Episode 2 — The Opossum’s Tail
José Miguel López
James, the Lobster Man
When they hopped on the N train at Ditmars Station the downpour showed no signs of ending anytime soon. A long ride took them from the elevated railway in Queens into the rocky arteries of Manhattan, then up again across the river into Brooklyn. They transferred to an overheated LIR train in Atlantic Terminal, near the Barclays Center. Ninety-seven minutes after leaving their home in Astoria, soaked and exhausted, Liz and Milo were finally crossing the glass doors beneath the massive yellow façade of the Brooklyn Children’s Museum. It was 1:39 PM.
The soggy trek alone would have justified the less than perfect disposition exhibited by the couple, but that was not all: despite their best efforts, Kora and Lenny had fallen asleep in their stroller, warm and dry under its clear plastic cover, just shy of the museum. Milo suggested waking them up, arguing that, after all, the twins were the only reason for them to be there, but Liz wouldn’t hear of it. Only a ruthless tyrant would do something like that, she said, instinctively shielding the stroller with her body as Milo gestured to lift the protective cover. He knew she was right too: for the second time that day Milo was being an asshole, and his awareness of this fact only worsened his mood.
Being already there, half a world away from familiar Astoria, they decided to redeem their passes all the same and stroll through the exhibitions, hoping the bustle of the place might eventually wake up the sleeping twins. But they had greatly underestimated the depth of their slumber. No amount of noise, abundant and varied as it was, seemed to have the desired effect. Kora and Lenny slept through everything: seven Hassidic kids who nearly overturned the stroller outside the Neighborhood Nature exhibition, a Dominican woman yelling at some kids (presumably hers) next to the Sensory Room, and a group of preschoolers clapping and cheering at the Totally Tots exhibition. In fact, the only effect of the ubiquitous high-pitched racket was to deepen a sense of annoyance that sank Liz and Milo’s spirits even lower.
There was also something about the inside of the building that didn’t sit well with Milo, but he hadn’t dared to say it out loud. It could have been the cheap aspect of the materials used in construction, which gave the whole place a makeshift air that contrasted sharply with the impressive façade. Or maybe it was the premature, sadness-inducing decay of many of the interactive elements in the exhibitions. Whatever it was, he didn’t feel it worth courting the possibility of a disagreement: with tensions running high, anything could trigger an argument.
By the time they got to the World Brooklyn exhibition, Liz was nevertheless ready to admit what he had been trying to repress for the last forty-five minutes.
This place sucks, man; let’s get out of here and grab a beer before these two little fuckers wake up.
And there she was again: the raven-haired punkette who, six years ago, behind the bar of the Beer Garden, had questioned the wisdom of Milo’s decision to get only a half pint of lager on a dull March evening. Underneath all those thick layers of social convention that marriage and parenthood had thrown over her—layers that Milo himself had helped to weave by inoculating her with twins shortly after proposing to her—Liz was still the edgy New Yorker who had captivated his dorky, Greek, Midwestern heart. Seeing evidence of that complicity still holding fast was worth the long trip to the irritating Brooklyn museum.
Please, begged Milo. Liz’s smile sparked on his bovine eyes.
They avoided the crowd in the main area of the exhibition by sneaking through the mock grocery store and the pretend bakery. Just a few more turns and they would be out of that hell of playdough colors and mangled shrieks. Milo could almost taste the freedom—it had the flavor of barley and hops—and feel the cold rain on his face.
That is when he noticed the bulletin board by the turnstiles, behind the ticket box. Something on it—he wasn’t sure what—sucked him in, forcing a closer look. There was an outdated poster for a Caribbean Carnival event and a bunch of group pictures from schools and summer camps. On one of them, a grainy cutout from the Brooklyn Eagle with two columns of copy below, he couldn’t help but notice the two adults chaperoning a group of children in yellow t-shirts. One of them was a middle-aged woman, clearly a teacher or a school official of some kind. The other was Loretta Cassey.
Come on, Milo!
