Frank hummed himself to half-sleep, but couldn’t find the deep stuff. His hunt for Janell’s yellow dress, those needy nights together, their Palace in Queens, returned only mist. He’d been searching for that Janell, and that Frank for that matter, since ’67, and waking dreams were as close as he could get. Pitchforks pulled, the memories propped eyes open, waiting. For the voices to hush up, for the ghosts to return. Frank wouldn’t sleep if he could; he couldn’t even if he should. Sleep was for the innocent, the at-peace, the settled. And Frank Sinatra Lonergan was only innocent in the law’s eyes, only settled after a nightcap, and never, never at-peace.
Too haunted to hash past with himself, Frank set to work. He pulled a Phillips from his backpack and starting taking apart the plastic shell of the photo booth. Anything built can be torn down. A man, his family, his fears. Frank worked systematically, forming order from the remains of the captor of memories. What he expected to find wasn’t the point; just the act of dismantling seemed to rebuild what had been demolished in Frank. He worked faster with each screw loosed, and in his fervor he felt more certain. Every plastic panel stacked at his feet, a step toward restoration. Frank hadn’t planned this step in his story but at that moment, with shadows of Janell and Mary nearby, and Momma’s hogs rutting around in all their business, it seemed the only next thing to do. By the time the early riders paced with purpose beneath the sidewalks, Frank was gone and all that was left of his haunted house lay in evenly-distributed stacks of plastic on the subway station floor.
No one noticed, as New Yorkers never do. Numbed by the constant hum, they can’t pick out the melody, even when it’s singing their tune. If they had glanced into that dingy corner, they’d’ve been the lucky ones at Wednesday’s water cooler. Peaking from the dismantled photo-return slot: a New York State Lottery Ticket: 12 – 83 – 77 – 5 – 39. And the Mega Ball: 4.
Several blocks away, an exhausted Frank slipped into a lonely diner and rifled through that envelope for the millionth time. He ordered poached eggs & bacon, sipped coffee between bites, and felt free for the first time in months. The faded photos from the now defunct booth sat between a postcard he never sent and a candy wrapper from his first bus ride East. Mary’s favorite, Sugar Daddy. Behind that, their marriage certificate scribbled on yellowed paper, a few dried flowers from Janell’s improvised bouquet. Frank could still smell them, and he nearly sneezed from the sudden force of things rushing back. He fumbled for his laptop and caught what he could from the onslaught.
Janell kept her wedding lilies pressed in her Bible on the left side table by the door of our Palace. She grew flowers in the window box over the kitchen sink, said it made her feel whole, growin’ something in the dirt like she was doin’ inside. She filled out fast. We ate fish every Sunday and cornbread between, and I never thought I’d leave her. Word of Mary missing back in Millwood shook me all kinds of up and I lost track of what love meant somewhere between guilt and forgiveness.