November 24

            Life is a complex puzzle with so many people compressing the pieces. Thankful for all of them today even if all of them aren’t around for me to pick up. I know the big picture even if the pieces aren’t all in place. 

            The same idea. 

            Over and over again. 

            Maybe I should be more thankful but I’m heading and going and about to arrive and starting to go in and am ready for the onslaught and ready for it all. 

            To be burned and to be gone. 

**

            “How’s the book business?” 

            Let’s see. There’s turkey, gravy, sweet potatoes, stuffing. And there’s Dad at the head of the table. 

            A simple question. So far, so good. We can take this in so many directions. 

            He could just start woofing down his food as if he doesn’t really care about the answer. 

            He could wait there with a patient smile wondering how business is going. 

            He could continue on with a combative “’cause the last I heard nobody ever goes into actual bookstores anymore” as if he is trying to get into another argument. 

            How should your father act? The gentle giant? The absent alpha? The angry ass? 

            I’d really prefer some gentleness for a change. 

            “It’s been slow as usual,” I say. 

            He detects the stress in the words and doesn’t say anything. He changes the subject to the Redskins.           

            I guess we have a gentle giant indeed. 

            He talks about retirement

            from where

            his old manufacturing company. He’s enjoying having more time to read biographies of presidents and nonfiction works on U.S. wars. Mom enjoys having him at home. 

            The lines around their eyes and mouths not only tell their age but also reveal how much they like to smile and laugh. Thanksgiving dinner is full of laughter and storytelling. 

            Is anybody else there? 

            It’s just the three of us. My brother is out in Colorado and my sister is out in California. One might think there’s some kind of pandemic or something because it’s just me and my parents. Like we’re deliberately staying away from everybody else. 

            Where’d that thought come from? It’s 2016. Not the future. 

            I enjoy the sweet white wine but don’t enjoy too much. I enjoyed too much last night. 

            My mother shares a story about when I was young and accidentally fell off the deck at our house and landed headfirst on the concrete sidewalk below. It wasn’t a huge fall but huge enough for the hard surface. My father likes to joke that this is when it all started to happen, when I started to act crazy. 

            Wait, maybe he doesn’t say that. Maybe that’s someone else. The gentle giant wouldn’t be that mean, would he? 

            I don’t know. It’s not that important anyway. 

            What’s important is—

            My phone buzzes. I slip it out of my jeans and glance down at it. 

            Hey man we gotta talk. 

            It’s Cameron. 

            Now we’re getting somewhere. 

**

            “Sorry I’m interrupting your Thanksgiving,” Cameron says. 

            He sounds out of breath. 

            “What’s wrong?”

            “I’m being followed.”

            “By who?” 

            For a moment I just hear shuffling, like the phone is being stuffed into a shopping bag. 

            “Look, you need to come get me,” he says. 

            “Where are you? And why?”

            “I decided to snoop around a little. That warehouse you told me about.”

            Did I tell him about that? Guess it doesn’t matter. 

            “So someone caught you?” 

            “Yeah,” he says. “I parked right by the warehouse but I had to run the other way. I’m supposed to be at my girlfriend’s house. Like now. I know those guys will be outside the warehouse for a while.”

            I think about telling him I can’t come get him, but then realize I’m the one that got him into this mess. Plus, this is an excuse for me to get out of here. I love my parents, but . . . well, this is far more interesting. 

            “Okay. I’ll leave now. Give me twenty minutes.”

            “Text me when you get to Appleton. I’ll let you know where I am.”

**

            Twenty minutes in your Mazda to meditate on your life. 

            You feel bad having to say goodbye to your parents, but you realize you’re the only child that’s stayed around them. 

            Why didn’t I ever move away? 

            More questions come as suburbia passes you by.  

            Why don’t I have a family? A wife? Hell, a girlfriend? 

            Something gnaws at you, the same nibbling feeling that’s been with you all November. The same emotion that resembles the gray, cold afternoon. 

            I can’t just be alone and fine with that. Something doesn’t make sense here. 

            Twenty minutes isn’t long enough for you to figure out this question. Maybe it’s the stress that’s been making you a little cloudy.             

            I feel like I have amnesia. Or dementia.

            You text Cameron that you’re almost downtown Appleton and he sends you his location. 

**

            “I counted at least a dozen, maybe more,” he says after he climbs into my vehicle. 

            His normally unimpressed expression has been replaced by alarm. 

            “What are you doing?” 

            Cameron is glancing behind us and from side to side. “Like you said, I love detective stuff. I knew something was strange when I started getting weird vibes from these people on the list. Just keep driving and I’ll tell you when to turn.”

            “So a dozen people were at the warehouse?” 

            “Yeah,” he says as he starts texting someone. “My girlfriend is livid.”

            “So you thought to do this right before your Thanksgiving dinner?” 

            I can’t help but laugh. 

            “It was on the way. I was curious. Then I noticed a bunch of cars in the parking lot and decided to see what was happening inside.”

            “So? Did you?”

            He nods and looks all around again and rubs his chin. 

            “Some kind of service. Church service. Except with candles and robes.”

            I laugh. “Come on.”

            “I’m seriously, Nolan.”

            “Robes? Really?”

            “Yeah, I know. Ridiculous. But I f***ing saw it. And another thing. There was one of those Mercedes-Benz Sprinters right outside the entrance to the warehouse. You know—one of those cargo vans. No windows in the back. Sketchy as hell.”

            The gray, not-so-good feeling I’ve had all month suddenly turns black and downright bad. 

            “Should we call the cops or something?” I ask. 

            “No,” Cameron says. 

            “Why not?”

            He inhales and then lets out a long sigh. 

            “Because a cop was there,” he says. “His police car was parked in the lot.”

            “So then we have nothing to worry about, right?” 

            Cameron looks plenty worried, and he looks like he’s going to stay that way for a while. 

            “Turn at the next stoplight,” he says. “Then take that street until it dead ends.”

**

            Later that night—a little later, a lot later, I don’t know—I’m drunk. Don’t judge me. 

            I get a text from Dermot.

            28,221 words! And I’m in the zone again. 

            Good for you, I text back. 

            I’ve gotten my inspiration from Ray Bradbury

            Why? 

            Writing quotes from him, Dermot texts. 

            I see him continuing to write. 

            “First, find out what your hero wants, then just follow him.” 

            That’s good, I tell him. 

            That’s been my problem. My hero doesn’t really know what he wants. 

            Does anybody really know? 

            Are you drunk? he asks. 

            Yep. 

            Haha. Here’s the other quote: “You fail only if you stop writing.” 

            You haven’t failed yet, I text. 

            No yet’s to come. I’m not going to fail. Six more days to figure this all out. 

            I laugh and go to take a sip of my gin and tonic and then realize it’s only ice. 

            Tell me when you figure everything out. Maybe you can figure things out for me, too. 

            He never texts me back. Not with a smiling emoji or an LOL or anything. No words at all. 

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