Sunday, January 26, 2014

The Popcorn Girl. Chapter 29: Gone

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With all the hubbub, I’m beginning to think of days at the store as days off. After a heart-rending farewell at the airport, Sass’s visit is over, and I’m back to my duties. I spend the early morning checking my neglected plants, and find that things are just fine. In truth, cannabis is a glorified weed, and any idiot could grow it. But Ava is looking to build up her stock, so it’s almost time for another harvest.

Just after noon, I’m enjoying a cup of coffee at my counter when I find Javid walking across the street, clad in the black T-shirt and pants of his work uniform.

“Hey! How are you?”

He leans on the counter, gives me a rafish grin and says, “I did it.”

“You didn’t.”

“I certainly did.”

“What was it like?”

“Such drama! I think they might have taken it better if I had told them I was homosexual. But I did just what you told me. I treated it as an entertainment. I remained tremendously calm, and I did not argue. As a result, they have asked me to leave the house.”

“Oh geez. I’m sorry.”

He places a palm to the counter, as if he’s holding at a blackjack table. “What price do you put on a free mind? I’ve been saving up, and I have a friend who has offered me a tiny room in San Francisco.”

I put a hand to his shoulder. “You are absolutely my hero.”

“Thank you, sensei. I have to get back to work, but I wanted you to know.”

“Tell my girlfriend I miss her.”

He turns at the door. “Didn’t make it in today. No call or anything. I assumed it was your fault.”

“It usually is.”

He gives me a salute and ambles across the street. His report on Yaz makes me a little nervous, so I give her a call. She doesn’t answer, which makes me worry some more. So I call Anna.

“Paul! How are you?”

“Hey, have you seen Jasmina today?”

“I thought I heard her rambling around this morning. Wait, let me check.”

I hear the clomp of Anna’s wooden shoes (she wears them in the studio) followed by a door-knock. “Jasmina? It’s Paul.” A pause. “Hello?” The sound of the doorlatch, and a long silence.

“Paul? I think you need to come here right away.”

The wall next to Jasmina’s bed is unbroken by closet, window or furniture. Covered in the kind of blue-gray paint used on houses near the ocean, its sole occupant was a Spice Girls poster that now lies trampled on the bed. The blue-gray has given over to a chaos of gold and green, a sea of cross-hatches and hieroglyphics. The only breaks are circles of sky blue containing words spelled out in a graceful cursive. The circles are connected to each other by sinuous white lines, creating a diagram resembling the molecular models used by science teachers.

“I know this,” I say. “Clustering. It’s a technique used in writing classes to develop story ideas. Write a word, circle it, draw a line to a connected word, circle that, and so on. A left-brain/right-brain thing.”

Anna stands behind me and gives the wall a studied look. “These words don’t look very… related.”

Cloudburst. Amethyst. Montana. Matterhorn. Jacob. Copper.

“Copper,” I say. “That’s the keystone.”

“That’s funny. A few days ago, she asked me if one of my pieces was copper. That eagle over there. I said, No, more of a bronze. She said, Are you sure it isn’t copper. Like she was looking for an excuse to say the word ‘copper.’”

“It’s her birth name. Kelly Copper. This wall is the story of her childhood.”

Anna’s looking a little irritated. “And when was I going to get this information?”

“Sorry. We were doing whatever we could to keep it from her. This is traumatic stuff – stuff she’s blocked out.”


“It appears that she had received these few bits of the puzzle, and was trying to recall the whole picture.”

I spot something on Jasmina’s dresser. It’s a black-and-white photo card, a magnificent thunderhead rising over a set of spiked rock formations. The inscription reads Cloudburst, Butte Montana. Photo by Ruth Archibald.

Ruth is the part I’m not getting. At the right-hand edge of the wall, Jasmina has painted a stack of white words that resembles a dragon.

Ruth Elizabeth
Ruth Elizabeth
Ruth Elizabeth
Ruth Elizabeth Copper.

The watercolor in Molly’s lobby is bugging me. There’s nothing about it that should bug me – a hummingbird sipping from a computer motherboard – so I suppose I’m projecting. I hear Molly’s voice, coming down the hall.

