The Records of the Grand Historian
As Juno tried to piece together where it had all began, years, decades, centuries later, he had to bring himself back to that New Year’s Eve sometime in the early 21st century. He couldn’t remember exactly what newly arrived year it had been; it was so long ago now. He couldn’t remember the year, but he remembered the event in question, every agonizing second of it.
It was the worst luck, and that was an understatement.
That night it was snowing in what was then Trenton, New Jersey. The cold was biting and the shop windows were festooned with Christmas decorations. Juno was walking down the sidewalk, arm in arm with Julia. The red and green lights in the Tiffany’s and Forever 21 windows were dancing in the sheen of ice lining the edge of the street. A rain of billowing snowflakes swirled about them and caught in their black hair. They were walking gingerly over the slick concrete as they talked and laughed gleefully, uproariously, joyfully.
Back then, Juno had tried desperately to make women laugh and he was trying his best that night. He kept an eye out for anything passably amusing and pounced on every opportunity, shamelessly, his humor breaking out like a Jack-in-the-Box. Anything was fair game, any paradox or irony in their surroundings, any unwitting stranger with an evident physical or personality flaw. Any quirk he would take in, processing it visually and running it through his mind, breaking it down to its constituent parts and honing in on the most crucial element. He’d make the necessary adjustments to that chunk of comedy gold lodged in the unpromising ore of their environment, adding ingredients to his mental zinger recipe. Then came further modifications involving pacing and syntax – the placement of the punch line was crucial. Finally, out came the joke and, with any luck, he’d receive Julia’s laugh as a reward.
That laugh of hers, he remembered it distinctly, even after all this time. There was something about it that drove you crazy, maybe the long initial exhalation, maybe the slight huskiness, maybe the way she smiled so fully while she laughed, so you could see every one of her brilliantly white teeth. It wasn’t an overbearing, assaulting laugh, the kind that makes you avoid humor with that person for fear of unleashing it. When she laughed, her eyes would scrunch up and she’d bend slightly at the waist, seizing your forearm for support and leaning into you, delighting in sharing this moment with you, this moment of joy. Her eyes, her laugh, her teeth seemed to say, “Yes, you’re right, that is absolutely hilarious.” Great stuff, Juno thought.
And when he saw the then familiar outline of the locally famous pupusa truck barreling down the street through the wintry gusts and rising steam, Juno knew he had struck it rich. Julia was known to fly into hysterical fits for pupusas and for the ancient pupusa truck driver, Guillermo Ortiz.
“Holy shit,” Juno said, “Guillermo’s selling pupusa-sicles.”
He knew that this attempt at humor would have failed with any other girl, but Julia was different. Julia would laugh at anything he said or did. In this instance, as it happens, she didn’t laugh but let out an urgent scream, flagging down the pupusa truck.
“This is just what we need,” she said, as Guillermo idled next to them, rummaging below his counter, filling tortillas with beans, cheese and chicharrón.
Juno nodded, “Any time is a great time for a pupusa. In fact, whenever the truck arrives it’s pupusa time.” He gestured to the words Pupusa Time! emblazoned in jagged, gaudy red letters on the truck’s side.
Like baby birds receiving a wriggling worm from their beneficent mother, they eagerly gathered up the paper plates laden with stacks of pupusas, Guillermo handing them down with a paternal smile. “Buen provecho, mi hijos,” he said. They sat on a damp bench before laying into their gooey feast.
Between chews, Julia said, “Remember that time when we chased the pupusa truck for about ten blocks.”
“Yeah, I’m glad you’re not so violent and abusive now,” Juno said.
“What? What are you talking about?”
“You shoved me down while we were running. My face slammed into the pavement. That’s how I broke my nose. I came to school the first day of fifth grade with a splint on my face. You don’t remember that?”
Julia mused. “Oh yeah,” she said, “You were running too close.”
Juno laughed at this.
“You’re right. I had no respect for personal space then. No sense of boundaries. I had it coming, I always do.”
“But I’m thinking of a different time,” Julia said, “I think it was the seventh or eighth grade. We were always chasing that fucking truck. It’s a miracle we weren’t run over.”
“Yeah, huh,” Juno said, taking another bite.
Neither of them could remember when they first met. They had always known each other. Always been friends, if not best friends. When they were very young, while arranging play dates, their older relatives had taken to referring to them as a duo – Juno and Julia, They would sometimes even jokingly overemphasize the Hispanic “j” in the typically condescending manner of upper-income native-Spanglish speakers.
There had been some awkward moments here and there, that period in early childhood when it’s not cool to have friends of the opposite sex; or the pre-teen years when, with horror, their feelings for each other first began to sprout. Then came the mid to late teens when they avoided each other, dating dead-enders and arguing over nonsense, skirting around the heart of the matter.
Thinking back, Juno thought that the gulf between them had been like a ravine that seems deep only because its depths are clouded in mist. In fact, the gulf was shallow; they had always loved each other, always been close. The walls they had put up before each other had been of their own design, their own delusion. It was only when they came to accept reality, that they were going to be stuck with each other for the rest of their lives whether they wanted to be or not, that their frustration and unhappiness ended and their joy began, a serenely nauseating and obnoxious joy. Juno always believed, in fact he knew, that he and Julia were the kind of couple that everyone hates, tied at the hips, finishing each other’s thoughts and sentences. But fuck everyone.
They were graduating from college now. Juno had landed a job teaching Spanish at a high school in New York City. Julia was continuing medical school. The world was their pupusa.
Then, as they ate their food on that damp bench in the cold, their breath puffing out of their nostrils in visible swirls, Julia asked a question that Juno would never forget.
“Every snowflake is supposed to be unique right?” she said.
“Yeah,” Juno said, “In fact, we’re all precious snowflakes. Remember that.”
“You think that’s really true?” she said, “You think nature ever runs out of designs or repeats a design here and there? I mean, snow’s been falling on this planet for billions of years right? At some point you’d think you’d get at least one repeat, or near repeat.”
“You’d think,” Juno replied vacantly.
. . .
It happened that night. Juno had left Julia on the sidewalk to “take a leak” in a Popeye’s. When he emerged he didn’t see her at first. He only saw a pickup truck that had been stalled in the street quickly shoot away. There wasn’t much traffic on this particular street. They were in one of those pedestrian friendly commercial zones lined with upscale chain shops. Juno was surprised that a car would even be in this area. He glanced up and down the sidewalk, still not catching sight of Julia. Finally, as if not wanting to face the catastrophe he already knew had transpired, he forced himself to look toward the spot in the middle of the street where he had just watched that odd pickup truck drive away. Julia was there, obviously dead.
. . .
Time and events have changed Juno a great deal. He is no longer the sentimental fool he once was. And yet he never did, and never will, get over what happened that night.
He might have gotten over it. He might have moved on. He might have met someone new, married and had kids. But that’s not what she had wanted. And it wasn’t long, in the grand scheme of things, before Juno gave in to what she had wanted.