Minneapolis Cherry Blossoms
BY SAUL LEMEROND
The food court smells of cherry blossoms, and faintly of bile. We’re getting married soon. We’ve made all of the arrangements. We’ve sent out the letters, we’ve picked out a cake, the bridesmaid’s dresses are beautiful yet understated, and our parents, brothers, sisters, and in-laws are coming with their twins so they can help finalize our plans, and of course, to visit. It’s always nice when the future in-laws come to visit, even if they think it’s weird we don’t go outside.
They know this about us. They always thought we were weird, though they do not say it. We can tell. They’re two sets of twins are in gymnastics, and they’re trying to get ready for Olympic trials. They’re twelve and eleven respectively, and we think that’s weird, and by weird, we wonder if they’re bad parents.
We don’t go outside because it’s cold and snowy, and we don’t have to. We live in Minneapolis, and we just take the skyway because it connects most of the buildings downtown. We don’t care so much about the loud groans from the stomach that Macy’s had installed in the Terrance Food Court. We don’t care so much that the groans are loud and can be heard for several blocks.
From the skyway, we can go to the store and buy apples, walnuts, spinach, and gorgonzola to make a salad that we will eat with the marinated salmon filet that we also bought from a skyway market. We can buy whatever we want without having to go outside.
We are not afraid to go outside. We do not go outside because we are afraid to go outside. We are not afraid, which is what our parents and in-laws think, though we are afraid to go out on the skyway, we are afraid of certain people we see walking the skyway and because of the stomach.
There’s lots of reasons to take the skyway. We take the skyway because we don’t want to drive in downtown Minneapolis if we don’t have to, traffic is horrendous, and we can get anywhere we need to go by taking the skyway, which allows us to walk from building to building by going over the streets and not going outside. We can get to our offices at Wells Fargo where we deal with the legalities of all of the contracts that come out of Mergers and Accusations. Like if Macy’s needs a loan to buy 30,000 tons of steal from ArcelorMittal of Luxembourg for an addition to their high-rise, we make sure all the correct numbers are in their appropriate columns, and then we make sure all the numbers are legal.
We stop at Caribou for coffee in the skyway before we get to Wells Fargo in the mornings. When we go for lunch, we find a nice pub or restaurant that can be reached from the skyway. There are a good variety.
We don’t go outside because we do not have to. We don’t go outside because even when it is not cold the weather out there is unpredictable and the environment inside the skyway is controlled.
The groans from the stomach aren’t a problem. The groans don’t even bother us, or at least they sometimes don’t, and when they actually do, which is most times, we pretend they don’t. Shelly in HR doesn’t like the groans, though she loves to shop at Macy’s. She says someone should do a study. She says there are probably some number crunchers, number crunchers with PhDs, in her department who would be more than happy to point out the stomach groans in the skyway are not good, and that Macy’s made a horrible mistake and that they should have to pay for it. Shelly’s says that the Wells Fargo social science statisticians would be able to demonstrate this easily once they’d gathered the data, she says, which they’d only do if they had the time, which they don’t. But if they did, she said. The range above standard deviation would be astounding.
Lights turn on in the skyway when it gets dark out and turn off when it gets light out, so there’s always light when we go to Steve’s house to drink Malbec and eat dark chocolate with sea salt or dark chocolate with red pepper while discussing the state of the skyway, and how there seems to be more criminals, and by criminals we mean poor people, and by poor people we mean people who dress in plain and dirty clothes that cannot be bought in the department stores that line the halls of the skyway.
We say it’s a good thing there are more police on the skyway because there are plenty of police on the street and it just seems reasonable that there should be just as many on the skyway. We do not venture outside because we shouldn’t have to. It’s ok to be afraid but not any more afraid than people on the streets, and the people on the streets do not have to deal with what we have to deal with.
In the center of the of the Terrace Café Food Court there is a stomach, Macy’s had it put there, the top of which touches the ceiling of the second floor and the bottom of which floats just high enough that the tallest person is able to walk under it with no problem, or at least a person could do this with no problem if they wanted to walk through the fountain that’s directly underneath it.
We do not tell Steve we do not like the stomach, but we can tell he knows we don’t like it. Steve has never told us he doesn’t like the stomach either, but we can tell he doesn’t. Nobody does. Nobody except small children.
The groans are so loud they shake the foundations of the food court. Every so often a bit of bile spurts out the top of the stomach’s esophagus stub and drips down into the fountain directly underneath it. Everyone pretends to ignore this except for small children, but we ignore them too when they point it out. We are sure our parents and brothers and sisters and in-laws will ignore it. We hope the twins will ignore as well, though we are not hopeful.
Whenever we are in the food court with Steve, he pretends to ignore it too, or at least we assume he’s pretending because the noise is deafening and because the bile is bile. It smells, though it doesn’t stay in the air for long because the environment is properly controlled and the fountain is scented with the oil of cherry blossoms.