“Listen, Sarah. You’ll be fine. Just get through the wedding, and remember…”


“Oh, Paul. Just a…”

“It’s very urgent.”

“Just a moment.”

“Jasmina’s disappeared.”

“Sorry, Sarah.”

“No, that’s…”

“In my office,” says Molly.

I sit on the couch and do my best to describe Jasmina’s wall.

“So you think this all came together at Opus Giovanni?”

I hand her the picture card. “Three of the words, right there. Amethyst and copper might have come from the jewelry section.

“Wait a sec.” Molly flips through her pocketbook and pulls out a business card. “The jeweler: Sue Jacobs. So all these words were stirring around in her brain, and last night she used her painting therapy to work them out.”

“Do you think she’s all right?”

Molly looks up, then down, then up again. “I think we’d better call the police.”

Mama told me to stay away from places with too many people. The sin piles up on itself until it swallows everything up. Now, nothing but houses. I run to the top of the ridge to get away, but when I turn around I see millions of them, all the way to the water. I can’t breathe. Finally, I reach the woods, at the base of a mountain, and I walk into a grove of gigantic trees. I find a trail called “Miwok.” and I like the sound of that. Hours later, I stop in a grove of sharp-smelling trees with gray leaves shaped like crescent moons. I sit on a log next to a creek and I try to piece things together. I woke this morning from a long sleep. An angel left instructions on my wall in wild colors. The room next to mine was full of animals that seemed like humans and a gray devil with alien letters on his forehead. I must get back to Mama. She will be very angry with me. I notice that the log I’m sitting on is one of the gigantic trees. New trees are growing from its carcass, which is either grotesque or beautiful. I see a bank of fog coming in over the ridge. It’s bound to get awfully cold. I set about gathering limbs for a lean-to. Oh God. Please let me be okay.


I am trying very hard to stay in my logical mind, because the emotional side is a powder keg. I spend my days wandering the shopping districts of Marin County, posting fliers, but I don’t even know if I am entitled to do so. Jasmina’s mental state may be pretty sketchy, but she is an adult, free to go wherever she likes. I only hope she retains enough of her practical skills to stay out of danger.

The weather is a game of hopscotch, five-minute deluges followed by bursts of sunshine. I sit in a corner of the Depot and take infrequent sips of butternut soup. The most alarming of my deprivations is tactile. I long for people to touch me. Last night, a waitress put a hand on my shoulder as she made her way to the next table. It remained there for hours, like a Day-Glo handprint.

I have made a tactical misjudgement. Far across the room, a bulletin board holds two of my fliers. Jasmina stands in a wash of orange light on Gualala Beach, a lock of hair straying to her left cheek. She looks unusually angelic, the smile a surprise, as if I have snuck up on her.

My phone rings. I would love to ignore it. The ID reads Angel.

“Hi Jacob.”

“Hey! Sorry I took so long. Out on the slopes. You ready for those lift tickets?”

“’Fraid not. Wow – I’ll bet you’re getting a shitload of snow.”

“It’s fucking glorious.”

“You like the F-word, don’t you?”

“And you like taking the Lord’s name in vain.”

“Jesus! You’re right.”

“You’re a goof, man.”

“She’s gone, Jacob. She… disappeared.”

“Oh, wow. Sorry.”

“She might be having an identity crisis. We’re pretty sure she figured out her past. I don’t think there’s any way she could find you, but I figured I should let you know, just in case.”

“Man. I hope she’s all right.”

“Well, considering all that she’s survived already…” My gaze returns to the flier. Gualala. “Hey, umm. I just remembered something she told me, a few days ago. I think she may have abandoned the baby at a hospital in downtown Minneapolis.”


“Yeah. This all sorta comes from a recurring dream – which is not the most reliable of sources, but it seems to fit the logistics. Ruth Elizabeth, right?”

“That’s my daughter. Not that she would know it.”

“God. Missing women everywhere.”

Jacob laughs. “Well, thanks for the info. And seriously, come up here sometime. Skiing is great therapy.”

“You got it, Dad.”

I look outside, where the next deluge is power-washing the patio. I hope to God she’s not out in this.

Photo by MJV

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