Liz’s voice crashed onto his head like an icicle, breaking his reverie. As he felt the blood flushing out of his scalp, Milo lurched back to the present, pushing the stroller toward the exit and looking straight ahead with an almost martial expression on his face. He couldn’t even tell how long he had been staring at the picture. (Were those yoga pants she was wearing?) Lost in his concealing act, he didn’t notice the small braided girl stepping in front of him. The hit, while not actually as violent as it sounded, knocked the little girl down. She started to cry, and a solidly built man wearing a head rag and a Knicks sweatshirt rushed to the scene and started shushing her softly. As he picked her up from the floor, he asked Milo to back off with a look that left no room for interpretation. Milo kept apologizing, pointlessly motioning from the requested distance and wishing the man would just pull out a piece to end his misery right there. Just fucking watch where you are going, the man said stoically, and stepped away with the girl in his arms. From the stroller, no longer muffled by the plastic cover, came the familiar cries of Kora and Lenny. Milo couldn’t gather the courage to look at his wife’s face.
Sunday was over. The twins and Liz had fallen asleep in the master bedroom while Milo busied himself in the kitchen with self-assigned chores: cleaning counter-tops, sweeping the tiled floor, sorting out tupperware, reorganizing the contents of the fridge. He would gladly have added more items to the list, as long as they kept them from having to revisit the sorry episode of earlier that day, but it hadn’t been necessary: once he was done with the fridge, he made sure they were all sleeping before turning off the night lamp in the bedroom and moving back to the kitchen.
Liz and Milo had endured the long ride back home from the museum mostly in silence. On the train, Milo’s attempt at apology was met by Liz’s conditional acceptance: she wanted him to start seeing Dr. Thiakos again. (Milo had stopped seeing her—and taking her drugs—when the anxiety attacks were more or less gone, shortly after the twins were born.) Unable to come up with a good defense against her request, Milo distracted himself by giving Kora and Lenny the attention they were desperately demanding; the refreshing effects of the long nap were apparent in their cheerful communicative efforts. Liz was too tired to insist and chose to capitalize on the opportunity to nod off the rest of the way.
Back in Astoria, Milo fixed dinner (reheated lasagna and cucumber salad), emptied the compost bin, dropped two large loads at the corner Laundromat, and picked-up a consolation six-pack of Modelo Especial on his way back home. He was conspicuously trying his best to display diligence and submission while keeping a safe distance from Liz and the children. With luck, he thought, the issue would soon go away and Dr. Thiakos name wouldn’t come up again.
Now, once again, he had the house to himself. He grabbed a bottle of Modelo from the fridge and went to sip it by the window—his old observation post—trying to forget that afternoon’s embarrassing episode, even as it kept playing in his head.
The rain had stopped. The layer of clouds was swiftly shredding, revealing an almost full moon high in the sky. He heard a faint rustle below and looked down: something was moving on the ground by the dark mass of the yew tree. At first he took it for a cat, but its long, hairless tail gave it away. He couldn’t remember the last time he had seen an opossum, though it was probably during his Ann Arbor days, many years ago. The sight of this marsupial bathed in moonlight filled him with an old, safe joy. Even under the cover of the night, regardless of the complexity of the plot dictating the actions of its actors, he could understand everything on that private stage. As the wild mammal tried to sneak out of sight under a fence, he could easily tell that that naked, curling tail belonged to an opossum—an animal unique to the Americas, well adapted to urban habitats, and not to a cat, or a cat-size rat.
Loretta Cassey had entered Milo’s life by pure chance, the same way that opossum had. Yet Milo couldn’t decipher what part the beautiful broadcaster was meant to play in his life. He was ready to admit that early that morning he had actually hoped to see the sultry Loretta Casey predicting the weather on a TV screen, but her popping up at the museum as she did had been a fortuitous event. Having no control over her insertion in his reality—or over his response to that insertion—was troubling. Perhaps Liz was right, even if she didn’t have all the facts: Perhaps he should seek professional help.
Milo wondered if there was a pattern. Once, not long before the last time he saw an opossum, he had had developed a crush on a young mutant doctor named Cecilia Reyes. Around the same time, he had also fallen in lust with Death, from the DC Comics series The Sandman. In fact, earlier in their relationship he half-jokingly confessed to Liz that her resemblance to that hottest—and coolest—allegory in the history of comics had played no small part in the pull she exerted on him.
