was an interesting old ship: a baby blue bottom and a faded white top, the paint chipped all over from years of sun and neglect. It had a tall central cabin with a plexiglass shield all around it. The front deck was all wood and the back deck was textured metal, grating for traction. Her name was printed on the back: "S. S. S. S."

"Don't forget to write, but I know you won't," I said.

"Writing is the opposite of sailing," said Jerry. "My details belong not in the ledger, but at sea. Secrets, secrets are so fun, so don't you tell anyone."

"OK," I said, even though that's not at all how the saying goes. "I won't if you won't."

Jerry laughed as he undid his boat from the dock. It started to drift away, but Jerry suddenly reached out for a wooden post and held on. "But I already told you!" he said.

"Uh, yeah." I gestured with my hands as if I were searching for something to juggle. "It's too late now, plus you had to to get me to help," I said.

Jerry pushed off the dock again and pointed his index finger at me. "Righto," he said.

He made his way to the cabin and started the engine. The boat turned to face the open ocean. Before she jetted off, Jerry opened the cabin door.

"Thanks again, Mac!" he shouted. "And one last thing--I left a crate just for you as an extra you're welcome." He closed the door and the boat accelerated.

The boat stopped and Jerry opened the door again. "I mean as an extra thank you," he yelled.

"Yup. Got it," I said.

Jerry nodded, closed the door, and took off. I watched as the boat became smaller and smaller, until all I could see was waves on the horizon.

***

I waited until nighttime to open the crate. I sat down on an empty sewing spool I used for a chair in my living room and examined the package. The faded tan wood was bare except for a crooked stamp that read, "Hostess."

I stood, grabbed a small pry, and opened the crate. A note sat on top of a bunch of Twinkies. I opened the note.

"Mac, my tiny friend,
If you're reading this, I am dead."

I looked up for a moment, confused, then continued.

"This is the mindset I want you to adopt, anyway. Off the docks, I never really belonged anywhere here. It's nothing against you or anyone else, I just have always felt unhappy. The whole world has long been discovered and the age of connectivity makes me feel no more connected to anyone else. One place not too far away isn't completely caught up yet, though, so maybe that's where I belong. I don't know if they have Twinkies in Cuba, but even if they do, 50,000 more can't hurt.

I left another note at Telly's Bar. It's a suicide note. You don't have to read it, but just so you know, my fake death isn't bloody or gross. Just because I'm making a little drama doesn't mean I have to be a drama queen!

Spencer, that one guy from my bowling league I'm always telling you about with the phenomenal mustache, he also knows about the whole gig. He'll take care of the funeral stuff. Sorry to tell you now, but I like him more than you, so I let him pick between that and helping me load the boat. Like I say, secrets, secrets are so fun, so don't you tell anyone.

Wish me luck in Cuba and remember, the world is small, but a small man such as yourself has a big place in my heart,

Chips"

***

Amidst the yelling, a man from the crowd of umbrellas caught my attention. He had thick hair combed to the side and a bristling, phenomenal mustache. He waved his hand in front of his throat, the kill-it sign.

"Excuse me. I just want to say," I paused. After a moment, the commotion settled and people listened.

I looked at the muskmelon face. It had the biggest smile I'd ever seen, a half oval so beaming that it almost came up to the black dots for eyes. A seagull gulled in the distance, though I could swear that it went "heh heh heh" like an old medieval henchman. I smiled back at the dummy.

"Wherever he may be, Jerry Chips is in a better place."