It rains hard on the drive into New York. It was bad enough it rained on their wedding, when it was the clearest blue sky the day before, rehearsal day, a sky so blue and clear it was almost too good to be true, and of course it was, and long before the reception was over she was tired of hearing that it was actually good luck to have rain on your wedding day, because what a load of shit, like horoscopes. If rain was good luck what was clear skies? No one ever knows what they are even saying, saying stuff to say stuff, to hear themselves talk which is the same as thinking out loud, which Lulu imagines is like food being digested. Like these people don’t even think about what they are saying. Like if you have a little belly, people ask, are you expecting? What the fuck kind of question is that?
And it’s raining at the hall and she can’t go out to the terrace and smoke because it doesn’t even have a covered awning, so her bridesmaid Terry, thank God, sees her distress and sneaks her out to her yellow Corolla where they share a joint and for the first time all day Lulu relaxes. Through the rain streaked windshield Lulu sees a very fat raccoon walking toward them along the train tracks, and she elbows Terry, who rolls down her window. They stare disbelieving at the size of the critter, like a small dog, but walking with a fat rolling waddle, and getting closer all the time.
“Don’t you think it’s weird it’s out in the rain?”
“Yeah. It’s weird. You’d think it would be under cover.”
“What, like a cop?”
“Like a cop? Jesus Terry you’re so freaking awesome.”
“Cause they’re like bandits, right, with that mask around their eyes? So if they were like cop raccoons and they went undercover maybe that’s what they’d dress like, although that wasn’t what I meant at all. You always have this way of getting to the deeper meaning of things just naturally.”
“Maybe it got caught out in the rain, and is trying to get home.”
“Maybe. Or maybe it has rabies.”
“You think?” Terry smacks the wheel.
The raccoon freezes at the sudden sound of the car horn, rearing up on its stubby hind legs, sniffing.
Lulu bursts out laughing, and the raccoon is suddenly scampering back down the tracks, towards the hall where a tight knot of boys tumbles out of the fire door all song and glory, beer bottles high, when a bottle suddenly spins with a whoop whoop whoop sound and connects with the bandit’s head. The raccoon instantly falls on its side, tries to stand again, somewhat unsteadily, but is never able to take another step before a second bottle lands again, this time with such force that it breaks, and the raccoon falls still.
Lulu and Terry are both very quiet. Lulu just hands Terry her joint and without saying a word gets out of the car and walks toward the boys who are all standing over the raccoon on the tracks now, drinking their beers and shoving each other like they just won a crosstown match. They don’t see her coming, her white gown all wet and getting wetter, the bottom dirty from the cinders along the track.
“Why’d you do that? On my wedding?”
“Jesus Lulu, we’re sorry. We didn’t know you were out here.”
“Drink free booze my dad pays for, and you show off like fucking six-year-olds. I’m ashamed to know you. You should stay outside. You’re not welcome inside anymore.”
The sky ahead is black and the rain is pelting with such force it seems like rain is too puny a word. Like driving into a firehose. The wipers cannot keep up with it.
“What was that? That sign? Was that us?”
“Lulu! I can hardly see the road!”
“I think it said Lincoln Tunnel.”
Joey swerves the wheel hard to the right and Lulu feels the ass end fishtail away. She’s expecting it to swing back but it keeps going, and suddenly there’s an impact and jolt, and the most horrible long screech, and what it reminds her of in that moment is that terrible scene in The Titanic, when the ship scrapes the iceberg, and the hull peels open as if by a can opener. That’s what she imagines is happening to Joey’s beloved Silverado. The entire driver’s side. And she’s wishing they just totaled the entire truck right then, better that then just this massive scrape, because now that’s all she would hear about the rest of their honeymoon, and somehow it would be all her fault. Even though she had no control over the weather, or the road surfaces, or even the steering wheel. She made him swerve. Women and their wicked ways. Never mind about men who murder defenseless raccoons.
The entire side is dished in, scraped to bare metal, but it’s even worse — both tires are flat, popped off their rims, and they only have one spare.
“I knew this was a fucking mistake.”
“Baby — We’ll deal. Come on. Joey.”
“Look at this.”
“We’ll call a tow truck, get a ride into the city, enjoy our honeymoon. After that we’ll get your truck fixed. Come on. If this is the worst we have to deal with — “
Joey stands there in the rain, arms crossed, frowning.
The New Jersey State Trooper seems annoyed to be working in the rain, and further annoyed that they do not have Triple A, but no way is Lulu not going to play the honeymooner card, and in half an hour they are riding in the greasy front seat of a tow truck. Joey keeps casting suspicious glances at the driver, a dark skinned Indian with a thick accent. He is talking, very softly, into earbuds. How he can hear anyone in this driving rain is a mystery to Lulu. She is reminded of one of her Dad’s favorite movies, about some couple going on a job hunt in New York, when everything goes wrong, only that was a comedy. Of course it wasn’t a comedy to the people in the movie, and now some little thread gets stitched from one part of her mind to another, and she smiles to herself. She digs her elbows gently into Joey’s side, and she laughs softly, and she says, “Hey, at least we’ll have something to tell our kids about, right?”