This was different, though. As out of reach as she was, Loretta Casey was not just ink on paper, but a real live human being, who broadcasted her predictions from an actual studio in Manhattan, just a few miles from his own apartment. This was an unsettling realization. She’d probably seen and loved many of the same sights he had seen and loved in that confined geographical area: the disco roller-skaters in Central Park, the façade of the Maritime Hotel in Chelsea, the mural behind the bar at the St. Regis Hotel—to name just a few. There was even the chance they had ordered the same food in the same restaurant; a pastrami sandwich at Carnegie Deli seemed a distinct possibility.
Then a second realization hit him like a speeding truck: she surely had an important presence in the Internet, one that included countless 140 character insights, opinions about books and movies, displays of her perfect life history, and photos, many wonderful photos in an overwhelming array of amazing outfits adapted to all kinds of climates and weather conditions. The bottle in Milo’s hand shook visibly
With the caution of an assassin moving across a nightingale floor, Milo made his way back to the kitchen from the bedroom without a letting a single creak betray his passage. He safely held his laptop in his right hand.
Milo dimmed the lights and opened the computer on the kitchen table. He sat down and carefully typed her name, seeing the letters slowly appear on the search field as he pressed each key. All the results listed on his browser after hitting enter seemed relevant. There was no Instagram link, but there were links to Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter accounts, plus a number of links to celebrity and entertainment news sites. Milo’s heart raced and a cold sweat dotted his forehead. As a precaution, he opened a decoy window with CNN’s website on it. Then he clicked back to the window with Loretta’s links. A glance over her Twitter profile revealed loads of weather related tweets, with maps, temperature charts and projections. He could easily hear her mellifluous voice in the wording of some of the warnings or her more cheerful predictions. But there were almost no pictures. Other than the profile picture, there was one possibly older shot of her face with shorter—and spectacular—hair, which only managed to fuel his impatience for more revealing images.
He quickly went back the results list and clicked on the videos tab. An impressive list of YouTube links filled the screen. A quick glance at the previews and descriptions confirmed that he had struck gold. He clicked the first link and was brought to a YouTube page.
The abundance of videos was almost overwhelming. There were many weather reports and predictions in studio and quite a few exterior appearances, in bright summer dresses below bright blue skies, under colorful umbrellas, standing on wet, glossy sidewalks in matching raincoats, lost in the chaos of a blizzard, wrapped in fluffy white overcoat and furry hunter’s hat, always microphone in hand, lovely and professional in equal parts. There were other categories of videos, hardly related to any meteorological phenomena. Several of them featured puppies offered in adoption, and some of these were edited to deliver the promise of their titles (Loretta’s Daring Upskirt, Puppy Loving Thighs, Meteorologist Hottest Shots), slowed down to capture every inch of flesh exposed as Loretta crossed or uncrossed her legs with a poodle on her lap, or kneeled down to pick up a playful two-month old chocolate Labrador chasing her Balenciaga heels.
Having found this vein of pure digital gold in the Internet didn’t overjoy Milo the way one would’ve expected. Along with the inevitable physical signs of arousal, a wave of self-hatred and misery washed over him instead, as he recognized the truth that he was just another creep among hundreds lusting after a beautiful weather woman. Here was that old pattern again, this time showing its saddest side: he knew there was a Facebook group with some 532 members named In Love with Cecilia Reyes.
Milo had witnessed his own hands behaving like independent five-legged animals before, when scratching an itch, waving a fly away, or drumming nervously on a desktop. Now this video of Loretta Cassey, found three pages deep into the list of results, seemed to be forcing his hands again to act like blind, determined animals who paid no regard to Milo’s self-esteem issues. The footage—probably the idea of a clever network executive in charge of the Morning Show—featured the forecaster in a white bikini, floating with eyes closed on a salty pool, just one of several facilities of what the video’s title described as a floating and sweating spa. At the sight of her skin underwater, his right hand leapt from the keyboard and landed on his knees, then started crawling toward the waist of his pants. As soon as it reached the buckle of his belt, his left hand rushed to its aid. Just as the two hands were undoing the last button restraining his erection, the door of the kitchen flew open and Liz stepped half-asleep toward the cupboard next to the kitchen table. She grabbed a cup and went to the fridge to pour some water from the Brita jar. Only then did she notice Milo sitting at the kitchen table with the blue light of the screen on his pale face. The main page of CNN was the only thing visible when she approached and stood next to him.
Be careful: reading news late at night can make you blind, she said before going back to the bedroom.
To be continued…