We tell Steve that our parents and in-laws are coming to visit with their two sets of twins who do gymnastics and, and who are eleven and twelve, and are trying out for the olympics, and we don’t ask him if he thinks that’s weird though we look at his face when we say it, and we can tell he thinks it’s weird by how he reacts.
His reaction is he raises his eyebrows.
We also we tell him we’re so happy he and his wife, who is overseas negotiating a contract with the China Construction Bank so Macy’s can build a high-rise in Shanghai, that they are our best friends who will be our best man and Matron of Honor, and we are so happy. He says, yes, that they are happy too, and that they can’t wait, that they’ve always thought we should be together.
The skyway doesn’t have everything. It doesn’t have a French country parquet top dining table, which is what we want for the dinning-room of the condo we are looking at. But this isn’t a problem. Anything we cannot buy in the skyway we have delivered. Steve and his wife do this too. At their apartment we sip wine and let chocolate melt between our cheeks and molars and comment on the sharpness of the red pepper and ask when his wife will be back from China.
Our parents are coming, we tell him, and our in-laws, and they’re two sets of gymnastic twins. When they come they always want to leave the skyway even though they know we don’t do that. They want to see the zoos. They want to go to the Mall of America. They want to go to the Art Museum. We tell them we do not like art and give them directions that involved taking the skyway and then taking a cab.
Our parents, siblings, in-laws, and their twins do not comment on the stomach when we take them to the food court. They do not say anything about it when we first walk in. A red kitty cat-hatted girl, who is riding the escalader, pokes it. They do not say anything when it groans because a red kitty cat-hatted child riding the escalator has poked it, or at least they do not say anything at first. Each of us orders a wrap, or at least the adults do. The twins all want chicken nuggets and fries, which is not surprising as this is probably one of the only times they ever get to eat them.
They pretend not to notice, or at least the adults pretend. The two sets of twins, the four children, they notice because anyone in their right mind would notice a noise that drowns out all other conversation and rattles the glass of water in your hand while you’re drinking it. Our parents and in-laws put their hands on these children’s shoulders and backs in hopes they do not say anything, and look very pleased when they don’t.
Our parents say they’re so excited we’re getting married. That we’ve found someone who makes us happy. That we found someone who can take care of us. That we’ve found someone who will provide them with more grandchildren. Hopefully several more. Hopefully soon.
They’re very excited about the wedding, they say, and have you heard that the twins are excelling in gymnastics? They could go to the Olympics in a couple or few years if they keep it up. They’ve made the state competition in youth gymnastics several times, even taken first a few times. They’re having them compete in the trials now so they can get used to it even though they are not old enough. This makes sense to us, we say. They’ve always loved to climb. We know this. There’s a beautiful Weeping Willow in their yard in Eau Claire Wisconsin that we’ve been to more than few times that they always loved to hang off of.
And now the same red knitted hatted child has gotten away from her mother and has ridden down the escalator, so they could go back up it and poke the stomach again, and the groan booms and the tables shake a little and there’s an echo and our fathers say, or at least one of them says it and the other one nods in agreement in a fatherly way, which makes it seems like they’re both saying it, or at least like either one of them could have said it, which is why it doesn’t matter which one actually says it because it seems like they’re both saying it.
They say, “Someone sounds hungry,” in their fatherly voice in that perfect dad-like humor that we’ve always loved them for even though it’s more than apparent that they’re trying to make a joke to cover up how uncomfortable they feel, and our siblings and in-laws chuckle uncomfortably. The twins seem very interested.
Everyone else in the food court turns their heads in the other direction like they hear something coming from the opposite direction, overcompensating for the fact they do not want anyone to notice they’re bothered by the noise. This is what they always do. We’ve seen it and done it many times before.
Someone should give it food, says one of the two sets of twins, or maybe two of them do. We aren’t sure because we weren’t entirely paying attention and also have a hard time telling all four of them apart.
Our fathers smile. This, they say, is why they want more grandchildren. They do not explain why. We nod and agree because the child who is our blood is cute, and that’s absolutely what we want in a child or in children, we often think about having children because twins tend to run in families and we have two sets, and they are both beautiful.
No one wants an ugly child. We make a note to ourselves to bring our child or children here, if and when we have one or more, in hopes that they will not be afraid of the stomach like we are because this is now, in our minds, the mark of a truly innocent child, which will mean not only that our child is cute, but that we are good parents. How can it not be? Our fathers have said it. How could they not know? We have talked about this many times.
Someone should give it some food, says one of the twins again. Our in-laws tell their twins yes, it does sound hungry, and someone should probably give it food.
Our mothers ask us how we’ve gone about organizing the wedding. We tell them that it’s so much work. That it was so hard getting the list down to one hundred people and how we’re hoping that everyone will RSVP because the plates are so expensive and so is the cake.
