Fiction: "Or Best Offer"
I did too much for her, but Pnina emailed to say the lamps would be ten dollars for the pair and she had to have them. Small, steel, bedside lamps with cat-print shades. Pnina had asked me to execute the deal, because she wasn’t very happy about driving, even on cool, calm, sunny Sunday mornings.
“Imagine it, Pnina,” I said, “Having a big fat ice cream sandwich for breakfast, a hot coffee to-go, and hitting the road on a frosty, sunny Sunday. That’s heaven. That’s what the Lord’s Day is all about.”
“The Interstate is crazy with church traffic.”
“Not early. Not at seven or eight,” I said. But the real thing was the Interstate itself, even empty. “But, hey,” I said.
“If you can’t meet her, don’t worry about it.”
“Nope, that’s fine — we can meet. I got a spot in mind. We’ll meet at the CVS on the hill.”
“She lives closer to Fort Worth, Keller maybe.”
“I thought this was a Denton deal,” I said.
“We shall meet upon the Pilot Knob,” I said, as a joke. No laughter followed. Pnina knew very little local geography.
I took along Zbigniew Brzezinski, my lazy semi- Shih Tzu, and she slept all the way to Haslet. We got to where we were going, to find the meetup to be a half-working gas station. One half was gray ruins with melted pumps and yellow police tape popping in the westerly wind.
A yellow jeep pulled up, too close. The driver motioned for me to roll down the window. She was young, and wore biggish eyeglasses with fluorescent dots painted on the frames. “Hey there,” she said.
“Hi. You got the lamps?”
“The red lamps,” I said. “From the Internet.”
“No, I ain’t your lamp lady. I’m pulling you over to ask you about your Satanic cross.”
She was talking about the suppedaneum bumper sticker I sport. “That’s from my church. It’s just a kinda Russian cross.”
“That don’t look Russian. There’s a line running through it, like to cut out Jesus. He’s been cut out a’goddamn–nough.”
“That’s not what it’s about. Hey, I’m just waiting on somebody with some lamps.”
She rolled up her window and started messing with her phone.
Z-Big gnawed a hind paw. I turned on the radio.
In a while, there pulled in a dually-axled work truck hauling a trailer with three tractor tires. Guy parked by the ashy ruins, and trotted over to the Jesus lady to talk. He was a slim, cordy fellow, with a lame left arm. She pointed at me.
I cranked up the engine, just in case an escape were called for. He came over, and I rolled down the passenger window, just half-way. “Yes?” I said.
“Hey ma’am, I’m sorry. My sister’s all kinds of daffy. But I’m going to pretend to talk you out of joining Satanism, and she’ll drive on her merry way in a minute.”
“I’m just here to meet somebody about a lamp. Two lamps.”
“Well, I’m sorry. None of my business if you’re Satanic. I dated a Wiccan, so I’m cool with all that.” He glanced down my blouse and toward my legs.
“Well, no big deal,” I said.
“Yeah? Good. Cool. But, hey, I guess I gotta go. I’m running down to Haslet.” He thumped the roof of my car with his good hand a couple times in a friendly way.
“I thought this was Haslet,” I said.
“Outskirts,” he said. He trotted back over to the yellow jeep and talked to his sister, and she kissed his cheek. She shook her finger at me before driving off. He sauntered into the gas station store, and he had a white bandana in his back pocket.
I waited, but nobody else pulled up to show interest in meeting. I called Pnina.
“You get them?” she said.
“Nope. Nobody showed.”
I waited there for a while, and waved to the guy when he came back out, but he didn’t notice. He backed out and rolled past the pumps, and I honked my horn. I ran over and gave him my email address.
Pnina had a colonoscopy scheduled for that next Tuesday, and her confidence in Über fell through at the last minute, so I went over to her place and she met me by the clot of bougainvillea bushes in the dog park.
“I hope you printed directions,” she said. “It’s complicated, getting there.”
She got in and held Z-Big in her lap, and we started prowling the streets. I rolled down the windows and turned up the Enya, real loud. Pnina sunk down low in her seat and crossed her arms, like to pout about it.
“My ride, my rules,” I said, and we worked our way into a gravel exchange near a fallow field with black smoking ponds.
A big fracking operation off-gassing on an eastern hill, there near the expressway. We got back on the big road, then got off, then gamed our way through the parking lot rows zoned in lite industry. We saw an opossum prowling the edge of a hedgerow, slowly and shakily, as if stoned.
“This is it!” she hollered, and I turned off the music. “This is it,” she whispered to Z-big, and gave her stout pat on the rump.
“Not looking so colonoscopic, Pnina. Not looking good.” The place had white letters painted on the door, and a cardboard leprechaun in the mylar-ed window with a sign that said SPECIAL.
“This is it, too. It’s a discount place.”
She checked in and I sat by the water fountain. “Well,” I said when Pnina sat down beside me, a little too close, “What do they think they’ll find?”
“Dunno yet. Just exploratory. My other doc said I had to.”
“Okay. Well, how about that lamp problem? Buy any lamps yet?”
“Got no lamps. I don’t want to fall into the retail sham. Just poke around on the resale sites, and you’d be surprised who you can meet.” She told me about all the great people she had met. “You look around and just about everybody’s online,” she said. “People look at me, and they don’t know I’m online, but I’m on it.”
“Yeah,” I said. “And you like it.”
“I sure do.”
Pnina died a few days later (unrelated to the colonoscopy — turns out she had other problems), and her sister asked me to say something at the service.
But I got on the Internet and found a professional speaker named Miranda and gave her some notes about Pnina’s likes and dislikes. I offered to bring in my priest, but turns out Pnina thought my church was Satanic, too; she’d just been being nice to me, all that time.
Miranda showed up in a smart purple and black dress, and she carried herself like a surgeon or a diplomat. When it was time, I nodded and Miranda mounted the daïs.
“Pnina loved squirrels,” she said, “But was not squirrelly.” Everyone applauded.
I bought a little lamp online.
I turned it on and laid on the carpet under its chili-red light, and tugged Z-Big’s toy raccoon away from her, and refreshed my inbox, but there were no new messages.
Or Best Offer is a fictional short story originally published on New World Writing under the pseudonym Nizwa Knox-Jones
Header image by Holden Foster