Joey is quiet.
The tow truck backs their truck into the lot of an auto service shop with two long dead pumps out front, the AMOCO sign painted over to read CAR-FIX. It is only when they exit the truck that they make the sickening discovery: Their luggage is gone. Both suitcases. All their clothes, their extra money. Everything.
Somehow, on the ride over, with Joey’s truck tilted up, the rear gate fell down, and their luggage must have tumbled out. As Joey and the driver begin shouting at each other, Lulu gazes across the street at a rather forlorn triple decker structure with a small sign in the window: Fu Sheng Inn. Free Wi-Fi. No Breakfast. Cash only.
She stops Joey before he can say anything, although she is fighting back tears herself. The room so tight that the bed seems to be the only thing preventing the walls from closing in on them, like that trash compactor in the Star Wars movie. The walls stark white, recently painted but hastily, rolled out unevenly, here and there thin spots revealing the previous blue layer. A single green fluorescent strip overhead. A flat screen TV bracket on the wall but no TV. The room was also only $39 a night, which they were able to scrounge up between the two of them, after making a deal with the tow truck driver.
Standing there, in that tiny lobby, watching Joey awkwardly, desperately, being the man, hustling a room out of a clerk who spoke only broken English, sulking behind thick greasy glass, Lulu could feel Joey’s shame, and so she hid her disappointment — at the strange smells in the hallway, the odd foreign television sounds and music from behind the doors, many of which were secured with hasps and padlocks, which made both of them wonder just what kind of place this was?
But their room had no padlock, and they were given a key, which Joey made sure to test, and Lulu nodded to him, and he turned to the clerk, who had already disappeared.
“I really gotta pee.”
Joey goes into the bathroom and Lulu flops on the bed, which folds like a taco. Rolling to the edge she sits up and nods, as if greeting a surprise visitor, at a nightstand. It has a drawer. Inside, some entertainment: a magazine, Llammado, with a man in aviator sunglasses and a green army shirt holding a large chicken. The magazine is in a foreign language. It is filled with pictures of men holding chickens. She has seen fetish magazines but not like this. Oh. Roosters. Cockfighting. A business card falls out of the magazine onto the bed: GLOBAL MARITIME AGENCY, CEBU CITY, PHILIPPINES. Ms. Josephine Addatu. A phone number. On the back, a telephone number with a 201 area code, a time, a Union City address. An appointment kept? Or forgotten?
Joey comes out of the bathroom. “What’s that?”
“Chicken porn. Honeymoon special.”
Joey just glances at it and tosses it aside. “I’ll fix all this. We’ll get my truck taken care of tomorrow, I’ll find a bank branch, get cash, we’ll get to our hotel, it will all be fine. Yeah?”
Lulu looks up at him. “I’m hungry. Think anything’s open?”
The front desk has a three-ring binder of takeout menus which are mostly pizza or Chinese, but Lulu likes the sound of a Cuban restaurant called Pequeno Cocina.
“Cause it’s our honeymoon, and I saw a sign on our way in that said “Welcome to Havana on the Hudson.”
“What if I don’t like anything on the menu?”
“I’m sure they’ll have something. Meat. Places always have meat. Just ask for meat, for Christ’s sake.”
“They take plastic?”
“Come on, I’m starving.”
The restaurant is 18 blocks away, and it is closed when they get there.
“This is bullshit.”
“Joey, please,” Lulu says softly. The rain has eased up. She squeezes his arm. “You know, I saw a pizza place back there. I’m fine with that.”
On the way back to the hotel, they pass a Marines recruiting office, and Lulu’s mind at once turns to Joey’s impending deployment, seeing herself alone, anxious, avoiding the news, the TV, wondering how she will survive an entire year of imagining how he will survive an entire year. She wanted this to be special. She wanted this night to be something he could carry with him forever. She thinks about a birthday party when she was twelve, when their dog Heidi licked all the icing off her birthday cake, and her dad threw the cake in the yard, and her parents had a big fight, right in front of her friends and her friends’ parents. She thinks about her prom with Joey when they had a big fight before the prom and it ruined the whole night. And the fight was about nothing she can remember.
But then there were those weekends up at Joey’s uncle’s camp, and summer nights on the lake just the two of them. One night the air was absolutely perfectly warm and the field was full of so many fireflies like she had never seen ever, and they stripped and chased each other through the timothy and Joey took her down by the lake and if that wasn’t heaven she didn’t know what was.
They agree this is the best pizza they have ever had, and even though the place doesn’t serve beer, they drink Cokes and return to their room. The overhead light is like light from a dairy case, it’s like light from a gas station. They kill the light and lie in the dark, the soft mattress rolling them into each other.
“Tomorrow,” says Joey.
“Tomorrow,” says Lulu.