Our mothers then ask about where the wedding will be held even though we’ve already told them everything we now about it and are only asking us because they cannot believe we were able to find a venue accessible through the skyway, and we tell them we’ll be showing them today, even though they know we’ll be showing them today because that’s one of the reasons why they’re here, and we know they only asked out of some passive aggressive desire to shame us for not ever wanting to leave the skyway, and we tell them how happy we are that we finally got Steve and Stella to agree to be Best Man and Matron of Honor even though they aren’t Catholic, or Protestant, or any other religion for that matter because they’re atheist and “radical” and they all nod their head like they know what that means.
The stomach lets out another big groan, the vibrations of which we can feel rattle our bones, and the food court, which had started getting louder with conversation is silent again. Another twin, a different twin, the one sitting with her father, says, Daddy, our cousins are right. That stomach is hungry. We wait for our in-laws to say, yes, they are very observant and that the stomach probably is hungry, but that there isn’t much anyone can do because the top of the stomach is so high up that no one could really put food in it if they wanted to.
The stomach rumbles again and a bit of bile flies out the top and hits the ceiling, sticking there for a few seconds before it drips down to the fountain below. All four twins watch, and we watch them.
We want to change the subject. We are about to explain the specifics of our wedding, like how we got several recommendations for a photographer from coworkers but we decided to go with the one Steve is using because the one he’s using is the one the VP of Investments used for her wedding, but we don’t get to.
The twins take all the food, the wraps and the nuggets and the fries, and run. They do it while we are not looking. They do it so fast that no one can grab them.
They take our food and begin to climb the walls. When they get to the ceiling, they grab onto the wall tiles and swing like monkeys. One twin grabs the first set of tiles. The other three move. They toss the bag of food from one to another: one, two, three. They continue to do this. Each moving across the ceiling, and everyone in the food court is watching them and the stomach groans and no one seems to notice because every is watching the athletic gymnast children hanging from the ceiling thirty feet off the ground floor.
Our parents, our siblings, our in-laws, and us, we all tell the twins to stop and get down. We tell that to come back down to us. That they should not get any closer to the stomach. They should not get close to the trachea because if they fall in they will never get out, and who knows what will happen with the Macy’s people. And now everyone in the food court has joined in, pleading with the twins to stop. Climb to the moon, they say. Climb to the sun. Just stay away from the stomach.
They do not listen. One of the excellent twins, the one that everyone likes more than the others, gets directly above the esophagus and another of the twins throws the bag of food to them, and they toss the bag down the throat stub, and there is sound of satisfaction from the stomach, and then a rumble. A deep resounding rumble that shakes the building so much that many drinks spill onto the tables of the food court.
The ceiling shakes as well, and the twin directly above the esophagus begins to loss her grip. Her fingers slip off the their hold on the segments of ceiling tile one by one, and she hangs over the stomach by one finger for several seconds. The stomach continues to shake the foundations of the food court, and eventually her last finger gives way and she falls into the stomach.
Our sister-in-law screams. So does our mother-in-law. Our brother-in-law and father-in-law leap out of their chairs, and realize there is nothing that they can do as soon as they get up.
The other twin girl screams that she must help her sister. She climbs up over the stomach and looks down into the esophagus. Everyone in the food court knows what she’s going to do and begs, as loud as they can, for her not to. She goes anyway. She jumps down the esophagus and disappears into the stomach. Our sister-in-law screams again, so does our mother-in-law.
The stomach rumbles. It feels like an earth quake. The entire building shakes and the glass on the windows cracks.
The stomach contracts. Bile spurts out in gouts and hits the ceiling and falls down to the fountain and sprays everywhere so that there is no one in the food court who isn’t covered with bile. This is the first contraction. There is a second contraction and with it more bile, and then the two twins fly out, hitting the ceiling before falling down into the fountain.
We are not sure what to say. We tell our in-laws that, yes, the hall we’ve found isn’t ideal, but with some well-placed floral arrangements and some silk curtains over the windows, the area will be absolutely sunning. The lighting will be perfect, even in Minneapolis in January the lighting will accent our faces as only the faces of two lovers can be lighted. We will say our vows and place our rings and there will not be a dry eye in the house.
Our in-laws run down and collect their twins from the fountain, and we follow. The air smells more of bile than of cherry blossoms, but we still think the cherry is nice.
Everyone hugs the twins. Our in-laws say they have to go. They say not to worry about them and that they will take a cab, and then they walk out of the doors of the food court onto the streets of Minneapolis.
We do not follow them outside. We stand by the doors and wave at them while they stand in the cold and wait for their ride. When the ride comes, we wave them good bye through the glass of the skyway.
Originally from Green Bay, Wisconsin, SAUL LEMEROND is a third year PhD student at the University of Louisiana-Lafayette. His book Kayfabe and Other Stories was published by One Wet Shoe Press in 2013. His poetry, nonfiction, and short stories have also been published in Gigantic Sequins, Dunesteef, Drabblecast, Notes Magazine, and elsewhere. He was a finalist for the Conium Review Innovative Short Fiction Contest and the Gigantic Sequins Flash Fiction Contest.